November 16, 2022
Ricardo Acostarana

“Máquina de Enojos”: The Generation of the Nineties and a Soundtrack That is Leaving, Again

Whoever wants to can figure it out. Someone who can atomize the many times we went from a supposed social rearmament as a nation, to a global dialectic, convalescing and supine.

Someone? Is there anyone left in this country? Could someone, perhaps, sing me their version of the events?

  • I was happy barefoot between the hurricanes / when we had nothing, songs were enough / and yesterday I went out / I only saw on the balconies / the yawn of waiting / of fear / and flower crowns… (Carlos Varela; “El bostezo de la espera”, 2020)

The story of the SobreMurientes from this side of the fence can be told, a priori, from the anarchic chords of a guitar. If anything remains of us, it is precisely those who leave, those who flee, and those who do not know how to leave. Then the perpetual soundtrack of an era returns, that of “we could change this once and for all.” But once and for all, we leave, again.

Can you tell the story of a generation, the one to which I belong, through a playlist? It will be incomplete, always missing something. Is it possible to convey the great novel or manifesto of our generation, in a song that soaks us for life?

There are songs that find their right place at the wrong time. But Cuba, at least in these last 30 to 35 years, has not “suffered” wrong moments. Ergo: We are the result of a cyst in the destiny of our history.

This is just one of the many lists of songs today’s young people, between 30-35 years old, take wherever we go. Or is it the soundtrack that suggests the path to follow for those of us who were never children of the Revolution?

  • In my orchard fear did not reach terror / not even the worst mistakes worked for dying / the dictatorship was neuralgic and passionate… (Santiago Feliú; “La Isla de Fidel”)

I have never asked my parents if they think they were accomplices, victims, or witnesses of what happened more than three decades ago, at the gates of my birth. I know by heart the stories of the 80’s and 90’s and the anagnorisis. It’s unimaginable. Of course, I have questioned myself many times if one of them, or both, ever thought of leaving the neighborhood, the country. Escaped on a raft or whatever.

I am afraid of the sea.

Fidel Castro was our uncle, our grandfather, the president of the CDR, the friend from primary school, the garbage truck. Fidel was a god who did not know what to do with the days or nights, much less with the beasts he created. Many of those beasts, more than a hundred thousand, rebelled against the system one day in August. The Maleconazo was another escape valve used by the regime to get rid of the “imperfects”, and there are many of them who pay, by sea, our most human miseries.

Meanwhile, we grew up too quickly, during a change in millennium that nobody paid attention to. My parents, ours, were getting older. Perhaps decorum and a life without a rearview mirror made them think, even today, “that there is no one to fix this.”

  • …I detest the bureaucracy that turned efficiency / into a heap of misfortunes / of vain prohibitions / grudges increased and they killed a thousand loves / What has happened to life? So many people repenting… (Pedro Luis Ferrer; “Yo no tanto como él,” late 80’s)

We became a country co-produced by large foreign companies. The same ones who spent millions to invest in our whores, and it was expensive for us. The system was 40 years old, or as it is said here, “the new 20s.” However, the Revolution spawned new jerks, all of whom were sponsored, and almost all of them romanticized the idea of ​​power, but they were children playing with the monkey and chain.

Being like our fathers, becoming our mothers’ dreams, had nothing to do with politics, or so they thought.

  • …A day in March / afternoon falls with my doubts present / and I wonder with what yardstick sacrifice is measured / and if the honey fell from the honeycomb like a storm / or was it lightning without the light of vanity… / vanity with mistrust… (Buena Fe; “La sospecha,” 2011)

One day the suspicion became flesh. My generation started hearing the word “blockade.” We were reading it everywhere. It did not belong to the national jargon before. Weeds grew in the small trace that remained in the mud from the Soviet pipeline. A culprit had to be found, “the guilty one.”

They made us pioneers. We saved the child Elián by marching towards an ideal, something they coined the “Battle of Ideas.” The conquest of the “New Man” was redefined in whoever shouted any protocol slogan the loudest in the “Open Tribunes.”

One morning before going to school, we heard a very long name on national television’s Morning Magazine. They talked about: “The Five Antiterrorist Cuban Heroes unjustly incarcerated in Empire’s prisons.”

