Tiny Flags Return / Fernando Damso

Illustration: The Fool by Eduardo Abela

I began thinking about the tiny flags printed on fabric or paper that everyone used to wave in rhythm at the city’s weekly demonstrations during the “battle of ideas.” Like Abela’s fool, they have passed into oblivion along with his creator.*

However, they have reappeared in the hands of healthcare workers, clad in their white lab coats, off to confront, with those from other countries, the Ebola epidemic on the African continent.

First of all, I think that — besides being uncomfortable — travelling dressed in a white lab coat while carrying a tiny flag comes off as extremely quaint, though it seems to be more part of a propaganda stage set than the mission itself.

In the battle against Ebola, envoys from other countries travel dressed as ordinary citizens. They do not need to disguise themselves as healthcare workers to be recognized as such; the habit does not make the monk. To treat their patients, sooner or later all of them will have to take off their lab coats and put on the special protective suits provided to them for this purpose.

Drawing comparisons, a television commentator noted that the United States had sent three thousand troops without mentioning that in that country such emergencies are handled by military health and sanitation units, which receive highly specialized training to deal with such situations, which means not having to utilize staff from the national healthcare system. A similar approach is taken in other countries. Before expressing an opinion, it is advisable to be informed on the subject in question.

If we are to believe the official press, Cuban specialists constitute the main force battling Ebola, though in fact this is not the case. In reality they are among thousands of specialists from many different countries. What is happening here is that, as usual, our media is simply ignoring everyone else. This does not detract from the merits of the mission, but it would be advisable to set aside chauvinism and not try to reap political gain from the misfortune of others.

Furthermore, to label as “heroes” those who only just began treating Ebola a few days ago seems premature. The current use and abuse of this little word has certainly reduced its respectability and caused it to lose the value it once had. Nowadays, the term “hero” is used too hastily in our country.

*Translator’s note: El bobo, or the Fool, was a character created by Cuban cartoonist Eduardo Abela in the 1930s as a satirical commentary on the government of Cuba’s then-president, Eduardo Machado.

28 October 2014

Angel Santiesteban Prats: 20 Months of Unjust Imprisonment

Today, 28 October 2014, Angel Santiesteban Prats marks twenty months of unjust incarceration, waiting for the Review of this show trial which condemned him without any proof because he is INNOCENT. His son, being a child and used to testify against his father, has now completely dismantled the farce plotted against Angel and yet they still keep him in prison. His only crime: opposing the dictatorship that has plagued Cuba for more than half a century.

28 October 2014

What You Saved Yourself From Camilo! / Reinaldo Escobar

Camilo Cienfuegos (archive photo)

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 31 October 2014 – For the first and last time, I saw him from afar for a fraction of a second on 21 October 1959, the day he passed through Camaguey to arrest Comandante Huber Matos. No one understood anything, but the presence of Camilo in the midst of the confusion gave us confidence that everything would be solved in the best possible way.

The details of the moment when his disappearance was reported (a week later) has been erased from my memory, but I haven’t forgotten that instant when they announced the false news that he had been found. People on the streets brought out flags and pictures of the Virgin of Charity. The joy was brief, but unforgettable.

How is it possible that in all these years, when not a single square yard remains unexplored, that not a single vestige has appeared (…)?

For a long time I was convinced that he might appear at any moment. In the years when I thought myself a poet, I even penned some verses describing his return. All the times I flew between Camaguey and Havana, every time I do it, I wondered what could be the reason for plunging into the sea… how a Cessna, that never flies too high, could fall on a site other than the island platform? How is it possible that in all these years, when not a single square yard remains unexplored, that not even one vestige has appeared, a part of an engine, the propeller, what do I know…

If he had survived what happened and not been involved in another similar incident, Camilo Cienfuegos would today be another octogenarian at the summit of power. If he had not been sacked, imprisoned or shot, he would be burdened today with the responsibility for a national disaster. We would no longer be discussing if he was more popular than the “other one,” but if he was as guilty.

