My Relationship with Antonio Castro

On 19 October 202 AD, the Roman general Scipio Africanus defeated Hannibal in the Battle of Zama, near Carthage. It has nothing to do with it, but on the same date, but much later, born in Cuba was Dr. Antonio Castro Soto del Valle, the brand new golf champion, the fourth of five sons born to the union of the former dictator and Fidel Castro with Castro Soto del Valle (a woman whom I respect for her exceptional performance of her role as mother).

Let me clarify, I say that it is exceptional because one warm winter night, at the end of 2004, when the power of MININT and the frenzy of Raul was falling on me, Antonio approached me wife, took a two dollar bill from his wallet and looking into her eyes said, “They say it brings good luck; take it, you’re going to need it. Raul tried to do away with me; but my mother is alive, JJ’s isn’t.”

My relationship with Antonio was always affable, distant, and sincere, nothing more. His marriages, wives and children is not an issue here.

As a child — according to the bodyguards — Tony was shy, obsessive, curious and capricious; but his history teacher during the time he studied at La Lenin High School described him as a fickle student, not too neat, who didn’t wear his last name easily and suffered repeated identity crises and depression.Perhaps this frustration became a counterweight of advance and then deployment. continue reading

It’s worth pointing out that with the halo of mystery and security, a constant in his life during his student years, his teachers were active members of the general directorate of MININT personal security cross-dressing as teachers, who marked extensive gaps in the cognitive and instructive processes of the young Castro Soto del Valle.

When, under his father’s orders, they broke the shell of secretiveness, Antonia, eager to socialize, was rediscovered and emerged to the ordinary world with three attractive adjectives: famous, right and powerful; in other words, a potent magnet of attraction. What many are asking is why, not being the oldest, nor the youngest, nor the last, nor the preferred, it is he who is “without equal.”

Of course, the stereotype of beauty is influential: Antonio is blond, handsome, rich in stature and exaggerated in ego. It’s the manly image of any lead actor. And he’s famous as a good doctor.

Educated like a king, and fascinated by monarchies, he is a sophisticated mortal who has charm, elegance and good taste. Friendly when he wants to be and overwhelming when contradicted.

But the key to his success lies in the art of seduction. He knows well that his last name, more than an icon, is a commercial trademark and he handles masterfully and in detail his personal marketing.

His immodesty and glamor are undoubtedly his strongest attraction; he enjoys being different but repulses those who flatter him, he has temporary sensitivity for ordinary Cubans (whom, logically, he will inherit as subjects), those whose only property is their ID cards.

Tony is a cool guy, who born in half disaffection assume that, even though born in power, all human beings are like our environment and as such we should be understood.

23 May 2013

The Numbers that Cuba Shelves / Juan Juan Almeida

According to the newspaper Granma, Cuba is among the 16 countries that have already reached the goal set by the World Food Summit in 1996, halving the number of undernourished people in every country of the world before 2015.

It is sad that Mr. José Graziano da Silva, director general of the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO, for its acronym in English), asserts that the credit has been possible thanks to the priority given by the Cuban government to guaranteeing its people’s right to food and the policies implemented to achieve this objective.

Nonsense, but explainable. It’s hard to see beyond the growth with its perfection that aims to show a government that distorts all its data and knows that for the vast majority of international organizations, the world is reduced to numbers. We are numbers and calculations; very dangerous arithmetic that some Cuban officials handle with excellence. My country is a place of impunity reigned over by an impeccable combination of politics and prostitution.

I don’t want to go overboard citing old familiar tactics used by the Cuban government to lobby and win votes in the different international level forums. It makes no difference if it’s the CDR, FMC, UNICEF, FAO, HRC, EU, UNDP, OEI, CARICOM … Every acronym is handled the same, national or international. When there are funds, nothing will be impossible because in island politics you just have to wait and what is won is lost and what is lost is won.

