Cubanet, Enrique Díaz Rodríguez, Havana, 19 February 2018 – Nearly eight years after the physical disappearance of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, nineteen human rights activists staged a march in Havana streets in remembrance of the Cuban opposition martyr.
The group of activists, made up of women dressed in white and members of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Civic Action Front (FACOZT), gathered in the early hours of this Sunday, February 18, in a park located in the El Palenque neighborhood of La Lisa municipality.
Carrying posters that read “Freedom for Cuba,” “Freedom for Political Prisoners,” “Zapata Vive,” “Long Live Human Rights,” exclaiming anti-government slogans and remembering the names of Laura Pollán, Pedro Luis Boitel and Orlando Zapata, the activists marched peacefully for several blocks. continue reading
In 2012, when the FACOZT was known as the Hard Line and Boycott Front, the movement baptized the aforementioned park with the name of the martyr, placing a metal tag that was later torn off by agents of the State Security.
At the end of the march it was learned that the home of the opposition couple consisting of Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, leader of the FACOZT, and Lazara Bárbara Sendiña Recalde, was being watched by agents of the State Security and the National Revolutionary Police.
Cubanet, Orlando Gonzalez, Havana, 20 February 2018 – “I won my bicycle in 1993 for being a ’vanguard’ worker. I’m a Physics teacher and I remember all the requirements that had to be met to be rewarded with one of these.
“In those days the only thing that mattered to me was not having absences, participating in all political activities and volunteer work and being an excellent worker. They made us compete with our own coworkers and friends to win the bike.
“At that time the ’Special Period’ was very hard, for me it was a great relief when I won it, it was like winning the lottery because it solved my transport problem, pedaling was the best [way to travel],” recalls Ángel González, who, like many Cubans, found a bicycle changed his life in the 90s. continue reading
“I remember that first day taking my son to sit on the Malecon. It was almost 20 miles of pedaling but I didn’t feel it because the need was so great and the transport system was so bad that it was my only option; the happiness on the face of my 11-year-old boy that day I will never forget it,” added Ángel, who 25 years later still has the same “Flying Pigeon,” although he no longer uses it to travel long distances because the transport system “has improved” and, in addition, he’s no longer young enough to pedal the 20 miles.
Bicycles from that time and even some that go back to the 50s still roll on Cuban streets, having come to be more valuable than current models because they are “tougher.”
“Now there are a few parts that are Chinese, the chain ring has an adaptation where the original parts are removed and mounted in a ball box. The front and rear hubs and nuts are made by turners with thick sprockets, and the tires and inner tubes are also manufactured by hand. The pedals are made of wood and last longer than the original ones. The seats are also made by hand. In short, only the frame, the handlebars and the fork are the ones that originally came with the bicycle,” Ángel explains.
A whole industry and its market revolve around spare parts for bicycles. The tires, manufactured by hand using old tires, are sold for a price of 8 CUC; the innertubes are also handmade and have a value of 4 CUC.
The “poncheros,” — the self-employed workers who are dedicated to repairing tire punctures — almost always market all these products made by craftsmen. Adrián González, owner of a private workshop, explained to CubaNet how his business works: “When I first set up the repair shop, I had workers who were dedicated only to fixing punctures; then I realized that the spare parts were a good business and I set up a workshop for repairs and the sale of accessories.”
“Some parts, like the front and rear axles, hubs and nuts, are made by turners using old rods and irons; others, like the tires and innertubes, I also get from private factories. I only resell these pieces and I have the manpower to change them in case the client asks, and with that I have enough to live on,” he adds before concluding: “The bicycles are rolling in Cuba today because of all these inventions, because the original pieces are almost impossible to find in the State stores, and when the resellers come in, they hoard them immediately, the demand is so great.”
Felipe has been a turner for more than 30 years and has found a source of income by manufacturing spare parts for bicycles. The great demand caught his attention.
