Spanish to English

The Cuban Protests Resonate In Venezuela – Spanish to English Translation

The Cuban protests resonate in Venezuela
By Ibsen Martínez

Ibsen Martínez is a Venezuelan novelist, television screenplay writer, playwright and essayist. He lives in exile in Bogotá. This piece originally appeared in the New York Times in Spanish with Spanish-English translation by Peter Katel.

Leading Venezuelan observers believe that the sudden and dramatic wave of protests that shook Cuba July 11 will hit the Nicolás Maduro regime in Venezuela, heralding imminent good news for my country. These observers see the Cuban regime as heading unstoppably toward collapse. The thinking goes that this will produce shock waves that shortly will make the return of Venezuelan democracy inevitable. Perhaps I am too gloomy, but I think that this assumes too much.

Can one expect the Cuban events to directly affect Venezuelan politics? And is there anything that the Venezuelan opposition can do to hasten the end of oppression of Venezuelans and Cubans by the  allied regimes of Caracas and Havana?

To answer these questions, we have to understand the nature and the scope of the ties that have moved both countries ever closer economically, politically and militarily over the past 20 years.

In 2012, the stellar year of the Comprehensive Cooperation Agreement that Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, both now departed, signed in October, 2000, Venezuelan subsidies and direct investment in Cuba reached $16 billion, nearly 12 percent of the island’s GDP.

The sudden drop in crude oil prices in 2015, the corruption and ineptitude of the Maduro regime and the global ravages of the pandemic have cut these amounts almost in half.

The island’s economy has been hit hard by the Venezuelan crisis and by the pandemic’s negative effects on tourism. But although President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s planners are now looking to Russia and China, they still haven’t found a trade partner who compares with chavista-era Venezuela.

For Maduro, meanwhile, military cooperation agreements with Cuba have never been so important.

These agreements, signed in 2008, grant Cuba maximum political control of the Boliviarian Armed Forces. They focus on counterintelligence, on advising and training military personnel, on the presence of Cuban officers in Venezuelan barracks, and on intelligence agencies’ surveillance of Venezuelan military brass.

The Venezuelan dictator owes the unshakeable support of Venezuela’s military largely to Cuba. This is no small thing. Keep in mind that for nearly 20 years, and on more than one occasion, major opposition leaders have wagered unsuccessfully that mass citizen protest would lead to a military revolt.

All of the above explains that, despite the oil price crash and production drop, plus Venezuela’s deep economic crisis and humanitarian emergency, the flow of Venezuelan oil to Cuba has continued, even in defiance of U.S. sanctions in effect since 2019.

The Cuban political crisis hits Venezuela at a moment when it is torn apart by the gravest immigration crisis our continent has ever seen. At the same time, the country is reeling under the pandemic, and the negligence of a criminal regime. Poverty afflicts the country even as its people are terrorized by criminals and the police.

Added to these woes, most Venezuelans, ravaged by shortages and the pandemic, look upon politicians with indifference, if not loathing.

Most of the opposition leadership seems bewildered, captivated by the notion of regional elections. These have been called – without reasonable conditions for voting – by a regime that violates human and political rights. In addition, Venezuelan oppositionists have a tragic habit of  overrating international influence.

Looking at Cuba, the collapse of the Havana regime does not seem to lie in the immediate future, to be followed by the inevitable fall of Chavismo-Madurismo. More likely, repression and human rights violations in both countries will worsen – and even be coordinated binationally.

Even assuming that citizen protests lead in the coming months to political and economic changes in Cuba, much will depend on time and on the personal qualities of whoever takes the lead of the admirably courageous Cubans.

As Cuban historian Rafael Rojas has tweeted, the shape of future events also depends on the civic spirit of Cuban protesters, and on U.S. policy. The latter, fortunately, is taking the form of individual sanctions and on measures to facilitate internet access.

Sergio Ramírez noted recently, writing of his Nicaragua, that today’s opposing forces in our Americas are none other than dictatorship and democracy. Very tough times are coming our way. The Cuban, Venezuelan and Nicaraguan dictatorships are ready to go for broke.

Maduro and Díaz-Canel have a lot at stake. As allies in tyranny, they won’t hold back. The future consequences for our two nations – and not just in the short term – are not hard to imagine.

The Cuban moment demands that Venezuelan politicians assume an attitude of realistic seriousness, no longer simply condemning the regime’s henchmen and declaring solidarity with protesters. They must do everything within their power to lend a hand.

The interim government led by Juan Guaidó, which is recognized by dozens of nations, could make active diplomacy a bigger priority on its diplomatic agenda. This would take the form of high-level activism to support human and political rights on the island, thereby increasing world governments’ pressure on Havana.

We Venezuelans are anxiously watching the shift, unthinkable only weeks ago, that Cubans’ courage has forced on their tragic circumstances. This among people who, in the videos, look so much like ours.

Regaining transparent elections and full democracy in Venezuela will, in the long run, win them for Cuba.

Not the other way around.


Spanish to English

Como Polvo En El Viento – Leonardo Padura – Spanish to English Translation (unauthorized)

(“Like dust in the wind.” The title comes from the 1977 song by Kansas. One of Padura’s non-mystery novels, the novel tells the story of a group of friends, all educated professionals, who come of age in 1980s Cuba. Marcos is one of the group’s next generation).

