Overdone Glorification / Fernando Dámaso

Bacunayagua Bridge, the tallest bridge in Cuba, was started in 1956 during Batista’s presidency, although it was not opened until 1959, by which time Batista had fled the country. (Photo; Tripadvisor)

Fernando Damaso, 6 October 2017 — It has become an everyday occurrence that, with every anniversary of some political, economic, social, medical, juridical, pedagogical, scientific, artistic, agricultural, industrial, ecological, military, etc. event, it is credited to the late Cuban historic leader.

It gives the impression that everything done in Cuba in the last 58 years has been due to “his original ideas and brilliant intelligence,” and no thanks to anybody else.  Everything points to his monopoly on good ideas, among many other things.

The fact is that, in totalitarian regimes, everything supposedly positive always is down to the current dictator, and everything negative to his subordinates, who are incapable of understanding him correctly. But, there are limits which cannot be crossed, without looking ridiculous and being mocked by the people, that’s to say, the locals taking the piss. continue reading

In the case of Cuba, it has not been like that, and everything said and written about it bears the unmistakable seal of fawning adulation, without the slightest inhibition on the part of the adulators.

Gerardo Machado was “The Illustrious One” in the thirties, and his works filled the media of his time, but his regime didn’t last any longer than eight years. And Fulgencio Batista was “The Man” in the fifties, and the same thing happened, but his government didn’t go on for more than seven years.

In spite of everything you can criticise about some of their actions, both of them left important achievements which can be admired, even today — the Central Highway, the National Capitol, enormous hospitals and educational institutions, roads, bridges, tunnels, avenues, streets, plazas, parks, aqueducts, drainage systems and other public works.

Nevertheless, today’s hero is the one most responsible for the country’s prolonged economic, political and social crisis, as a result of his repeated errors and failures. In truth, his legacy has been one of intolerance, destruction, poverty and misery, and very little worth remembering. It all needs to be “rescued,” that verb that is so fashionable in Cuba today.  

Health and education, his principal “successes,” which were already making progress year on year during the Republic, are being used as a shop window to the outside world, with the objective of political preaching to the gullible, in praise of a disastrous system which is not, and never will be prosperous, efficient or sustainable, let alone sovereign, independent and democratic.

With most Cubans more worried about survival than thinking about him, as we approach the first anniversary of his death, the authorities have chosen to use these occasions to start his premature glorification. They are trying to offer up an idyllic image of his character, to legitimise him in the eyes of history, a difficult enough task  in view of his mountain of blunders.

We know that those who have exercised power for long periods of time try to create myths. Then, subsequently, there has always been a process of taking them apart, to see them in the clear light of day. In this case, we have to get on with the second stage.

If it doesn’t happen, they will continue to manipulate history in the interests of spurious political interests and ideologies, far removed from reality, poisoning generations to come with falsehoods and lies.

Translated by GH

An Unnecessary Cuban Ministry / Fernando Dámaso

The ration book (14ymedio)

Fernando Damaso, 22 September 2017 — According to Cuban authorities, 32% of food services and of personal and technical services for domestic use are now operated by forms of non-state management. At the moment there are 4,173 of these businesses, of which 1,878 are dedicated to food services and 2,295 to personal and technical services.

It is also reported that, in 2014, 498 non-agricultural cooperatives (CNA) were approved while in 2017 there are 397 in operation, of which 62% are linked to the commerce and services sector and 17% to construction. In addition, in 2016, 291 state entities were managed as CNAs, an organization for economic and social purposes, which is voluntarily constituted (although there are many “induced” by the authorities) and is sustained by work of its partners. continue reading

It is also said that CNAs have their own assets, autonomy of management and cover their expenses and tax obligations with their own income (Resolution 305/12). All this constitutes a partial solution, which demonstrates the historical failure of state management.

The absurdity is that the agency (Ministry of Internal Trade) responsible for this failure, which was not able to efficiently run state enterprises of any kind, and destroyed them when they were under its direct administration, is now in charge of overseeing the good operation of this entire new structure, as well as controlling it and dictating its legal norms. As a part of this control it interferes in pricing, quality, and other matters that the services offer, issues that should be the responsibility of the new managers.