Right now, as I write these lines, students are marching along the Malecon with flowers, the people who work in offices are leaving earlier than usual because they are going to throw flowers in the sea for Camilo. A ritual now lacking the emotions of the first years, when those who went to the shore to pay homage did so with tears in their eyes, and without having to be summoned by the director of a workplace or the principal of a school.

Death has immortalized among us his cheerful and popular image. If there is something beyond, and from that place he is watching us, he must feel happy to have disappeared in time. The death saved him from the ignominy, and the probable temptation of corruption and the humiliation of having been treated as a traitor and as an accomplice.

Born on the Roof / Yoani Sanchez, 14ymedio

Screen grab from Madagascar (1994), a film directed by  Fernando Pérez

Screen grab from Madagascar (1994), a film directed by Fernando Pérez

14ymedio, YOANI SANCHEZ, Havana, 28 October 2014 – Some cities have a subterranean life. Metros, tunnels, basements… the human victory of winning inches from the stone. Havana no, Havana is a surface city, with very little underground. However, on the roofs of the houses, on the most unthinkable rooftops, little houses have been erected, baths, pig pens and pigeon coops. As if above the ceilings everything were possible, unreachable.

Ignacio has an illegal satellite dish on a neighbor’s roof, it is hidden under grape vines that gives undersized sour grapes. A few yards away someone has built a cage for fighting dogs, which seek out the shade during the day, thirsty and bored. On the other side of the street several members of one family broke down the wall that connects to the roof of an old state workshop. They’ve built a terrace and a toilet on the abandoned place. At nightfall they play dominos, while the breezes of the Malecon wash over them.

Carmita keeps all her treasure on top of her house. Some enormous wooden beams with which she wants to shore up her quarters before they fall in. Every week she climbs up to see if the rain and the heat have swollen the wood and cracked the pillars. Her grandson uses the roof for trysts, when night falls and the eyes barely distinguish shadows, although the ears detect the moans.

Everyone lives a part of their existence up there, in the Havana that wants to stretch to the sky but can barely manage to rise a few inches.

An Unfamiliar Cuba in the “Era of Changes” / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Covering Cuba in an Era of Change, Columbia University, New York

Covering Cuba in an Era of Change, Columbia University, New York

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, New York, 19 October 2014 — If it weren’t because the mediations are in English, because of the discipline in the adhering to the schedules, because of the coordination and care of each detail and because the quality of the service, it could be said that the conference covering “Cuba in an Era of Change”, in which I am taking part as an invitee, could be taking place at an official Cuban venue.

However, it is all taking place at the Columbia School of Journalism, New York, though, on occasion, the debate and its members seem to be following a script designed to please even the most demanding Castro delegate, not because of its focus on issues of the lifting of the embargo–not just in the news coverage in a changing Cuba where, nevertheless, we continue to endure a shocking lack of freedom–but in the combined half-truths and warped fantasies that aim to lay the foundations of the futility of American policy towards the Cuban government.

There is no doubt about the need to implement new policies to clear the current impasse in US-Cuba relations, but it is incorrect to regard as null the effect of the embargo on the Cuban government, the same way that “it’s an excuse that allows Castro to stifle dissent” is a thesis that constitutes a candid remark, to put it delicately.

If indeed the embargo is harmless, how do we explain the repeated complaints of the ruling caste, qualifying it as “criminal policy”, especially after the fall of the so-called European real socialism, when the huge subsidies that allowed the implementation of social programs ended, yet still nurture the “Castro” legend in almost every forum?

As long as the image of “the kind dictatorship” prevails, the one that universalized health and education “for the people” (…) Cubans will, unfortunately, continue to be fucked.