We were then a vain country, where the abnormal had an expedited path towards an eschatological immortality. The world, meanwhile, was falling apart from the Twin Towers, and some fat-necked ideologue took “The Fighting People’s March” out of a museum.

Suspicion became flesh and started making us less naive.

  • …A new world is being born, don’t get close / the Cayman hangs from his heart / my nails and teeth are growing and the drum doesn’t stop / the false ceiling is peeling off / the real one abandoned us… (Leonardo García, “El cocodrilo,” 2012)

A snowball that ended up being an avalanche choked the system between its noses. Years later, faced with digital, social networks, many of us would learn that, in the puerperium of the 21st century, there was blood, prison, death and rubrics. Public figures, intellectuals, Cuban artists who supported executions, just men behind bars, the circumstance of an “accidental” death. Unconditional support for the Revolution in a doodle.

For the first and only time, Spring was to blame and was dyed black. A few years ago, a son of God named Oswaldo Payá pissed off political militants and parishioners with the “Varela Project.” Those in power decreed, as a final blow, the irrevocable character of Transylvanian Socialism.

  • I grew up in the storm / looking for the sky and at the same time / playing to death / against fatigue and old age / and I am still in my place with no time to rest / I know that tomorrow I have to start all over again… (Moncada “Mi historia crecerá,” early 1990s)

Our parents and grandparents opted for nostalgia and covered themselves in soot. The chant “Every time in the past is always better” was rationalized in corporate projects that had Cuba, for the umpteenth time, like a doorway without a lock or a shit detector.

Survival in front of the mirror allowed the regime to gaslight foreign companies that went bankrupt with a non-existent supply-demand in the national market. Entire firms that left their businesses on an island that does not negotiate, but does go into debt, have disappeared.

At the Earth Summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992, Fidel Castro said: “Pay ecological debt and not foreign debt. Disappear hunger and not man.” Hundreds of boys and girls of my generation, born perhaps at the time of his speech, still live today in a city, in a rundown or impoverished neighborhood, where hunger and man are valued equally on the black market, where there will always be more demand than supply.

But we had to start over. Venezuela, then China, and always Russia. Russia was the fish that bites its tail in the middle of the school that assumed its role as “adoptive father.” They put capital letters on everything and a pinch of dietary supplement: “Operation Miracle,” “Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of America” (ALBA), “Petrocaribe,” “Energy Revolution.”

As the song of a Cuban cartoon says, we render ourselves the slaves of King Menos.

  • …because there is too much humanity at stake / because you’re already an afternoon of rain / you are a roar / air, tears / and remembering you seems like a downpour… (Trio Enserie, “Parece un aguacero,” 1999)

We had to wait for a resounding, cinematographic, Berlin-like fall. The freediving competition focused on a new military leader surnamed “Castro.” Raúl, the younger brother of the then bedridden Fidel, took the reins of power.

And it rained, but we did not get wet.

Many dreamers from my generation believed that the general would deport us from Gatopardismo to a renewed illusion of reality. Soon a dead child would be born called the “Alignments of Economic and Social Policy of the Revolutionary Party.” Raúl promised villas and riches from his castle—who knows exactly where it is, or how many there are.

The verb “to reflect” was used exclusively for the memory of who, in 1958, in a letter to Celia Sánchez Manduley, dedicated himself to a personal war against the Americans. A life mission to which we were annexed and buried before our mothers gave birth.

Fidel dictated his “Reflections” non-stop while many of us went to the countryside, on scholarships, virgins and completely oblivious to everything.

One day in November 2009, on a corner of G Street, the friki-est street in all of Havana, the oldest and tallest of my generation marched to demand “No More Violence, No More Repression.” Then, little by little, they started disappearing faster than a piece of candy lasts on a school corner. But hardly anyone remembers that.

  • …Tonight I’m going to the disco bar / tonight they’ll want to rape me / my pills to prevent me from sleeping / my ribs for the future / I’ll paint a destiny out of cotton / don’t ask me for forgiveness / what is it you want me to avoid / I’m also part of chance… (Polito Ibáñez, “Doble Juego,” 2003)

From our number one, mortal, public enemy, the Yankee’s, we go on to remember Calvin Coolidge. The last American president who broke a sweat in this country in 1928. Eighty-eight years passed for another president, born overseas, an Afro-descendant, to cross the Straits of Florida and shake the hand of the “Cuban ruler of the day”.

