Homage to the Cuban Press / Juan Juan Almeida

This March 12th, commemorating Cuban Press Day, the ex-head of culture, Dr Armando Hart Dávalos (who a while ago went off his rocker) offered an award to the Cuban journalists. During the solemn proceedings, Señora Magda Resik, director of Havana Radio, came out with an over-the-top, “The most important obligation for Cuban journalists is the immense task of appraising the work of Jose Martí, and it is…”

I am sorry to interrupt the sentence, which is certainly very journalistic; but I think that the obligation of the press is nothing to do with Martí, but rather it is toward the Cuban people who, thanks to the disastrous work of the press, continue to be misinformed and have cataracts in their eyes.

Translated by GH

15 March 2014

SOS Venezuela: The Cruelty of Some, and the Indifference of Many / Juan Juan Almeida

A year after his death, it would be unjust to deny that the ex-president Hugo Chávez had the ability to be a leader, and a most convincing negotiating weapon: oil.

Supported by this, and with the Cuban government as co-conspirators, he was able to put together a kind of Latin American integration, which turned into a monolithic, geopolitical and economic bloc, whose principal role was, and continues to be, to assist him in the regional context.

The cost of all this expansion, was national division. Partition which he master-minded using his well-known ability to confront internal problems with arrogant creativity and the power to manage people.

After he died, Maduro’s big objective, as successor, was to reunify the nation; but it’s a difficult job, Venezuela has turned into an apparent democracy within one of the most unequal societies in America, with the added twist of having lost all sense of tolerance.

The time bomb exploded. The official forces repressed, and the young people were not afraid. Venezuela is splitting again, and expresses it in demonstrations, many against and a good many others in favour of Nicolás Maduro’s government.

The country’s situation is critical, and it is shameful to see how some social network pyromaniacs and followers and “likers”, making out to be heroic “patriots”, try to avoid dialogue and with total irresponsibility (from the comfort of their homes), with a coca-cola in hand, encourage confrontation, as if the followers of Twitter and Facebook were more important than the victims of the conflict.

I believe the prospects for the Venezuelans are predictable, and I can’t imagine that there will be–in the very short term–a national move back toward democracy. All the more so following the delayed and timid OEA (Organisation of American States) resolution adopted by a 29-3 vote, and not a consensus, because, as expected, the ALBA bloc countries and CARICOM had a majority and opposed the adoption of a stronger and more effective resolution.

Thanks to the sophistries of the then president Hugo Chávez, with the benefit of advice direct from Havana, the senior secretary general of the OEA, José Miguel Insulsa, without detracting from his demonstrated experience in affairs of state,  lost part of his leadership within the organisation he presides over.

It has become evident that the OEA has structural problems, that it needs an overall review, has ceased to be an entity for valid dialogue for this hemisphere, and  today is simply the governments of Caracas and Havana, which, without belonging to it (Cuba was suspended until 2009) and, like María Ramos’ kitty [a Cuban prostitute’s cat, which she blamed for the death of her pimp], have a majority of votes among the member states of this organisation.

Insulsa, as an additional post-diplomacy move, should ask, even if his request is rejected, to visit Venezuela to see personally on the spot what the situation is and in that way be able to avoid the different very biased versions of what happened put forward by one side or the other.

In this crucial moment, the important thing is not the cruelty of some, but the indifference of many. Politics is very serious, and we are all responsible, and cannot just leave it up to the politicians.

Translated by GH

11 March 2014

Leopoldo Lopez’s Strategy / Juan Juan Almeida

Leopold Lopez giving himself up for arrest in Caracas

The name of Albert Einstein was considered for a time to be synonymous with academic failure; Thomas Edison too, who studied for only two years in the formal education system; also Beny Moré, known to all Cubans as El Bárbaro del Ritmo (The Rhythm Barbarian) and who, with a lot of effort, learned to read the notes on the musical stave.

These, and other examples, tell me that I form part of that group of persons who, without scientific evidence, consider that you are born with your talent; and then later, as it should do, the education system refines your innate abilities.

In politics, in my opinion, the same thing happens, since I don’t accept the notion that a leader is developed from nothing. Leadership is the ability to communicate with a group of people, influence their feelings so that they let you lead, share the group’s ideas, stick with them, and carry out those actions or activities necessary to achieve one or more objectives.

For example, and with respect, in my country (I am referring to both the ranks of the government and the opposition) I can see heads; but not leaders. In Venezuela, it’s a different story; Leopoldo López, great great grandson of Concepción Amestoy Palacios (niece of Simón Bolívar), and of Cristóbal Mendoza (first president of Venezuela), was born with a political predisposition and with leadership in his genes.