In addition, certain problems that conspire against the success of these forms of management have not been solved: there is no wholesale market with differentiated prices, state suppliers know nothing of contracting procedures, nor do they know how to negotiate with the CNAs, and they do not have transport to deliver supplies to them.

The socialist state, unfortunately, is inefficient and it is impossible for it to stop controlling and imposing “straitjackets” on the citizens, even if it is these same citizens who are the ones who solve the problems and render  services with a quality that none of the state agencies, institutions and companies have achieved for years, and the body designated to ensure all this lacks credibility and the moral strength to do so.

Here it seems that the reason for maintaining a bureaucratic and incapable ministry, which has proved to be unnecessary and has acted as a “bottleneck” between producers, marketers and the population, complicating all kinds of distribution, is its “single achievement” of maintaining the greatly reduced “ration book.”

A Lot of Manipulation / Fernando Dámaso

Jose Marti’s mausoleum in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, Santiago de Cuba (ReginaBeardsley.com)

Fernando Damaso, 5 September 2017 — The manipulation of José Martí — whom we Cubans call “the Apostle — not just his life but also his ideas, has been progressive. Accused, in 1953, of being the “intellectual author” of the attack on the Moncada Barracks, and the assailants self-styled the “centenary generation” (it being 100 years since his birth), from 1959 on he was “unchained”.

The “Lenin-Martí” rooms (Lenin first and then Martí) in the military bases were there until the disappearance of the Soviet Union, embellished with “Martí-Ho Chi Minh Days”, when we felt like “giving our blood for Vietnam”.

Cautiously at first, when the Apostle was still thought of as a liberal-democrat, but distanced from socialism, in the eyes of the more dogmatic, they soon began to ascribe to him ideas he had never had, in order to convince us that now, had he been alive, he would have been a socialist. continue reading

In reinventing history and attributing merits or defects to their subjects, in accordance with the political convenience of the moment, our leaders have been very good at getting submissive historians to endorse their opinions.

Look at the absurdity they have propagated, that “before, we would have been like them, and now they would have been like us”, which is totally appropriate to the process of “baloneyfication”, which started then and has continued to the present day.

At a particular moment difficult to pin down exactly, during the period of the personality cult, the ideas of the “Maximum Leader” started to be considered as continuations of those of Martí, and that he was his best disciple.

Now, both of them, with their remains (bones and ashes), near to each other in the same cemetery, are presented as indivisible, where one cannot exist without the other, and they even affirm that Cuba cannot be thought of without them.

Without asking his permission, they have put an annoying travelling companion beside Martí. This soup (or rather an indigestible stew) of homeland, nation, party, Martí and “historic leader”, is what they offer to the younger people in the country, trying to gain their eternal commitment, without freedom of choice, and conditioned by conveniently manipulated facts.

Translated by GH

Awnings and Advertisements / Fernando Dámaso

Havana. Source: Cuba Before Castro – Odalys Ruiz

Fernando Damaso, 24 August 2017 — The narrow streets of Havana, in the colonial and early years of the Republic, were covered with awnings from one side of the street to the other, to protect passers-by from the inclement tropical sun and heavy rains. They were mainly placed, along with their commercials, by the owners of the establishments located in them. The awnings and advertisements were part of the image of the city and helped to make it more colorful. Corroborating this are the chronicles of visitors and photographic and cinematographic images, as well as different works of art.

With the development of the city and the widening of its streets, the awnings adapted to the new conditions, occupying only the space of the sidewalks, whether narrow or wide and, without disappearing totally, giving way to the portals in our main shopping streets (Galiano, Reina, Monte, Belascoaín and others) and, in the fifties, returning to the modern avenues of the newly urbanized areas and their commercial centers, enriching the urban environment with their striped designs and colors. continue reading

Something similar happened with commercial announcements: small and mainly textual in their beginnings, they were transformed, gaining in size and artistic quality, until becoming the original illumination of the fifties, adorning the streets and avenues of our cities and towns , Enriching them by day with their color and at night with their luminosity.

