The Cuban Wall and the Changes of 1989 / Juan Juan Almeida

Twenty-five years later some people are still trying to knock down a piece of the Berlin Wall.

On November 9 and 10, 1989 Germany experienced an event that quickly and with just enough lubrication sent the rusty wheel of history spinning. It was an event that marked the beginning of the end of European socialism: the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Such a seminal event did not come out of nowhere. It was not a coincidence nor did it happen spontaneously. There were events leading up to it.

Protests were growing in Leipzig, Dresden, East Berlin and other cities demanding democratic change. The government of the former German Democratic Republic was unable to cope with the ever growing number of its citizens fleeing to Federal Republic of Germany and West Berlin. Continue reading

Cuba: From Beacon to Firefly, But the Clock Is Ticking / Juan Juan Almeida

Back when I had hair and could comb it, someone from a certain group of commentators coined a popular phrase: If Moscow were Hollywood, the world would be communist and Cuba would be its Humphrey Bogart.

This did not make sense to me but years later I came to understand that the Cuban Revolution was not an isolated phenomenon that morphed into a “trending topic” by virtue its own talent. It was part of a process that arose in the midst of the Cold War.

Without trying to get into a detailed analysis of historical precedents because I don’t want to be tiresome and because I assume we are already familiar with them, let’s just say it evolved into an obedient patriotic-nationalistic movement. Continue reading

Cuba: Access to WiFi or When Ingenuity is Penalized / Juan Juan Almeida

It is a paradox that on Friday, November 7, the 151st anniversary of the death of a singer of innocence and virtue, the Matanzas poet Jose Jacinto Milanes, at the People’s Court of Cardenas in the same province of Matanzas on the same day two Cuban citizens are awaiting sentencing — Rolando Cruz (age 46) and Livan Hernandez (35) — charged with “illegal use of the airwaves” and “illicit economic activity.”

Of the five arrested only two were charged. Both Hernandez and Cruz, instead of punishment, deserve recognition for demonstrated skills and support for development looking to the future.

The frequency of this network, according to the propaganda in the Girón, managed to link computers, videogame consoles and smartphones, across more than 26 kilometers. It never interfered in the frequency of the Telecommunications Company of Cuba SA (ETECSA), which means it does not constitute an illegal to use of the Cuban airwaves.

The court, as usual, was forced and ignored that Law Number 62 of the Cuban Penal Code in force as of April 1988, in addition to being obsolete, has absolutely no concept of the use of WiFi connections and without a law that sanctions it, there can be no penalty. That is: Nulla crimen, nulla poena sine praevia lege. (There is no crime, no penalty without previous law.)

Rolando and Liván violated a resolution that had been signed by the Revolutionary Commander Ramiro Valdés when he was minister of information technology and communication. However, this being an administrative order by a particular agency, the men’s activities could only be deemed a misdemeanor and not a crime.

After five months in jail, under the terrorizing pressure of a process of “instruction,”the accused agreed that the users of that network could access the Internet. However, during the trial the magistrate called to the witness stand five residents of Cárdenas, who said that the connection was only good for gaming, watching movies, and chatting amongst themselves.

The invoices for the servers were produced, and these proved that the purchases were made in Canada and brought legally into Cuba. It was also demonstrated that the accused charged not a single penny and that the users had made only two monetary payments — one for 6 CUC and another for 10. These were for improvements to the network infrastructure, not usage fees.

The prosecutor — an awful neurotic and somewhat loudmouthed version of the famous Dr. House — took the wild recourse of accusing the defendants of “illicit economic activity.” She reminded the tribunal of the guidelines from the Attorney General’s office regarding the severe penalties that are to be imposed for such activities, because of the “ideological danger” that they pose for the Revolution.

The defense attorney, one Nestor González, performed spectacularly. The defense was courageous, convincing and articulate — but hardly effective. The accused had already been sentenced way before the first hearing. It was the usual: the idea is to make examples of the violators, produce a sort of electroshock as a reminder and to demonstrate that in this corporate military era the director general doesn’t want any flight of money, as well as to ratify that the Revolutionary government cedes no space.