“I am a turner, several years ago I realized the great demand for spare parts for bikes (and) then I began to manufacture nuts, hubs and axles for all the models that exist in Cuba,” he explains. “Although most are Chinese bikes that entered the country in the 1990s, I also manufacture pieces for Russian bikes that are older but more sturdy, those have been rolling since the 70s.”
In the network of state stores, the price of a bicycle exceeds 120 CUC, the equivalent of several months wages for an average Cuban.
However, bicycles were recently removed from almost all state stores. Jorge Medina, the manager of one of them located in Boyeros, explains: “We had several models at different prices that ranged between 110 and 240 CUC; last month they took them all and did not give us an explanation, they came in a truck belonging to TRD [the state chain of hard currency stores] and they were taken away.”
At the same time, “throughout the network of hard-currency stores in Havana today there are very few bicycles for sale and prices have risen considerably,” Medina added.
Even today, more than 20 years after the start of the so-called “Special Period,” cycling is still a key transportation mode in Cuba.
Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 18 May 2017—A neighbor of mine in Arroyo Naranjo recently had to ask an old friend of his who lives Miami to help him obtain some amitriptyline. A psychiatrist had recommended this medication for my neighbor’s wife to treat a nervous condition that would worsen without it.
This drug, among many others on a very long list, has been off the shelves of Havana pharmacies for months. The official excuse, aside from usual ones such as “the criminal blockade [U.S. embargo],” is that the cash-strapped Cuban state has been unable to square its debts with foreign pharmaceutical companies. continue reading
For the very astute customs officials at Cuban airports, ever on the hunt for drug trafficking and other illegal activities, it is a headache to conduct their painstaking inspections of the troves of medicines and vitamins that are brought in by travelers from the U.S.
Thus, it is no surprise that in Havana at this time, it is easier to find Tylenol than aspirin, and Centrum or Kirkland brand vitamins than the yellow multivitamin powder produced by the state, which some prefer not to use because it “whets their appetite too much.”
Cubans on the Island are evermore dependent on the remittances and packages they receive from their relatives and friends abroad, primarily those in the U.S., whom the regime demonized for decades, called traitors, and tried to cut their emotional ties to Cuba.
Many Cubans depend on the emigres and exiles not only for medicine, sustenance and clothing, and the monthly recharging of their mobile phones. They also request and obtain from them the most varied and sundry goods: from santeríanecklaces and white garments for the iyabó to school uniforms, and even parts for Russian-made automobiles.
That’s right. You heard it. In various Miami establishments one can find parts for Soviet-era automobile makes such as Lada and Mokvich, and for Ural and Berjomina motorcycles. In today’s Russia it is probably difficult to find these parts, they may not even be produced anymore, but in Miami, I know not how, there is an abundance of them. And obviously they are aimed at Cuba, where Russian cars compete for longevity with the Fords and Chevrolets more than 60 years old that are still circulating.
But do not be surprised by the availability of Russian products in Miami (let us hope this is not a plot by Czar Putin and his intelligence service). When I visited that city last year, I spotted on the shelves of a well-stocked bodega (it being so Cuban I hesitate to call it a supermarket), located on Southwest 27th Avenue near Coconut Grove, nothing less than Russian canned meat. Those very same cans that we would refuse back in the day, the ones we said contained bear flesh or god-knows what other greasy Siberian beast, and that today, after so many years of enforced vegetarianism, cause our mouths to water as though they were the most exquisite delicacy. It appears that in Miami, while hunger is not their motivation, there are Cubans who are nostalgic for Russian canned meat, because I doubt very seriously that the only customers for this product would be the wealthy Russians who reside in Hallandale and Sunny Isles.
In Hialeah, which is like a piece of Cuba transplanted to South Florida (but without the ration books and the CDR) it probably is not very difficult to find those damned cans of Russian meat.
Also there, and in any other part of Miami, one can hear reggaeton and watch the pigswill of Cuban TV. And don’t be surprised if the generation of Bolek and Lolek manage to get their hands on those cartoons they had to watch as children in Cuba, when Pluto, Porky Pig and Donald Duck were considered agents of the imperialist ideological penetration.