Starting in 1959 the awnings began to disappear, destroyed by the weather and indolence and never restored, and the commercial announcements were removed from cities and towns and even prohibited. Then came the unique political propaganda, directed and controlled by the Party: streets, commercial establishments, public fences and artistic and sports centers, still today, display their heavy ideological, dogmatic, repetitive, boring and unbearable weight. Only in some international event that requires it, are the spaces of the propaganda enlivened with some commercial advertisements. It is a secret to no one that commercial advertisements could serve to defray the costs of maintenance of these facilities.

Currently, due to one of the many absurdities, both the installation of awnings and advertisements, especially if they belong to the self-employed, require a long and complicated chain of authorizations and bureaucratic procedures, excessive payments and regulations, which make them unlikely, even if this is detrimental to the comfort of customers and the advertising of businesses.

It would be interesting to know which urban bureaucrat can be blamed for these barbarities and which leader approved them. Awnings and advertisements, in every city in the world, embellish sidewalks and boulevards. In Havana, in addition to the streets, they existed everywhere: at first in front of the restaurants, cafes and bars, as the famous ones in the “open airs” of Paseo del Prado, in front of the National Capitol, and later, also surrounding the whole environment, on the roofs of buildings, both in Central Park and Fraternity Park as well as and along the Malecon, just to name a few.

The authorities of the city and the National Institute of Physical Planning should be more interested in solving the serious problems that affect Havana, than waging a war to awnings and advertisements. This schematic application of the austere, monotonous, gray and unbearable socialist order, has brought as a consequence public spaces (stadiums, sports halls, cinemas, theaters, shops, establishments and even parks) that are ugly, cold and unfamiliar, something different from what happens in any self-respecting city. Regulation is one thing and prevention is something totally different: our authorities have always been prodigal in the second.

If by day our streets are bustling and broken, dirty and stinking, at night they become somber and dark. Then, only the small spaces dedicated to international tourism shine, as if the foreigners were the only ones who deserve to enjoy the beauty and the light, perhaps for the currencies that they contribute to the coffers of the State; while this is denied to Cubans.

A Lost Bet / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 19 August 2017 — After more than half a century of absolute power, many of the real and imagined problems that have historically served as the rationale for the Cuban revolution have not been resolved. Most have gotten worse; others have arisen that had previously not existed.

The housing shortage — thousands of families living in precarious and overcrowded conditions, thousands of people housed in inadequate facilities — offers a clear demonstration of its failure. The insufficient and inefficient public transport system, which has for years has been unable meet people’s most basic needs, along with a wide variety of abysmal and unreliable public services are other indications of failure. If we include the significant loss of agricultural capacity, industrial obsolescence, the failure to make major investments or infrastructure improvements, and pervasive low productivity, the situation becomes chaotic. continue reading

Political and social promises have still not been fulfilled. Civil liberties and basic human rights remain in short supply. Meanwhile, salaries and pensions are low while racial and gender discrimination, violence on the street and in the home, poor education, anti-social attitudes, drug addiction, corruption and disregard for the natural environment continue.

Blame for this chain of calamities has always been placed on the “embargo.” But even before it was a topic of conversation, and at a time when the country enjoyed huge Soviet subsidies, these problems never improved much less got resolved. Instead, abundant resources were squandered on foreign wars, subsidized insurgencies, absurdly grandiose and ultimately doomed projects, and other daredevil adventures.

Though they adopt revolutionary rhetoric, the socialist state and its leaders have irrefutably demonstrated that in Cuba the system does not work, that it is impractical, just as has happened in all other socialist countries that bet on it.

Advocating for “a prosperous, efficient, sustainable, sovereign, independent and democratic socialism” is advocating for a contradiction. It amounts to yet another utopian ideal intended to delude citizens and hold onto power for a bit longer, knowing that, in the end, it will fail just as it has in the past. While perhaps attractive in theory, socialism is a failure in practice. Betting on it, in any of its guises, means certain loss.

