Desde Dentro de Cuba.

Distribuido por Cuba Free Press, Inc. -

December 17, 1998.

CUBA, WHERE THE SMILE OR THE SOB IS ALWAYS CLOSE BY By Tania Quintero, Cuba Free Press. HAVANA - The smile is just as present in Cuba as is the sob. Both came almost together on Saturday, December 19.

'Nothing works. The elevator is broken," the custodian told me that day at the door of the theater "Guinyol" which is almost at the bottom of the Focsa building with its 36 floors - the tallest in Havana on the corner of 17th and M, in the Vedado neighborhood.

I glanced at my watch and saw it was 4:30, so I grabbed my granddaughter by the hand and we rushed about 100 yards to L Street, where we boarded a taxi, which, for 10 pesos, took us to the Mella theater. On the preceding day, it had begun to feature the Sixth Humor Festival of the 1998 Witches' Sabbath.

About the same time as our "Special Period" of austerity began, the Cubans discovered that the humor festivals in the theaters provided a little space where the guillotine of the censor is less destructive. The theatricals differ from the government's radio's, television's or publications' attempts at humor.

The Mella, the Fausto theater in Old Havana and the America theater in Central Havana are the primary locations of the Withches' Sabbath 1998 shows. The program that my granddaughter and I saw featured groups and soloists from Pinar del Rio, Havana and Holguin. In the other theaters are participants from Camaguey, Guantanamo, Cienfuegos, Santiago, Ciego de Avila and Las Tunas. To read and discuss humorous books, a group called the "jury" met in the bookstore named Ateneo, in the Vedado neighborhood.


Leaving the theater and heading toward our home the Vibora community was an odyssey that cost me 20 pesos more. Then six or seven minutes after we had reached home, we were startled to hear a tremendous commotion of someone beating on the door. My daughter opened it and was almost knocked down by Little Nancy, a young woman who lives a couple blocks away. She was criying and shouting, "Don't let him in!"

I rushed to the door, thinking there must be a robber or rapist there. But it was Leonel, father of a son born just recently. With considerable difficulty, my daughter and I were able to keep Leonel from entering the apartment and we slammed and bolted the door.

Outside, Leonel shouted to ask that we let Nancy go outside; he said he would not leave until she came out. He went down the stairs and waited outside the building. I went down to shut the door to the stairway.

Meanwhile, Nancy was slumped on a chair, crying hopelessly.

When we managed to calm here, she told us that Leonel had beaten her several times in a dark corner of what we call the "red plaza," which lies in front of the ancient Vibora institute.

"He threw me down on the ground and he kicked me o the shoulder and in the stomach," Nancy said. "People passed by and nobody did a thing. But I got away and began to run. When I was crossing the street a car almost hit me."

Why had Leonel struck the woman he calls his "life?" He was jealous. "He has always been jealous of the father of my seven-year-old daughter," Nancy said. "It's not the first time he hit me; in fact, once he struck me two weeks before I gave birth to the baby."

Leonel could not stand to arrive at Nancy"s house and see her ex-husband visiting his daughter. Leonel lives some blocks to the north, with his official woman, who bore him a son just three weeks ago. Little Nancy, his concubine, lives with her mother, Big Nancy, and five other people in a tiny apartment of two bedrooms and a tiny living room. Nancy is of one race, Leonel another.

Big Nancy for the first time was finding out about the physical attacks. She went in search of a policeman and they all went to the nearby police station, the 10th precinct. Leonel left with a fine of 60 pesos and a written warning that he was not to bother anyone at Nancy's home anymore.

That night, Big Nancy told her other four offspring, two women and two men, what had happened. She said, "In Cuba a women can be mistreated by her man but that is not going to be the case with my daughter. She has her two brothers and I have a machete that is very sharp." She is a formidable woman to looks like she has her wits about her.

This Saturday would not end with this altercation. Estelvina, an older asthmatic woman in her 70's had suddenly died, and Richard, a young grocer boy in the area, was found strangled, and nobody knew why. He had seemed like a quiet and happy youth, like those who make you laugh at the festivals of humor.

By Tania Quintero, Cuba Free Press.

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