Spanish to English

The Transparency Of Time by Leonardo Padura – Spanish to English Translation

Invisible Havana


From, “The Transparency of Time,” Leonardo Padura, 2018. Unauthorized translation.


[Mario Conde is the lead character in a series of novels by Padura. Conde, a frustrated writer, started as a policeman, then entered the second-hand book trade. Rabbit and Candito are lifelong friends. La transparencia del tiempo is the 12th of Padura’s novels, some of which do not feature Conde].


After they had gotten barely 100 meters from the street, which had once been paved, the outsiders understood that they were moving into another universe, as if they had gone through a black hole into a different time-space dimension. The world of invisible people, Conde dubbed the territory they were entering. The alleys of trodden earth, steadily narrower and more tortuous, irregularly laid out, were molded by precariousness and improvisation. On each side of the pathways, covered with with ridges that made it impossible for any vehicle but a military tank to pass, were dwellings whose physical structures decayed as they followed some of the many rough tracks that split off from what appeared to be the main artery of the settlement.

Going deeper into the slum, they saw some masonry, cement-block houses, but improvisation and poverty soon took over everywhere: Rooms built with a few blocks and bricks, others with termite-ridden planks, some with zinc sheeting in various states of deterioration, and even pieces of cardboard in others. The places seemed to be covered with the most dissimilar materials for protection from rain and sun: roofs of zinc or wood, others covered with waterproof paper, to the precarious extreme of coverings with tarpaper or pieces of lighweight plastic affixed to a chunk of stone or an iron bar. The laws of urban development, of architecture and even of gravity were unknown in this hive of miserable lodgings, which made up a chaotic and suffocating sprawl.

Conde, who walked through Havana every day in search of books to buy, had thought he knew the most run-down places in the city, the old proleterian neighborhoods, always poor, like the very place where he’d been born and still lived. In other circumstances, he had had occasion to visit a “settlement” of eastern immigrants close to his own area, an informal bunch of houses built in an empty lot between two urban neighborhoods. There, he had seen overcrowded houses that shared walls, built with no order or plan, with walls that had never been plastered. But they fit the definition of houses. By his lights, that could be called poverty. Now he was witnessing jubilant misery, underground Havana: the catacombs of the catacombs.

“What the hell is this, Conde?,” Rabbit asked him, looking from one side to the other as if he didn’t believe what his eyes were showing him.

“Underground life,” Conde said, attempting to define the environment surrounding them. “This is another life. But it is also real.”

“This is life?,” Rabbit said, doubtfully.

“Yes, Rabbit, though it’s supposed to be invisible,” Conde said. “I’ve told you: There’s always someone who’s worse-off…Worse off than me, for instance.”

“And how is that there are people who are so fucked? Here, in this country? By now?,” Conejo asked, alarmed. He continued: “This looks like Haiti, Africa…or hell. And remember, I was born in a crappy place, poverty-stricken, but, fuck, compared to this, my house was the Taj Mahal, man.”

“You don’t know what poverty is, Rabbit,” Candito finally said, moved to emerge from his silent observing.

The outsiders would soon find out that people had begun to settle the place in the 1990s, when the Crisis began. A group from the country’s East, looking for any possible solution to their misery, had emigrated to the capital. The explorers had hoped to find a way to survive, and, out of necessity and spontaneous generation, had happened upon this unpopulated area, a sort of no man’s land in which, stubbornly, they established themselves, with the stony obstinacy that grew out of their situation: This was life or death. With cardboard, pieces of wood and zinc sheeting, the pariahs had built the first dwellings and dug the first pits for their bodily wastes.

Then began a silent battle for survival of which most of the country’s inhabitants were never informed, because there was no news about it, as if the island’s Palestinians* didn’t even rate that much. Given that this was an illegal ocupation of State land, the various agencies involved, including the Police, had started to to harass the occupants, trying to drive them out.

But every attempt at eviction was followed by the return of the displaced, accompanied each time by new, desperate familiies who kept coming from all parts of the country to join the founders. Overnight, they would rebuild their rustic houses where the old ones had been torn down, and they would build new ones on nearby lots, and there they would plant their flag, like the conquistadores they were.

Responding to repeated attempts at expulsion, the residents of the unnamed slum started to raise barricades of necessity against offensives by the forces of legality. Cordons of children and women – if they were pregnant so much the better – were designed to block police cars, as well as the pitiless bullozers manned by squads of builders who had become demolishers.

The fight went on for several years, maintained by the absence of other options for people determined to survive, without water and sewer service, electricity, and even without the little book that guaranteed the nation’s citizens a subsistence diet at subsidized prices.

It was a fight in which the people under assault had nowhere to retreat. So they stayed determined and strong. Thanks to all that perseverance and desperation, they won a pyrrhic victory: Up against the impossibility of offering them any alternative that included conditions of even minimal dignity, someone had decided to look the other way and let them maintain their insecure existence, on condition that they remain invisible.


*Cuban slang for people who come to Havana from Cuba’s eastern provinces.

Spanish to English

Spanish – English Translation: Joaquín Villalobos on Cuba in Nexos

Cuba: a one-time insider’s “heresy”

Joaquín Villalobos was a top commander of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front during the civil war in El Salvador. He is now a consultant on security and conflict resolution. The following are excerpts from a two-part essay in the July and August issues of Nexos, a Mexican journal.