Artists Supply is Short of Materials for Camaguey Salon / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

The art show opened in 2 February and will run until the first days of March in the Provincial Fine Arts Center. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camaguey, 17 February 2017 – With a predominance of mixed techniques and recycled materials, Camaguey artists hide the shortage of raw materials in the City Salon show. The art show opened on 2 February and will run until the first days of March in the Provincial Fine Arts Center.

The event began with a contest in which 32 artists participated with more than 40 works, among which the wide presence of younger artists stands out. The members of the Camagüey Provincial Arts Center presented the prizes a few days after the opening.

Many of the works show a nonchalant character and the authors have had to deploy a greater imagination to supply the missing resources

The winner of the Grand Prize was video artist Hamlet Armas Perez, 27, who explained to 14ymedio the difficulty of “creating art right now in Camagüey” because of the lack of materials.

Many of the works show a nonchalant character and the authors have had to deploy greater imagination to supply the missing resources, since the Cuban Cultural Property Fund, the largest supplier of materials in the province, has stopped supplying art products.

This situation is suffered in particular by painters, says Armas Pérez, although video art makers also have “difficulties in finding resources.”

Kevis, a young graduate of the School of Art Instructors who could not finish his work in time for the exhibition, laments the high prices of materials, as well as the complexity of finding them. “I’m paying for a tube of white oil now 5 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $5 US) on the street,” he protests.

“Some of the education and culture warehouses keep materials for more than 20 years.” Those are the resources that are circulating in the province according to Kevis. “The tubes of oil are sometimes hard and you have to put them in hot water to make them soft.”

Angel González Fariñas, director of the gallery, thinks that the predominance of mixed techniques is more related to “the authors’ instinct for experimentation” and takes for granted the “lack of materials especially in the prints and mountings.”

The artist Jorge Luis Pulido Álvarez, who won the Salon’s third prize and three collateral prizes with the trilogy In the habitat of my art, says that his work was done with mixed technique and that in spite of the shortages “the artists overcome these difficulties with the passion they feel.”

Lewis was unable to present his work because he could not get the mounting that he needed: a frame and glass

Lewis, an art instructor in the visual arts, said that he could not present his work at the event because he could not get the mounting that his work needed: a frame and glass. Lacking the necessary resources to dedicate himself to painting has pushed him to dedicate himself to drawing.

Another artist who has abandoned painting, in his case for a better remunerated technique — carpentry — is Pedro. This former professor at the School of Art Instructors says that he has dedicated himself to making coatracks and shoe racks because “you have to eat.”

However, despite the adversities, the organizers of the show have managed to maintain a high standard.

The curator and critic Pavel Alejandro Barrios Sosa sums up his perception of the work of the artists: “Art for art’s sake, the amusement of the artist, quotes, versions, allusions, the relationship between culture and popular expression, between the national and the universal.”

Local Producers Missing From Pinar Del Rio Wine Shop / 14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez

Casa de los Vinos (House of Wines) in Pinar del Rio was inaugurated this Tuesday, hours late (14ymedio). Photo: Jaliosky Ajete

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Ricardo Fernandez, Pinar del Rio, 17 February 2017 – The Pinar del Rio Casa de los Vinos (House of Wines) got off on a bad foot the day of its inauguration. The opening ceremony, held on Tuesday, had to be delayed for several hours as the construction work had not been completed and customers were scarce.

Those most missed were the local producers, who were the initial promoters of this initiative – along with the urban agriculture workers – and who planned a place where customers could taste and buy artisanal wines. The idea, which failed for lack of state support, was taken over by the state-owned Internal Trade Company, but without the presence of the private winemakers.

On the island, despite the climate and the limited access to raw materials, an increasing number of producers are making artisanal wines, from the fermentation of fruits such as guava, orange, papaya, pineapple, soursop and mango.

The new place in Pinar del Rio, situated at No. 8 Gerardo Medina Street, seeks to enhance the inventiveness of winemaking and has capacity for 26 customers. “We prioritize the local production of artisan wines,” the manager, Julio Corrales Banos, told the official press.

On the opening day, however, only the industrial wines made in the province were on offer because of the lack of an agreement with the area’s producers. The absence of a legal framework that allows the state to contract directly for the products of these entrepreneurs is limiting local activity.

Artemisa and Mayabeque are currently the only provinces that have greater flexibility in contracts with the private sector.  Raúl Castro’s government has given autonomy to the Administration Councils of the provincial Assemblies of People’s Power to experiment with another type of management.

For winemakers from Pinar del Rio, being able to count on something like this would mean a considerable jump in profits due to the increase in demand that has been noticed in the region in recent years.

For the moment, the sale of privately managed wines is carried out from doorways and informal stands on the busiest streets of the city. Some thirty producers sell wine, the majority of which are of excellent quality, despite not meeting the international standards for the inclusion of sugar in the fruit fermentation process.

The wines that are produced in the Island have high degrees of Brix, a unit of measurement of the sugars present in a drink, and are usually sweet or semi-sweet, with a low volume of alcohol.

Ernesto Reinoso and his wife showing their wine selection for February 14th. (14ymedio)

Ernesto Reinoso, 81 years old, produces 26 Vinos de Rey in a traditional way. “If the objective was to create a space where the people of Pinar del Rio can consume wines, they would have to look at the prices, because the wines we sell are very cheap, 1 Cuban convertible peso (roughly $1 US) a bottle,” he says about the new place.

At the head of the first stage of the Casa de los Vinos was Julio del Llano, a retired winemaker regrets that no private producer was invited to the opening. Del Llano, the third generation of winemakers in his family, is a promoter of quality among producers and was the first in the territory to register his brand.

“We winemakers will have to continue marketing through self-employed workers, as we have done until today,” concludes Del Llano, who has won multiple awards in national quality contests.

In February of last year, in the 25th Artisan Wine Festival, celebrated at the Agricultural Fair of Rancho Boyeros (Havana), a contest was held in eight categories: white, rosé, red, sparkling, dry, semi-dry, sweet and semi-sweet. Luis Bermúdez Rodríguez won the grand prize with a sample of semi-sweet wine made from pineapple and banana, 2013, with 12.8 degrees of Brix.

Ileana Álvarez, Wings Always Ready To Fly / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Ileana Álvarez, writer, essayist and director of the magazine ‘Alas Tensas’, at the Havana Book Fair. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 February 2017 — When one looks at that territory of Cuban literature inhabited by women, it is usually observed from the concept of gender. Among those who study the phenomenon with more intensity, and also with more courage, Ileana Álvarez stands out. She is a poet, essayist, author of a dozen books and deserving of various national and foreign awards.

Recently she left her native province of Ciego de Avila to participate in the Havana Book Fair. In a pause during her tour of La Cabaña fortress, where the event is held, she spoke to 14ymedio and shared with our readers her universe of concerns. continue reading

Escobar. What did you think of the Book Fair?

Alvarez. This year I liked it better than the previous one, when there were few books and too much emphasis on the commercial. This one has had very good moments, like the presence of the book My life by Leonardo Padura, but also it has had moments, in my judgment, that are too ideologized. I do not think that the publishing system of a country should be organized according to an annual fair, but it is good that there is an event where we can meet writers from all over the country.

Escobar. What brought you to this Book Fair?

Alvarez. I came to present Sacred Companies. A four-handed essay prepared by my husband Francis Sánchez and myself. It aims to rescue figures of the national intelligentsia converted into permanent company. Like that image of the virgin that always accompanies us, like the talisman that we do not want to be separated from. It focuses on three canons of Cuban literature that were once marginalized, misunderstood: Lezama Lima, Virgilio Piñera and Dulce María Loynaz.