Meaningless Nonsense About the Flag / Fernando Dámaso

The flag, better “well adjusted” some think. (14ymedio)

Fernando Damaso, 24 April 2017 — The “official experts” continue talking and writing about the “correct” use of the national flag. Some of the arguments they trot out are laughable. The problem is not so much the rejection of the use of the national flag on clothing, as criticising the use of the American flag by many, mostly young, Cubans. It is something ideologically unacceptable  for fossilised minds. Let´s take ít one bit at a time.

In the United States, from when it was born as a nation, the flag has had an important place in the life of its citizens. Honoured and respected, it can be seen in government institutions and in front of many houses, as well as on the facades of many buildings. It is also everywhere in sporting and leisure facilities, and framed ones adorn the rooms of young people and adults alike and even the walls of commercial organisations. As if that weren´t enough, it appears on clothing and different consumer goods, with original and bold designs. It has never been idolised, but forms part of the daily life of every American. Something similar, though to a lesser extent, happens with the British flag. continue reading

In Cuba, the flag accompanied the Mambisas (a mixture of Cuban, Dominican and Filipino fighters for independence) who fought for independence in the 19th century but, when the republic was established, it became an official symbol of state, on display only in state institutions from dawn to dusk. It never featured in peoples’ day-to-day lives, apart from certain patriotic dates, like 10th of October, 24th of February or the 20th May.  During the years of the Cuban republic it was an object of respect, and its use was well regulated.

After 1959, the flag began to be used in a thoughtless way by the authorities, often without worrying about the established norms for its use, for any kind of political event and, over time, for many people, losing its emotional impact. And more than that, they put other flags next to it which had nothing to do with it, and that compete with it for importance (which is what happened with the 26th of July flag).

This totally anomalous situation changed it, for many, into more of a symbol of a government which had appropriated it, rather than of the Cuban people. In other words, the flag had become “official”, like the guayabera (a kind of mens’ shirt similar to what barbers wear), “safaris” and checked shirts that government officials are in the habit of wearing.

Nowadays no Cubans wear such clothes, least of all young people. They appear to be repudiated. Also, very few Cubans are interested in putting up a flag in their home or displaying it as a part of their clothing. The problem does not have to do with regulating, or stimulating, its use, as some suggest, but in honestly pointing out why many young people, and some not so young, wear clothing with the American flag on it.

Listen, you brainy ideologues,  don’t you understand that it’s a subtle way of demonstrating a preferance for a different system to the one we have here?

It isn’t, as you think, a problem about “trashy merchandise”, nor about “imperialist aggression”. Test it out, design some clothing with the flag, or parts of it incorporated, and you will see how few people actually buy it.

Translated by GH

The Bolivian Circus / Fernando Dámaso

Map of Pacific War area. Source: Wikipedia

Fernando Damaso, 31 March 2017 — Although hardly anyone is surprised at the clowning about by the person who calls himself ” the first indigenous president” (in fact, there was another one before him), now, with his going on about “a sea for Bolivia” he is becoming news again.

Bolivia lost Antofagasta, the Atacama desert and the sea coast in the Pacific War or the “Saltmine War”, [trans. note: The full alternative name was the Birdshit and Saltmine War] which went from 1879 to 1883. It was ended in 1883 with the signing of the Treaty of Ancón. In the Treaty, Bolivia lost land to Chile, and also Peru and Argentina. Peru, which annexed the Bolivian territory of Tacna and Arica, returned the saltmine provinces of Tarapacá and Arica to Chile. Argentina kept hold of the territories it had annexed.

To try to change present-day frontiers between countries, which have been settled by treaty and agreements favouring the winners, following wars and occupations, is not really doable. It would mean changes pretty much all over the world, which is absurd.

Also, Paraguay doesn’t have an ocean outlet either, just as, for example, countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which hasn’t held back their development.

The ambition of the “Bolivian indigenous man who became president”, rejected by Chile, seems to be more a response to his “indigenous jingoism” policy, intended to gain support for his intention of putting himself forward again as a presidential candidate, something which was turned down in a referendum. Everything seems to indicate that the “indigenous” has enjoyed power so much that he wants to perpetuate it, intending to arrange a new referendum on something which the Bolivians have already decided.