Therefore, keeping in mind that in this case there is no crime but rather a country that lacks a legal structure capable of functioning independently from the mandates of the government, we await the sentence.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others.

12 November 2014

"Better Plastered than Perfumed" Revolutionary Fragrances / Juan Juan Almeida

The uproar from the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba was of considerable proportions. At a presentation of the recent Labiofam* 2014 conference, two new perfumes were introduced which, according to company officials, had been named “Ernesto” and “Hugo” in an attempted tribute to Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Hugo Chavez.

At first I thought it was a logical reaction, given that its creators described Ernesto as having a woodsy and sweet bouquet, and Hugo as having hints of tropical fruits. Some expert “noses,” however, insist that both essences smell more like public restrooms at Carnaval.

The official announcement published in the newspaper Granma left more questions than answers, and was less credible than Alejandro Castro Espín’s mechanical engineering degree. After years of using the names of both men to christen parks, lodges, schools, factories and even cantatas without proper consent, the Cuban Communist Party said through its official news outlet that “initiatives of this nature will never be accepted by our people or the Revolutionary government.”

The collective memory of Cuba’s leaders appears to be failing. They seem to have forgotten that on July 27, 1983 Celia Sánchez Manduley*, described as “the most beloved flower,” became synonymous with a useless textile manufacturer, that an ineffective building contracting business was named after Blas Roca Calderío* or that the name for the unproductive construction company Almest was created out of the last names of Juan Almeida* and Armando Mestre*.

It is worth remembering that in 1994 — the same year Fidel Castro agreed to pose for the magazine Cigar Aficionado sniffing a Cohiba Lancero — Labiofam brought to market three fragrances imported from France: colognes labelled Alejandro, Celia and Havana. As a press statement of the time indicated, “the first two are products with allegorical names for figures of the Revolution.”

José Antonio Fraga Castro — nephew to Fidel and Raul and director of Labiofam  — wanted to repeat David’s feat against Goliath and pave the way to their loyalty with the asphalt of this odiferous hypocrisy. But he did not know how to use the sling and ended up with a huge bump on his head. He forgot that the iconic image of Che, which was launched and promoted by his uncles, has its own copyright. Fidel Castro is the product, the pedestal, and the only official model which can promote the Cuba brand, as Raul has decreed

In 2002, the village of Birán* — a hamlet within the municipality of Cueto that is about 45 miles from the city of Holguín and about 19 from Marcané — was declared an open-air museum. It was crowned a National Monument in early 2011 by government decree and became an obligatory overnight stop for tourists to the area looking for a distillery.

In case you didn’t know, the profitable home rum authorized by the Revolutionary government, which according to its official news outlet “does not endorse projects of this kind,” was given the name Comandante Fidel. It is exported by the Cuban firm Tecnoazucar, and bottled and labelled with Fidel’s image by the Spanish firm Abanescu, S.L., located in La Jonquera, Catalonia.

As an old urban prophet author ot Politicaductor, or a new translator of Cuban political thought wrote: “Better I smell Kurdish than perfumed.”

*Translator’s notes: Labiofam is a Cuban veterinary and pharmaceutical products company. Alejandro Castro Espín is Cuban president Raul Castro’s only son. Celia Sánchez Manduley was a leading figure in the Cuban revolution with close personal ties to Fidel Castro. Blas Roca Calderío  was a revolutionary figure who later served as head of Cuba’s National Assembly. Juan Almeida and Armando Mestre were also prominent figures in the Cuban revolution and the former was this blogger’s father. Birán is best known as the birthplace of Fidel Castro.

Spanish post
7 October 2014

Cuba: The fight against Ebola is the new theater of war / Juan Juan Almeida

Every interesting story has light and dark parts, epic actions, and a protagonist who inspires. The rest consists of weaving reasons and emotions together by way of origami.

