Love and Peace in Cuba Today
From the Perspective of a Quaker

By Julio Antonio Cuesta Martínez

(Translated From the Spanish by
Stephen W. Angell)

Introduction
By Stephen Angell, Associate Editor

I met Julio Cuesta in Gibara, Cuba, in January, 2014, during the Fourth Encounter of the Cuban Quaker Institute for Peace. I was teaching courses there on Quakers and the Bible and Peace; and Quakers and Mysticism and Peace, and Julio was one of my students. I had a question about nineteenth century Spanish Romantic poetry, and it was suggested that I talk to Julio about it. Julio and I hit it off. Julio introduced me to Gustavo Becquer, Ruben Dario, and other Spanish poets and loaned me books.

I also found out that Julio himself is a poet and author, and he talked frankly about the challenges of being a writer in Cuba. With little in the way of word processing ability, few or no publishing outlets, and even a shortage of paper, writers like Julio face daunting obstacles. He described how he wrote in pencil, so that he could improve his writing by erasing and then rewriting, until he found the most powerful words. I was moved to ask Julio to write an essay about life in Cuba today – too few Americans understand what it is like to live in Cuba, I said. And I urged him to use his most powerful words.

A few weeks after I returned home to Indiana, I received the following essay from Julio, and I was thrilled by his essay as I read it, and later translated it: the combination of deep spiritual longing and a candid attention to the everyday, a great poetic sensibility (difficult to render into another language, but great efforts were made), a broad historically informed vision, and a deep, eloquently phrased compassion for his fellow Cubans and for all humanity. I commend his essay to you.


First Psalm

Most loving heavenly father
Don’t forget to call me one day
Call me
Call me

Thou, I know my will
The will that kindles
The hungers of sacrifice

Let my pain remain
The pain of the brother
The pain of the neighbor

Explore my depths
There
There where the love is returning
Permanent essence of the Spirit

Cause my soul to remain water
Water in the desert areas
Of the soul of neighbor
That is also mine
Cause your Light to shine
Within me, always
And these verses to be yours.

Prelude in Christ Jesus for all of my brothers and sisters

Years ago I conceived the idea of writing this essay, but what counts is the time of God. All of this is familiar to me, and as a Quaker I don’t say what I feel, but I feel what I’m saying, so I prefer not to cite other authors. If anyone needs to check on that which has been written here, it is to the Truth itself that they should direct themselves. As a people, Cubans have been more obedient to the passions of men than to the passion of Christ.

I am a temple whose work
Is the light of the heart
Quaker by convincement
And a Friend in the Service

Free, free I am in Christ
And a thinker in the Light
One who is born in Jesus
All the days that I exist

Thank God I can today write poems, stories, psalms, letters and essays, such as this one that occupies us, with the objective that you, brothers and sisters all over the planet, may know more of the reality of Cuba, the country in which He allowed me to be born, so that once the veil of my spiritual blindness had passed, I would begin to bear fruit in his Work. Moreover, He has given me the possibility of preaching his Word, as soon as I worship him and bless him by singing hymns, often in accompaniment to recorded music, and in addition, He has opened doors for greater preparation and understanding of His purposes through Biblical studies, among other paths of usefulness that already have been entrusted to me through Him.

A drop of Jesus

I am a temple that sails
Through the seas of the Light
A drop of Jesus
A deed of love and salvation
I am of the group of the Omega
That, even though the last, is profound
And of the Alpha, abundant
In the sentiment that in God
One is not allowed to raise one’s voice
For the miseries of this world

It grieves my conscience to know that few Cubans inside Cuba will have access to these pages, and to reflect that the truth contained here will get to Cuba by word of mouth, or who knows how. The Internet in Cuba, which is very limited, along with the mass media, constitutes a factor that is extremely institutional, from which it will be clear that information coming to us from the outside has a unipolar character. By not having any alternative or independent information, you have only two options. Most of us Cubans, including many poets and writers, are at a disadvantage as far as global connectivity goes, even with respect to obsolete technologies. Most of us still do not have a computer printer.