I am not trying to put myself up as a historian, I am not, or to relate the details of why we are now fixing our attention on Caracas; but I do want to say that in a similar situation, any hysterical fool, irresponsible bigmouth, or prominent sick person could have dragged that country towards a civil war and an irreparable bloodbath. But only a political tactician is able to take a government which is powerful, arrogant and ruthless to the position of checkmate.

Calling a historic march and delivering it, Leopoldo López showed his individual vulnerability; making it evident that his defence does not depend on the much overvalued cyberspace, but on the real world, on a popular mass, above all students, who live outside of the computer screen and of the “liking” of the social networks. So much so that, after he was put in prison, we have seen a considerable increase in real people protesting on the streets of Caracas.

The president Nicolás Maduro, is on the point of getting burnt by the hot potato in his hands. He knows that if he sets López free, he runs the risk of demoralisation, and the feared result of loss of control; but if he leaves him in jail, and the protests continue, the danger could be even greater.

Calling for dialogue was an important and very helpful decision by the Bolivarian bus driver, who, for the moment, counts on the support of the armed forces and institutional power; but now the opposition possesses the switch which can ignite the extremely powerful and explosive popular bomb.

The official forces stomp on the thousands of young people in the streets, who are not afraid and appear to shower themselves with Red Bull. I think that we have come to the moment for sitting down and discussing everything. The freeing of Leopoldo López, the unification of a divided country, the urgent recovery of a people … and including a negotiated exit for Maduro.

This time Venezuela will win, thanks to the opportune action of a wise and intelligent leader.

Translated by GH

4 March 2014

Alcohol for Everybody / Juan Juan Almeida

The workers of the Nauyú distillery of Ciego de Ávila, every day produce some 50 thousand litres of alcohol by making the best use of the final syrup of the sugar industry.

In spite of the fact that the factory has been running for seven decades, without proper maintenance, its collective has committed itself to producing 90 thousand hectolitres this year, a great achievement. They envisage installing a turbogenerator and a boiler this year in order to guarantee continual production after the end of the in-crop season. The Nauyú distillery is one of the best in Cuba in terms of preparing the highest quality alcoholic drinks, up there with Varadero and el Mulata Silver Dry rum; which are famous in the national and also the international market.

Super production and super publicity, understanding that alcohol is important so as to have a confused population, but where is the promised milk for the children? And who cares about it?

26 February 2014

A Cheeky Robbery / Juan Juan Almeida

Hundreds of paintings were stolen from the National Fine Arts Museum in Havana. According to the police, this would make it the most important embezzlement of Cuban pictorial heritage in the last decades.

The works were in the warehouse of the former building of the Department of Technical Investigations, which now belongs to the entity after being remodeled. Police custodians were in charge of the security of the premises, and the robbery was detected when some of these paintings began to appear in Miami, offered to art dealers.

It’s said that there’s an investigation by specialists in works of heritage and police specialists looking into the “How,” “When” and “What”; but if they were stolen from a MININT building, under police custody, and taken out of the country, the “Who” is solved: some acolyte of Alibaba with the support of the 40 thieves of the Central Committee; and the “when” and “how” stops being important.

Translated by Regina Anavy

28 February 2014

Only ETECSA, There’s Nothing Else / Juan Juan Almeida

Since the decontrol of the contracting of mobile phone services in 2008, the number of lines rented has reached almost two millions, which has given ETECSA [Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba S.A.Telecommunications Company of Cuba, which is a government owned telecoms company] an income of about $2bn. Now, with the announcement that they will include the astronomically expensive internet service with mobile phones, the Cuban state monopoly ETECSA will end up valued at about $3bn.

Good heavens, and not for one moment are they going to soften the blow by dropping their prices a little.

Translated by GH

6 March 2014

It Falls / Juan Juan Almeida

A part of the roof of the newly repaired National Bus Terminal Havana collapsed, causing severe injuries to two young people who were awaiting the arrival of relatives from the Camagüey Province.

The young people (Dayana Tejeda and Yisel Gonzalez, 23 and 25, respectively) commented that in the place where the collapse occurred there was no warning or sign of possible danger, on the contrary, was seen as a place recently remodeled. When I say, although they repair it, and repair it again… again … it falls it falls.

28 February 2014

The Dysfunction of the Racketeering Government / Juan Juan Almeida

Consular services suspended until further notice

If there is something that terrifies me about the Cuban political class, it is the colossal ability they have to manipulate events and invent crises without the slightest decorum, like the pain of separated families, and to employ it as a shield against the United States.

The new show is regrettable, or disguises secondary intentions, through a press note where it’s reported, that the Cuban Interest Section in Washington is obliged to suspend consular services.

