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

The First Cuban Forklifts / Juan Juan Almeida

Photo taken from Granma

Nelson Espinosa, director general of MONCAR, a business located in the Havana municipality of Marianao, told the newspaper Granma that the production of the first 15 Cuban forklifts, a result of collaboration with the Chinese entity Auto Caiec LTD, distinguished his business’s performance during 2013.

With 40% national integration in terms of physical components, the equipment is in a testing phase and capable of supporting up to 2.5 tons.  We are now in 2014 and they have not manufactured one more.  I suspect that the future of MONCAR is related to the manufacture of the T-34M war tanks that Raul Castro inaugurated in 1960 and these are the holy hours when he did not build even one tractor.

Translated by mlk.

18 August 2014

Don’t Talk About Tomorrow Any More, It’s Today / Juan Juan Almeida

La Demajagua, the official newspaper of provincial committee of the Cuban Communist Party of the Granma Province, reports as important news that a junior high school with an initial capacity of 520 students, is being constructed in Bayamo at a cost of 800,000 pesos. The execution, those responsible for the work assure us, is under the control of several companies, led by the Education Construction Agency. All this without any date, nor any idea when it will be available.

When these people aren’t talking about the history of yesterday, they talk about the plans for tomorrow; but they never say today. There is no doubt, that time and its ravages are the perfect pretext of the Revolution. You’ll see.

13 August 2014

Fiesta and Funeral / Juan Juan Almeida

Photo taken by Juventud Rebelde

Starting on the morning of Tuesday August 12th, we have the International Youth Day celebrations all over Cuba; but, in view of the fact that, in the words of José Ángel Maury, who is responsible for the UJC (Young Communist League) International Relations, “We have the happy coincidence that it takes place on the eve of the Commander-in-Chief Fidel’s birthday,” the climax will be a huge chorus of Cuban young people and artists singing Happy Birthday Fidel at dawn on August 13th.

And if that doesn’t seem enough, in order to make it up to three, the communist organisers have contrived to combine the festivities of the 12th with the “Yes I have a Brother” day, to commemorate the 60th birthday of the dead President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, and Fidel’s 88th. It seemed to me I was hearing my talkative grandmother when she said “If anyone doesn’t like soup, they give him three cups of it.”

Translated by GH

12 August 2014

A Troubling Harbinger of Cuba’s Future / Juan Juan Almeida

It was all much easier when we did not have names for things and you simply had to point with your finger. Back then, the difference between “this” and “that” was merely a gesture. But with the advent of letters, words, paragraphs and know-it-alls it is now more difficult to describe with any precision what the future Cuban landscape will look like.

Throughout our history we have all wanted the same thing: a lasting change that will bring about what is best for Cuba; a pluralistic, diverse, democratic country brimming with happiness. It is worth remembering that it was for this that young men fought one August 4 — on a day like today but in 1955 — in a failed assault on the Presidential Palace. But back to the topic at hand, if things continue as they are now, this “yes but no” and “more of the same” will remain constant features of national life. It is not simply a matter of trying to express what we want but of achieving a better understanding of the way to go about it.

When I set aside emotion and rely on reason, I am saddened to see that the Cuban opposition — and I say this with all due respect — is inclined to reject social reality in favor of literary fiction. Yes, they are courageous people who risk their lives in the streets, but by pursuing parallel agendas and defending personal initiatives, they make it hard to believe they can coalesce into an alternative political force or become a significant or successful social movement which, at this point in time, could encourage unanimity. Continue reading

Che’s Daughter: Doctor and Tour Operator / Juan Juan Almeida

Aleida Guevara. Photo taken from Cubadebate

Perhaps motivated by the news confirming that the documentary series “The Life and Work of Ernesto Che Guevara (1928-1967)” will become part of UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register, the eccentric and daring Dr. Aleida Guevara, daughter of the Argentine guerrilla, published a verbal debauchery in the Bayamo newspaper La Demajagua, where she invites all Cubans to visit the Library of Alexandria.

Forgive my ignorance, but I can’t understand what Che Guevara has to do with Ptolemy; and, ignoring this trifle, her writing seems more like a travelogue written under the influence of mate de coca.

And if the doctor’s invitation is paid for by the government, as she is, then we’ll meet in Alexandria. I would like that.

31 July 2014

The Wasted Bolivian Summit and the Words of Raul Castro / Juan Juan Almeida

Bolivian President Evo Morales and Raul Castro

With much of the world caught up in the unharmonious rivalry of football’s World Cup, which ended last Sunday in Brazil, few people were paying attention to the conclusion of the funereal G77+China summit.

It was attended by a couple of serious figures, a group of spermatzoon zombies and a broad spectrum of political antiques who, given their actions, did not seem to be living in an era in which theoretical debates, respect for inequality and discord dominate.

This event — a theatrical fantasy based on an esoteric work of fiction — ended on June 15 in the city of Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It was yet another portrayal of lunacy, one in which uncreative delegates gave insipid speeches full of florid mumbo-jumbo. Continue reading

Raul Castro’s Plans for Venezuela and Russia / Juan Juan Almeida

The grass, the cows, and the man; in the food chain every species expects a greater predator. International politics works in the same way. The government of Venezuela, for example, manipulates world, regional and even local opinion, publicizing the work it does in the Barrio Adentro, Milagro, Sonrisa, Negra Hipólita, José Gregorio Hernández, Moncada missions, etc, etc, etc.

Seeming to clean the castle but in reality they market popular health as if it were a pedestal, in order to save the King and to entertain the country. Using their own sick people to bring the country to its knees, to divide it into tribes that confront each other, to denigrate the spirit and to darken the pride of millions of Venezuelans.

It is a tragedy for many is fortunate for a few. There is nothing of altruism, much less of kindness; it is simply a crime that, given the necessity, becomes socially acceptable but continues to be exactly like any criminal.

Continue reading

Summer Entertainment / Juan Juan Almeida

Because of stubbornness, I always trip on the same rock and end up insulted.

The following are summer vacation possibilities in Cuba; I am not exagerrating and take no position one way or the other: Due to our intense heat, most people opt for the beach and camping, but this is also a good time to talk about the magic of libraries. The fine arts entice us with their forms and colors, so visiting museums is a good choice.

Don’t miss out on the opportunity to break away from the crowd, meet up with some friends, stroll through the galleries and you will see how gratified both body and soul can be. Cinema, television and radio accompaniment offer diversions that should not be overlooked during the summer season, when a willingness to make the most of it will make all the difference. Certainly, these are options for Cubans without access to hard currency.

Please, more respect by and for our people, these are not alternatives for summer vacation.  These are typical weekend activities for any family in the world.  Enough.

Translated by mlk.

9 July 2014

New Teachers Graduation / Juan Juan Almeida

The provincial director of education in Holguin estimates that the graduation of hundreds of new Education professionals from the province’s two teacher training centers will favorably impact the availability of teachers in the coming school year. The recent graduates will offer classes in the different provinces of the country’s east.

Margarita McPherson Sayu, Vice Minister of Education, said that the entrance of the new teachers into the educational system will mean not only that the faculties will again nurture youth, but also that well-trained professionals will together with the rest help make the leap to the path of quality.

Works for me, as my grandmother used to say. I do not question the quality of the new professionals, I refer to this leap; because the deterioration of instruction in Cuba is so, but so great, that really they need a magician.

Translated by mlk.

10 July 2014