Of love I am a crevice
Among unknown drops
In turbulent waters
Christ is light for the poet
And although I suffer prepotency
My flag today is the canvas
That from the soul I condense
With freedom of belief

And here I am with my soul grasping toward you, full of joy in the Lord. Still, when this material is published, it could turn out that epithets may be used about me, or possible consequences may be given to me by men who in my country do not walk with Christ. I trust every day that God gives me in each a birth of Jesus in my heart, in each invasion that the Holy Spirit makes to my Light within. Gibara, the people who saw me born, knows my collective efforts. I have a tranquil conscience. Never an ounce of my sentiment has been sold at any price. On the other hand, if some have paid, if I pay and will continue paying, it has been, is, and will be, for love of God and of neighbor, like so many of our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

I want to live in the wind
Which is not constrained
Like the river in its bitterness
I ought to say what I feel
I know that in my strength there is courage
To be Christ in my living
But I should not sleep
If weakness dwells in me
Because for the truths to slumber in me
Is to see me die little by little


God Speaks When People Become Silent

A child of God knows by deep conviction that the restrictions of this world come not from him: silence is one of them. He gave us a free will to think and act according to His plans for everything. Many years of silence have passed by, that have mainly amassed negative feelings within the Cuban people. When people cannot express with full freedom their concerns, emotions, viewpoints, etc., their transformative power tips the scales of judgment away from what has been desired. Society does not need to be subject to rigid masters. Stagnation, little by little, is becoming a time bomb, and once the social explosion happens, there will be no human force capable of containing it. The cost that we would pay would be extremely high. Thank God, I possess today a new vision of the world, and an opportunity to share poems that make up a book project that the Holy Spirit has inspired in me: A Drop of Jesus, which I included in this essay. Also, I submit to your consideration long nights of writings in His presence.

Only God

Only God has the responsibility
To decide on my behalf
He has taught me to be a man
Who respects everyone equally
God keeps his promises
And Jesus is his holy example
And I, very sad, contemplate
The promises of those people
Who do not fulfill their duties
And  God wants them in his temple

Think about what it means to Cuban society on the inside that many intellectuals and artists cannot rely on the possibility of buying a computer in order to work at home. Nor has any program been implemented which would permit this. Digital semi-literacy has taken over quite a few people around here. We also see that it is less and less possible to publish our books in print, due to the scarcity of paper, or that is what we have been told. Scarcely two months ago, the idea crossed my mind to destroy the books of poetry which I accumulate without publishing, but my wife disagreed. She even convinced me with the idea that there was a time before and a time after I entrusted my soul to God with Jesus at my side, and that I should give thanks for that. In other times, the printing presses and the independent newspapers were an alternative means of publishing one’s sentiments, but all of these media were also confiscated at the beginning of the sixties during the last century.


Lord

I am melted to your bread
With the clothing of justice
That you give as a caress
To the children who go to you.
I must be and I am one of those who give
Without asking, but I go
Walking in you I Am
And in the lights of that kiss
Which you gave me and took me captive
Since a child and here I am

And here I am, still not understanding so many things that are racking my mind and heart. I do not know why, even in Cuba, education in school at all levels continues to be so distant from God, with the exception of some non-governmental schools. Neither have I come to an understanding of why we have to belong to the churches built years ago, without the possibility of raising up others. The current options are reduced to house worship and prayer cells. Perhaps it is because building materials can only be used for housing? The truth is that every year in this country, new restaurants and tourist facilities are opened up, in which cigarettes and alcoholic beverages are sold, among other products. Since the individual congregation is fundamental in importance for the Church, the construction of church buildings is essential on account of problems of space in the houses of worship among brothers and sisters in other denominations, offering, besides, such greater importance to God’s work as the Cuban Church before the people, because of prejudice that still exists in my country against leading a religious or Christian life.

I am of those who have seen
Their good seeds of ideas
Drowned in the tides
Of minds far from Christ

I cannot live from behind
The constant thought
That my verse in Christ in front
Offers its emeralds

In many Cuban homes, the living situation is very complicated, because many generations live together, and their living aspirations differ somewhat between themselves, even with respect to the use of television in the home, a subject that stirs up countless conflicts. In most of these homes, walls or partitions have been built so that each member of the family can “enjoy their privacy.” The number of divorces for these and other reasons has risen in a dizzying ascent, causing instability in the Cuban family.