Escobar. How do you feel when you are labeled as a feminist writer?

Alvarez. The term feminist has been very vilified. Patriarchal thinking has helped to discredit it, ridicule it and see it as something of the past. But it must be salvaged by what it has contributed not only to social and civil struggles, but also to the cultural thinking of today’s society. When there was no universal suffrage, feminism was at the forefront of achieving women’s right to vote. By the way, Cuba was one of the first countries to achieve that right, much earlier than other European nations.

Now there are those who believe that all problems are solved because there are laws that protect women and guarantee, on the legal level, equality with men from the point of view of salary and other aspects. But even in the field of laws there is a long way to go and many stereotypes must be fought. A society cannot achieve the true meaning of democracy if real equality between men and women is not achieved.

A society cannot achieve the true meaning of democracy if real equality between men and women is not achieved

Escobar. In addition to being a woman and a feminist, your are a writer based in a province. How do you deal with the pitfalls?

Alvarez. You missed one word: mother. It is difficult to try to equate the status of artist and mother. If we add the “Havana-centrism,” everything becomes more complex. It is hard and difficult. Sometimes I feel tremendously discouraged. Fortunately, in the worst I am supported by an inner strength that is very valuable and that is the faith I have because I am a Catholic. That faith gives me the perseverance of believing that tomorrow can be better if every person contributes their grain of sand.

Escobar. Is the grain of sand you are referring to called “Alas Tensas” (Tense Wings)?

Alvarez. I hope so. Alas Tensas magazine has several goals, perhaps too ambitious given the conditions in which I live. From its pages we want to promote a broader paradigm of Cuban women, which is not reduced to that model of the sensual mulata. Cuban women are also those women living in the countryside who feed the household’s pigs and hens, the old woman who goes to church, the introverted intellectual who looks within. This kind of empowered woman, who prepares for the future, is also an indissoluble part of our identity, our Cuban identity. 

Escobar. As a student of letters, what is your diagnosis of the health of Cuban literature in the early 21st century?

Alvarez. It is too early to evaluate that. It takes some distance to analyze these phenomena. There is a very experimental type of poetry, iconoclastic and avant-garde which, even though from my limited personal aesthetics it doesn’t call to me, it is very interesting as a social phenomenon.

I believe that a literature is being made that in the future will have its true emergence. Today we have Leonardo Padura in narrative, or Rafael Rojas in the essay, and other Cuban literature that is written abroad that the critics will have to evaluate more widely. With regards to what is being produced in this century, it remains to be seen what will be considered as literature and what as Cuban, beyond identities banalized by colorism and false folkloricism.

Private Taxi Drivers Feel Harassed By The Cuban Government / Iván García

Taken from Habana Live.

Iván García, 15 February 2017 — Decidedly, equanimity isn’t one of Pastor’s strong points. He’s an industrial engineer transformed into a private taxi driver, and six days a week he drives a 1954 Dodge with a body from a Detroit factory, patched up a couple of times in a Havana workshop and improved with a German engine from a Mercedes Benz, a South Korean transmission and a steering wheel from a Lada of the Soviet era. With this car he operates on a fixed-route as a shared-taxi.

This mechanical Frankenstein is the livelihood of Pastor, his wife, four children and two grandchildren. “When I stop driving, it’s felt in the house. So I have to be driving 12 or 13 hours daily. My family and even my in-laws live from my almendrón (old American car). The government considers us taxi drivers as tycoons, newly rich. But that’s not true,” says Pastor, while he drives his taxi through the narrow Monte Street in the direction of the Parque de la Fraternidad. continue reading

At the end of the trip, he parks very close to the Saratoga Hotel and enumerates details of the collective taxi business in Havana. “There are two types of taxi drivers. Those who own their car, like me, and those who lease it to someone who owns five or six cars and makes money renting them out. We all pay the same tax, which the State raises each year, by using some ruse,” he comments, and he adds:

“The study that ONAT, the National Tax Office, did, which controls private work on the Island, is very elementary. Its calculations are removed from reality. The deductions for the time we aren’t working are erroneous. Sometimes the car has to be in the shop for two or more months.

But the transportation problem, which the government tries to blame us for, is something that they haven’t resolved. If my business is one of supply and demand, then no one should stick their nose into my prices. It doesn’t concern the State. If they want to improve public transportation let them buy hundreds of busses and taxis, so they can see how low prices have fallen,” says Pastor, who, as we’re chatting, becomes impassioned, and more than a few swear words sprinkle the conversation.

“This can only happen in a dictatorship. If they really want things to get better they would have had a dialogue with us, the taxi drivers, who in the capital alone number more than 10,000. Compadre, the State doesn’t give a shit about helping us. They don’t give us so much as a single screw. We pay them everything. What would have been a good solution? To sell us gas, which now costs 1.10 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $1.10 US) in the government filling stations, at 10 or 15 Cuban pesos (roughly $0.40 to $0.60 US), and then require us to have fixed prices on a route,” says Pastor, indignant.

If you talk with any of the private taxi drivers in Havana, you will note their barely-contained irritation. “It’s simple: If the government continues fucking with me, I’ll surrender my State license tomorrow and work under the table. Actually, there’s a ton of people who are doing that. They don’t have enough police to be going after 15,000 illegal taxi drivers,” says a taxi driver who drives the Havana-Playa route.

Eliecer, a driver on the Lisa-Parque Central route, explains his accounting. “I drive for a lady who owns the auto. I pay her 25 CUC daily. But I have to pay for repairs and gasoline. After the 600 Cuban pesos that I turn over to the owner, I earn between 400 and 500 Cuban pesos daily. But I don’t have any rest. I kill myself working.”

What especially bothers Osvel, a retired soldier, is the arrogance of the authorities. “What would it cost the government to meet with us and negotiate a good agreement? But no, they do it as they see fit. It’s true that you can earn 10 times what you would working for the State, but you always have to put money aside in case of breakdowns, because the cars are old and need frequent repairs. The easiest way is to force it on people, an old government custom.”

In a note published in the government newspaper Granma on February 8, the authorities divided the city into 30 routes and determined the prices that they think should be charged from one stretch or destination to another in the city.

The other side of the problem is the customers. Eight out of 12 people interviewed said they were upset by the increase in taxi prices in Havana. “The taxi drivers have some nerve. Because they’ve had the balls to double and triple their prices. If they think the government is abusing them, then let them have a strike in the Plaza de la Revolución, but don’t try to get out of it by raising prices and fucking the passenger,” comments Daniel, who says he spent an hour waiting for a taxi on Calzada de Diez de Octubre.

In July 2016, the Regime decreed that prices were going up, and they opened a telephone line for complaints from the population. Many taxi drivers stopped driving for several days, and the majority decided to split the routes. For example, the route from La Palma to the Parque de la Fraternidad, which cost 10 pesos, was divided into two: 10 pesos up to Toyo and Calzada de Luyanó, and another 10 pesos up to the Parque de la Fraternidad.

“The problem is that before, you could get gas on the black market. But since last spring, the government began controlling the fuel that was being stolen from State businesses. Now you have to buy it in CUCs, and it costs more than double than it did under the table. And then they raise the prices, explained a taxi driver.

All those interviewed agree, taxi drivers as well as users, that with these populist measures the government is trying to disguise who’s really guilty and their proven inefficiency and incapacity to design a functional model of transport.

