The Unknowns Behind the Cultural Exchange / Juan Juan Almeida

Before the Portuguese awning maker and salt merchant Matias Perez* disappeared in the world, already Cuba and the United States were maintaining solid ties, including cultural exchanges, which continues being today an important part of our history and identity.

Just by glancing we can find Cuban elements in American culture and vice versa, so much so that “Cuban-American” is the highest expression of that cultural ethnic fusion between both nations.

The cultural reciprocity was frequent, artists came and went constantly. The thing got complicated during the first half of the 20th century when both governments–and I’m going to tell the truth, like it or not–began to have a relationship based on political principles so conflicting that paradoxically they made the arts sector, that of the expression of the spirit and creativity, a prisoner of circumstances. Continue reading

My Experience in Coral Park: The Church-Synagogue / Mario Lleonart

The temple of the First Baptist Church of Coral Park: “The Whale”

It was my Sunday of rest in the United States (July 20), on this voyage that I made, between July 9th and August 6th, leading a small delegation that included my wife and daughters, and four other brothers of our church in Cuba. It was my day to be seated to receive the Word.

The previous Sunday I preached in the Baptist church “Star of Bethlehem,”  in Hialeah; and in the nearly two weeks of the journey that remained, they hoped that I would preach to at least four more congregations: “Jesus Worship Center (www.iglesiadoral.org)” of Doral; the “First Hispanic Presbyterian Church” of Tampa; the “Christian House: JWC” of Kissimee; and the “Hispanic Baptist Church” of Naples. It was very opportune that this Sunday was included, because I had done so much speaking in the previous day that I had ended up literally without a voice.

The stained glass window of the Star of David

First Baptist Church of Coral Park is the congregation where brothers worship deeply and with great love for Cuba that today they wanted to dedicate to us their Sunday and their church. The same church in which pastored the well-remembered Rev. Jorge Comesañas whose name, unsurprisingly, was given to one of the neighboring streets, and especially to whom they arrived from their broken isle seeking healing for their wounds. Continue reading

Solidarity or Propaganda? / Fernando Damaso

I wish I could be happy about the quick response by the Cuban government to the request for assistance from the World Health Organization and the UN general secretary in their efforts to combat the Ebola epidemic, but I cannot.

I am all too aware of the deteriorating state of our hospitals, the lack of hygiene, the poor medical care — provided mainly by students rather than doctors — the poor nutrition provided to patients, the shortage of drugs and many other problems.

I am referring, of course, to the medical centers which serve the average Cuban, which are the majority, not to the specialized centers catering to foreigners, VIPs or people who can pay for their services in hard currency.

A similarly rapid response should be applied to the serious problems that have afflicted our health care system for years. We make the mistake of trying to solve the world’s problems without due regard for our own. This seems to have paid off in that at least it generates a lot of free propaganda.

However, no one who speaks or writes about the magnificent Cuban health system has had to have their illnesses or those of their loved ones treated here. Furthermore, many Cuban bigwigs prefer to seek treatment in other countries, even that of the enemy. There must be some reason for this.

At a press conference in Geneva, Cuba’s minister of public health took the opportunity to propagandize about the country’s achievements and to emphasize yet again how many medical personnel have provided and are now providing care in other countries.

He also talked about the thousands of overseas volunteer workers, though without mentioning how much Cuba charges in dollars for this service — currently one of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange — or how doctors, nurses and other specialists are not being properly paid.

At one point during the press conference the minister stated that the Revolution did not wait for its health services to be developed before beginning to provide assistance to other peoples.

He neglected to mention that Cuba’s health services were already well-developed before 1959 and were among the best not only in the Caribbean but in all of Latin America. One need only look to official statistics from international organizations of the time to confirm this.

Given these questions, I am concerned that what we are dealing with here has more to do with propaganda than with solidarity.

September 2014

Absurdities of the Week / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Rebeca

Cuba is like an exaggerated version of the fictional village Macondo,* as is clear to anyone with half a brain. For evidence of this, one need only spend a few minutes reading the country’s state-controlled press.

On Monday new customs regulations went into effect. On Tuesday there were articles by two of our seasoned journalists, who reported how successful these measures were, so much so that they had both travelers and customs officials applauding in unison. It is striking how effective these regulations turned out to be, and in such a short period of time, especially if we consider that it took a full year and a trial run in three provinces to lower the price of natural gas and distribute it for free.