In the mid ’90s, a young neonatologist who worked in the Ramón González Coro OB-GYN Hospital in Havana Vedado, formerly the Sacred Heart clinic, was among the many selected to be part of a commission that would study what then was a TOP SECRET investigation.

Hiding a smile, and trying not to show her immense gratitude for such reliability, the talented doctor went to work. And counting on the full support of the Council of State itself, she thought that telling the truth would be the seed of what with great passion she called “My Revolution.”

The hurried exploration found that the Cuban infant born underweight, which later resulted in a considerable and irreversible decrease in size of the Cuban child, which even scientifically established standards considered “alarming.”

For this study, which lasted some time, this multidisciplinary team compiled a spreadsheet which took into account variables such as maternal age, health status assessment to detect pregnancy, treatment with nutritional supplements, weight gain in pregnancy , history of curettage, etc.. All these data were extracted from the records of pregnant women in doctors’ offices, and in the various departments of statistics for each local polyclinic.

The final report revealed that the factors associated with the preterm birth of many Cuban infants weighing under 2,500 grams, are inadequate nutrition of the future mother (this represented the highest percentage of cases studied), anemia during pregnancy and an inadequate time between births.

Since then, and as appropriate, the results were altered and the real results were shelved under lock and key. And my friend, who left medicine and has dedicated herself to painting, says that facial hair is not the only thing that connects Cuban officials with the Taliban.

21 May 2013

Behind a Kilo of Meat in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

A few days ago I read that within the vast and complicated machinery of the Cuban Ministry of the Food Industry (MINAL), the meat company nationwide scored higher sales volume during the past fiscal year.

It surprised me, in that ministry there are several companies with more administrative staff than workers; but happy or alarmed was my “to be or not to be.”

The official press lies a little, although regularly, and as an established norm avoids part of reality. So I thought that this note would be published with the only objective of cleaning the stench of corruption that the wave of investigations and arrests that led the former head of this industry, Alejandro Francisco Roca Iglesia, to prison, along with his vice minister, Celio Hernandez and so many other officials. Especially knowing that, although the new minister of the branch is Dr. Maria del Carmen Concepcion Gonzalez, the one who has the upper hand in such a necessary institution in the foolish and never well-thought of engineering specialist in the applied chemistry of human nutrition, Deborah Castro Espín.

Anyway, the irony is liberating and as the old sailor’s saying goes, “When the dolphins leap the storm is coming.” I continued to keep my intellectual apathy busy and communicated with Havana using the overly expensive invention patented in 1876 by the British speech therapist Alexander Graham Bell.

“The Union of the Flesh” — and I quote almost verbatim someone who asked not to be revealed — “is the company that within this large conglomerate sold more last year. Supported, of course, by the Food Corporation SA (a mysterious Cuban capital private entity). continue reading

“Meat consumption grew, and both entities were responsible for producing and marketing meat products, plus all their derivatives.”

So far everything was going well, the scandalous is the rest. For a long time is hasn’t been profitable to produce a kilo of meat in Cuba, taking into account feed prices, the costs of caring for the animal, veterinary care and fuel. With all this an expensive product reaches Cuban processors. But the Cuban government didn’t calculate, or foresee the tangible increase, it has had since last year, in private restaurants (the paladares) and for that reason the MINAL was forced to innovative solutions to meet the pressing demand.

“We had no response,” my interlocutor told me stealthily, “and the ‘higher ups’ ordered ground beef to be mixed with small amounts of horse meat and texturized soy, to maintain an acceptable level of nutrition and not affect the typical cherry-red color of the fresh meat.

How dreadful, the Cuban officials lost respect and restraint; they gained irresponsibility, shamelessness and perversion. The fraud here is not in the mixing of the meat, if it’s not misleading or not properly informed.

It should be clarified that from the middle of 2012 to date, ground beef, selling at the price of steak priced in CUC, and that tourists and nationals enjoy, is fit for human consumption, but it is not ground beef. Indeed, in Cuba it’s never what it seems.