Pastor, angry, goes further. “It’s an undeclared war on private workers. Why don’t they raise the prices for taxis rented from the State? They work almost without using the taximeter and then charge twice or three times as much as they did two years ago. And in CUCs.”

The fleet of modern autos painted yellow that circulate in the city, for use by tourists or citizens with deep pockets, pay 55 CUC daily to the State as a leasing fee.

The government isn’t stupid. They’re not going to start a battle with taxi drivers who report their income. And in CUCs.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Spirit Of The Executions Still Haunts La Cabaña / Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro

Execution in La Cabaña (photo taken from The Nuevo Herald)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Tania Diaz castro, 14 February 2017 — Nelson Rodríguez Leiva, 26, was shot in La Fortaleza de la Cabaña in 1971, along with his dearest friend, Angelito de Jesús Rabí, 17.

Also in the same place, but a century earlier, the poet Juan Clemente Zenea was shot.

It did not help Nelson that, in 1960 he had been a teacher in the Literacy Campaign in the mountains of Oriente, or that in 1964 he already had an excellent book of stories published by Virgilio Piñera, in Ediciones R, or that his mother Ada Leiva wrote a letter to Fidel Castro asking for clemency for her son, or that another book of Nelson’s poems was pending publication. continue reading

Just a few days ago El Nuevo Herald in Miami published an extensive report about the exposition of the writer Juan Abreu, with one hundred portraits of those executed by the Castro regime, painted by him, and presented at the headquarters of the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium.

Perhaps Nelson’s face was there.

Abreu received the respect and admiration of former political prisoners such as Pedro Corso, director of the Cuban Institute of Historical Memory Against Totalitarianism, and the poet Angel Cuadra, who said that Abreu’s Exposition “… is like making history talk through the faces, to rescue them and give them new life.” He would have also received the support of the writer Reinaldo Arenas, a dear friend, who lamentably died in New York and who always remembered his friend Nelson.

It’s about, said Abreu, “… not conventional portraits, but an approach to the faces, so often blurred, conserved in old photos.”

Abreu’s project is a history of the Cuban regime, today in the hands of Raul Castro, who wants to erase, above all, those days when this place was used for executions after summary trials, to make examples or simply for revenge or fear of a fierce opposition that arose among all the political opponents condemned to death. Bringing it to the European Parliament must be considered a victory.

The number of five thousand individuals shot dead hangs like a Sword of Damocles over Cuba. The spirit of all these who faced the firing squad hangs over La Cabana Fortress, no matter how many parties are held there, no matter who much fun and excitement and hullabaloo there is, no matter how many books are sold at the book fair that the executioner government hold every year, for a people who are so busy just trying to survive that they don’t have time to read.

In this fortress, with a history as dark as the dictatorship itself, the Book Fair is celebrated, strategic project of Fidel Castro to clean the blood off their graves, cells, bars and walls, as if history could be made to disappear.

The two young writers, Nelson and Angelito, were tied up there, their eyes closed, so as not to see the rifles of the night, close together, as they asked to die.

Not long ago, someone who knew them, told me that Nelson was very romantic, that he wept with the melodies of The Beatles, and even resembled a bit James Dean, the American actor of the fifties and that Angelito, converted Into his noble page, had the face of a child.

Through the sad streets of La Cabaña Fortress, where Nelson and his friend walked towards death, today walk the “grateful” who ignore this story. They are looking for a book to read. Not precisely Nelson’s book of stories, The Gift, or those pages smeared with tears that someone picked up from an empty dungeon.

A portion of Juan Abreu’s faces (PanAm Post)

The Crisis Of The ‘Boteros’: The First Bean To Burst Into The Pot / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

Some young people work as ‘boteros’ to find money to leave the country. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 17 February 2017 – The ending of the United States’ Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy – that allowed Cubans who touched American soil to stay – crushed the hopes of many Cubans of being able to achieve the American dream, that is equality of opportunities and the freedom to allow all citizens to achieve their goals in life through their own effort and determination. More than something unique to the United States, it seems a dream for anyone.

When the policy was cancelled, many warned that closing one of the valves of pressure cooker that state-socialism has made of Cuban society, is a total contradiction. continue reading

Today with the crisis affecting Havana’s private taxi-drivers – known as “boteros” or “boatmen” – the first bean in the pot is about to burst, under the stimulus of a senseless and traditional state policy of resolving socio-economic problems with repression and extra-economic constraints, a la Robin Hood, taking from those who have to give to those who have less.

A couple of young drivers confessed to me that the cars they used were not theirs and that they were working to get the money needed to leave the country

All Cubans know that with the unreliable schedules of state transportation, some of us need to get places more quickly than we could by waiting for the bus, and we are forced at times to take an “almendron” – or an “almond”, named after the shape of the classic American cars often used in this shared fixed-route taxi service – where we talk about everything for 20 minutes, with the advantage that no one knows each other.

A couple of young drivers that I talked to before the ending of the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy, confessed to me that the cars they drove were not theirs and that they were working as “boteros” to try to get the money needed to leave the country. One of them had already tried, by sea, with other friends, and after spending all they had to build a raft with an engine, they were caught by the US Coastguard and returned to Cuba. The next time would be by land and that is what he was working for.

I never learned if these young men were among those who managed to reach the US before the crisis caused by the closing of the Nicaragua border, which was resolved in favor of the Cuban emigrants crossing through the jungle.

It is likely that these boys, in their late thirties, were not the only ones who were driving for that reason.

The cancellation of the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy may be one of the factors of the current crisis, in addition to the problem of the capped prices that the Government had already tried, as there is now one less incentive to encourage the drivers to comply with the absurd state regulations.

Such causality can also manifest itself among other self-employed workers who do not undertake a line of work as a way of life, but as a means to make enough money to leave the country.

Such causality can also manifest itself among other self-employed workers who do not undertake a line of work as a way of life, but as a means to make enough money to leave the country.

I imagine that there were also many of the young truckers, new retailers, who were making fast and abundant money due to the absurd state policies of imposing prices on farmers and truckers and preventing them from selling directly in the city.

When emigration is the reason a person is working, they may be willing to ensure fines, mistreatment and the stupid fees as long as it doesn’t endanger their final goal. As soon as they take off, all the reasons they had to put up with it end.

They say that “revolutionaries” who are trying to control the markets for transport, farm products and housing construction through price controls, are contributing greatly to the pressure in the pot. Mainly due to voluntarism and ignorance of the economy and the dialectic.

When emigration is the reason a person is working, they may be willing to ensure fines, mistreatment and the stupid fees as long as it doesn’t endanger their final goal

This is the natural result of the contradictions of the statist, directed and centralized economy and policies, imposed in Cuba in the name of socialism.

When Obama, a few days before the end of his term, decided to end the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy, he left a poisoned gift to Raul Castro, who was not able to respond to everything the former US president did to improve relations with Cuba.

Apparently, the closing of that escape valve, along with the stupidities of the bureaucracy of the Cuban government, already caused the first bean to explode. The leaders of the island do not have the capacity to reverse the US presidential order, but they could stop further imposition of absurd regulations.

Will the Cuban repressive bureaucracy have the ability to lower the heat under the pot? Or will it continue to keep the gas on high? For me, in truth, I only see the right hand continuing to turn the gas all the way up.

Cuban Doctors and Nurses in Exchange for Angolan Oil / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 14 February 2017 — In a memorable address on December 18, 2008 in Salvador de Bahía, Brazil, Raúl Castro referred to what we now know as Operation Carlota, saying, “We told the Angolan people we will only take with us the remains of our dead.” But he lied.