Song for a new light

I sing to those humans who cannot
Discern in their pain
To those whose soul is dragging
Alone
In the night
That they inhabit on the inside.

I sing to those
Who do not look for
The song that crosses
The hours of God

And for them I worry
While I am full of howls
For nuisances of jails
Or sharpness of death

And it is then
That I see again in the Light
Of Christ
Between their bodies.

The aspect dealt with in the second half of the previous paragraph is the phenomenon known as the Aging Cuban Popu-lation. The national housing stock is greatly insufficient for cur-rent needs. It is difficult for a married couple in these times to conceive more than two children, and many decide to have only one. Another important issue is the family economy, since our wages are minimal and most Cubans receive their wages in the local currency. A considerable part of the foods that we buy are sold in a network of shops that accept only convertible pesos. These shops are also known as places that recapture [foreign] currency. Other foods are sold at subsidized prices, in national pesos. The Cuban diet is not nutritionally balanced and is too expensive. That, without counting the prices of garments, nor of necessary electrical appliances, which are still more expensive.

If someone tells me to keep quiet
When I am right,
For them, I ask their pardon
But I am not quiet about a detail

The rascal does more damage
When he takes advantage of his position
To give us a bitter drink to swallow
It leads to an evil deed

In Cuba two currencies circulate that belong to our country, known as the national peso and the convertible peso, with the convertible peso worth twenty-five national pesos. A monthly salary of 500 national pesos, like mine, is considered high and is equivalent to twenty Cuban convertible pesos, or twenty dollars (less than one per day). Besides, while it is true that in my country free health care and education are positive aspects in the lives of the Cuban people, these have contributed to the aforementioned aging. Abortions are a token of this.

The penalties which hurt the mute
When they carve up the soul
Are expressed later without calm
Between pointed phrases

And it is always the indolence
That plans to hide without mutual consent
The problems in an agreement
That is losing influence.


Also of concern is the loss of values that is evidenced in the society, for many of us live already immersed in a crisis of this kind. The selfishness that goes along with pursuit of money has brought, as a consequence, that not a few people commit crimes, or have seen a lowering of their moral integrity. Low wages and scarce sources of income fundamentally impact national life. Emigration is on the rise. The risks that are involved with tourism in a country like Cuba, without much communication with the outside, have targeted young people, principally of the female sex. They want to be in tune with the latest fashions, to wear such clothing to parties, dances, even in schools. This creates a competition between them that sometimes even their parents don’t see.  Many parents are pressured by their children to buy them brand-name clothes, or otherwise, the youths are not going to attend classes, because they feel inferior to their classmates whose parents can afford to buy these kinds of clothes.

Without silence

I pass these stones of neglect
And I am given a new beginning.
I carry on,
The grass which twists
In the gusts of wind.

I offer up without silence
More than the necessities of my soul,
That which invokes
The language of the heart
In Christ Jesus

And in these twists I stroll around
While I am submerged
In the presence of God,
My Light Within,
Without being silent about his love for me,
Without being silent about my love for him.

On the other hand, thousands of workers were shifted to other jobs, inside or outside their workplaces, out of consideration, after many years, that the staff in their workplace was inflated. Self-employment, appreciated again after ninety years, has become an eventual and permanent solution for many families. A package of reforms to improve the national economy has been implemented, without contributing to the betterment of the household economy. The prices set by state-owned and private enterprises rise gradually, with both parties claiming that the cost of raw materials is becoming ever more expensive on the national and world market. In addition, the self-employed (or non-state workers) say that, if they do not raise the prices for their products or services, they will not be able to pay their taxes. Little by little, inflation becomes stronger, and all the weight of the economy’s problems are falling on the worker, emptying his pockets.

I know the deep love
Full of the names of the nameless
Christ the Light of humankind
Cures the sorrows of the world

They have in Christ their name
Love and justice
What embitters and corrupts them
Is the human conscience

Add to that the precious time we lose each day in queues of all types. Since many products (mostly food) are scarce, if you have the money but you don’t stand in line, then you will simply do without. Most of us Cubans are living this nightmare, where monopolizing the staples of life for resale is also fashionable. The famous “ration card” (or “food book”) has been much criticized. On this card are recorded the products that Cubans can buy each month at subsidized prices: five pounds of rice, four of sugar, half a bottle of cooking oil, one pound of hamburger or sausage; four ounces of coffee, ten of beans, six of fish or chicken, and a few ounces of other products which do not arrive monthly. This is sufficient for ten or fifteen days of a reduced-calorie diet. The rest of the month “you get by as you can,” a phrase very popular among Cubans.