Translated by GH

For Cuba? / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 29 July 2017 — The slogan adopted for the so-called 2017-2018 General Elections is “For Cuba.” According to propaganda claims, these elections are unique in the world in that, unlike in most countries, it is not political parties which nominate candidates but rather citizens at the grass roots level. In reality this is not the case.

The party, the only legally recognized party, does it by using official civil society organizations — the only such organizations which are legal — which operate under its direct control. Furthermore, if a “troublesome” candidate should happen to slip past the control mechanisms, the party — once again, working through these same organizations — will do everything in its power to make sure the individual is not nominated. In practice, a candidate has never been nominated who had not been previously approved by the party. continue reading

It is precisely at the grass roots where any real citizen participation begins and ends, where voters “choose” a candidate from those already chosen by the party. Only those nominees who have been previously “filtered” and approved will be on the ballot.

The governing body for municipal, provincial and the national elections is the so-called Candidates Commission, composed of representatives appointed by the municipal, provincial and national leaders of these same governmental organizations (the Cuban Central Workers’ Union, the Commitees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Women, the National Assembly of People’s Power, the University Students’ Federation and the Pre-University Students’ Federation).

These organizations draw up lists of candidates for the provincial legislatures and the National Assembly without any citizen participation. As is widely known, everything is tightly managed to ensure that the absolute unanimity of voting that characterizes Cuban legislatures is maintained, from the grass roots to the National Assembly.

Since all representatives are required to be nominated and elected by the electoral base, those whose nominations and elections are considered crucial are assigned (or planted) to ensure that none of the party’s stalwarts get left out. This often involves a candidate being nominated based on his or her place of origin or other incidental considerations. As a result, someone may be nominated and formally elected in a place which he has not visited in years and to which he no longer has any ties.

By democatic norms, Cuba’s general elections are undoubtedly “quite original.” Perhaps that is why its “elected” leaders remain in power for decades. In spite of being terrible at governing, spending their terms in office veering from disaster to disaster, they win reelection every time.

Rather than being a democratic electoral process, the Cuban system amounts to a process of dynastic ratification and a way of recycling its buffoons.

Daily Incongruities / Fernando Dámaso

Panorama and Tulipan streets near the 19th of April Policlinic in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood.

Fenando Damaso, 1 June 2017 — To the annoyance of the citizens, the annual campaign against the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries Dengue fever and the Zika virus has begun anew, through weekly fumigations of homes. Undertaken year after year, it seems that the insect has been the winner since is has not been eradicated.

In 1900, the Cuban doctor Carlos J. Finlay and the American medical team presided over by Dr. Walter Reed succeeded in eliminating it and sanitized the country, declaring it free of yellow fever or black vomit, as it was known then.

To do this, ditches, streams, muddy places and wastelands were cleaned, and crude oil was spread on top of them to kill the larvae. They then sprayed infested and adjoining houses. The process of sanitation and control of the insect was maintained during the Republic and there were no new outbreaks. continue reading

The transmitting mosquito reappeared in the years of socialism, when “republican sanitation” was stopped and the city, which had been one of the cleanest in the world, became a veritable dump. Today it continues to be: garbage everywhere, sewage in the public thoroughfare.

When the nurse who distributed the papers with the day of the fumigation was asked why they don’t clean and fumigate the unhygienic places in the neighborhood, she replied: “The mosquito lives in clean places and not in dirty ones.”

Nice! Finlay and Reed are obsolete. The solution is to make the neighborhood and the city a real den of dirt, to force the mosquito to emigrate.

To the absurdity of the response is added starting this campaign at a time when the city lacks potable water, due to the rupture of the major line in the Southern Basin, with 70 years of unmanaged operation, and when the highest governmental authorities, instead of confronting and solving the serious problems of the present, are dedicated to rambling on about the future.

Like they say in the street, “This is Cuba, chaguito!”

Nothing Has Changed* / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 12 May 2017 — At the recently concluded Fifith National Council of the National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC), during skin-deep presentations, one timorous playwright expresed this thought: “A critical mindset is fundamental in society. UNEAC must become the thermometer wherein discussion is allowed.”

