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Oct 5 2011 (IPS) - HAVANA, Oct (IPS) Under the pounding Cuban August sun, three young graffiti artists are working on a wall along one of the central avenues. Passersby look over with curiosity and bewilderment, some perhaps bothered by what seems like a meaningless slathering of paint. A few people ask the meaning of these strange letters and the nonsensical word they spell. It happens to be the name of the founder of the movement of independent graffiti artists that these boys belong to, but written backwards.

What is significant here is that the manager of the auto repair shop that the wall belongs to gave the boys permission to do their work there because he didn’t have enough money to paint it. Most curious is the fact that in the six hours it took the painters to complete their “opus”, numerous police officers passed on foot or in their patrol cars but not one even asked what they were doing or what their painting said.

While these boys are carrying out an activity that in the rest of the world is conducted furtively and at night, in a protestant church in Havana about sixty followers of an ex-pastor who was expelled from his religious denomination have locked themselves inside to wait for the end of the world, which their leader said is imminent. This is the story told in the street.

The police were called to check out the situation but they surround the building with the intention only of preventing incidents outside. What happens inside the church is up to the pastor and his flock. Although Cubans are followers by nature, it does not seem likely that this gathering will end up in a collective immolation. And if it does, it is a sign that things are changing too much.

At the same time a question is making the rounds of the Cuban capital: what happened with the fibre optic cable from Venezuela? The only answer comes in the form of rumours. The cable was supposed to be in operation by this summer (now past, though the sun and heat are still strong, as the graffiti artists can testify) and provide Cuba with data and images. The explanation off the record and in the streets is that the cable project was never completed because of corruption among the Cubans charged with carrying it out. There has been no mention of this whatsoever in any of the state media, digital or otherwise. And where there is silence, rumour is sovereign.

What was discussed, and copiously, on the most official Cuban web sites were the statements made in Miami by Cuban musician Pablo Milanes, who declared among other things that he has ended his loyalty to Fidel and even entered into discussions with a prominent opponent of the Cuban system. Although there was no coverage of this in Cuban newspapers and television, or of the concerts held in the United States by this outstanding musician, the official digital world blasted him for what was considered his infidelity (and never was the term better used), including even the charge that he had betrayed the principles of the revolution. However, as far as can be ascertained from non-Cuban press and media, Pablo Milanes returned to Cuba and is now in his home in Havana, hopefully at peace.

It has been noted with pride than already more than 300,000 Cubans have sought licenses for free-lance work and started small businesses throughout the island. These “independientes” seem to have all reached the same conclusion: though you have to pay taxes and work harder, it is more profitable to work for yourself than for the state.

Other important news: Caravaggio’s Narcissus and perhaps two other works of the great Italian master, as well as additional pieces by his followers, are on display in Havana for two months. This is apparently the first time that a Caravaggio has been to Latin America and provides a unique occasion for Cubans to witness, like Narcissus himself, one of the most breathtaking creations of human genius.

Like graffiti, some things reach Cuba late. Others simply never arrive or have a difficult time making it there. Some of these are mentioned by the government, while others drop to the bottom of the well of secrecy, which is in many ways sustained by these things that never arrive, like public access to the Internet, which might have guaranteed the completion of the controversial fibre optic cable. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Leonardo Padura Fuentes is a Cuban writer and journalist whose novels have been translated into more than fifteen languages. His most recent work is The Man Who Loved Dogs, featuring Leon Trotsky and his assassin Ramon Mercader as central characters.

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