Those who cannot resign themselves to watery coffee and bland cigarettes—if they wish to smoke (to the horror of the nonsmokers, always such scolds) stronger cigarettes than American Spirit and the Wranglers sold by the Indians in Kendall—can find in Hialeah, and not too expensive, cigarettes directly from Cuba: H. Upmann, Populares and even the unsmokeable Criollos and Titanes, a.k.a. “chestbusters.”
It seems to be true what I heard from a Cuban American who, as a sort of savior-magus bearing gifts, was visiting his impoverished relatives in Mantilla: “You can find everything in Miami, anything, whatever it is.”
Cubanet, 2 May 2017 — Independent activist Lía Villares missed a flight that would have taken her to the New Orleans Jazz Festival after being “abducted” by police on Monday morning.
Speaking to CubaNet, Villares describes that two patrol cars under the command of State Security Agent “Jordan” were waiting for her near her home this morning when she was left to go to José Martí Airport. Villares had taken a taxi to go to the air terminal, but the vehicle was intercepted and the activist arrested.
The young woman describes how she was taken by the agents to Tarará, at the other end of the Cuban capital. The delay caused her to miss her flight, apparently the primary objective of the operation against her. Villares has a passport to travel, and permission to enter the United States.
Hours later, Villares was released without charges. She said he would try to buy a ticket and travel again because the authorities did not give a legitimate reason for her arrest.
Ay mi’jo, I would die of shame if I told you the things I’ve had to do, to earn a living (…) Fortunately, the best thing about working on my own is that even though beginnings are hard and there are always difficulties, I have managed to find my business (…)
Since I’m from Bauta [municipality about 25 miles southwest of Havana] I have to get up early almost every day, from Monday to Saturday, to be in Havana from 7 to 8 AM at a friend’s house who rents me her kitchen in Cerro. Then I have until noon to cook the food I’ll sell, and I have to make it well (…)
On a daily basis I prepare around fifty lunches. I put them in the containers I have, and around noon I go and sell them at a taxi stop by Parque de la Fraternidad.
Afterwards, I’ll go back to my friend’s house and prepare for the next day, buying anything I might need, or defrosting and seasoning meat. In the afternoon, I’m off to Bauta once again (…)
It’s been like that for five years (…) I’ve always been a dreamer, with many hopes and aspirations, but now at my age I try to not expect much from the future. Better to have it surprise me.
Translated by Leidy Johana Gonzalez and Brenda Rivera
I was a volleyball player in the last golden era of the sport in Cuba. I played alongside the best in the world: Marshal, Dennis, Pimienta, Diago, Iosvany Hernández. I played on the national team in the 1999 Tournament of the Americas in the United States, and in 2000 I almost went to Sydney, but right after that, during the best moment of my career, the team changed coaches and volleyball practically finished for me. They never called me again for the team and I decided to retire from the sport (…)
Since then, I’ve tried a thousand times to get back in. I started training young boys, and I was even on a sports mission to Portugal, but I couldn’t maintain myself financially with that, and I had no choice but to start working as a security guard in various nightclubs, like so many others. (…)
What I want most is to get back to volleyball, at least to train and prepare the youth, but the way things are now, I believe I’m just going to have to keep maintaining law and order in the Havana nights.
Translated by Jorge Vásquez, Aliaksandra Rabtsava, Vanessa Parra Henao
There’s hardly anyplace left to skate. You can walk around here and the only thing you can find are parks, which are really useless and sometimes we bother people. Old people scold us. I have friends that practice in the middle of the street because the ramps and installations that once existed are in ruins and no one bothers to fix them.
I’m not a professional; those who are more involved with skateboarding skate around Prado. I skate more often in Paseo. I do it as a pastime or as a hobby, like they say in English. Sometimes before coming out I watch extreme sport videos. There are even kids who win competitions with incredible technique.