The Cuban military mission there did some farming and planted a seed that is only now bearing fruit. Initially, the mission provided support, earning the regime international prestige and increasing its political capital. Witness for example, the vote against the US embargo in the United Nations’ General Assembly. Now, General Castro, who is also president of Cuba, is counting on a good harvest: Angolan oil. continue reading

Below are the names of thirty people who were flew on KLM or TAAG Angolan Airlines on January 26 of this year from Havana to Luanda with the express purpose of trading medical services for Angolan crude oil.

Mariluz Simales Cruz, nursing

Larisa Peña Roja, biology

Ángel Alexis Calas Ortiz, nursing

Isabel Chala Castaneda, MD, hygiene and epidemiology

Margarita Saltaren Cobas, nursing

Alfredo Saltaren Cobas, biological sciences

Erenis Serrat Morales, clinical laboratory

Jorge Luis Vargas Mendoza, hygiene and epidemiology

José Alexander Campos Castillo, pharmacy

Mario Oscar León Sánchez, comprehensive general medicine, intensive therapy

Eladia Cuenca Arce, clinical laboratory

Paula Pompa Márquez, microbiology

Isabel María Oliva Licea, transfusion medicine

Andrés Aguilar Charon, chemistry education

Dioenis de la Caridad Campoamor Hernández, health care technology

Martha Alfreda Zamora González, immunology

Agustín Rodríguez Soto, professor of stomatology

Geisy Pérez Pérez, nursing

Marlenis Sánchez Tuzón, MD, clinical laboratory

Lazara Josefina Linares Jiménez, clinical laboratory

Yunia Delgado Peña, nursing

María Libia Paneque Gamboa, professor, Uniología Institutos Médicos

Dimey Arguelles Toledo, nursing

Katiuska Garboza Savón, professor, clinical laboratory

Victoria Priscila Moreno Zambrano, clinical laboratory

Maria Cristina Varela Alejo, pharmacy

Gliceria Alicia Díaz Santa Cruz, health care technology

Dania Victoria Rodríguez Hidalgo, nursing

René Camacho Díaz, professor, maxillofacial surgery

Yaimy Royero Martínez, surgical nursing

“In politics, money talks. It has the first and the last word. The medical missions in Venezuela won’t be cancelled. Speculation is that the price of oil will rise and, if that happens, the income we receive from that program should also rise,” explains an official from the Cuban Ministry of Public Health who, as is always the case, fears government reprisal and prefers to remain anonymous and out of sight.

“The Angola mission,” he points out, “is a different sort of thing. They are not sending doctors to be doctors but rather to be instructors. They are going there to teach classes, not to see patients.

“This is predicted to be Cuba’s most profitable economic endeavor, more than tourism or remittances from overseas. We are talking about a massive shipment of doctors and other medical personnel as part of an exchange agreement that will guarantee favorable crude oil prices.

“Also, on January 12 a US government program, the Cuban Medical Professional Parole Program, was cancelled, easing fears that our physicians will abandon their overseas missions.”

Donald Trump: “Cuba Was Very Good To Me” / 14ymedio

Marco Rubio and current President of the United States, Donald Trump in a file image. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 16 February 2017 — US President Donald Trump referred to the Cuban-American community during a press conference on Thursday, stating “Cuba was very good to me” and said that he was referring to the role in the US elections of the “Cuban-American people.”

Trump won the Florida vote in last November’s election and the majority of Cuban-Americans in the state voted for the Republican candidate. continue reading

We had dinner with Senator Rubio and his wife, who was by the way, lovely, and we had a very good discussion about Cuba, because we have very similar views on Cuba,” Trump said.

During the campaign, the current president was especially critical of the policy of his predecessor Barack Obama toward the government of Raúl Castro.

We had dinner with Senator Rubio and his wife, who was by the way, lovely, and we had a very good discussion about Cuba, because we have very similar views on Cuba,” said Trump

 Trump promised to reverse the normalization of relations if Havana did not agree to release political prisoners and did not allow multiparty elections.

Sen. Marco Rubio, a former Republican presidential candidate, is one of the most critical voices of Raul Castro’s administration and a staunch opponent of President Obama’s diplomatic opening.

Rubio and Bob Menendez, both of Cuban origin, this week introduced a bill to modify the US State Department’s human trafficking report, which could affect Cuba, which under Obama’s presidency improved its status.

Recently, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that US policy toward Cuba was under review and that respect for human rights as a condition for relations with Havana was paramount.

Cuban Customers: Collateral Damage In The Tourism Boom / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Cuban hotels have opted to exclude Cuban tourists from ‘all inclusive’ resort deals, because they eat and drink too much. (Emmanuel Huybrechts)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 February 2017 – In the photo the couple smiles with one glass of beer in hand, all they were able to obtain after waiting in a long line at a Varadero resort. Nine years after the government allowed Cubans to enter hotels in Cuba (a right previously denied them in what was commonly called ‘tourist apartheid’), local customers continue to be discriminated against relative to foreign tourists in the midst of the current boom in tourism.

Eugenia and Guillermo, retirees from the transport sector, are trying to make up for lost time after decades of being unable to enjoy the tourist facilities of their own country. With the remittances sent by their son who emigrated and the profits on a house that they sold a few months ago, they decided to enjoy the natural beauties of the Island and its multiple hotels. continue reading

Nevertheless, the so-called smokestack-free industry is experiencing tense times caused by the increase in the number of foreign visitors. At the end of last year, the country reported a record of more than 4 million tourists, good news for the national coffers but which does not, however, represent a better situation for local customers.

“The all-inclusive was actually rationed. The initial times when you could eat and drink whatever you wanted are now just a memory”

Cuba has more than 65,000 hotel rooms and some 17,000 private houses that provide lodging. The tourist boom of recent years tests that infrastructure and the complaints accumulate, especially with regards to the facilities managed by the state or by joint ventures.

Eugenia and Guillermo were among the first customers to purchase an all-inclusive package back in 2008 to spend a weekend in a four-star hotel near the city of Holguin. They recall the experience as excellent. “It was like living a dream and enjoying what, before, only foreigners could have,” recalls Guillermo.

However, with the passage of time that initial joy was transformed into discomfort. “The prices have gone up and the quality of the facilities has decreased a lot,” comments the retiree. At the end of last year they booked four nights in Pasacaballo, a hotel in Cienfuegos from which they say they left “horrified.”

“The all-inclusive was actually rationed,” says the wife. “The initial times when you could eat and drink whatever you wanted are now just a memory.” Despite having paid for an “open bar,” the Cuban guests found themselves with their food and drink rationed.

For the retirees, that regulation of consumption reminded them of “the ration market bodegas,” they say. “We wanted to escape reality, to disconnect a few days but it turns out that we found ourselves in the same situation we wanted to escape,” Guillermo points out.

In the Pasacaballo restaurant “the main courses are limited,” he clarifies. You can only choose one meat, fish or chicken course. On arrival, each guest received a card that allowed them to consume a maximum of 64 beverages, including two liters of rum for the four nights of their stay.

Not even the Royalton Cayo Santa Maria, with five stars, is immune from these types of restrictions. “We had to supervise the domestic guests better because they were cleaning out the hotel”

The situation is repeated in other accommodations around the Island. Not even the Royalton Cayo Santa Maria, with five stars, is immune from these types of restrictions. “We had to supervise the domestic guests better because they were cleaning out the hotel,” a maid told 14ymedio, on condition of anonymity.