The Cuban government knows very well how to put into practice its habitual juggling act in order to locate itself opportunely at the center of all news flashes. Cuban doctors have been sent to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, and by taking advantage of this, the government feeds the false image of having no self-interest in this new theater of war, where everything is tested, even human sacrifice.

We could see that during the recently-concluded Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America Trade Treaty of the Peoples (ALBA-TCP) the moment of emotion was at the meeting of the heads of state, delegations, and invited personalities with the Cuban collaborators from the medical brigades, who that same night, October 21, left for Liberia and Conakry, Guinea.

Hail, Caesar; those who are about to die salute you. They know that if they become contagious they can’t come back to the country until they are cured or die. A hard but wise decision, because the island is not prepared to receive the sick without activating the usual chain of errors that, as we already know and even have suffered, facilitated the epidemic proliferation of conjunctivitis, cholera, chikungunya, dengue fever, and a long list of contagious etceteras.

The photo of the Summit is beautiful, but the Summit didn’t provide much. A declaration with 23 points of agreement and little money. Cheap politicking. The illness continues unabated. According to data offered by Mr. Bruce Aylward, the Assistant-Director General of the World Health Organization, the situation is alarming. They have confirmed cases of infected people in seven countries, and it’s estimated that by the beginning of this coming December, if things continue as is, the number of people infected with Ebola could reach 5,000 to 10,000 cases weekly.

It’s clear that the Cuban government wants to pursue more than just aiding and combating the mortal virus. With this new crusade, in addition to confronting an emergency, it will receive a spurt of dollars to spend excessively without needing to justify it. The government is developing a strategy to favorably influence the UN vote on human rights and the American embargo. A key point.

It’s clearly persuasive. There is no greater veneration in the human condition than for the action of saving lives — even more captivating when the effort means risking your own.

We can criticize them or see from the computer how General Raul Castro and his buddies are gaining space in Realpolitik (practical interests and concrete actions). The other option would be to equal or, even better, to surpass them. To silence, with real actions, the humanitarian chatter of the Cuban revolution, its hapless friends of ALBA, and its cousins in the TCP.

But for that we would have to be ready not only to  help the needy but also to define who we are and what exiled Cubans can do. To act together with international organizations who work in the center of the crisis. To buy medical and hygienic supplies, protective uniforms, stretchers, gloves, disinfectants, and instruments for the centers that treat the sick. It’s not difficult.

Certainly we can continue believing that we create a homeland on the Internet, or we can grab the limelight away from the revolutionary government. But that, paraphrasing the title of the bolero, is for you to decide.

Translated by Regina Anavy

27 October 2014

Chinese Businesses on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange? / Juan Juan Almeida

Photo: martinoticas.com

The physicist and nuclear energy specialist Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart* recently led an official Cuban delegation to Hong Kong, though the news happened, as we say, behind the scenes. Xinhua, Prensa Latina and other news agencies did not report it, perhaps because the visit was not important.

Or perhaps it was because the eldest son of the leader of the Cuban revolution found it inconvenient to reiterate, somewhat unconvincingly, that he has no political ambitions, though he serves as scientific advisor to Uncle Raul, currently President of the Republic of Cuba. Or maybe it is because this is not his first visit to China.

Back in October 2011 the bearded sexagenarian — he was born September 1, 1949 — who says he spends hours surfing the internet, was a guest in Beijing, where he met with the septuagenarian Liu Yandong, who at the time was Chinese state councilor and is now second vice-premier of the People’s Republic of China. Such is the diversity in China that she is one of only two women members of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Continue reading

Cuban Government: Two Strategies / Juan Juan Almeida

The man looks like himself.  That’s why, I don’t hit it off with hate.  It’s true, I was born and raised surrounded by men who love to speechify and believe themselves owners of the absolute truth, so much that they imposed it by force with total impunity.