13 May 2013

My Brides in White / Juan Juan Almeida

Just three days ago, I was at the Miami airport, I did not want to miss the arrival of Berta Soler to this city. Discrete and humble, there they were, sitting in a corner, a small group of those women who from their immensity, some time ago I named “My Brides in White”; then I remembered a Sunday morning, under that strong and indiscreet sun on 5th Avenue in Havana, and revealed before my eyes a perfect formation, which out of ignorance I thought was a convention of santeros.

A total misconception, they were women dressed in white with a flower in their hands. I stopped to watch, and a a fifty-something guy in a beige guayabera, his face distorted by shock and emotion, approached and slapped the hood of my car, and showing his G2 cars ordered me, with unusual kindness, “Get out of here, those are the Ladies in White.” I continued my slow march, determined to know who were those women.

Days later I learned that the same group of women were protesting near Revolution Square, just where I had staged a demonstration considering it to be the gathering place of all Cubans, and that one of them (Berta Soler), was planning not to leave there until she could see her husband, detained and sick. But of course, the police and paramilitary forces evicted them using the always repugnant help of kicks and shoves.

By then, I knew they weren’t just a curiosity, it was a duty, a feeling, I approached the women who demand the release of their families, their loved ones, every Sunday, who even today now manage to upset the complacency of Cuban dictators. Who dares to love so much?

The first time I saw, in the distance, a stout brunette with braids, and a blonde with a sunhat, who turned out to be the angel who, when everything was dark, God placed in my path and whose earthly name was Laura Pollán.

Suddenly a “Down with the Castro brothers” interrupted my memories, it was the deep and serious voice of an ebony become woman, of a lady who for her tenderness and simplicity it is impossible for some to believe that she is an open book. Her smile is a hook; and her courage rhymes with beauty, but not with fakery.

For a second I feared to approach her, I thought of time and its ravages and that she wouldn’t remember me; but no, I was wrong, despite her world travels, and I received many signs of affection from Berta, still a soldier of hope, armed with her helplessness. Practical, rational, obstinate, direct, strong, good-natured, happy, loyal, charismatic and sweet, she is an excellent friend, a perfect fusion of defects and virtues, an authentic Cuban. This simple woman of indomitable spirit; with no pretension to power, practicing love for those who find no mercy. She is a human being immune to this fever of stardom that both swarms and atrophies.

I hugged and kissed the same woman who one Sunday, dressed in white, after attending Mass at Santa Rita Church in Havana, and marching down 5th Avenue, I met sitting on one of the old benches still zealously guarded in Gandhi Park in Miramar, that beautiful Havana neighborhood that resists continuing to be anchored to the era of the thaw.

1 May 2013

Chinese with Cuban Identities on the Way to the U.S. / Juan Juan Almeida

According to Wikipedia, the Chinese in Cuba are the most prominent and largest Asian community settled on the island. History records that on June 3, 1847 the Spanish brig “Oquendo” landed the first 200 Chinese laborers from the port of Amoy; although long before the “Oquendo” there were already Chinese in Cuba who had arrived from the Philippines, the so-called Manila-Chinese.

The Ten Years War surprised these migrants in Cuba and they joined the liberation forces. Many of them mixed with Spaniards, blacks and even mulattoes. From there was born the Chinese-Cuban.

The relations between the governments of Cuba and China have been up and down over the years but mostly down; but sometimes things go smoothly. Several Cuban leaders drive Geely cars — made in China — models also used by the National Revolutionary Police automotive troops and the G2 – State Security. The “kitsch” Cuban progeny — offspring of those in power — venture in what they believe to be new routes and go shopping in Hong Kong, experts in social themes exchanging opinions of “change” with certain regularity, businessmen of both countries sign galactic contracts, and high level delegations visit with such pleasure that the Cuban president even sang to Hu Juntao in Mandarin.

The new surreptitious business is “solidarity” with groups of Chinese who land on the island with regularity with which water drips from a broken pipe, constant drops, stimulating black market springs that move the well enshrined chain of the underground economy.