Managed by the Gaviota Tourism Group, a business arm of the Cuban military, special controls are placed on the accommodations of guests from Cuba. “We have lost huge amounts of towels, cups, glasses and cutlery,” complains the employee. She blames “the Cubans who come and do not understand how things work in a hotel, they think this is a boarding school in the countryside.”

“They want to eat at breakfast what they don’t consume in two months at home, so there are many excesses,” she says. “While a Canadian will breakfast on an omelet, a Cuban wants to put a hunk of cheese in their pocket, take twenty servings of bread for their room and carry off all the jam they can find.”

Maria del Pilar Macías, Director General of Quality and Operations of the Ministry of Tourism, told the official press at the end of last year that the fundamental challenge was to achieve a competitive service “without disregarding international standards” based on “quality and innovation.”

In 2014, the influx of domestic tourists to hotels reached 1.2 million guests, an increase of 23% compared to the previous year. On that occasion, the locals spent 147.3 million CUCs in those facilities, according to a report published by the National Office of Statistics and Information of Cuba (ONEI).

The Communist Party has urged in its guidelines “to expand and push the development of national tourism by creating offers that make it possible to take advantage of the infrastructure created in hotels and other recreational and historical tourist attractions.”

Eugenia and Guillermo prefer hotels with managers from another country. “They are much more attentive and do not seem to differentiate in the treatment of national tourists.” In those run by the state and under the control Gaviota the situation is different. “If you’re a national, they leave you with the word in their mouths or with half-service while they run off to look after a foreigner.”

The reason for that difference in the treatment lies in tipping. Although most are all-inclusive accommodations, foreign guests “always leave something,” comments the maid at the Royalton Cayo Santa Maria. Also, according to the employee, “there have been many incidents with Cuban clients who mistreat workers.”

An employee of Cubanacán who manages a tourism bureau at the Hotel Vedado denied that there has been an increase in rates. “We are in high season and prices are rising every year”

Varadero is the main beach resort on the island and Cubans have become the second largest group of guests in the resort, behind the Canadians. “Cuba’s customer today not only goes to standard hotels but also goes to the chain’s highest quality hotels,” said Narciso Sotolongo, deputy sales director of Meliá Hotels International in Cuba.

The Hotel Group Islazul gets the worst comments among islanders. “I dropped something on the floor and when I looked under the bed I was surprised at the amount of dirt,” Guillermo says. The curtains were old, there was no minibar in the room and for several days there was no water in the sink or shower. The manager never showed up for explanations, despite repeated customer complaints.

For the retired couple, the most difficult thing is to accept the price increases. “So before we paid between 70 and 85 Cuban convertible pesos (about the same value in $US) per night with all inclusive; now we can’t find it for less than 120 or 140 CUC,” the woman complains. An employee of Cubanacán who manages a tourism bureau at the Hotel Vedado denied that there has been an increase in rates.

“We are in the high season and prices are rising every year,” she explains to 14ymedio. “Now what is happening is that there is much more demand and the cheaper offers are sold abroad, through the internet and with a credit card.” But Eugenia and Guillermo have never connected to the great world-wide-web and only know about cash.

‘El Sexto’ Appears Before US Senate to Speak of Human Rights / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Danilo Maldonado, El Sixto, appears before a commission of the United States Senate. (14ymedio)

The video of Maldenado’s remarks is here. His prepared remarks begin at 01:18:00, and can be read here in English. He then answers questions at 2:18:31.

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 16 February 2017 — Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, a well-known Cuban graffiti artist and human rights activist, appeared before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues on Thursday, and called for solidarity with the cause of democracy in Cuba.

“First, we request solidarity for the cause of democracy in Cuba, given that we have suffered a regime that does not allow democratic elections for almost 60 years. The world should give us solidarity and should ask Raul Castro for a plebiscite and democratic elections in Cuba,” said Maldonado in his informal remarks before Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American senator who presided over the panel. continue reading

The artist asked the people and the government of the United States to put pressure on Castro to release the “thousands of political prisoners” in Cuban prisons.

According to El Sexto, 85% of the Cuban prison population would be considered innocent if they had been tried under the laws of democratic countries.

Senator Bob Menendez, also of Cuban origin, asked Maldonado if the US government should put human rights and free elections before further deepening relations with Havana, and El Sexto responded “definitely.”

“If there is someone who does not respect human rights and is complicit in murder, how is it possible that they do not have to appear before a court?” asked Maldonado.

“It does not matter how they can help me, but how they help 11 million Cubans who are constantly trying to escape,” he said.

The artist asked the people and government of the United States to put pressure on Castro to release the “thousands of political prisoners” in Cuban prisons

The artist described the violations of human rights on the island and emphasized the lack of freedoms for artistic creation.

“In Cuba, freedom of speech by artists is prohibited by Article 39 of the Constitution. According to this, “artistic creation is free provided that its contents is not contrary to the Revolution.” This means that the work of artists such as myself and my colleagues Gorki Águila and Tania Brugera, who is critical of the dictatory regime of the Castro brothers, is illegal in Cuba,” he said.

The Cuban Constitution states that “artistic creation is free provided that its content is not contrary to the Revolution.”

The graffiti artist recalled that in 2014 he was imprisoned for ten months for attempting a performance art piece in Havana’s Central Park inspired by the novel George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

“During that time I was tortured physically and psychologically by the dictatorship to the point that I declared myself on hunger strike and even considered the possibility of letting myself die in prison as a result,” he said.

“Until today I have not been served any notice of pending criminal charges nor have I been summoned for any type of trial.”

El Sexto explained that he was imprisoned four times because of the lack of freedoms, the last of which occurred after the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro last November, when he painted graffiti on an exterior wall of the Habana Libre Hotel. The artist was detained for two months in the Combinado del Este prison on the outskirts of the Cuban capital.

With regards to his graffiti and the call he made through social networks to celebrate the death of Castro, he explained that he did so following the example of Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic who had a leading role in the Velvet Revolution that ended with The communist government in 1989.

In the police unit I asked the officer: Do you know me? Have I done something to you? If I have not committed any crime, why do you beat me for my way of thinking?”

“Havel advised all those who, like him, had to live under communist totalitarianism, to Live In Truth. To stop pretending that the reality imposed by the regime by force is genuine,” he added.

El Sexto told the congressmen that once arrested he was beaten and tortured psychologically.

“When in the unit I asked: Do you know me? Have I done something to you? If I have not committed any crime, why do you beat me for my way of thinking?”

According to the artist’s testimony, the officer replied: “the laws support us.”

El Sexto accused the Castro brothers of being “murderers.” He cited as examples the victims of the 13 de Marzo Tugboat massacre, the thousands of executions, and the deaths of Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá.

“The Castro have supported guerrillas and dictatorial regimes in different parts of the world,” he said and accused the Cuban government of supporting the dictatorial system of the Chavista regime in Venezuela.

“All Cubans are hostage of the Castro brothers’ regime and the life of all Cubans, particularly artists, opponents, and dissidents, are under permanent danger at the hands of the repressive dictatorship. Once again we need the solidarity of the United States and the support of all people of the world,” he said.

The Student Who Did Not Want To ‘Ride With Fidel’ / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Excobar

David Mauri Cardoso was expelled from the university during a test that did not evaluate his academic knowledge. (Alejandro Tur / Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 February 2017 — David Mauri Cardoso, a 24-year-old from Cienfuegos, dreamt of being lawyer but could not successfully pass a test of dishonesty. In appearance it was a test of Spanish, but what was being evaluated was his capacity to fake it.

