An Unconvincing Achievement / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 30 September 2015 — In the face of failure of many countries to achieve the 2015 economic and social objectives established by the UN in 2000, the Cuban government has unleashed its current campaign, presenting itself as an example of a success, “despite the criminal blockade.”

First things first: it is not the same to achieve the objectives in a country of ten million people, that it is in the one of forty, a hundred, three hundred million and more, because in those the needs and costs to resolve them are vastly superior. In addition, and something that is not said, is that at the end of the decade of the fifties of the previous century, Cuba presented indicators in the economy, healthcare, education, social security and many others much higher than those of countries in Latin American, Asia and Africa, and in some areas higher than some European countries. Just check the statistics. Continue reading

Again With the Blockade! / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 22 September 2015 — The hackneyed topic of the blockade or embargo continues to be among the priorities that the Cuban government demands that the United States of America resolve, the objective being to assure stable and mutually advantageous relations.

However, there is a matter that the American government should solve unilaterally, without trying to achieve any type of accord with the Cuban one, being that it was imposed on the latter. The argument turns out to be rather puerile, if one takes into account that when it came time to revoke the Platt Amendment (also imposed unilaterally by the American government), many conversations and accords  were mediated between both parties. In politics, to dialogue and reach agreements is a common practice, as seen throughout history. Pigheadedness has never led to anything positive. Continue reading

Only Half the Story / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 11 September 2015 — A few days ago the Cuban Ministry of Public Health published an extensive article under the headline “Health Services to Our People Are Guaranteed and Improving.” But it only told about half the story, ignoring everything else.

The article mentions the participation of the Cuban Medical Brigade in the fight against ebola, the different types of assistance offered to other countries suffering from natural disasters, the number of doctors per capita, the fact that 50,000 health care workers — half of whom are doctors — are involved in medical missions overseas, that more than 10,700 foreign students train in our schools, and other such statistics. The country’s commitment to internationalism was also stressed. Continue reading

A Hustler Close To Me / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 29 August 2015 — In my distant childhood in the El Moro neighborhood of Mantilla, currently a part of the Arroyo Naranjo municipality, I had the good fortune to know and live with a character that left deep traces on me. Manolo “The Pole,” as everyone called him, was the son of Syrians or Lebanese who had emigrated to Cuba. His real name, if I remember correctly, was Manuel Sahinz Anhus.

One day he appeared at my house, because of his relationship with Carmen, the daughter of Sara “The Galician,” with whom my mother and I shared — like a single family — the large house on Rodriguez Street. Manolo was dark complexioned and over six feet tall. When I met him he was practicing boxing, participating  in Saturday fights in covered space where a ring was installed, on Route 4, near the Juventud campus, Professor Nilo’s college, where I studied in elementary school. He almost always won, which earned him some pesos, from the bets. Continue reading

Watching an Odd Commemoration / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 3 September 2015 — Yesterday, September 2, China commemorated for the first time seventy years its “victory over fascism” with a huge military parade. The celebration was broadcast live on Cuban television. If we kept in mind what actually happened, we might more accurately describe it as “resistance to Japanese occupation.”

The nationalist army under Chiang Kai-shek as well as armed detachments of Mao Zedong, which later formed the basis of the Red Army, were defeated, decimated and forced to take refuge in the mountains. Japan occupied China, deploying an army of one million troops and establishing a repressive regime for 14 years, one which killed millions of Chinese citizens. It did not end until the Japanese surrendered to the United States and its allies on September 2, 1945.

Let’s review the facts. Continue reading

Beyond the Flag / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 16 August 2105 — After hearing and reading the speech by the US Secretary of State during the flag-raising ceremony on 14 August at the site of his embassy in Cuba, and the statements by him and the Cuban Foreign Minister at the subsequent press conference, I think it necessary to clarify some things.

The Secretary of State used, at all times, a conciliatory manner of speech, cautious and respectful, focusing on the present and the future, without forgetting the past, but without allowing it to dictate the course of events.

The Cuban Foreign Minister, on the other hand, repeated some of the absurd and already-routine demands, adding now a populist twist, with the objective of gaining supporters: “…we consider it necessary to make progress on the matter of compensations to the Cuban people, to Cuban citizens, for the human and economic damages….” Continue reading

Two Accursed Words / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 30 July 2015 — Prohibition and prosecution are two words widely used by Cuban authorities since their accession to power an amazing fifty-six years ago.

From the first months they prohibited political parties and organizations, free speech and the free press, the exercise of trades and professions outside state control, and the public practice of religion. They banned private education and health services, privately owned companies and businesses, and everything that would hinder the totalitarian regime they were establishing. To achieve this, they persecuted  everything that emerged contrary to it.