Intense negotiations between both governments brought about an expected exchange. The Cuban Heroes (spies) were released. A catharsis enveloped the country. Obama walked the streets of Old Havana and had his hair cut in a barbershop. His wife Michelle, the first lady, met with Cuban civil society, not the one that was surrounded by police and were repressed daily, but the one allowed by the Cuban Communist Party.

Cruise lines full of foreigners began to arrive. Airbnb filled Cuban cities and their most impoverished neighborhoods with hostels and experiences. Hollywood jumped on the bus and sent its entire production to film “Fast and Furious 8” for a few minutes in Havana.

People went from disbelief to shock, from shock to apotheosis, because the “good news” also brought Their Satanic Majesties. The legendary concert of the Rolling Stones at the Ciudad Deportiva, on March 25, 2016, was a first-class, round-trip ticket with reimbursement to more than sixty years of musical obscurantism.

Entire families would open businesses. With self-employment, many thought that the definitive moment for “the great leap forward” had arrived, but nobody realized that the ground we walk on is hollow and unstable.

  • A town wakes up by memorizing slogans / the national anthem out of tune / I am suffocated by speeches that are redundant / and I am consumed by so much social gunpowder… (Kamancola, “Los Centinelas me fusilan”, 2014)

We stopped writing letters in the park to get closer to the smile of someone who had been leaving for ten, fifteen years, and found no consolation.

The banana republic put wi-fi hotspots up for sale in these parks. Families were auscultated for the first time by the mere distance of a mobile phone. People configured their lives in unknown logarithms.

My generation was changing how to break down the fat-necked caste. Without realizing it, cyberspace transformed from a new broom into an obituary, a complaint, a claim, a demand.

From above they erased the speeches of sacrifice written in pencil. Apparently, someone reminded Raúl Castro of Martí’s words to Máximo Gómez: “A town is not founded, General, like a camp is commanded”, but it was all futile.

The night Fidel’s death was made official, there was neither joy nor sorrow, but perhaps relief, like brutal music. The government decreed nine days of national mourning and brought back the phrase #YoSoyFidel, which had not been part of the most basic and hardcore Cuban identity for a long time. However, thousands of Cubans took to the streets, others were forced to do so, to say goodbye to the intellectual author of their greatest desires and calamities.

  • Who said that wolves are bad and lambs are good? / Who is changing the story for me? / Who said the first insult? / Who threw the first stone? / Who felt the first fear?… (Raúl Torres, “Frio”, 2011)

To this day, many believe that Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez is osorbo (misfortune). One of the many sponsored by the process that managed to survive the different revolutionary glaciations—he was pointed out by the finger of the Big Brother who watches over us and they made him president with a new Constitution.

The response to his management has been the same since time immemorial: get out. It doesn’t matter if you sell your apartment with everything inside, ask for a loan, arrive in Eastern Europe with 25 pesos in your pocket or cross all of Latin America until you reach “Los Mayamis.” Fleeing was no longer done sip by sip.

Cuba reaffirmed itself as the oldest country on the continent. A third of its population is almost sixty years old. A country on its way to extinction. You can’t expect anything else when you’re ruled by dinosaurs.

By December 30, 2018, the day Miguel wrote his contempt in a tweet: “…the ill-born by mistake in Cuba, who can be worse than the enemy that attacks it,” the catastrophes were already on their way.

A plane crash caused the death of 111 people at Havana airport.

A tornado tried to destroy several municipalities in western Havana, leaving 4 dead and more than 200 injured.

A car crashed into the wall of the Malecón: 5 dead and almost 20 injured.

A balcony in Old Havana fell on three school girls.

The truce had been broken. Everything happened at once, in a very short time and on dates allegorical to the birth and death of the Apostle. Someone spoke of karma and of history reassigning itself. The theory of a lie repeated a thousand times that ends up becoming the truth reached its zenith and has not stopped plummeting since.

  • I no longer want to hear that our light is dim / I no longer want to feel the coldness of the one who gave me a roof and a flag / I no longer want to hear that I am not yet ready / I no longer want to feel the sensation of losing hope… (Habana Abierta, “Máquina de enojos”, 1997)

Other catastrophes also pounded on the system. They were the only ones who remained on the Island. Debts were updated and grew. Credits from countries that overlooked things, ceased. The pandemic arrived and this great dungeon was left at the expense of stillness.