Some authorized contractors assert they are very calm customers, they don’t take hookers home and barely leave their rooms. They don’t behave as tourists, don’t go to the beach, don’t buy maracas or visit museums; throughout their stay on the island they spend their time muttering, and eating.

So much so that the new culinary specialty in the rooms-for-rent homes is to make a cup of rice with two and half cups of unsalted water, which makes a hideous mass which is then allowed to dry, add curry, make balls, and after frying it it’s called Rice Croquettes are called.

This has given rise to traveling salesmen who used to go door to door selling flowers, condoms, lobster or beef and who now support themselves selling rice (the little balls). It’s not illegal and they earn more, hence the refrain, “Take advantage of good fortune, when it’s rare,” (which, of course, rhymes in Spanish).

But housing agent who leads foreign clients to rental housing, the former immigration official for the Playa neighborhood, referring to the development of this lucrative market and new line of work, assured me with sarcastic ingenuity, “Nothing changes. The government sees nothing and tomorrow will say they didn’t know; but up to today it goes on and there’s no lack of “curry” in the hard currency stores. Look,” he continued, changing to a secure line and French, “What they know they don’t question. The reality is the Chinese are coveted customers, they travel  in small groups, stay in Cuba for 13-25 days, but before leaving, hello, what is important here is cash, everything is original and well-done, they pay up to 700 CUC for a Cuban passport, 200 for an identity card, and a thousand more to be included in the official civil registry, thus becoming duly legalized Chinese-Cuban citizens.  And now nationalized, they continue traveling into the future destined to our larger neighbor, ready to be welcomed by the Cuban Adjustment Act.”

The illegal traffic of Chinese using Cuba as a trampoline is a forbidden business that, tolerated, accepts accomplices, not witnesses.

24 April 2013

Changes In Cuba, I’ll Believe It When I See It / Juan Juan Almeida

Many of you remember what happened in our country in the summer of 1989*. I’m referring to those trials that popular wits baptized, for the range of events and actors, “Tropicana show under the stars, first and second parts.” During those dark and sordid events, in certain circles of power a refrain that marked my life began to be heard: “Don’t believe anything you hear; only believe half of what you see.”

It is precisely because of this that today, at a distance of almost three years (since I left the island) and more than 90 miles, I can’t accept the different discourses coming from the island that describe an actuality that speaks much and says little.

Can we attest that the modifications in the travel and immigration law eased the entry to and exit from the country for Cuban citizens? Some assert that yes, they did; but just a few days ago the Cuban counsel in Moscow, under orders from Havana, refused permission for a gentleman in his 70s who, feeling destroyed, told me in an email, “… They continue to prevent my entering my beautiful island, I continue to be prevented from hugging my three children and meeting my three grandchildren who were born during the seven years they’ve prohibited my visiting Cuba.” continue reading

How, then, can we believe in the ends? It’s very true, the government of the island needs a change, but that doesn’t mean that it’s choking or dying; rather it is renewed, much to our regret. The abuse and threats are not remotely proof of their losing power.

Judges, prosecutors and lawyers in the exercise of their profession, assure that popular violence increases, irregular groups begin to take to the streets with relative impunity, and the issue of corruption exceeded the limits of unemployment. But of course, due to the divine lineage of unnamed persons involved in crimes of embezzlement, the Attorney General of the Republic of Cuba, which has the institutional mission of protecting the political and legal order of the State and Society,  was ordered to dismiss more than three thousand cases. A disturbing figure.

The country doesn’t appear to be doing well and there are no visible signs we can take as economically favorable. However some of my friends who are officials, but not passionate, who hold important positions in the central administration of the State, assure me that even though Cuba’s industries have no longer carry any weight, the economy is recovering and predictions for tourism are on the rise.

It’s difficult, from the United States, to understand how so many artists, scientists, farmers, housewives and workers whose only purpose in life is to survive day by day, and without belonging to either side, whether it be the Montagues or Capulets, can visualize a slight personal growth, and a subtle awakening of respect for individual liberty.