With Dantesque ease, agonizing creativity, impressive tranquility and more desires  of common sense, the note refers to the statement published 9 December 2013, which reported on the new deadline given by “M & T Bank” for the conclusion of banking services to the Section and the Cuban Permanent Mission to the United Nations. It fixed 1 March 2014 as the deadline for the closure of the accounts, and the February 14 as the deadline for deposits.

Understandably, following the protocol, the State Department assists the Cuban Interests section to find a new bank to resume their functions, but it is outrageous to learn that the island government rejected the options and with shameless impudence, like someone going for a walk, and they hung a sign on their webpage saying “Consular services are suspended until further notice.”

It may be that, although these banking problems have nothing to do with the half-century dispute, nor with the embargo (or blockade, call it what you like), starting now it stimulates the conflict that besides being premeditated, arouses a kind of structured social alarm for Cuban bigwigs wanting to make into a main priority the fact of feeding these disagreeable inconveniences that this new situation causes Cuban citizens, travelers, users of consular services such as renewing or issuing passports, certifying documents, etc. As well as cultural, scientific, academic, sports and every other kind of exchange between Cuba and the United States.

Clearly it’s annoying, the racketeering government creates law and liberty, and continues making us dance to whatever tune they decide to play; but a bank hold can’t paralyze the consular services of a huge mass of Cuban exiles and immigrants who live in the United States, we need — forgive the repetition — consular services that aren’t only centered in the consulate in Havana or Washington DC.

We live in the era of the Internet, in a globalized world. This Cuban community doesn’t depend on this consulate, it is it and all the officials who depend on us. We should not longer fall into the sophistry of ignoring that Cuba has consulate representatives in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, Mexico, Veracruz, Monterrey and around almost the entire planet.

There is not a single reason, then, that obliges me to support the sovereignty of a government that proves it wants to use the Cuban family drama for its own convenience, trying to say it’s politics; far from political, it’s a simple banking breakdown. This text shows my absolute disagreement.

23 February 2014

Raul Castro in Search of Money or of Moneyed Men / Juan Juan Almeida

It was only some years ago, when the visible financial crisis infected sectors of the national economy, and Cuban industry verged on the almost invisible boundary that marks the action and the omission that hastens the death of a hopeless patient; General Raul Castro, with that impressive way of showing his pathetic talent, sold us the fraudulent idea that the Armed Forces had been converted into an example for “The Change.”

In papers, because delving into the demonstrated earnings, the island’s military enterprise system worked much more than the lawyer of singer Justin Bieber works these days; of course, being propelled by slave labor (to be more exact, recruits), there was no way of measuring the calculable cost of a product or its labor efficiency.

Absurd, yes, but through repetition, it managed to attract the attention of those who move opinion, and many began to believe in that rigged sequence of decisions that today make up what appears the destiny of Cuba and what some still call “Raul’s reforms.”

That group of measures, or non-structural opinions, which pay no attention to productivity or change the nature of the system at all and are basically aimed at legalizing or facilitating what until yesterday was tolerated, prohibited or complicated; and bring symptoms of anemia to the practically defunct capacity of monetary investments of that labor force that biting a biased and naive scheme, believed the story of “we are all an enterprising population,” and jumped from the state sector to the private, and today, earning more, counts on less.

Evidently, not all state workers took the streets convinced and believing in Tía Tata*; but at this point in the story, “modernizing the economic model” is simply a gross verbal diarrhea that served to disguise a perpetrated crime that should be judged, obviously respecting the due process that every accused must have, because only a defrauded person can be induced to believe that after 20 years working in an office, a person, by magic, without supporting aptitudes, will be transformed into a shoemaker, locksmith, farmer, barber, drummer, trash man or watch maker.

The strategy of General Raul Castro and his penitent entourage has only served to simulate changes and forge flexibility; to increase poverty; to abandon the retired people in an aging population; to invest less state money in services like health and education and above all to try to play down the stay in power of a single and inefficient governing pack of hounds.

It is not accidental, it is all well planned and coldly calculated.  It was at the end of the ’90’s when Raul, after his recurrent hormonal disorder, made fashionable the sentence, “Let’s exchange cannons for beans.”  By then, few could understand that he was not referring to the food, but to the need of, without renouncing the least power, his new strategy consisted of going in search of money or men with money who with their presence in Havana would help demonstrate that security that only solvency offers, or to count on solvent friends.

*Translator’s note: Tía Tata’s Stories was a radio program and later a TV program with puppets.

Translated by mlk.