Along with 30 other young people, who had not been admitted to higher education through the standard entrance exams, David was part of an experiment where workers were enrolled in the first year of Law School at the Carlos Rafael Rodriguez University in Cienfuegos and then assessed on their knowledge of Math, History and Spanish.

The exams were conducted in January and David was one of twenty students who had made it to the end of the previous stage. He finished high school in 2011, and after several failed attempts to enter the university, this seemed to be his last chance. continue reading

His “incorrectness” is described in the Teaching Regulation of Higher Education, where it specifies “it is a very serious error to say or do anything against the Revolutionary Process.”

Everything seemed to be fine until the first week of February, when they summoned him to a Disciplinary Council. His “incorrectness” is described in the Teaching Regulation of Higher Education, where it specifies “it is a very serious error to say or do anything against the Revolutionary Process.” The punishment established for this behavior is expulsion from the higher education system in any program throughout the country. On Friday, 10 February, the resolution imposing this punishment was signed.

What, in fact, did David do?

The Spanish test consisted of writing an interpretation of a fragment of the lyrics from the song “Riding with Fidel,” which flooded the airwaves after the death of the former Cuban president at the end of November 2016.

David tells 14ymedio how he reacted when he read Question No. 5, which inquired about what he had felt when he honored the ashes of the historic leader of the Revolution. “I realized I was not in a position to fully respond, because that wasn’t the case for me. The question was based on an erroneous supposition, because I had not participated in the acts of homage to Fidel Castro, nor did I personally honor him in a spiritual way.”

Before the exam, he had prepared himself to identify a simile or a metaphor and felt capable of parsing a text to indicate subordinate or juxtaposed sentences and to call out with precision grammatical mistakes in any verb. But, he said, “To adjust to what they were asking me I responded with total honestly about what this person had meant to me. I was respectful because no one has the right to insult others. I gave my opinion in the framework of good manners.”

David recorded in his own handwriting the misery, the destruction of the foundations of society and the injustices. He dared to use the term “authoritarian” to define the established system in his country and at some point, without his pulse trembling, he wrote the word “dictatorship.”

“In short, I only offered my personal opinion, which is exactly what they asked of me,” he says with the simplicity of one who does not believe he has performed a historic act.

The person in charge of grading the exam must have felt very troubled in the face of such a demonstration of sincerity. David chose not to name names, his Christian ethics precludes it. Nor did he mention the identity of a Spanish-language methodologist at the provincial level who is, at the end of the day, the person who assumed the responsibility of lodging a complaint.

Here, the young student makes a legal argument. “This exam, more than a private text, was a confidential document. Something between the professor and the student that did not have to be sent on under any circumstance.”

In the sacred intimacy of the classroom, he offered his opinion, which was what was asked of him. Without his consent, his responses were “elevated” and analyzed under extra-academic rules

And therein lies the key, because David did not make statements to foreign television, nor did he publish an opinion piece in the independent press, nor did he go out into the street with a poster, all of which would have been his right.

In the sacred intimacy of the classroom, he offered his opinion, which was what was asked of him. Without his consent, his responses were “elevated” and analyzed under extra-academic rules.

Not a single one of David’s classmates was consulted on this sanction because according to the regulation that ordinarily requires a process that does just that, it only applies to “regular” students in the day course.

Now everything is “comments in the hallway” and no one will come to his defense.

David says he does not intend to appeal, although he explains: “I have not resigned formally because I still have time, but I lost interest because, when I think of appealing to the Minister of Higher Education, I wonder who this official answers to and it makes me feel like not even starting the process.”

To the question of what he intends to do with his life now, David jokingly replies: “What I was doing: inventing,” that is figuring out some way to get by, “like all young people do in Cuba.”

Havana’s Archbishop Asked Cuban Government “To Sit Down And Talk To The Opposition,” Says Berta Soler / 14ymedio

The Archbishop of Havana, Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 February 2017 — Berta Soler, after meeting this Wednesday with Archbishop of Havana Juan de la Caridad Garcia Rodriguez, said that he has offered his full support to the Ladies in White and that the prelate told her he had asked the Government to sit down and talk to the opposition.

“We ask the Catholic Church to speak out, because whoever is silent supports [the government], and he said to me: ‘No Berta, silence is not always support. We have asked the Cuban Government to sit down and talk to the opposition, but what we say is one thing and what they do is another,” Soler told 14ymedio. continue reading

Soler, the leader of the Ladies in White, and Maria Cristina Labrada, a member of the organization, met with Juan de la Caridad Rodriguez early Wednesday morning and the Archbishop told them that that during the trip from their Lawton headquarters they were “monitored by a large operation made up of the National [Revolutionary] Police and State Security.”

According to Soler’s account, at the meeting the Archbishop was “very receptive” to the movement’s complaints, and they explained to the prelate how they are systematically prevented from reaching the church to attend mass and are victims of abuse such as thefts and fines for “violating the security cordon of the Communist Party of Cuba” when they leave their homes.

“We were able to give him some names and surnames of those who have told us that we could never go to mass at any church,” she added.

María Cristina Labrada and Berta Soler received from the hands of the Archbishop “a family Bible with a dedication for each of us,” and they gave him “a CD and two reports with evidence of repression” suffered by the women’s movement and their families. Both left the door open for a future second meeting.

Juan de la Caridad García Rodríguez was named Archbishop of Havana in April of last year after Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Jaime Ortega and Alamino who retired, as established by the Code of Canon Law, after having reached the age of 75.

A few weeks after taking office, Garcia Rodríguez generated a bitter controversy in declaring that he did not want Cuba to “have capitalism or anything like that, but that socialism should progress” to go “forward in a just and balanced society and one of brotherhood.”

 

The Two Marielas / Cubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello

L, An ordinary Cuban woman looking out a bus window; R, Mariela Castro

cubanet square logoCubanet, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Havana, 14 February 2017 – The story I want to relate has two parts, one is true and the other is fiction. The real one is an event I was involved in at the Carlos III market while in line to buy yogurt, one of the products in shortest supply in this country – despite the fact that it is sold in hard currency – and in this case with a price of 0.70 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), although there are other yogurts sold in different containers for as much as 5 CUC (1 CUC is roughly equal to $1 US).

In front of me, while we were waiting, was a young woman of around 30 something, but I could see she’d had a pretty rough life. She had the money in her hand, some of it in 5 and 10 centavo coins in CUC and a note for 5 Cuban pesos (CUP) – because, as you know, now the stores have to accept both currencies. All of a sudden she dropped a 10 centavo coin and to her great misfortune it rolled under one of the display cases and although the woman made a great effort to retrieve it, she could not.

She turned to leave the line and I asked, “Are you leaving?” and she said, “Yes, I had the exact amount of money and I dropped 10 centavos under that case.” Without thinking twice I said, “No, don’t leave, take the ten centavos.” continue reading

She accepted with the happiest look on her face and told me, “You have no idea how grateful I am, because my older daughter is sick and she doesn’t want to eat anything.”

From that moment, with the facility a Cuban has to establish communication with another person, even if they don’t know them, we spent the next thirty minutes while we continued to wait in line talking to each other.

She explained that she worked as a teaching assistant at an elementary school, but often had to be the teacher because there aren’t enough educators. She is divorced and the monthly support she receives from the children’s father is 50 Cuban pesos (roughly $2 US). That plus her own salary is not enough to live on and she has to “invent” and go begging to her mother. She told me, literally, “You have no idea what I have to do to be able to feed my kids.”