It appears that in UNEAC, as in the rest of Cuba, discussion is not allowed and requires permission to practice. And here I thought this was an inherent right of every citizen and not only for members of the UNEAC (with its appropriate authorization).

We all know that the UNEAC is a governmental organization, commanded and controlled by the Ministry of Culture, a body which lacks independence and whose principal duties are designated by the government and the party. continue reading

This Council, as more of the same, stands behind the execrable repression inflicted, in plain light of day this past May Day, on a citizen who had the gall to get ahead of the official start of the parade and run while waving a North American flag. If he had done this with a Venezuelan flag, perhaps he would have been applauded and even congratulated–but he did it with that of the “eternal enemy” and that, over here, constitutes a criminal act.

Both events demonstrate the prehistoric dogmatism and intolerance of our authorities, incapable as they are of setting aside their totalitarian stances.

Only in dictatorships are discussion and the display of a flag (even that of a country with which we have recently reestablished diplomatic relations) prohibited, and are those who do these things beaten up.

To speak of tolerance and of respect for diverse opinions is one thing, but to practice them is something else entirely. It constitutes a yet-unlearned lesson for the Cuban authorities. The old and new rulers do not tire of repeating the same old, broken record of defending the sovereignty, independence and identity of the Nation–which has always served as the basis of violating the most basic rights of the citizenry.

In this country nothing truly important changes. The few changes are limited to insignificant matters, which often are even more detrimental than beneficial to Cubans. To understand this, you need only sense the public opinion on the street and set aside the tired official rhetoric.

The matter of the Cuban flag could not be left out of the UNEAC Council, albeit already a tired topic.

Señores, the elements of the flag, or even the actual flag, reproduced in a piece of apparel, a tool or a craft, are not the flag. Let us leave aside extreme positions and let us truly repect the flag, not utilize it for cheap political and patriotic acts nor as a background for demogogues, thus breaking with the established tradition for its use–which actually has been and is systematically violated by the authorities. A similar thing occurs with the national anthem and emblem.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Translator’s Notes:

*The orginal title of this piece in Spanish is, “El Cuartico Sigue Igual,” which can be literally translated as, “the little room is unchanged.” The author is riffing on a song that became very popular in Cuba in the late 1940s, “El Cuartico Está Igualito.” The phrase is a jilted lover’s refrain addressed to the departed love object, describing how everything in their love nest remains the same, just as she/he left it. Ever since, Cuban writers have used this phrase or a variation when referring to all manner of unchanged situations.

Higher Taxes / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 6 July 2017 — It is no secret among Cubans that their government is inept and inefficient. Fifty-eight years of failure attest to this.

With the emergence of self-employment, however, officials have found a way to fill the state’s coffers without having to devote resources or effort to it. It’s called taxes.

They have devised (and continue to devise) taxes of all kinds to drain citizens who have decided to work for themselves rather than depend on the state. continue reading

The recent tax increase on the sale of homes is one example and there is talk of increases in other areas as well. A contract was recently announced in which homeowners would provide rooms to Public Health clients in order to care for those who are ill or need medical attention.

As logic would have it, it would be at the homeowner’s expense even though every medical tourist’s insurance pays for it. Never in Cuban history, even during the colonial era, has there been a government that exploited its citizens more than this one.

No one disputes the need for taxes as a contribution to the maintenance of the state and its social services. But the assumption is that the state will create wealth and not use taxes as its main source of income. There is also no entity or authority that exercises control on citizens’ behalf over the expenses of the state. The so-called Comptroller General of the Republic exercises this role only over her own ministry, not over the president or vice-presidents.

According to the legislation passed last month at a special session of the National Assemby, “the accumulation of property and weath by citizens is not and will not be permitted.”

Fortunately for the citizens, the laws are made by men, and when they disappear most of the time the laws disappear as well. Nothing is eternal. To believe otherwise shows a lack of intelligence.

Whom Do They Serve? / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 28 June 2017 — Whether at the municipal or provincial level, the people’s administrative councils are supposed to be looking out primarily for the interests of their constituents and, in conjunction with them, carrying out the duties of local governance. But due to the inaccessible and very undemocratic Cuban electoral system, that is not the case.