Maybe that’s why some days ago was I surprised myself thinking that separating myself from that government group to which I am genetically tied, more than anything, was due to a strange defect or capacity that I have for accepting criticism and enjoying those insults that for some are attacks and for me, charming primitivism. Continue reading

Radio Florida Disinforms / Juan Juan Almeida

Photo taken from Payolibre.com

Radio Florida Camaguey informs of the recovery, after a ton of years, of some land covered with weeds and the invasive marabou, used until recently as trash dumps, which today according to journalistic reports in the official media, is a super achievement.

The initiative is excellent, the effort to turn a trash dump into a garden; and hopefully they will do so frequently; what is calamitous is how surprisingly quickly and in full view of everyone, gardens, parks, streets and even hospitals in Cuba become the dumps overnight. I merely challenge the mathematics, the order of the factors in this matter, if it alters the product.

18 September 2014

Cuban Children Will Celebrate World Peace Day / Juan Juan Almeida

Photo taken from Periodico Escambray

The periodical “Escambray” published a somewhat contradictory note.  It said that next Saturday Cuban children and adolescents would send a message of hope, unity, happiness and love to their contemporaries in the world and to all humankind to celebrate in advance, “de San Antonio a Maisi”, the 21st of September, the day of International Peace.  According to the spirited newspaper, Cuban youth will occupy the main plazas, parks and streets of every corner of the country in order to celebrate with different motivations between those who emphasize allegorical songs of the Revolution, stilt races, sack races, and we repeat, stilt races, sack races; stilt races, sack races; stilt races, sack races. And after so much repetition, I am not sure I know what they will celebrate.

18 September 2014

The Unknowns Behind the Cultural Exchange / Juan Juan Almeida

Before the Portuguese awning maker and salt merchant Matias Perez* disappeared in the world, already Cuba and the United States were maintaining solid ties, including cultural exchanges, which continues being today an important part of our history and identity.

Just by glancing we can find Cuban elements in American culture and vice versa, so much so that “Cuban-American” is the highest expression of that cultural ethnic fusion between both nations.

The cultural reciprocity was frequent, artists came and went constantly. The thing got complicated during the first half of the 20th century when both governments–and I’m going to tell the truth, like it or not–began to have a relationship based on political principles so conflicting that paradoxically they made the arts sector, that of the expression of the spirit and creativity, a prisoner of circumstances. Continue reading

Exclusive Sale of Honey / Juan Juan Almeida

In the city of Santiago de Cuba, they just opened a trading house specializing in honey which, according to its publicity, is one of the foods permanently present in the east of the country. The Beehive, as it’s called locally, offers customers an exclusive range of nutritional product that can be purchased in different types of bottles, making it accessible to all Santiaguans. That’s fine, but there are more important things to resolve and they are fully visible.

I marvel when I hear and read all this craziness. Honey is not a remedy for the bile accumulated over so many years of heartache. Molasses will not sweeten the national decline.

9 September 2014

August 1994: Safeguarding the Physical Well-Being of the ”Leaders of the Revolution” / Juan Juan Almeida

1994 began with uncertainty and ended in despair. A number of astrologers were in agreement: there was reason to believe something unusual would happen later that year. This was partly due, they said, to increased solar activity. In early August large solar flares occurred.

Aside from the considered opinion of those who can see everything in the stars, it was the year in which Cuba reached the low-point in the economic decline that had begun with the fall of the Soviet bloc in 1989. The crisis was exacerbated by several factors including a sugar harvest that barely amounted to four million tons and an unfortunate but predictable outbreak of polyneuritis, which forced authorities to make vast financial expenditures.

The underground economy saw record numbers of transactions, comparable to state retail sales but with prices that were twenty times lower. As a result of financial imbalance, budget deficits and excessive monetary liquidity in the hands of consumers, life in Cuba became a continuing drama, making novel attempts to flee the island illegally — the “13 de Marzo” tugboat incident and the launches from Regla and Casablanca being two examples — quite common. Continue reading