As for prohibition, they banned: free exit from the country; private trips abroad; access by Cubans to hotels, shops, and other facilities set aside for foreigners; possessing foreign currency; buying and selling houses and cars; fishing from a fixed platform; the sale by farmers on the free market of agricultural products; and even the sale of creations by artists, who should always be creating “within the Revolution.”

The victims of this prohibitive megalomania number in the millions, and the damage to the country in the billions, much more than can be blamed on the American blockade (embargo). Those who have lived under these daily absurdities can vouch for that.

As for persecution, they have persecuted all, under the “totalitarian principle” that “everything that is not properly authorized, is prohibited.” To do this they have created vast agencies of persecution. They persecute the political dissident the same as the commercial intermediary, the street peddler the same as the owner of a duly established restaurant or cafeteria. The problem is to persecute, in order to maintain the terror that induces subjugation. It is not the result of a random act.

Even today, after eliminating some absurd prohibitions, they have increased persecutions. It could not be otherwise: it is the only way to keep a failed economic, political, and social system in place for a while longer.

Another Circus Act / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 23 July 2015 — Cuban authorities surrounded the flag-raising ceremony at the Cuban Embassy in Washington with a circus act of clowns, magicians, and jugglers, part of a large delegation that traveled to the city to participate in the affair. They were joined by Americans friendly to the government, “patriotic” Cuban emigrants, and Latin American “brethren” invited for the occasion. As expected, there was no lack of jingoistic gibberish incorporating the words “victory,” “independence,” “freedom,” “sovereignty,” and others that for years have comprised the rhetorical arsenal of the authorities of the island.

The Cuban Foreign Minister’s speech, as gray as he is, could not have been more repetitive and lacking in originality and freshness. As usual, he was stuck in the past, repeating the same old story, exalting the role of the Cuban historical leaders in the action and minimizing that of the President of the United States, who was actually the leading figure.

Moreover, he repeated the same intolerant approaches about a possible political opening and respect for different opinions. You would have to be deluded to expect anything different.

Despite the restoration of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies, it will be very difficult for the Cuban authorities to abandon their totalitarian concepts that, at least in politics, though not in the economy, have yielded them a few results. They will continue clinging to them until the end of their days, simply because they don’t know anything else.

The show was colored with a performance of the “national painter,” portraying the red and black flag of the July 26th Movement across from the White House. That’s their way of achieving fame, because if they stop talking, you would need an interpreter to understand it. There were also some musical numbers, dances, and abundant slogans.

Virtual Changes / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 20 July 2015 — The subject of cooperatives in Cuba offers much to talk about. In the first place, it would be interesting to know who had the absurd idea of dividing them into two types: agricultural and non-agricultural.

Owing to this linguistic aberration, a cooperative that is engaged in the repair, scrubbing and lubrication of vehicles is designated non-agricultural, the same as one that makes plastic articles using recycled raw material. The qualifier of “non-agricultural” should precede these peoples’ names as a divine punishment.

But furthermore, the self-employed grouped in these cooperatives, the same as the farmers who make up the agricultural ones, are not independent, but rather find themselves under the control of bureaucratic governmental organizations and institutions, the same that during countless years have been incapable of resolving the problems of production and services, such as the ministries of Agriculture, Transport, Construction, Interior Commerce and others, which now are responsible for the creation, regulation, functioning and auditing of the cooperatives. These inefficient ministries refuse to downsize or to disappear, inventing new mechanisms in order to subsist, now at the cost of the farmers and the self-employed.

Or is it that, in reality, the proclaimed changes are nothing more than simple governmental adjustments, in order to continue exercising power over every facet of society, maintaining an iron control, now without having to answer directly for production and services, tasks that they have transferred to the shoulders of the farmers and the self-employed.

So, the lands that are turned over to the peasants “in usufruct” and the premises that are leased to the self-employed continue to belong to these ministries, which, unsuccessful at performing their principal jobs, now also have the jobs of real estate agents.

From all these economic spawns, as logic dictates, you can’t expect much.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Musketeers of the Culture / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 14 July 2015 —  For some time now, certain “musketeers” of the culture, somewhat advanced in years–headed by a D’Artagnan of hirsute mane, addicted to Chinese pomade manufactured in Vietnam–have assumed the ruling party’s defense of the national identity and the history of the country.

The members of this group, taking advantage of all the space generously provided to them by the media, have started a campaign against the so-called “weekly packet” (a bundle of movies, episodes of series and soap operas, musicals, and other foreign weekly programs recorded on DVD), which private sellers purvey to Cubans as a way to escape the insufferable boredom of the national TV channels that are loaded with political diatribes). They propose to substitute it with a “greater packet” (a similar item, but containing Cuban programs). In addition, they bow before the official version of history, and the rejection of foreign symbols used by many young people.