But life for Cubans will not improve by reinforcing old myths. So long as the image of “the kind dictatorship”, the one that universalized health and education “for the people”, forgetting that the price paid was our freedom; while that strange fascination about Fidel Castro, the maker of the longest dictatorship in the western hemisphere, continues to exist; while we continue to fall into the vice of alluding about those who are considered adversaries without allowing them participation in the debate, or just while some lobbyists, perhaps too sensitive, leave the room when someone–with the moral authority conferred by being Cuban and living in Cuba–dares to reveal truths that they don’t want to hear; while the voices of those who are really suffering the ebbs and tides of the policies are absent, it will not matter whether there is an embargo or not. Cubans will, unfortunately, continue to be fucked.

These past few days I have been attending, perplexed, the debates of many speakers who think they know, perhaps with the best motivation in the world, what the Cuban reality is and what is best for us. I’ve heard the old version of Cuban History where Fidel Castro is heir to the Martí philosophy, and successor to the struggle for independence. I have heard many compliments about the fabulous achievements of the Cuban system in matters of ecology, social services and even in economics. I have discovered the Cuba which those who move public opinion in this country want to show.

The notable absentees are still the Cubans, not just the ones from Miami, who they generically include in a big sack in these parts, as if they were mere numbers to swell statistics and fill out surveys, who they consider equal to Haitians, who flee their country for purely economic reasons, but also the thousands who continue to emigrate by any means in an ever-growing and constant way, and the millions condemned to drag a life of poverty and hopelessness in our Island. But the most eloquent vacuum, except for my exceptional presence here, is that of the journalists and independent bloggers that do cover the day-to-day from the depth of the Island. Once again, the foreigners’ sugar-coated view has prevailed.

Privilege of the powerful, the media and politicians, for whom Cuba is only an exotic and beautiful island, long ruled by a genius-–perhaps a tad tyrannical, but who will have to die someday–and replaced, in dynastic order, by his brother. An island inhabited by the most cheerful and happy people in the world.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Utopias and Dissidences of Pedro Pablo Oliva / Yoani Sanchez, 14ymedio

Excerpt from 'The strange ramblings of Utopito' from the Pedro Pablo Oliva exhibition, Utopias and Dissidences (14ymedio)

Excerpt from ‘The Strange Ramblings of Utopito’ from the Pedro Pablo Oliva exhibition, Utopias and Dissidences (14ymedio)

YOANI SÁNCHEZ, 27 October 2014 – Some years ago I visited the studio of the painter Pedro Pablo Oliva. We had hardly seen each other on any previous occasion, but he led me into his studio and showed me a work to which he was giving the finishing touches. An enormous vertical canvas rose in front of me and the artist remained silent, without explaining anything. In the middle of the fabric two figures levitated. One was Fidel Castro, translucent as if we were looking through an X-ray, looking aged and with a somewhat ghostly air. Between his arms he was squeezing to the point of suffocation a languid girl who seemed to want to escape from that grip. It was Cuba, exhausted by such all-consuming company. At his feet, a group of tiny little citizens with empty eyes were watching – or imagining – the scene.

I could never forget that picture, because in a limited number of inches Oliva had traced the national map of the last half century. His daring in that work affected me, as he had already done in his classic The Great Blackout (1994), released when the power cuts were more than an artistic metaphor. Now, years later, I learned of the cancellation of his exposition Utopias and Dissidences in the Pinar del Rio Art Museum. The official justifications suggested that the city didn’t have the “subjective favorable conditions” to open the show. A contrived way of rejecting the uncomfortable images where the character of Utopito was questioning the ideologues and their dreams, starting from the outcomes.

However, Oliva’s tenacity has run ahead of the culture officials and he just announced that the censored exhibition will eventually be held at his workshop. Thus, as of November first his admirers in Pinar del Rio and across the whole island will be able to enjoy some of the works of Utopias and Dissidences, because given the small exhibit space not everything will be able to be included.

In this same room where a lifeless politician squeezed his country to the point of suffocation, in a few days we will be able to see if she managed to escape this fatal embrace, continue her life, continue her creation.

“My Most Fruitful and Difficult Experience Has Been Jail” / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Antunez

Jorge Luis García Pérez, Antunez. (14ymedio)

Jorge Luis García Pérez, Antunez. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, Havana, October 25, 2014 — On leaving prison, it took Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as Antunez, some time to digest that he could go where he wanted without being watched. They had held him captive for 17 years and 37 days of his life.