I don’t know if there are competitions here in Havana. I don’t think so. It’s difficult because there’s no place to skate so you have to adapt. My favorite athlete is Tony Hawk, one of the toughest skaters I have seen. But personally I’ve never dreamed of skating seriously, I mean professionally.
I am in 10th grade and there is not much entertainment here, or anywhere else. While other kids my age are listening to reggaeton or, I don’t know, wasting time talking nonsense and telling lies, I grab my skateboard and spend a few hours in the afternoon riding it.
Translated by Cynthia Vasquez Bermeo, Josselyn Lopez, Natalia Pardo
I literally just saw a police officer ask a couple of kids for their identification and I’m pretty sure he did it because they were black. That’s just the life they were dealt. I have almost never seen the same happen to white kids. It’s as if whites are invisible to the police.
And then you hear people say that racism doesn’t exist in Cuba. And the funny thing is that it could’ve been those same whites that just finished robbing a house around here because whites also steal. I walk a lot around the neighborhood of Vedado, so I see many things.
Because of the color of my skin and my mean look, I get stopped all the time by the cops. I don’t want any problems. People look at me and think that I’m a tough guy but really, I don’t like fights or drama.
My thing is, I just like walking around town from time to time, finding small little jobs here and there to make money. Some days I sell fish and on other days I sell cans of paint.
I’m not really committed to anything right now but I have to find my way. I live alone but regardless I have to take care of myself. And on the weekends, I like to drink a little, like anybody would.
Definitely not beer though, because it’s more expensive. Besides, I’m more of a ‘rum’ type of guy, even though I advise people not to drink it. Rum is the reason why so many people are messed up in this country. I have a friend who went blind because he drank whatever he could get his hands on. I think he ended up drinking wood alcohol.
Translated by Oliver Inca, Patricio Pazmino, Marta Reyes
San Lázaro has been my savior. I’ve been through some very hard times and only when I placed my faith in San Lázaro was I able to find my way. Many people don’t understand why I do this. I left school in ninth grade, quite early, to work and help my mom. She earned very little money. How was she going to raise my ailing brother and me, if the money was never enough, not even for food?
They always called us ‘poorly dressed’, and to top it off we lived in a house cramped with people. (…) Since 2007 I’ve been making my pilgrimage. I remember the first time, I did the whole trip in somersaults. My brother went with me. I swear that one was the most exhausting trip. I passed through many villages, but I was told that was how it was supposed to be, I had to prove my faith. And I did.
Once I got to El Rincón they took pictures of me, movies… I felt that San Lázaro was with me. It was my first time at the Santuario del Rincón [the church dedicated to San Lázaro in the village of El Rincón to the south of Havna], and when I came in the door it was something amazing. Seeing the photographers and the people shouting, giving me water, it felt good. (…)
Today I’m alone, my brother feels better. I start my trajectory in November and I go around the streets of Havana collecting alms. Everyone stops, even the children. I see fear in their little faces, but one day they will understand.
You’re lucky to be witnessing the debut of one of the major go-getters in the bicitaxi business. Old Havana is crammed with ‘yumas’ [foreigners]. You see them on the streets, getting crazy, desperate to move from one place to another, looking and always asking. (…) And here’s Pancho, ready to be of service to those who need it. (…) I’ll admit I still have to fix up my “ship”, paint it, add cushions, lights, music. I’ll even have to dress better; I know the competition will back-stab you with those little details. (…)
Even though it’s my first week, I can already see that a lot of people are trying to get into the bicitaxi trade. You’re in constant contact with foreigners who are the ones with big bucks. (...) Since networking is everything, I’ve already partnered with some hotel owners, so I can play that card. If I happen to pick someone up who doesn’t have a place to stay, I’ll drive them to one of my contacts and afterwards I’ll collect my commission. (…)
I have a lot of advantages, but I’m just getting started. I know the neighborhood. I know five languages, at least enough to communicate the basics. Besides, now that “El Supremo” is gone, I’ll be the king of Havana. As the saying goes: I’ve got my charm going for me, asere! I have the key!