Airports and embassies were scarce again. The ocean was filled with solicitations once more. Oxygen ran out for the sick. For the survivors on this De Pinga El País De Pinga Este (DPEPDPE) island, they made life a garden of forking paths. But the Borgesian ideal is a child sucking his mother’s milk next to this assumed absurdity.

Cuba was left without athletes, scientists, students, journalists, academics. More recognized artists were also choosing self-banishment.

We began to suffer from stretches of hunger the size of empty hotels with cracks, where non-existent tourists stay. Our parents went back thirty years, where everything was as or less chaotic, and some preferred to remain in a limbo not included in the package.

  • Does anyone know that I keep a piece / of a love that they gave me. / Does anyone know that I follow footsteps, / that mirrors lie in wait for me… (Paisaje con Rio, “Confesiones de un hockey”, the 90’s)

One morning in late November, hundreds of hungry and thirsty people stood in front of the Ministry of Culture, surrounded by security forces and paramilitaries ready for anything. They cut off the electricity, they closed the streets, they sprayed pepper spray, they cut off the internet, and yet, countries around the world were paying attention to every detail on that stretch of sidewalk. The military tried to make them run, but they responded with music, applause, hugs, and all their demands.

They were not abandoning a country; they were being expelled from it. They were not destroying a nation; they were building it. The Cubans of 27N, many from my generation, asked for dialogue, not crossfire. The system gave them a Valyrian wildfire.

Those women and men, all stenographers of true Cuban civil society, became the country’s escape valve, egged on by those above without them noticing.

Others, days before, had decided to bunker down in the San Isidro neighborhood and decree a hunger strike. Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo Pérez became the most visible faces of the San Isidro Movement: Blacks, from poor neighborhoods, and extreme street artists. They are the most visible face of a continuously necessary process. A face that rots in a dark and far off cell.

  • …My friend the engineer owes everything to the Revolution / that took him out of the bush for Havana and gave him a good education. / He was one of those children of the four mouths of Girón / but the cruel time that passed changed everything. (Erick Sánchez “Mi amigo el ingeniero”, 2014)

So… the people took to the streets.

The Black person, the trans person, the student, the athlete, the old woman, the budding dissident, the cheeky miki, the revolutionary from the poor neighborhood, the recently arrived migrant. Everyone planted an expeditious seed, with very little communication, in every nook and cranny of the country.

Thousands of Cubans shouted in their neighborhoods “Patria y Vida”, “Down with the MLC stores” (Freely Convertible Currency), “We want food”, “Get out you-know-who”, “Freedom for political prisoners” and “Down with everything!”.

The banana regime rearranged its prisons and threw more than a thousand Cubans into its pits after the protests on July 11 (11J). It goes without saying that there was psychological and physical torture, humiliation, and physical blows that left dozens injured and even lead to death.

Cuba was already one of the nations with the highest prison populations in the world, and now it was updating its lifetime inventory of prisoners of conscience. And although it did not allow audits of justice and compassion under any circumstances, it continued to spend the state budget buying more police patrols, more rental cars for tourism, more hotels, more misery and collusion, more wages for trashy state security agents.

The pandemic was the only real foreigner that installed itself here in this, at times, nauseating tropical climate.

Then exile, always exile.

  • And you don’t demand ties / and I swear I understand / because I know that in your guts, like me in my own center, / you carry an Island inside… (Fito del Río “Isla Adentro”, 2021)

We adopt our own time zone in this tax haven for slaves, where every day is Sunday and three in the afternoon. A time zone for long queues, for constant internet outages, for platoons of internet trolls, for blackouts, to escape from a police siege, to enjoy the meme Republic, where it is no longer possible to breathe and only the pyre remains.

Those of us who are still here decided to invent a country and swallow the key. Sometimes, even on Sundays at three in the afternoon, we leave our artificial Eden and let the soundtrack of our soap opera show us the way in this hollow and unstable land.

Anyone? Is there anyone left in this country?

Ricardo Acostarana has a law degree and is a writer. He has published in the Cuban magazines El Caimán Barbudo, Dialektika, Tremenda Nota, La Joven Cuba, Hypermedia Magazine, and El Estornudo. He lives in Havana.

Illustration by Maikel Martínez Pupo. You can find him @MaikelStudio @maikelmartinezpupo.