Right now, it seems like an hallucination to me; I’m not interested in become an echo of the deluded or frustrated, of the optimistic or pessimistic, the subjected or the believers. There are certain events that manage to change our course and, as my grandmother used to say, on the bus of life we are all passengers, even the driver.

I’m skeptical, unfortunately distance distorts events. Like St. Thomas, seeing is believing. And however things are going, I want to witness it in the first person singular, then I will ask for the absurd but established permission and tell you about it.

*Translator’s note: Highly decorated General Arnaldo Ochoa and others were tried and convicted of drug trafficking and executed. See “The day my mother lost her faith in the Cuban Revolution” by Yoani Sanchez, for another perspective.

19 April 2013

Cuba Between Blockade and Embargo / Juan Juan Almeida

I will not waste a second in explaining the difference between “Blockade” and “Embargo”; that’s irrelevant, it’s all in the dictionary. Cubans (from here, there and the hereafter) understand that this definition does not lie in the linguistic details, it comes from the place of residence of the person referring to it and/or, of course, in the subtle hypnotic force exerted on the individual by the media.

I am referring to the measure began as a response by the U.S. government to the expropriations, by Cuba, carried out against U.S. citizens and companies.

There’s no need to explain that it all happened before I was born, perhaps you weren’t either. The measure, pun intended, was understood by those affected, the dispossessed; and in certain legal circles it still stimulates vigorous debates over whether or not it violates the extraterritoriality of the law.

Perhaps to omit its history is a mistake; but I assume we all know it is very easy to Google to find a bibliographic reference. First it was a measure, then it was an ordinance that has been, in essence, the platform of many.

Some speakers use it with relative shamelessness to add that pinch of salt, or sugar (in controversy, it’s the same thing) that manages to catch the attention of whatever boring set. It’s magisterial how people continue to zigzag for or against the issue, depending on the audience, and so gain a loyal base of fans who on feeling pleased end up being complacent.

Cuba’s government maintains business relations with companies and governments of almost all UN member countries, the three observer states, and at least one of the so-called disputed territories. The island is also known for its chain of defaults, and for assuming commitments that it never meets.

The strategy they use is simple, after acquiring the needed amount in credits and/or loans, wham! in one breath they expel from the country under any pretext, the ousted employer or company and ban them from returning. Examples abound.

For the revolutionary government, “The Blockade” is the leitmotif that serves like a worn out prop in the staging of the biblical battle of David against Goliath, but in the hermetic Cuban shell the issue is not seen in the same way. Cuban entrepreneurs hallucinate about breaking the U.S. embargo, not for “patriotic” reasons but to feel themselves close to the longed for and prohibited.

The embargo law is what protects those U.S. farmers who manage to sell their products to Cuban companies. For them, although they ignore it, it’s recommended that they know that the embargo is the only real and legal instrument they have in order to get paid. Today, more than working, it’s an excellent relief that guarantees commercial seriousness on the part of the revolutionary government. Also, it assures, under the contractual time, that a little rice, a piece of chicken and a piece of bread reach Cuban homes.

Every law, new and old, generates a moral dilemma. Today, I’m in favor of the embargo.

9 April 2013

The Aging of Cuba and the Fiscal Deficit / Juan Juan Almeida

It is extremely worrying that our island is one of the countries with the oldest populations on the planet. The particular Cuban phenomenon is due to reasons too well-known, emigration increased while the birth rate and population growth decreased.

As what is critical rarely leaves time for what is important, it is not difficult to understand that irresponsible policies or at least misguided ones, increased pension costs and led to the unstoppable increase in the Cuban fiscal deficit.

Many will say that it is desirable to change the social system, but in my opinion it depends on the popular decision. The fact is that the population is aging, and with regards to labor issues, in Cuba the concept of the “third age” disappeared.