Translated by Camila Fernandez, Kendra Gil, Jingqi He
I studied at a Camilito [one of the Camilo Cienfuegos Military Academies]. But for financial reasons, I had to drop out and start working. My father washed his hands of me and my mom did the best she could. When I used to go out on the weekends, I would come home with no shoes. It was very hard.
I started working as a bicycle taxi driver approximately four years ago. My work hours are around 7AM to 5PM, and I pay 3 CUC [equivalent to $3.00 U.S.] a day for the bicycle rental. Clients call me or look for me because I have a reputation for being trustworthy and honest. Thanks to them I always have work.
What I’d really like is the restaurant business, to be a bartender or something like that. I’ve always wanted to better myself professionally, but if I were attending night school I couldn’t work past 1pm. That wouldn’t allow me to earn enough money to accomplish the goals I’ve set. If I continue down this path, ten years from now, I’m not going to be much good to anyone unless my quality of life changes for the better.
I have thought about leaving Cuba. I love my country, but there is so much that needs to be changed and no one knows where to start. My dream is to have my own business. I’m willing to make sacrifices. But I don’t want to do it for no reason.
Translated by Mayra Condo, Karlina Cordero, Stephanie Desouza
Cubanet, Tania Diaz Castro, 13 March 2017 – This 13 March is the 49th anniversary of the Great Revolutionary Offensive, that economic project that emerged from the little brain of the “Enlightened Undefeated One,” to ruin the Cuban economy even further.
Although each year the so-called Castro Revolution was a real disgrace for all Cubans, the worst of all was the day that Fidel Castro did away with more than 50,000 small private businesses: establishment where coffee with milk and bread with butter was served, high quality restaurants mostly for ordinary Cubans; expert carpentry workshops; the little Chinese-run fritter stands; fried food stalls which, for those who don’t remember, used prime beef; shoe shiners who plied their trade along the streets; people who sold fruit from little carts; milkmen who delivered to homes, etc. A project that caused unemployment among workers with long experience and that upset people. continue reading
Under the slogan of creating “a New Man,” something that today inspires laughter, the Great Revolutionary Offensive is no longer mentioned. Not even one more anniversary of that nonsense is mentioned in the media, as if nobody remembers the great mistake of the Commander in Chief.
The “New Man,” proposed as a part of this, ended up losing his skills and trades forever: cabinetmakers, turners, gypsum and putty specialists, blacksmiths, longtime carpenters, tailors, seamstresses, book restorers and many others, were forced to give up their work and take up screaming “Homeland or death, we will win!” Over the years, between the invasive marabou weed and the “magic” moringa tree, they were converted into the now well-known undisciplined, lazy, lethargic, absent, stealing in their workplaces and dreaming of working outside their country. A kind of worker who, it is true, thanks to the crazy economic juggling of Fidel Castro, is inefficient even faced with cutting-edge technology.
A recent example has been widely commented upon by Havanans: two hundred Indian workers have been hired for the construction of the Gran Manzana Kempinski Hotel, under the argument that Cuban workers cannot deliver the same performance.
Those who ask whether this is appropriate, seem to have forgotten that Cuba still suffers the great drama of lost trades.
The elders of today, who analyze everything through the great magnifying glass of time, come to the correct conclusion that these workers have been not only victims of the economic disaster that the country suffers, and then converted by force into members of a first opposition against the regime, an opposition that has done a lot of damage and the result of which has been to live in a country lacking development and technology for decades and, therefore, instead of good pay they receive alms, as a punishment to shame them.
Raúl Castro said it recently: “We have to erase forever the idea that Cuba is the only country in the world where it is not necessary to work.” Would it not have been more accurate to say: “the only country where people do not want to work, so that the socialist dictatorship will end?”
That would be the real solution.
If Raul does not say it, it is because he is afraid to be sincere. Miguel Díaz Canel, his first Vice-President, may say it through his always lost looks, as lost as those trade that reigned in a Cuba that was not Fidel’s.