Like any good Cuban, she lives in a building considered uninhabitable, but she won’t accept going to a shelter because she knows other people who live in those conditions and it is dangerous for the girls, now that they are becoming young ladies. Because her apartment is on the second floor and nothing works, she has no running water and every other day has to carry up 10 or 12 buckets of water to meet highest priority needs, although she says she is grateful to her mother who washes and irons the girls school uniforms.

“Imagine. My mother was a member of the Party (Communist) and worked in the Federation of Cuban Women and as for my my father, may he rest in peace, his surname was Castro, so it occurred to her to name me Mariela [after Raul Castro’s daughter]. Now she regrets it.”

Then she said that she did not listen to her mother and married a man who drank a lot, and when he came home he beat her. It took a lot of work to get out of that torture and now she regrets not having listened to her mother’s advice.

He left them that disastrous apartment where they live in Centro Habana, and now she is stuck because her sister is married and has two children and also lives in the divided living room, which doubles as a room for both her and her sister’s families in the home of their parents.

She confessed to me that she had been so distressed that she takes her daughters and walks along the Malecon. And she said the girls understand the whole situation and do not ask for anything. But they’re growing up and they have to have shoes and school uniforms and something to eat for a snack at school, which is almost always a piece of bread, because at breakfast they eat half of her daily quota (on the ration book).

I think she had a great need for someone to listen to all her problems and saw the opportunity to vent.

With a little imagination, while I was on my way to my house, I began to think about how the other Mariela might live, the one her mother named her after.

At the entrance, everyone can see that other Mariela’s super residence in the Miramar neighborhood even has a pool, always filled with water. There are several cars and they and the house are all beautifully maintained. This is something that you don’t have to imagine, and it is not fiction.

But surely that Mariela Castro does not line up to buy yogurt at 70 cents CUC and much less would she be sad if she dropped a coin, as all her food problems are taken care of without her even having to leave the house.

When she gets up for breakfast she does not “donate” her bread to the children. A maid prepares the food, certainly with ham, milk, bread, juices, etc. She is assured of coffee every day, very likely imported, she probably gets the most desirable brands brought in from Miami.

She doesn’t have to worry about what time the bus will come to take her to work; in the first place because she doesn’t have to mark a timecard and in the second because she has a modern car to take her to work without having to get all sweaty and push her way onto the bus with all the other people.

I could continue imagining things that we all know are part of the standard of living of the high government hierarchy, but I leave it to the reader so we can all share in this fictional (?) part of the story.

Too Young for the Party and Too Old for the Communist Youth / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Harold Cárdenas (dw.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 9 February 2017 — Try as I might—to avoid being a bore and accused of holding a grudge against the boy—I cannot leave Harold Cárdenas, the ineffable blogger at La Joven Cuba, in peace, I just can’t. And the fault is his own, because the narrative he makes out of his adventures defending his beloved Castro regime, and his loyal candor, strikes one as a kind of masochism worse than that of Anastasia Steele, the yielding girl in Fifty Shades of Grey.

In a post on 19 January, Harold Cardenas complained of the terrible limbo, for a communist, in which he finds himself (not to mention that it would be the envy of many militants who accepted the red card because they had no other option): Harold, being past the requisite age, was removed from the Union of Young Communists (UJC), but he is not accepted into the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) because, they explain, he is still too young. continue reading

His situation reminds me of a 1976 song by the British rock band Jethro Tull (which Harold probably doesn’t know, because of his age, and because I can’t imagine him listening to any music other than that of Silvio, Buena Fe and Calle 13). The song tells the story of the disconsolate and hairy motorcyclist and failed suicide, Ray, who was “too old to rock and roll, too young to die.”

Harold Cárdenas rightly intuits, given the entrenchment recently being displayed by the regime, that he has been given the boot—or the bat, as his contemporaries say—from both organizations because of his publications “in other media.” And so he knocks himself out with explanations, challenges his punishers to find one counterrevolutionary line in his writings, “but without taking a line or a post out of its context—conducting a serious search through the totality of the content.”

As if these guys needed to go to so much trouble to suspect someone and consider him an enemy!

The blogger, with his foolish sincerity and wild innocence (Ay, Julio Iglesias!) has annoyed the stony big shots and their subordinate “hard-core” little shots—always so unsympathetic towards those who, even while remaining within the Revolution, dare to think with their own heads and give too many opinions. This is why they consider him undisciplined, hypercritical, and irresponsible, why they don’t want him in the UJC nor the PCC.

Overall, he came out all right, because in other times, not too long ago, who knows what the punishment might have been…

Harold Cárdenas, with his faith intact through it all, assures us that he does not have a single complaint about the Party, although, as he says, it hurts him “how some dogmatists detract from the collective intelligence of the organization.”

As far as Harold is concerned, his punishers do not answer to an official policy, but rather are dogmatic extremists who think themselves more leftist than Stalin. He warns: “We must take care not to confuse sectarian procedures with State or Party politics, even if they try to disguise themselves as such. The individuals who apply them, although they might try to justify their actions as being taken in the name of the Revolution or some institution, are doing it for themselves. They are trying to preserve the status quo of the known, motivated by fear, ignorance or other interests.”

Harold Cárdenas, who seems to believe himself the reincarnation of Julio Antonio Mella (who, by the way, seems to have been assassinated by order of his comrades and not the dictator Machado, due to his Trotskyite connections) believes that what is happening is a “tactical struggle among revolutionary sectors” of which he has been a victim. But he does not despair. With the patience of a red Job, having been warned that “it is very difficult to fight for a better society outside of the movement that must lead the construction,” Cárdenas says that he will join the Party when he will not have to “subordinate the political struggle to a vertical discipline… when they give me a way, there will be a will.”

And one, faced with such resigned masochism, does not know whether to pity Harold in his wait for the blessed little red card, or give him up as incorrigible, and let him continue to self-flagellate. May Lenin Be With Him!

Author’s email: luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Trump, Rodiles and the Cuban Opposition / Juan Orlando Perez

Antonio Rodiles speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on December 14, 2016, by McClatchy DC

Juan Orlando Pérez, 1 February 2017, (re-published in Ivan Garcia’s blog on 7 February 2017) — Antonio Rodiles, one of the Cuban government’s most tireless enemies, or at least one of its most eloquent, has said that the arrival of Donald Trump at the White House is “good news for Cuba.”

It is difficult to criticize Rodiles, who every day faces the danger of State Security agents, or his own neighbors, breaking his nose — they have already done this once with exquisite precision — or of being accused of some monstrosity such as contempt of court, assault, incitement to violence or failure to attend Fidel Castro’s funeral, resulting in him being cast into a windowless dungeon without light or justice. continue reading

Every Sunday, Rodiles leaves his house Havana to protest against a government that he considers illegitimate. While not comparable to the battles of Peralejo or Las Guásimas, much less the crossing of the Trocha de Mariel to Majana, this action is one that does require more political and personal courage than all the deputies of the National Assembly together could muster to change a single comma in a decree from Raul Castro’s government, should they even notice a comma misplaced.

Unlike other leaders of the Cuban opposition and most deputies of the National Assembly, Rodiles knows how to speak correctly, in proper Spanish. Perhaps that is why foreign journalists prefer to talk to him rather than to others whom they can barely understand. But what he told the Spanish newspaper El País is dangerous nonsense.