13 February 2014

A Good Solution / Juan Juan Almeida

In his first decision of this year, published in the Gaceta Oficial Extraordinaria (Special Official Gazette) dated February 7th, the head of MININT (Ministerio del Interior de la República de Cuba – Cuban Ministry of the Interior) Army General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, ordered the General Management of the General Revolutionary Police to exchange information, such as the co-ordination of criminal actions and investigations, with the General Management of the department of Bank Financial Operations Investigations, in order to combat money laundering, financing of terrorism and moving illicit capital out of the island.

The challenge is large and high-cost; but the solution is very easy. For starters, build a wall around the boundary of the present location of the Central Committee, leave the guards outside, and convert it into a high-security prison. And whatever else is needed.

Translated by GH

13 February 2014

Books in Cuba: When a Preface Steals the Limelight / Juan Juan Almeida

Over-fulfilling the goals of the books programmed to be delivered to the printer, now they’re regulating the presence of the second edition of “History of a Liberator, 1952-1958″ in all the independent book stalls, libraries, whether they’re provincial, scholastic, universities and even childcare centers, bookstores and Cuban consulates abroad.

The reason: Ex-president Fidel Castro edited the preface of this sleep-inducing volume that, boring as a funeral, was written by Georgina Leyva Pagán, the wife and life companion of Julio Camacho Aguilera, a member of the Central Committee of the Party and octogenarian constituent of the so-called Rebel Army, whom many people from Santiago surely remember for his inefficient management as first secretary of the party in Santiago de Cuba, between 1985 and 1987, as much as the fact that he generated a contagious conga popular in the teasing style that said, “Ay Camacho, Camacho, we are drunk all the time”.

Such an epic reference book isn’t an analytical study (or auto-analytical) about the harmful consequences that the indiscriminate use of alcohol causes to the intellectual health of a state official. It’s a selective compendium and testimony in which, scarcely separating guilt and innocence, emerges a series of data that with extraordinary invention, stained with something of imagination, permits the reader to confuse once again the spirit of that group of men who decided to twist the economic, political and social direction of our Caribbean island in an evil direction.

With theatrical gestures, like some impressive disciple of Bertolt Brecht or Konstantín Stanislavski, the publisher of such an ominous tome didn’t read the fragments of the same but centered her attention on the ceremonial torch of an inevitable preface. “Gina, in her book, helped me to remember and understand with more precision the thinking that propelled me in those intense years I lived, although, yes, I’m aware that more than a preface I’m writing a chapter of history.”

Anyone could predict what would happen later. The ex-leader and convalescent, but still powerful preface-writer, usurped with grotesque impertinence the leadership of the author, who, trembling, could only conclude, “The Commander-in-Chief, with his prologue, saw the long view of my humble book.” And naturally, the surrounding biodiversity, with its habitual dose of consideration and drama, applauded.

It was no surprise that the launching of the deafening preface, since the book passed to a second level, was attended by José Ramón (El gallego) Fernández, the ex-minister of education and immodest professional wreck, José Ramón Balaguer, an excellent practitioner of karate, but a man skilled in measuring the pressure of national politicking; and Guillermo García Frías, who in reality, owing to his constant lack of literary receptivity, no one knows even what he’s doing in a bookstore, which he proved by serious cracks in his strategy of control.

Perhaps Guillermo only was practicing his usual quiet subversion.

Also present were Miguel Barnet, Abel Prieto, Rafael Bernal and other exploiters who, captive of a useless sytem, in order to coexist at the margin of popular necessity, opt for pretending and/or forming part of that great herd of sheep who obey the voice of the shepherd, even when he is absent.

Translated by Regina Anavy

3 February 2014

From the Cosmos to the Absolute Limit / Juan Juan Almeida

One 29th of January, but in 1942, Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez was born in the city of Guantanamo, Cuba, the first Cuban, and the first Latin American, cosmonaut.

What Cuban doesn’t remember the joint Cuba-USSR flight undertaken in the Soyuz 38 space craft commanded by the Russian Yuri Romanenko on 18 September 1980?

Obviously the man with the fridge isn’t Tamayo, but another Cuban who with sweat and toil is attempting to conquer his cosmos.

Translated by GH

30 January 2014

Granma Eggs / Juan Juan Almeida

The objective of the Poultry Company of the Cuban province of Granma, for the year 2014, is to increase egg production. It exceeded last year’s in the company’s balance sheet, last January 29th.

Juan Carlos Reyes, sub-director of Combined National Poultry (CAN), highlighted the support and dedication of the local Granma workers and reported that although there are material limitations, the level of resources on some lines will be higher this year which has just begun. Nevertheless this month, January, they didn’t produce more than 700,000 eggs owing to defaults in contracts and deliveries of feed.

The poultry breeders, notwithstanding their difficulties, are seeking increased efficiency, and doing the impossible in order that everyone can have eggs.

Translated by GH

30 January 2014