Second psalm

Lord
I want to be your will

Permit it that the fire of your love
Remain burning
The call of your Being
That lives inside me

Permit it also
That pain be not a bread
That I give myself to eat

Give me drops of love
With those that are formed
By the smallest of your children

Expand me
Expand me
Expand me in the Light

That I may cross over
In order that I do not make shadows

Through subsidies like these, and with free education and health care, we are told that a larger salary has befallen us, and it is true. But it is also the truth that it is insufficient, because we Cubans prefer that they charge us for all services, but that they pay us a salary which covers our basic necessities. Few Cubans can aspire, with their own efforts, to visit another country or tourist resorts within our own nation, if we cannot even eat well and if we lack clothes. Sadly, the phrase has become famous, “The blame lies with the blockade.” In truth the blockade is not solely at fault. However, the Economic, Financial, and Commercial Blockade that the United States has kept imposing on Cuba has hit us for five decades and has caused abundant damage to us as a people. It strikes the lower layers of our society even harder, a situation that has been debated enough, both within and outside of Cuba.

There are problems and consequences
Of the very extensive blockade
One of minds, and I think
About refining the conscience

But now these ailments
Are moving toward the boundless
Which feeling is more anguished
When not treated during emergencies

The second, which goes unspoken, is the Internal Blockade of Centralized Minds, call it whatever you like. Its impact is on a par with the external blockade. It is represented by the bureaucracy at all levels, and the low degree of autonomy for businesses, both industries and service providers subject to high levels of centralization. It is manifested by an inability to solve the problems of the people, whose complaints and proposals in most cases are not handled with the immediacy that they require.

Then there is the misuse of disposable resources, not to mention that many times these could have been used for true community necessities. It is represented by indifference in meeting the problems of neighbors, especially in municipalities and in the base; also, improvisation in all spheres of life, the mismanage-ment and squandering of resources, generated by corruption; low wages to almost every level of society, which scarcely are enough to meet basic human needs; the lack of power to express one’s opinions about the situation existing in the country, unless they are framed to portray a person fas someone who has ideological problems and later they look at you askance and they act over your body; the absence of public criticism against those who make bad decisions on behalf of others, for fear of reprisals; the bridling of productive forces and the means of production, evidenced by such examples as the farmers who produce beef do not have the right to feed their families, with penalties that can amount to more than ten years in prison for anyone who kills any animals, even though they are the owners of these cattle; etc.; etc.; etc.

When you feel that in you everything has finished
And from your empty eyes flow
Hard tears and soon all your forces
Will fail: God is at your side

And if the burden in your past is large
And you think that your faults will accuse you
Love and faith will heal your soul
When you feel that God has forgiven you

Lift up your arms to heaven and Jesus
Will be a light to your feet, your path
Like the deer’s in its pilgrim’s walk

If for everyone He suffered on the cross
Our debt is to fulfill our destiny
Of holy worship to the divine king

The aforementioned inverted salary pyramid acquires greater force. Most professionals belong to the low-income layer. Therefore, many have left their jobs, claiming that by working outside, or on the side, they earn more money. Others need two jobs, one state and one private. A large percentage do not have employment in the fields for which they were trained, some by virtue of not finding a place at the end of their social service, and others because they are interested in a title which will enable them to have higher rank and remuneration, as is the case with the tourist industry, to cite only one example.

Although alone, I am not alone
And although sad, I do not walk sadly
My body sometimes is clothed
In the black cold of the pole

Always there is light in the pain
Fruitful fire in the darkness
Names that which has no name
And illuminates doubts with its radiance

The biggest beneficiaries of graduate education are those who belong to the fields of health care and education, and even though they are among the best-paid state workers, their incomes still do not cover all of their needs. In recent times, many professionals in these areas, among others, have been allowed to undertake designated Internationalist Missions, in which they have been permitted to provide help and relief to millions of people in many countries. At least when they perform these duties, they earn a salary, with raises, that exceeds what they are paid in Cuba. For my part, I am glad of it, but it is true that this is also a cause for division among Cubans, since they receive vacations once a year, leaving behind small children and the rest of their families, and not a few form affective unions outside the country. Once they return to Cuba, having completed their mission, they leave again to reunite with their new family in search of a better future for themselves and their own family.