Lacking any real power and without questioning what is meant by “the people,” these councils have for years simply carried out the orders handed down to them by higher-ups in government without concern for the needs of their constituents or responding to them in a compelling way. In a country where every worker was once an employee of the government, their inefficiency was just part of the broader inefficiency of the entire system. continue reading

With the advent of self-employment, or private sector work, they have continued to act in the same way, turning a deaf ear to the complaints and grievances of the self-employed, imposing bureaucratic measures under the guise that such taxes benefit the weak and needy. This demagogic, paternalistic position, far removed from reality, is not fooling anyone.

For evidence one need only look to the government’s recent “collisions” with private-sector taxi drivers, with homeowners in Viñales who rent out rooms to tourists (the government tried, without success, to force homeowners to permanently cover over swimming pools they had built on their properties), with construction crews (whose prices officials have tried unsuccessfully to regulate), with clothing and handicraft vendors (who continue to sell these items), with truck drivers transporting passengers in the backs of their vehicles (who were overwhelmed by endless and repeated demands for documentation) and many other similar examples.*

Even without established organizations to represent them, small groups of people with shared interests began pushing back against arbitrary demands by authorities, who were trying to exercise the same sort of tight control they had always exercised over state-sector workers without understanding that something had changed: a group or collective spirit had arisen that was at odds with the authorities’ interests. It is all still very new and appears to be primarily driven by a need for survival rather than by economic or political demands.

The original sin of the Cuban dissident movement has been that it has never actually represented any specific segment of society. Instead, it has been made up of independent agents who have assumed a critical and combative stance towards the system, gathering around them a few like-minded individuals. The exception has been the Ladies in White, which respresents the interests of family members unjustly sentenced to long prison terms for holding differing opinions.

At the moment, one cannot say that there is a real dissident movement, one that demands respect and fights for its rights, that represents specific segments of society, that is united by economic interests. This is, in truth, what brings about change.

As long as there are no solutions, these segments will grow, develop and gain strength. And every day the authorities will find it more difficult to maintain a hegemonic position of force.

*Translator’s note: In 2013 the government announced that independent clothing vendors would no longer be allowed to sell items imported from abroad, a major source of their inventory. More recently, private truck owners have been converting their vehicles to accommodate passengers in order to transport them from one city to another. In spite of the dangers this presents, such as the absence of seat belts, the service is more accessible than that of the state-owned bus company and much cheaper than buses catering to the tourist market. 

A Lot of Heat and No Fire / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 18 June 2017 — The policy toward Cuba, announced by United States President Donald Trump, in an event in Miami that was more buffoonish than serious, as well as the Declaration of the Revolutionary Government responding to it, constitute “a lot of heat and no fire.”

First of all, Trump’s speech was full of rhetoric and repetition of set phrases, with the objective of satisfying the small group of Cuban-Americans and Cubans who still remain frozen in the years of the Cold War, dreaming of a triumphal entry into Havana on the shoulders of Uncle Sam, something that neither Trump nor any other American president will provide them, rather than concrete measures against the Cuban government. continue reading

If we look behind the curtain, aside from repealing the previous presidential directive and signing the new one (nothing but a play on words), the only elements are: eliminating the people-to-people individual travel and blocking American companies from doing business with Cuban companies linked to the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the intelligence and security services. All the rest, established by Obama, remains in place.

And in the Cuban case, as well, there is an abundance of revolutionary rhetoric that has been repeated for over half a century and that, carefully, “reiterates the will to continue respectful dialog and cooperation on issued of mutual interest, as well as the unfinished bilateral negotiations with the government of the United States.” All the rest of the long document can be forgotten about.

It seems as if both presidents have agreed to reassure their supporters, while “silently” continuing the conversations and exchanges of the Obama era. Trump is not as crazy as he seems, nor are there, in Cuba, new conditions of “historic confrontations.”

Let’s let things take their course.

A Bad Bet / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 13 June 2017 — Of the real and supposed problems that the Cuban Revolution proposed to solve, as the basis of its historical necessity, after more than half a century of exercising absolute power, many have not been solved, the majority have been aggravated, and others have emerged that did not exist before.