In no way can Trump be “good news” for Cuba when he is so bad for all the other countries of the world, including those whose leaders — Vladimir Putin, Theresa May, Benjamin Netanyahu — selfishly hope to benefit from the ascent of a thug to the presidency of the United States. At least Rodiles does not contend Trump is not a thug.

Rodiles declined to say if Trump’s victory was also good news for the United States. “I don’t want to get into that,” he said flatly. “It’s not my problem.”

Perhaps Rodiles thinks that if personnel at the American Embassy in Havana or at the State Department in Washington hear him criticizing Trump’s character, skills or intentions, even if the criticism is so mild it might almost be considered a kind remark, he will no longer be invited to the embassy or to conferences, congresses and seminars — one takes place every month in Miami, Madrid or Washington — where the participants ardently debate the future of Cuba, condemn Castro’s wickedness and lament Barack Obama’s faintheartedness.

Rodiles’ discretion — his refusal to express an opinion about the domestic issues of another country — is admirable, especially because it stands in contrast to foreign politicians who talk about issues in his own. In late December, Rodiles participated in a panel organized by the right-wing Heritage Foundation in Washington along with two former George W. Bush administration officials: the former under-secretaries of state Roger Noriega and Otto Reich. As reported by Diario de Cuba, he took the opportunity to explain that “the new Administration has the opportunity to reorient US policy towards the human rights and freedom for the Cuban people.”

Noriega and Reich are co-authors of the infamous Helms-Burton Act of 1996. More than a law, it is the list of relentless conditions that the United States would impose on the Cuban government if it were to capitulate, which one can easily imagine these two former officials recommending to the Trump Administration provided someone in the White House still remembers who they are and asks them what to do about Cuba.

Noriega and Reich may express any opinion about Cuba, or about Jupiter, if they so choose. That is their right. No one in Washington is going to end up with a nose out of joint if they do so.

But it is not clear why Rodiles should not in turn be able to say with more or less the same degree of tact what so many other political leaders around the world have said: that Donald Trump’s brand of vicious, racist and ignorant populism is a very serious threat to international security, to the rights of other nations, to Americans’ civil liberties and, of course, to Cuba.

Perhaps Rodiles thinks Trump is as innocuous as Tian Tian, the giant panda at Washington’s National Zoo. If so, he might as well say so. For the moment, Rodiles has refrained from criticizing Trump, though not from criticizing Obama. He believes, as he told El País, that Obama’s legacy in Cuba can be described in two words: indifference and fantasy.

In a video released by the Forum for Human Rights and Freedoms, Rodiles appears next to others celebrating Trump’s victory on November 8 and criticizing Obama’s Cuban strategy.

“It was very frustrating,” explains Rodiles in the video, “to see how the Obama administration was allowing the regime to gain advantage, to gain political advantage, to gain economic advantage, while leaving the Cuban people and their demands on the sidelines.”

He added, “Unfortunately, the legacy of President Obama on Cuba is not positive… His policy has been counterproductive. His policy has led the regime to feel much more secure and to behave more violently.”

It is not clear, however, what exactly Rodiles and his colleagues at the Forum hope Trump will do. “It seems to me that the new administration under President Donald Trump will give much more attention to the Cuban opposition. It will give much more attention to the subject of fundamental rights and freedoms, and the Cuban people will be able to express themselves more openly, though the regime will, of course, do everything possible to prevent that.”

It is likely that on May 20 — if the world lasts until then — a committee of Cuban opposition figures, including perhaps Rodiles himself, will visit the White House, as always happened before Obama, after which the president of the United States might write a Twitter message in jovial Spanglish condemning Raúl Castro and his minions.

But it is unclear how tweets by the lunatic that Americans have chosen as their commander-in-chief are going to get Cubans out onto the streets. Nor is it easy to imagine the Cuban government agreeing to sit down with Rodiles or any other opposition figure just because the president of the United States demands it, even if he makes it a condition of maintaining diplomatic relations; or of continuing to allow Cuban-Americans to send money to their families on the island; or of allowing them visit their relatives whenever they want.

If the members of the Forum for Human Rights and Freedoms believe that these are conditions that the Trump Administration should impose, they should say so clearly and run the risk that Trump or one of his underlings might hear and pay attention to them. An even greater risk is that Cubans might hear them.

It is perfectly legitimate for some members of the Cuban opposition to disapprove of Obama’s policy of normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba, at least to the degree that it is possible to normalize something that will never be normal. No one should be surprised that those who would like to see the immediate overthrow of Raúl Castro have no confidence in a plan that acknowledges the unlikelihood that the Cuban government will be overthrown in a domestic revolt.

Raúl has been accepted — with indifference or resignation — as the legitimate president of Cuba by almost all the nations of the world. The plan addresses the political and intellectual weakness of opposition groups, counting instead on the slow but inexorable growth of a new post-Castro civil society that will one day reclaim political and economic rights that Raúl or his successors will never be willing to grant.

It is true this plan pays no particular importance to the Forum for Human Rights and Freedoms, or to other groups with equally florid names, whose members feel they have been abruptly and unceremoniously abandoned by their old patron. But not all opposition groups have judged Obama’s decisions regarding Cuba as negatively as Rodiles and his cohorts.

With bitter pragmatism, others have warned that it is foolish to oppose head-on a policy that is viewed favorably on both sides of the Florida Straits. While it has, of course, benefited the Cuban government, it has also benefitted millions of plain and simple ordinary men and women. If nothing else, it means that, after two short years, Raúl can no longer blame his problems on an enemy ever ready to wipe Cuba off the map in a single, brutal blow.

There was nothing fanciful about Obama’s strategy, though there is in the illusion that the Cuban government would have agreed to sit down with Rodiles and other opposition leaders if Obama had insisted on it. And he will do so if Trump makes that demand with his characteristic coarseness. After so many years and so many body blows, Rodiles still has not met Raúl Castro.

Before falling in line with Trump and conspiring with the most reactionary elements of the new administration — its more conservative faction, in particular, wants to break off the truce between the United States and Cuba — the Cuban opposition should take a few weeks to consider whether it would be wiser to avoid allying itself with those who have come to power with a program that not only causes a great deal of alarm within the international community but which should also disgust any person of integrity, whether one’s integrity be of the right-wing or left-wing kind.

The Cuban opposition would do well to maintain a relative independence from the United States, a benevolent gift from Obama, and if they are so inclined, to keep their distance from an administration which, in two short weeks, has led its country to the brink of a pernicious political and perhaps constitutional crisis.

That is unless one sees nothing particularly reprehensible in what Trump says and does, or believe that his vandalism is justified because he got ten thousand votes more in Michigan and fifteen thousand more votes in Wisconsin than Hillary Clinton. It would be very bad news if opportunism led a segment of the Cuban population, even a very small one, to become pro-Trump out of foolhardiness, ignorance, a misguided sense of self-preservation or, even worse, by a genuine ideological affinity with a government that resembles a social democratic Nixon, Reagan or Bush administration.

But even more troubling is the Cuban opposition’s hope that the United States, Barack Obama or Donald Trump and not the island’s plain and simple ordinary men and women might grant them the right to discuss Cuba’s future with Raúl Castro or whatever petty tyrant happens to come after. Trump will just disappoint them. And should he fall, which is likely to happen, he will drag with him all those who have not taken great care or had the decency to maintain a safe distance.

Juan Orlando Pérez

Published in El Estornudo on February 1, 2017 under the title “Bad News.”