To defend the national identity, the country’s history and patriotic symbols would be commendable, if it weren’t for the gross manipulation, crude political indoctrination, and chauvinism in their actions. Continue reading

Reporter Pulls Food Prices Out of His Hat / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 9 July 2015 — A few years ago an official reporter for the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, when he was a correspondent in Venezuela, wrote fanatical features about the late Venezuelan leader. Upon returning to Cuba he set about “clarifying,” in dense articles, the functioning of agricultural markets and other issues related to domestic trade. It’s the same as the article about ground turkey and “floor mop” steak.

Now, calculator in hand, he rambles on about prices in the agricultural markets. In an article entitled “Sofrito Continues Just Like Before” he states that “the Cuban family, between January and March this year, had to pay 1.10 pesos per pound for garlic and 76 cents for onion, the same as in 2014.” He adds that “a sweet potato, which before cost you a peso, now costs you four cents more.” Continue reading

Between the New and the Old / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 3 July 2015 — In his speeches of December 17, 2014, and July 1, 2015, the President of the United States of America opted for the present and the future, once again laying aside the past, for which he is not responsible and which is a bygone stage. Moreover, he acknowledged, before his people and the world, that the policy of isolation applied against Cuba for more than fifty years had failed.

On the other hand, the President of Cuba has continued to focus on the past, for which he is partly responsible, repeating the subject of reparations and other demands, some completely absurd, and others difficult to complete in the short or medium term. Nor has  he acknowledged the failure of socialism, imposed on the Cuban people since April 16, 1961.

They are two totally different concepts: the first speaks to a young president and the second to an old one.

Maybe the permanent vision of the new is what has made the United States constantly advance and develop, and the permanent vision of the old is responsible for Cuba having stagnated and regressed.

Regardless of all this, I believe that the facts are most important and (though arriving too slowly) they are there, and that speeches and declarations anchored in the past are made solely for the purpose of reassuring some characters from the national Jurassic Park. Time will have the last word

Living Off Others / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 26 June 2015 — The five spies, transformed by decree into “heroes,” have proved quite expensive, both to the Cuban people and the American taxpayers.

First, it cost to train, relocate, and “plant” them” in the United States to carry out their espionage work. Second, it cost to discover, prosecute, and sentence them to prison terms. At this stage it also cost to pay the lawyers who defended them.

Their years in prison cost the American taxpayer, who had to pay for accommodation, food, medical care, clothing, bedding, toiletries, internet use, etc., and cost the Cuban people, who paid for multiple trips by their family members, including their clothing, shoes, hair care, and other details, so they would look good abroad and before the media, going and coming. Add to this the costs of the national and international campaign “demanding” their release, rebranding them as “counterterrorists,” plus fees for lawyers who continued pursuing their cases for years. Continue reading

Ground Turkey / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 21 June 2015 — When a country’s Minister of Finance and Pricing devotes part of his time to setting the value of ground turkey according to the percentage of fat it contains, and to reducing by 10 cents per Convertible Peso (CUC) the price of imported rugs–besides having to publish this in the Official Gazette and get a journalist to write an article about it–it makes me feel like I am living in Macondo, the hallucinatory town in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the novel by Gabriel García Márquez, where the most absurd things would occur.

Despite its questionable record, I thought that this governmental agency was a bit more serious, and that it occupied itself with more important matters. Besides, in this adjustment of the price of ground turkey, the consumer loses: what used to cost 1.10 CUC for the meat with less fat, now costs 1.70 CUC. That is, within this adjustment there was what we call a bola escondida [i.e. a “hidden ball,” which means to succeed through subterfuge], which, as was to be expected, the journalist does not mention in his article.

There is no doubt: our official press, generally dense, tiresome and repetitive political rants, at times, with help from governmental agencies, can turn out to be even humorous.

Best Wishes to All Fathers on Their Day!

Translator: Alicia Barraqué Ellison


Goodbye to the “The Darkened Room” / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 18 June 2015 — I have written different posts and articles on the issue of movie theaters and the loss of them in the city of Havana. I return to it again now, motivated by a report on the current situation in the country, which appeared in the newspaper “Granma,” although in these lines I will only refer to those in the capital.

According to the official interviewed, the head of the Provincial Department of Cinema in Havana, “The city came to have 159 movie theaters, of which 42 remain, 13 of these are open and 29 are closed. Eight of the open ones have construction problems, and the 29 closed ones will be transferred to cultural institutions because they are not going to be used as movie theaters… Under a policy of the Ministry of Culture,” according to the official, “only 13 movie theaters will remain.” Continue reading