Just as he learned to do in jail, today he devotes his efforts to civic resistance, inspired by the doctrine of Gene Sharp and Martin Luther King. His movement gathers dozens of activists who carry out street protests and civic meetings in several provinces of the country and in his native Placetas.

Lilianne: Let’s talk about before going to prison, adolescent Antunez. What did you want to be?

Antunez: In adolescence, a firefighter. I liked the idea of rescuing people, putting out fires. But before going to prison I wanted to become a lawyer. I believe that was my calling.

Lilianne: Jail is a survival experience. Do you think it hardened you?

Antunez: The most fruitful and difficult experience, as paradoxical as it may seem, has been jail. I never could imagine that jail was going to be a hard as it was, nor that I was going to be a witness to and a victim of the vile abuses that I experienced. I do not know how to answer you if it hardened me or not. When I entered prison I had a much more radical ideology, it was less democratic. But jail, thanks to God and to a group of people whom I met, helped me to become more tolerant, more inclusive, and to respect various opinions.

As a prisoner, I went to the most severe regime in Cuba. The gloomy prison of Kilo 8 in Camaguey, commonly known as “I lost the key,” where the most sinister repressors are found. Torture forms part of the repressive mentality of the jailers in a constant and daily way. It was there where a group of us political prisoners came together and founded the Pedro Luis Boitel Political Prisoner’s Association, in order to confront repression in a civic way. Thus, I tell you that prison did not harden me, because if it had, I would have emerged with resentment, hatred, feelings of vengeance, and it was not so.

Lilianne: What is your favorite music?

Antunez: I like romantic music, Maricela, Marco Antonio Solis, Juan Gabriel. But I also enjoy jazz, although I am no expert. The music to which I always sleep is instrumental.

Lilianne: Will you share with us your personal projects?

Antunez: There is a saying according to which a man, before he dies, should plant a tree, write a book and have a child. Fortunately, there is already a book, titled Boitel Lives; CADAL published it in 2005. I have planted many trees, because I am a country peasant. I only need to have a son with the woman I love, Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera, so here I am now telling you one of my goals I am aiming for.

Lilianne: You know that a growing number of dissidents and activists have identified four consensus points. What do you think?

Antunez: I believe that they are standing demands that concern all members of the opposition and all Cubans wherever they are. I wish that more fellow countrymen would adhere to these four points. I believe that they represent the sentiment of all good Cubans: to free political prisoners, for the Cuban government to ratify the human rights agreements, recognize the legitimacy of the opposition and stop repression. Everything that is done for change, to free us from the communist dictatorship that oppresses us, is positive.

Lilianne: Why does Antunez not leave Placetas?

Antunez: Not everyone wants to go to Havana. I know many people who keep their rootedness. I would say that, more than roots, it is a spiritual necessity. I leave Placetas three or four days and I begin to feel bad. And that sensation that I have when I come up the heights, coming from Santa Clara… that is something inexplicable. The motto that I repeat, “I won’t shut up, and I’m not leaving Cuba,” means also: “I won’t shut up and I’m not leaving Placetas.”

Translated by MLK

Has Stagnation Returned? / Fernando Damaso

For years, stagnation was a constant of Cuban-style socialism, as it was in the socialism of Eastern Europe. Starting in 2006, with the change at the helm, it seemed as if the country was going to awaken from its long lethargy and start to move forward, albeit too slowly for many people. A few timid steps were taken, but they were enough to create some hope that, finally, we would begin to travel along the correct path, leaving behind years of failed experiments and constant political, economic and social improvisation.

There began a process of eliminating absurd prohibitions, which pleased everyone, although it was known that the contents of our wallets would be insufficient to fund such niceties as travel, hotel stays or buying a car or house. It also seemed as though the economy was going to begin to take off, salaries and pensions would improve, and we would begin to live as normal people. Congresses and conferences were convened wherein short-, medium-, and long-term plans were discussed and approved which, according to their creators, would facilitate our secure path towards development, without pressures but also without slow-downs.