The International Freedom for the Five Day — there are now only three of them — has occupied the front pages of the two main state-run newspapers. This year it will run until October 6, with vigils, marches, exhibitions, book sales, an international symposium, and demonstrations at universities, community centers and workplaces. This will include an event dubbed Kids Paint for Peace in which “all the nation’s children,” which can be interpreted to mean “all children without exception,” will paint asphalt and and fly kites in support of the Five.

It seems that all is going well considering that this campaign will represent the loss of vast amounts of time – including that of private citizens — and a waste of resources in pursuit of a new national pastime. If the state-run media is to be believed, this issue is of concern not only to Cubans on the island but to Cubans throughout the world. Please, let’s not get carried away! Remember that overstatement usually ends up being counterproductive.

As though that were not enough, it seems we must now celebrate the 69th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s college admission, the tenth anniversary of his historic speech at the Aula Magna and the fifth anniversary of his address to university students warning them of the threat of extinction to the human race. Remembrance has its place, but I do not remember any remembrance of the day on which Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Ignacio Agramonte or José Martí — to mention three examples — began their university studies, much less a remembrance of many of their truly historic speeches.

It seems that a large segment of today’s Cuban youth — at least the ones who appear in the official media — find time to commemorate almost any event. Many years ago the cult of personality as practiced in other countries of the former Soviet bloc was severely criticized here. In light of all the damage it caused, people swore this would never happen in Cuba. Has this been forgotten? It might be a good idea to remind our young student leaders of this.

It is noteworthy that this summer, which was certainly quite a hot one, there were no new measures taken to stimulate the economy, unless you count the new customs regulations. We hope that September brings some new changes, though they are unlikely to meet the expectations of most Cubans. Nevertheless, something is better than nothing, even if it comes in dribs and drabs.

*Translator’s note: The setting of Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.

6 September 2014

Pot With Missing Cord Doesn’t Come With a Guarantee / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Fachada-centro-comercial-Puentes-Grandes_CYMIMA20140908_0003_13

Exterior of the new Puentes Grandes shopping center (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, Regina Coyula, 8 September 2014 — Tiendas Panamericanas [Panamerican Stores], owned by the CIMEX corporation, has just launched a grand (for Cuban national standards) shopping center. Utilizing the building formerly occupied by the old towel factory, Telva, on the corner of 26th Avenue and Calzada del Cerro street, a side addition was built, doubling the space. The opening of Puentes Grandes has been well received, being that until now only small stores have existed in that neighborhood, and the closest shopping centers — La Puntilla, Galerias Paseo, and Plaza Carlos III — are located about two miles away.

Spurred by curiosity, I visited Puentes Grandes last Saturday. Hundreds of people had flocked to the place. There was a line at the handbag security station, because bags and purses are not allowed inside stores that take convertible currency. There was another line at the entrance. We were going on half an hour already. In other circumstances I would have left, but resisted the impulse just to be able to write this article. Finally, I went through a narrow entryway where, as always, are those who wait, and those other, clever ones who butt the line. The interior entrance is quite spacious, with metal shopping carts, and other cute small plastic carts on wheels for which I predict a brief, happy life, and baskets. All is set up for the customer to select his purchases; merchandise is kept behind the counter in the perfume and household appliance departments.

A large interior arcade connects the grocery and housewares area with the hardware department, where I was detained by an employee. To go from one area to the other, you have to now go outside and re-enter, even though just days before you could walk directly between departments and check out at any register. Why is this? The employee doesn’t know, but he was assigned there to enforce the trajectory. I had placed various items in my cart, then had to stand at the register line, go outside, stand in another line to leave my purchases at the handbag security station, then go stand in another line to enter the hardware area.

Continue reading

Of Freebies and Schools / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

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Elementary school students (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 12 September 2014 – The school bell rings and the children enter the classroom followed by their parents. The first day of classes triggers joy, although a few tears are shed by some who miss their homes. That’s what happened to Carla, who just started kindergarten at a school in Cerro. The little girl is lucky because she got a teacher who has taught elementary school for several years and has mastered the content. “What luck!” some of the little one’s family members think, just before another mother warns them, “But beware of the teacher, she demands every student bring her a bit of a snack from home.”

On the afternoon of September 1, the first parent meeting took place. After the introductions and welcoming remarks, the teacher enumerated everything that the classroom was lacking. “We have to raise money for a fan,” she said, unsmiling. Carla had already suffered from the morning heat, so her mother gave the 3 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) that was her daughter’s share, so she would have a little breeze while studying. ”We also need to buy a broom and mop for cleaning, three fluorescent tubes for the lights, and a trash can,” said the teaching assistant.