I saw their twisted looks
Today, for my sincere thoughts
The hands of my companions
Aimed their swords at me

He who crushes for the sake of “duty”
And raises his fingers to the temple
Is a slave to those fears
Which only he must see

Still left to us Cubans are free health care and education, and safety in our streets. We beseech God that we do not lose this public outreach, since with the difficult economic situation that we as a people have been going through, the high level of desperation which characterizes us, and the elevated level of stress which affects us today, we would fall into a bottomless abyss. The internal conflict that each person has with himself represents a rupture of the inward peace which only is recovered in Christ Jesus. Christians are convinced that God is moving among us, but he needs us to open the doors of our hearts to Jesus so that in this way the Holy Spirit brings us alive and prepares for a life of faith and service in the Lord, a life that is also a life of sacrifice for the neighbor.

Third Psalm (Psalm-Epistle)

Most-loved heavenly father
Today is a day in which I have felt broken
That inner peace
That alone comes from your love

Forgive, oh Father
This dark moment
In which my forces have been weakened

You that know my suffering
My great joys
You know the matter that in the Spirit
Forms my heart

There are moments in the midst of joy
Through your presence
Forces invade us which buckle
Our knees
I walk toward the pain

Permit it, oh all-powerful God
The comfort of my spirit

In perfect communion
With the inner light that dwells in me
In my divine center
That is also part of you

Give me oh Father the blessing
Of being more fortified than ever

And your son receives from this
All his courage in loving you

An example of improvisation began to show itself when, years ago, there took place an exodus of professionals from education toward other parts of national life, above all toward the non-state sector, in search of better salaries. As this situation unfolded, measures were taken to cope, among which were the following: Many students in secondary education became teachers of other students in grades below theirs. Others began to give various classes while still engaged in the same course of studies. A widespread use of television in the classroom brought with it a low utilization of the knowledge being imparted, as well as an increase in uncertainty in different subjects. Students’ reading habits diminished considerably, along with high levels of spelling mistakes and crude forms of expression. Formal education, mainly for the youth, has suffered strong blows, and nothing promising has occurred.

Placing a hood over the truth
And changing it into a flag
Denies to the spring
The flower of liberty

Freedom is not in vain
When the Light Within
Is capable in the Lord
Of freeing the brother

The very fact that the Cuban people live under the effects of a Double Blockade directly impacts the collective conscience. This translates into a loss of confidence, connected to the impossibility that the country can improve its situation in the short term. This in turn causes a rise in emigration, both legal and illegal, with young people constituting most of the emigrants. Not a few Cubans who have been encouraged to emigrate, both from inside and outside of the nation, often by their own families, have lost their lives during sea crossings undertaken in mistaken ways, as I view the situation.

Garden lights will ripple
In the crashing surf
Dead roses are reborn
Melding the passion of the swordfighter
With the grace of passage
These lively ones show such fortitude
Their souls were forged in the rivers
I live with internal sorrows
Free of outside evils
But captive to my own

Confronted with so many problems that have been building over decades, in our churches there has been, thanks to God, a prophetic remnant, that by the nineties of the last century (Cuba’s Special Period) had maintained themselves stronger than ever and served as a light to so many people who sought the Lord’s ways, discouraged by the difficult economic situation. These years served to demonstrate to Cuba and to the world how much God loves us and that Jesus is always willing to walk with us in order to sustain us, however harsh the circumstances may be. Each year that passes, God adds new Cuban souls, convinced that working for Him on the earth is the beginning of Eternal Life.

Poem of continuing love in the Lord

I will fight for your works in the Light that dwells in me
I will fulfil your word that you give me with love
And although I know that new meetings await me in the Cross
You will heal my unfinished soul, You at my side, Lord

I will love you more than ever, as a “simple verse”
I will love you without fear to live with pain
And in the Light that you shine through my narrow corridor
I will love you eternally as a man of honor.