Some years have now passed since then, and the scene has changed but little: agriculture continues to lag behind the demand for reasonably-priced foods for the majority of citizens, livestock breeding continues to be stagnant, milk production is seriously below national demand, basic industrial products are scarce, health and education services get worse daily, the lack of hygiene is widespread, the state of the epidemiological system is worrisome, streets and sidewalks remain broken and unrepaired, buildings collapse and new housing units are not built, businesses are deteriorating and under-supplied, and incivility is rampant.

The list of problems could go on ad infinitum, adding to it, besides, the prevailing corruption, diversion of resources, social violence and generalized indiscipline. It appears that erstwhile gains are insufficient, or that actions taken do not resolve the problems that prompted them. It could be that, without realizing it, we are falling once again into stagnation.

It is true that it is unjust to own lands when the owner does not work them, or when the lands are unproductive. However, it is also unjust to work them and make them productive, and not own them. The same thing happens when business properties are legally transferred to non-agricultural, non-private cooperatives. After the State, through its interventions, nationalized these properties when they were in good condition and let them deteriorate, now it pretends that the responsibility to repair them falls on the private proprietors – while the State continues to maintain ownership of the real estate.

We are face to face with a reality. As long as the State, which during 56 years has demonstrated its economic illiteracy and its incapacity to make productive ventures out of agriculture, livestock breeding and industry – as well as being unable to run its enterprises and services at a quality level – continues to try to maintain itself as the absolute owner of everything in the name of the people (that generic entity) – and doesn’t permit real Cubans the exercise of real private ownership, nothing will work.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

23 October 2014

Blatant Lies / Angel Santiesteban

During the days in which Ángel Santiesteban-Prats’ whereabouts were unknown, and with fears absolutely based on the illegal transfers that he experienced before, we filed a complaint with the United Nations Working Group on Forced or Involuntary Disappearances, so they would put it before the Regime in Havana to clarify his whereabouts.

Translation of letter from the High Commissioner’s Office of the United Nations Human Rights Commission:

Dear Mrs. Tabakman,

I have the honor of addressing you in the name of the Working Group on Forced or Involuntary Disappearances with respect to the case of Mr. Ángel Lazaro Santiesteban Prats (case no. 10005155).

In this respect I would like to inform you that the communication sent to the Government of Cuba on July 30, 2014, due to an administrative error, did not include the phrase “Marti TV (Miami, United States)” in place of “Cuban communication media.”

Furthermore, I want you to know that this correction of the case does not affect the decision taken by the Working Group during its 104th session, such as was communicated to you in its letter of September 30, 2014.

I would like to inform you that the Working Group will celebrate its 105th session between March 2-6, 2015, in the City of Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Sincerely yours,

Ariel Dulitzky, President-Presenter

They acted with the dedication and speed that an emergency requires, and, of course, the Castro dictatorship did not. They only responded to the Group’s requirement when it gave them the demand; that is, when Ángel already had been located by journalists from 14Ymedio. Thanks to them we knew where he was, although they couldn’t meet with him. The Regime had put him in the border military prison where he presently is. Continue reading

Nightmare in Mexico / 14ymedio, Carlos Malamud

The protests continue in Chilpancingo, capital of Guerrero. (Francisco Cañedo/ SinEmbargo)

The protests continue in Chilpancingo, capital of Guerrero. (Francisco Cañedo/ SinEmbargo)

14ymedio, Carlos Malamud, October 20, 2014 — The regrettable events of Iguala and the disappearance (probably slaughter and disposal) of 43 student teachers (school teachers) again have Mexico facing its greatest scourge of the 21st Century: violence. The triumph of PRI in the elections of 2012, Enrique Pena Nieto’s ascent to power and his reformist program seemed to have redirected the country on a different course than the six-year term of Felipe Calderon (2006-12) and his war against drug trafficking.