A list of requests and needs added some disinfectant for the bathroom, “Because we don’t want the flu,” said the teacher herself. The total expenditures began to grow, and a lock was added, “So that no one steals things when there’s no one in the school.” A father offered some green paint to paint the blackboard, and another offered to fix the hinges on the door, which was lopsided. “I recommend that you buy the children’s notebooks on the street because the ones we received to hand out this year are as thin as onion skin and tear just by using an eraser,” the teacher added.

After the meeting Carla’s family calculated some 250 Cuban pesos in expenses to support the little girl’s education, half the monthly salary of her father, who is a chemical engineer. Then the school principal came to the meeting and rounded it off with, “If anyone knows a carpenter and wants to hire him to fix their child’s desk, feel free.”

Puro, Buy My Stimulus” / Reinaldo Escobar

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 September 2014 — Passing near the Chinese cemetery on 26th Avenue, a young man leading his bike by the hand, said to me, “Puro, buy my stimulus.” I confess that it took me a few seconds to decipher the code. Clearly the “puro” was a reference to my youth, but what was difficult to understand was the “stimulus.” How can you buy such a thing?

As he explained to me, it was a plastic bag that contained a quart of vegetable oil for cooking, two bath soaps, and some ounces of detergent that he’d been given at work as a “stimulus” for having stood out in socialist emulation.

I didn’t believe a single word and committed the journalistic folly of rejecting his offer. If I had said yes, now I’d have a photo here of the products, laid out on the wall of the cemetery with the graves in the background.

When I told the story to my friend Regina Coyula, author of the blog Bad Handwriting, she told me this is the latest scam. The allusion to having been chosen as the vanguard, a standout, or special prize winner, makes you think that the potential seller is a “true believer” who has no recourse but to sacrifice the material honors his political-social conduct has earned him, to alleviate his urgent needs.

To buy the “stimulus” is almost a sado-political vengeance, but selling fake merchandise, that is oil that isn’t good for cooking, soap that doesn’t produce lather, and lime instead of detergent, is already a mockery… the old scam in new clothes.

Ministerial Hustling / 14ymedio

Habanarte in the Casa del Alba

Habanarte in the Casa del Alba

14ymedio, Havana, Luzbely Escobar, 11 September 2014 – When I was younger and went out looking for something to do in Havana’s evenings or nights, one day I stumbled over Julio. I went out with a girlfriend from Berlin and he was looking to make a living scamming innocent foreigners. He approached us intending to invite us to a Rumba Festival, but was disappointed by our refusal. The trick was easy: lead the unwary to Hamel Alley where there was almost always the sound of drums and right now there was the Festival he mentioned.

I had warned my German friend about those characters who invent everything to attract the tourists, and the truth was that, in those days of September 1993, there wasn’t much to do. Every encounter ended in a park, along the Malecon, or the home of a friend. Julio didn’t give up and told my friend, Angelica, that he knew a place where there was salsa dancing. We turned our worst faces to the old rockers and took off before they came up with something else. I remember my friend at the end of this episode telling me, “That’s what I would call cultural hustling.”

I’m telling this story because right now there is a cultural event called Habanarte. I support the theory that this is more or less the same thing, but organized by the Ministry of Culture itself. With a program that includes everything but which, in reality, brings little new, one more festival where supposedly a program specially designed for the event is created, which comes to be a kind of umbrella that covers everything and anything that’s happening in Havana lately. Thus, this umbrella festival takes credit for everything and even includes visits to museums on its list of events.

Presentations by the National Ballet of Cuba, Haydée Milanés, Descemer Bueno,
among others, are part of the shows absorbed by Habanarte. Also, the Art in the Rampa show, and even the sixth Salon of Contemporary Art, have been put under the umbrella.

An odd, or revealing, piece of data is that the Paradiso agency confirmed the participation of 1,500 Venezuelans and announced that the event in question is being marketed to tourists passing through Havana and Varadero. The perfect mix to ideologize even more the cultural spaces that, gradually, we Havanans have conquered to relax the everyday political ballad.

At the press conference that took place a few days ago, we learned that the Festival Information Center will be located at the Casa del Alba, the most rancid epicenter of political propaganda masquerading as culture. All this made me remember Julio and his fake musical event, and my friend Angelica who realized the farce in time. However, unlike that lie to get some money from unsuspecting tourists, Habanarte is a huge ministerial balloon scamming thousands of people.

