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

The Code of Ethics Makes a Comeback / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 11 June 2015 — It seems that recently we have seen a return to the “code of ethics,” that peculiar document that some years ago we, as public officials, had to sign in the presence of a manager who was later sacked for, among other things, “ethical lapses.”

This age-old document has made a comeback at the Attorney General’s Office, where it was signed by new employees, and at the offices of the Comptroller General of the Republic, where more than 300 workers signed a document “that should govern the behavior and the work of these officials.” Continue reading

A Reality / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 1 June 2015 — The reestablishment of relations of all types (not just diplomatic) is a reality being constructed step by step, in accordance with the situation at each moment of each party implicated in it. For some, the process is going very slowly, and for others, it is proceeding at the only pace it can. Getting Cubans to agree on anything has always been difficult. Regardless, this thing is happening, and to deny it would be absurd. Besides, I don’t believe that, even given aggressive statements and temporary hysterics, there is any going backward.

What is important now? To work at shaping the new civil society, unifying the dispersed remains of the one that was destroyed, transforming the totalitarian-governmental into the independent-democratic, and incorporating into it the new components that have arisen this century. Continue reading

Relations / Fernando Damaso

Last December 17, we Cubans received the pleasing news that diplomatic relations would be reestablished between the governments of Cuba and the United States, after more than 50 years of non-existence, lived in a hostile and confrontational climate. Many of us thought that, finally, common sense had prevailed, and that both governments had derived lessons from their errors, so as not to repeat them.

Soon enough, however, the alarms went off. Cuban leaders and functionaries continued using the same obsolete language from the “Cold War” years; aggressive declarations were made; illogical and improvised demands were raised; alignment with totalitarian governments was tightened; and support for extremist organizations and movements was increased. Continue reading

Better Than Nothing / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 6 May 2015 — A few years back, in one of the many failed initiatives of Cuban socialist commerce, there was an attempt to promote the sale of items for which there was little demand. The  term coined to describe this was venta convoyada, or “joint sale.” Three different items (a deodorant, a machete and a roll of toilet paper for example) were bundled and sold together for one price. The items had nothing to do with each other but were sold as a unit rather than separately, which would have better served the needs of purchasers. Rather than being customers, buyers were forced to take on the role of lenders. As might have been expected, the initiative failed.

It seems this practice has been revived, repeating the same mistake, but this time with political and cultural events rather than commercial goods. For example, we have just found out that there will be a political event in support of Venezuela as well as in honor of “The Five.” (The two causes are fashionable right now.) There will be a concert marking the anniversary of a muscial group, which will also be giving it. Additionally, it will commemorate an old speech as well as the allegedly successful fulfillment of a production target. In other words, we are seeing the emergence of the “joint celebration.”

Perhaps this is because the number of anniversaries, events and people to commemorate has become so large that it exceeds the number of days in the year, hence the need to bundle them.

While not being terribly important, this initiative might well be considered one of Cuba’s greatest contributions to twenty-first century socialism. It’s better than nothing.

Give It Time / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 30 April 2015 — Looking over some documents from different eras, I have determined that, when it comes to renaming things, our authorities have broken all records. Victims of their frenzied efforts have included numerous streets, public plazas, parks, virtually all sugar refinery factories, businesses and outlying buildings, towns, cities, provinces, commercial and service establishments, educational and health care facilities, theaters, cinemas and even some of the keys within our archipelago. One needs the patience of a saint to find a name from the past that is still in use today. I can only imagine how arduous the work of our historians must be.

The result has been to create widespread historical confusion, which strikes me as being more than a coincidence given that it happens to coincide with an interest in blotting out significant parts of our past in order to address the political needs of particular moments in time. Continue reading

Trashcan City / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 21 April 2015 — Half a century ago Havana was a clean city with an efficient system for trash collection and streets that were swept every day. Not only did mechanized sweepers ply the main boulevards and avenues, after midnight these thoroughfares were also washed down with high-pressure water hoses. In addition to the steps taken by the city government, owners of business and covered walkways made sure the sidewalks adjoining their buildings were clean. As though that were not enough, both public buses and commercial transport vehicles had to be absolutely spotless, both inside and out, in order to operate.

When new officials came to power, the system began to decline. In its current state the city is one big trash can. Continue reading

One More Insult / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 15 April 2015 — The culture minister’s presentation of Cuban flags to twenty Cuban artists and intellectuals, members of the “governmental Jurassic park,” in recognition of their shameful behavior during the Summit of the Americas civil society forum — actions criticized and condemned the world over — is deplorable.

It is true that our national standard, debased through improper and cheap use, has been losing over time, among many ordinary Cubans, the respect it always deserved, especially during the most complex moments of our history.

Since wearing the flag as apparel (not unusual in some countries) is prohibited in Cuba, how ironic to be using it now as a mop cloth.

The unacceptable and swaggering behavior of these artists and intellectuals deserves not recognition, but a reprimand, for how poorly they have represented all Cubans.

True representatives of intolerance, dogmatism and the most caveman-like authoritarianism, they have amply demonstrated that, if this is our only civil society, we are better off without it.

As no one has before, they have demonstrated that “within the Revolution, everything….” is possible.*

Translator’s Notes:
*A reference to Fidel’s so-called Speech to the Intellectuals in 1961, in which he proclaimed, “Within the Revolution, everything. Outside the Revolution, nothing.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Speaking of Legitimacy / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 8 April 2105 — The claim that governmental organizations and associations are the sole representatives of Cuban civil society to the exclusion of all others not legally recognized by the authorities figures prominently in public statements and actions by leaders and officials of the regime and is a frequent topic in articles by academics and some official journalists.

Government leaders and officials simply state it. Academics try to provide a rationale for it while journalists generally disparage, accuse and repeat tired slogans.

The idea that “civil society has advanced beyond the primitive stage to the point that it is organized to serve political ends, with the state directing and regulating it,” is not only absurd, it amounts to blatant manipulation. Continue reading