The housing shortage, the thousands of families living in precarious and overcrowded conditions, and more thousands housed in inadequate locations, constitute a clear demonstration of the Revolution’s failure. Insufficient and inefficient public transit, for years incapable of meeting the minimum needs of the population, and the appalling and unstable public services of all types, show another face of the failure. If we add to this the loss of important agricultural outputs, the obsolescence of the industrial infrastructure (lacking upgrades and needed investments), plus a generalized lack of productivity, the situation becomes chaotic. continue reading

Nor have the political and the social spheres achieved what was promised, what with the continued absence of freedoms and basic rights for citizens, as well as low wages and pensions, covert racial and gender discrimination, street and domestic violence, incivility, antisocial behaviors, corruption, and disregard for flora and fauna.

The blame for this string of calamities has always been cast upon the embargo–but even back when it went unmentioned while the country was benefitting from enormous Soviet subsidies* these problems went unresolved. At that time, the abundant resources were squandered on foreign wars, backed insurgencies, absurd and grandiose failed plans, and other frivolities.

The socialist state and its leaders, albeit abusing the revolutionary rhetoric, have reliably demonstrated in Cuba that the system does not work and is unfeasible–just as happened in the other socialist countries which erroneously bet on it.

To propose a “prosperous, efficient and sustainable socialism” is to propose a negation, and it constitutes no more than another utopia to deceive the citizenry and detain the march of time a little longer–knowing that, at the end, it will fail as it has up to now. Socialism, perhaps attractive in theory, is in practice a failure. A bet on it, in any of its forms, is to ensure a loss.

Translator’s Notes:

*Before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the start of Cuba’s “Special Period.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Names and Brands / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Dámaso, 29 October 2016 — Creating a brand name respected around the world requires resources, effort and time. In the colonial and republican eras certain Havana names became famous established brands over time.

Among retail department stores there were El Encanto, Fin de Siglo, La Epoca, La Opera, Filosofia, Sanchez Mola and Los Precios Fijos. Stores specializing in jewelry, fine china, and luxury giftware included Le Trianon, Riviera and Cuervo y Sobrino.

Confectioners included Potín, La Gran Vía, and Sylvain. Restaurants and cafes included La Zaragozana, El Castillo de Farnes, Floridita, El Emperador, Monseñor, El Castillo de Jagua, and Rancho Luna. continue reading

If other types of retailers are included, the list becomes almost endless. This was the case throughout the entire island.

Brands also repeated the phenomenon: Bacardí. Arechabala, Hatuey, Cristal, Tropical, Polar, Pilón, Regil, Jon Chí, Tío Ben, Bola Roja, El Miño, Nalón, Escudo, Catedral, Guarina, Hatuey, Regalías El Cuño, Partagás, H. Hupman, Competidora Gaditana, Trinidad, and many more.

Beginning in 1959 the new authorities changed the names and the brands, and allowed years of resources and serious work by many Cubans to be lost. It was a suicidal commercial policy, replacing established names and brands with absurd numbers and generic names.

So appeared the markets A-14, S-34, M-67, and others; cigarettes were all Popular or Soft; soaps were Nácar; soft drinks and deodorant were Son; cologne, shampoo, and other products were Fiesta.

Gone were the labels and containers that differentiated one brand from another, although they were made in different places. Names and brands to defend or to answer for ceased to exist, losing quality.

This still happens with some products, the most representative example being matches: they are called Chispa, although their producers are different and they are located in different provinces. Many beers, with different brand names, are produced in a factory in Holguín, closing the existing factories in Havana.

With the slow entry into the world market, some names and brands have been rescued and other new ones have been created.

As for commerce, the laurels go to the Historian of the City, who has restored the original names to many business of the historic district, although with some liberties regarding their locations: Cuervo and Sobrinos were in Águila and San Rafael and not in Oficios and Muralla, where they are located now. But hey, not everything can be perfect. The effort should be appreciated.

Hopefully the new private businesses being built on the sites of old shops will imitate him. Maybe this way in Havana and in other places in Cuba the lost historic continuity will be restored.