(The event takes place from 11 to 21 September, but the official opening is on September 12, at 11 pm, at El Sauce Cultural Center, of Artex, with a concert by El Chevere de la Salsa, Isaac Delgado.)

Rejoice, Rise Up and Persevere, Pope Francis’s Verbs for Cubans / 14ymedio

Pilgrimage for the Feast of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre in Havana

Pilgrimage for the Feast of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre in Havana


14ymedio, Havana, 9 September 2014 – A letter sent by Pope Francis to Cubans has highlighted three verbs he invites pastors and the faithful to put into practice. On the occasion of the Feast of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre—our Cachita—this Monday, 8 September, the Bishop of Rome has urged us to rejoice, rise up and persevere. The message seems full of clues and enigmas to solve.

The Holy Father, for example, has emphasized, “What joy the authentic soul feels in daily events, and not in the empty words that abound, blown away with the wind.” Pope Bergoglio has also called us to rise up, but “not about the big things, rather in everything you do, with tenderness and mercy. María was always with her people caring for the little ones. She knew loneliness, poverty and exile,” allusions also emphasized with the verb persevere.

The message takes as its context the widespread pilgrimages that have occurred on the Island for the Feast of Cachita. To the yellow flowers, the promises kept and the acts of faith, we now add the Pope’s words, which have been shared publicly in churches throughout the country.

Leave a comment in Diario de Cuba after being silent for so long / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

We are Castro, as long as we Cubans continue being interviewed by G-2 (State Security) without publicly denouncing this coercion.

Leave me a comment here and now with your name and when-where-how Castro’s State Security bothered you.

HERE IS THE TEXT in English, and HERE IS WHERE YOU CAN LEAVE A COMMENT.

Because you know better than I do.

In private, we confess everything, proud of being annoying to the regime.

In public, we make ourselves crazy so as not to politicize this topic for the worse.

To continue traveling outside Cuba without problems.

To continue visiting Cuba without major complications.

I dare you, damn it.

Talk to me.

HERE IS THE TEXT in English, and HERE IS WHERE YOU CAN LEAVE A COMMENT.

Talk to yourself.

Let’s also talk to ourselves and not only to the anonymous agents of the political police of your supposed country, Cuban coward on the verge of complicity.

Save me.

Save yourself.

Save us.

For the death that already was.

For the life that will come.

HERE IS THE TEXT in English, and HERE IS WHERE YOU CAN LEAVE A COMMENT.
4 September 2014

The Cubans of 9/11 / 14ymedio

Marco Motroni

Marco Motroni

Born in Havana in 1945, Marco Motroni emigrated with his family at age 11. In 1963 he graduated from George Washington High School in Manhattan. He started playing in la Típica Novel, one of the most successful Latin orchestras in New York. Years later he began working as a broker at Carr Futures, whose offices, in 2001, were on the 92nd floor of the North Tower.

Juan La Fuente

Juan La Fuente

Born in 1940 in Cuba, Juan LaFuente emigrated to the United States to attend university. In 1964 he married Colette Merical, who was the mayor of Poughkeepsie between 1996 and 2003. LaFuente worked at IBM for 31 years and at the time of the events was working for Citibank. On September 11 he was attending a meeting at a restaurant North Tower.

Niurka Dávila

Niurka Dávila


Niurka Davila was 47-years-old when she died in the attacks. Her real name was Rosa, but she changed it when she was naturalized as an American citizen. She worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Nancy Pérez

Nancy Pérez


Born in Cuba in 1965, Nancy Peréz emigrated with her family five years later and settled in New York, She was a supervisor at the Port Authority at One World Trade Center at the time of the attacks.

George Merino

George Merino


Born in Matanzas in 1961, George Merino emigrated with his family when he was only 7 and settled in New York He lived in Bayside, Queens, and was a securities analyst at Fiduciary Trust, located in the World Trade Center.

Carlos Domínguez

Carlos Domínguez


The son of Cuban emigrants, Carlos Domínguez was born in New York in 1967 and lived in Nassau County, New York. In 2001 he was in charge of computer system security for Marsh & McLennan, on the 95th floor of the North Tower.

Michael Díaz Piedra III

Michael Díaz Piedra III


Michael Díaz Piedra III was born in Cuba in 1952. His family, plantation owners, emigrated to the United States in 1960. They settled in Florida and later, in New Jersey. He was 49-years-old in 2001 and was a vice president for the Bank of New York in charge of disaster recovery planning. His family said his desire was to return to Cuba the day it became a democracy.

From 14ymedio, 11 September 2014