After some years of separation between the society, in a general sense, and the Cuban church, and not through fault of the latter, we have now arrived at a more favorable situation to preach the gospel, but it is not enough. While the church today is better recognized at a national level, it still needs the possibility and willingness to open up to society as a whole and to individual communities. It also must eliminate the prejudice and barriers that have caused so much damage to the collective soul of the Cuban people. I give thanks to God, because the church has recognized the transformative role that brothers in the Christian life have experienced inwardly and outwardly through the Light Within, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the presence of Jesus in our hearts. Cuba is transformed, although not as the people would want, but it lives in apparent peace… May God grant that Cuba heal within and without
May God grant that everyone love Jesus
The purest peace that exists is that which comes from Himཀ

Solu-Dios (Only God)

If my life were to change irresistibly
I love that you help me
If the enemy wanted to do harm to me
I love that you care for me
If I were able to walk only some meters
I love that you move me
If I would be allowed to observe with my eyes
I love that you guide me

When I must sing a song
I love that you encourage me
When I can write a poem
I love that you inspire me

When I have to be preaching the Word
I love that you talk to me
When my times of prayer take place
I love that you listen to me

Although distress was arriving at my temple
I love that you smiled on me
Although I have to live sacrificially
I love that you strengthen me
Although I have been tied down with thousands of chains
I love that you free me
Although they say goodbye with every step
I love that you save me

From Social Peace to Inner Desperation

In this context of peace in the streets and despair inside the soul, in Cuba those of us who find comfort are only those who have opened a well of love in our hearts where Jesus dwells. Nobody here has been able to find relief for their sorrows in any other way, even those who serve as moneymakers or decision makers. Thank God that the incidence of atheism is diminishing here at a speed never seen in decades. When times are hard, more men and women seek the shelter of the Most High, as was demonstrated during the very intense years of the Special Period.

There is clarity in the fear
That is hidden until later
To change into a great fire
And to shed light on the pain

Such damage makes silence
The way of life for the passive
Collective problems
Nobody should silence

Our streets are still safe, but the paths of thousands and thousands of fragile hearts are daily subjected to heart-rending torrents of stress. Across the society, rates of physical, verbal, and psychological violence are high, and women, children, and the elderly are the most vulnerable. Social ills begin to become visible: alcoholism, prostitution, corruption, moral degradation, lack of interest in collective problems, individualism, the newly rich, the impoverished senior citizen, cronyism, favoritism, limi-tation of opportunities, the lack of material resources, low wages, backward technology, hatred, envy, professional jealousy, non-payment of debts, increased law breaking, the absence of courage to confront bad deeds, fear of criticizing or searching out problems, reprisals, etc.

Peace Poem

Peace finds the reason
When we look at the holy sky
Peace permits our song
If it is born in the heart
Peace gives us communion
As brothers in Jesus
Peace dwells in the Light
Which fights our pain
And molds us into better persons
While we carry the cross

We Christians are conscious of the urgent necessity of a Cuba for Christ, before the spiritual enemy, which lurks around us continually, injects a greater dose of negative feelings that provokes an emotional imbalance of popular confrontation, and with it to devour as a raging wolf the Cuban society, taking advantage of atheism and disobedience to God.

But today, with profits from my inheritance
I am never ashamed
Because my life is the beginning
Of an infinite existence

And so I summarize the essence
Of one who was never defenseless
And ceases to be a dense man
In Christ there is permanence

Sisters and brothers, may the Lord in his goodness bless you and strengthen you every day, in order to continue the wonderful work that he has bequeathed to us. May the Lord permit us Cubans to heal on the inside and the outside. We thank God today for all occasions. Pray for Cuba, any time that you can. The children of God over here continue working hard, supported by the liberating forces of peace, love, and hope. Only in Christ and the Holy Spirit are we able, in a true and heavenly form, to find a way to the Land of the New Covenant in Jesus: the New Promised Land.
For everyone, and a Cuba for Christ.

Song of Deep Love

There is hope in the world
Because the Son of Man arrived
Good will has a name
When the love is profound
The human being is fruitful
When uniting in Christ the Lord
His feeling and warmth
With the brother who sees
Salvation in faith
And that in God all is love

Amen


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