Cubanet, Ana Leon, Havana, 3 March 2017 – Jose Vargas is 85 years old and a retired musician. He lives alone in a room in a tenement in Old Havana, depending on a monthly check of 240 Cuban pesos (eight dollars U.S.) and whatever help his neighbors can offer.
For two years this old man has waited for cataract surgery in both eyes. He was “given the run around” without the least consideration at the League Against Blindness; at Dependent Hospital, the operating room ceiling collapsed, causing the indefinite postponement of the surgery; and at Calixto Garcia Hospital there were no doctors available.
In spite of Vargas’ ordeal, the official press speaks with pride of the aging population that today comprises 18% of the Cuban population. It argues that this longevity is an achievement of the socialist system and optimistically describes it as a “challenge” for the near future. But at the current juncture, the free health benefits that the Island’s high officials preach so much about in front of international agencies are not perceived. How can you plan to confront the “challenge” if a helpless old man has to wait two years for a cataract operation? continue reading
Disabled by partial blindness and diabetes, Vargas began to experience hunger. He suffered hypoglycemia more than once from not eating for long hours. Rosa, 68 years old, is the only neighbor who, in accordance with her means, has dealt with feeding him and washing his clothes. “It hurt me to see him so dirty and hungry (…) I have seen him eating things that are not good for an old diabetic,” the lady told CubaNet.
Nevertheless, Rosa could not take on that responsibility for long given that she herself is retired and has health problems; so she tried to seek help.
Trusting in Christian charity, she went to the New Pines Evangelical Church – very near the tenement where Vargas lives – which distributes food daily for some elderly loners. But what a surprise when a woman responded to her, without the least sign of compassion: “That is not our problem. Go see the delegate [to the local People’s Power], the Party and the Government.”
Rosa explained Vargas’ case to Old Havana’s Municipal Government and sought a food quota and social worker services from the Family Attention Centers. Reluctantly, they gave her written authorization that would permit Vargas to carry home, twice a day, a bowl with rice, peas, scrambled eggs and jam; all poorly made and without the necessary caloric content.
As if that were not enough, Vargas had to walk a kilometer a day or pay 30 Cuban pesos (a fifth of his pension) for a bicycle-taxi in order to collect the food. The social worker who should have taken care of this task never showed up.
Behind the suffering of a forsaken old man there is so much administrative corruption and human sordidness that right now the prospect of growing old in Cuba is terrifying. The State does not have the institutions or the specialists equipped to confront the wave of aging that is approaching. The old age shelters – with a couple of exceptions – are worse and do not accept old people with dementia, advanced Alzheimer’s or any other illness that requires care around the clock.
At the beginning of the century Fidel Castro dedicated many resources to graduating thousands of social workers who only served to squander public funds in that crazy “Summer on Wheels” campaign, where the same young people charged with regulating fuel consumption in order to protect State property wound up stealing it. The government spent millions of pesos, awarded college degrees to a gang of delinquents and today cannot even harvest the humanitarian benefit of the investment planned on the basis of political volunteerism and a lack of common sense.
In Cuba today there are not enough social workers, geriatric specialists, adequate food or medicines. Many unfortunate old people live in dwellings that are in a deplorable state. Vargas himself is in constant risk of slipping on the mold caused by leaks in the tenement’s cistern; or being killed by a piece of loose brick from the eaves and balconies of the building whose century-old structure is in an advanced state of deterioration.
In the face of official indifference, people who don’t have a place to live enter “the mansion” in an old folks’ home, to be “cared” for in exchange for staying with the living instead of the dead. While death approaches, who complains of mistreatment? Who can say if the old person accepts his new situation or is feeling threatened?
A country that does not concern itself with old adults leaves them to the mercy of bad people. That is the future that awaits Cuba, given that the State wants to subsidize everything, and it is not possible. Families have fragmented because of the exiles, and not even the Church can be counted on. It is no wonder that the number of suicides by elderly people has increased, although the government hides the statistics.
Cubanet, 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.
Cubanet, 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.