Suddenly the dam has burst, and Mexicans have been newly submerged in a black nightmare. Everything is again in question, like governability, the burden of drug trafficking, corruption and civic coexistence. Pena Nieto does well to worry because in this wager an important part of his government and of the memory that he leaves future generations is at play. The worry should reach the whole range of national politics and all levels of government, beginning with the federal, but also the municipal and state.

It is not an easy or a simple problem as proven by the recent history of Colombia, where the mixture of political violence and narco-trafficking aggravated the situation. But in Mexico things are no simpler. The proximity of the United States implies not only a vast market for drugs but also a relatively simple path for arms procurement. Political violence is quite residual and absolutely comparable to the Colombian, and at the moment stable ties have not been established with the cartels.

Its current fragmentation complicates even more the fight by state forces. The fierce fight that the gangs maintain to impose their territorial control increases the violence, the number of victims and the sense of danger that they transmit. In order to achieve their objectives, not limited to narcotics trafficking, they try to tie themselves increasingly to local power, corrupting it to the roots where they can. Continue reading

The Camera Says More than "Cuba Says" / Regina Coyula

For several months now the Tuesday evening television news has featured a series called “Cuba Says.” The reporter, Thalia Gonzalez, and her team seem to have been given the go-ahead to bring up — only to bring up — the actual problems of average citizens. Yesterday’s subject was employment. What struck me more than the shallow discussion of this topic were the opinions expressed by the respondents.

Notable was the widespread acceptance that anything coming out of Ministry of Labor offices is of interest to no one, the aspirations these people had to work for a private firm or to own a personal business, the ease with which the they spoke about money and the repeated use of the verb “to resolve,” along with all that implies for us Cubans.

The camera revealed what neither the interviewers’ questions nor the interviewees’ answers could: the indifference with which the young respondents on the street looked into the camera. Having a job is not enough to get by. Salaries are not enough to live on.

22 October 2014

I’ll Stick With "America" / Fernando Damaso

The official government Cuban press sometimes surprises us with some “profound” article that causes us to think. Last Tuesday one such article appeared in Juventud Rebelde with the title, “Abya Yala, the aboriginal name of America.”

This kind of gesture aimed at erasing the 522 years since Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America, marked on Oct. 12, has now become a mental trauma for some people. Just to be critical, they have even criticized the concept, “Meeting of Two Cultures,” which seems right to me.

It turns out that, according to the so-called “original peoples” (who in reality are not so “original” being that before them came many others, even going back to the first being considered human) and their defenders, Earth is not called that, but rather, “Pachamama,” and America is “Ixachilan,” “Runa Pacha,” or “Abya Yala.” That is, according to these “originalists,” gathered in multiple workshops, conferences, campaigns, congresses and summits, it was decided that, as of 2007, instead of “Americans” we are “abyayalesians.” If we follow this logic, then instead of “earthlings” we should be called “pachamamians.” Really, I do not like these little names. I’ll stick with the current ones.

Every country names the “Earth” and “America” in its own language, but for all, they are “Earth” and “America.” This is what allows that, although we speak different languages, we can still understand each other. This business of everyone pretending to give his local name to those things that involve us all, aside from being a ridiculous pursuit, is just nonsense. Besides, America, when it had contact with Europeans, was no great nation or even close to being one. There resided in America various tribes, some more developed than others, that warred amongst themselves, had their own dialects, and lacked a common language. The Spanish language, as the poet Pablo Neruda pointed out, allowed us to understand each other, just as did Portuguese and English.

This snobbery of wanting to change historical names constitutes a true waste of time and resources. Respecting and admiring what our ancestors – from the Greeks to the Aztecs, without forgetting other civilizations – contributed to the development of humanity, those peoples known as “original” should devote their efforts to making up for the hundreds of years of backwardness they suffer in relation to those who are not “original” but who, nonetheless, by virtue of talent and hard work, have given humanity the majority of goods of all kinds that we enjoy – and that many “originals” also enjoy, starting with their leaders.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

19 October 2014