For the elderly, retiring is a goal; and it is a fiction that a young man of 20 — which describes so many of those who are now unemployed — can find work for the time needed to meet the requirements to retire. The young would have to work more than their entire lives to collect a pension. Of course, the orphans and disabled are — full stop — even worse off.

The aging of the population exhausted the limited financial sustainability of the pension system; its base is completely insufficient to cover the age span of a retiree.

Therefore, it is more than necessary, it is imperative to reform this system, increase revenue, expand coverage and ensure sustainability in the very near future.

We need to forget the past for a while and look towards a common horizon, abandoning this ridiculous antagonism brought by the struggle for power, and help the youth of today, so they don’t become the homeless of tomorrow.

In 2005 the Revolutionary government ordered an increase in payments, even passing new laws in this regard, but the continued devaluation of the Cuban peso has proportionally reduced the real value of the amount of money received by a pensioner. So today, they are receiving more, but it buys far less.

In the present circumstances, to offer certain status to the working population, the government would have to increase the contribution paid by workers and, in turn, increase the retirement age to 200 years. Egregious nonsense. The measures are still notoriously inadequate and misleading.

We know well that the country’s leadership began its so-called “update of the socialist model” to rid itself of a hindrance; eliminating state jobs and laying off staff without vocations, they had no choice to take refuge in the nascent private section which lacks any pension system. Office workers were turned into peasants; and bureaucrats into french fry sellers. But these workers, like every other Cuban, lack confidence in banks and continue in a limbo of abandonment.

I do not want to talk about the problem without offering my assessment; I think that, for the State workers, it would be effective to readjust the subsidy according to personal efficiency, not according to age; a kind of sustainable work that contributes, taking advantage of the individual and reassessing the self-worth of those likely to feel valued.

On the other hand, it’s urgent to modify the law governing foreign investment in a way that can provide attractive incentives such as tax exemptions for a determined period to foreign businesses that organize reliable retirement plans for those many workers who receive monthly income and which, for reasons of semantics, instead of being called entrepreneurs are called “self-employed.”

4 April 2013

Cuba: Before and After Noah’s Ark / Juan Juan Almeida

Following the tradition of ancient Roman warriors, the Cuba soldiers, after finishing their missions and/or conflicts in foreign territories, return to the fatherland carrying some live trophy.

Some chose to bring adopted children (whom they later abandon), others import women of unusual physiques that, not willing to put up with certain treatment, end up returning to their origins.

The most bizarre are brought as souvenirs, chimpanzees, macaws, giant tortoises, meerkats, and something more than anecdotes to show and remember.

And for mere competition, the current Cuban emperor assembled a hunting paradise hidden among the rugged beauty Cayo Saetia; an island located in the southeast of Holguin between Nipe Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Where they can shoot buffalo, bulls, eland antelope, warthogs, zebras, camels, ostriches, fancy reptiles and other animals from distant latitudes.

Lovers of the natural (not nature), and like Nero, in this effort to give the people bread and circuses, in 2011 accepted a donation of African animals that traveled from the Etosha National Park in Namibia, to the National Zoo in Havana.

The humanitarian operation was called “Noah’s Ark II”, and eventually raised questions from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which issued statements expressing concern that these animals caught in the wild, would have to endure a long and tiring flight to a new destination, and it was not known whether any animal welfare organization had reviewed the Cuban facilities, its standards of care and insertion into social animal life.

The reality is that the imported specimens, like any foreign tourist, can count on close attention; the problems were more adaptive.

The black-backed jackal suffered severe depression upon discovering that the lack of fur on his Cuban counterpart is not a typical Caribbean hairstyle but is the result of a severe scabies. The  foreign ungulates had a similar reaction on finding that their island equivalents didn’t need hooves, the veterinarians removed them and sold them at very good price on the black market for hand crafted barrettes.

In the carnivores’ area passivity reigns. Cheetahs, spotted and brown hyenas have seen their share of food decline considerably but they live convinced that this reduction is a global campaign against obesity. Due to the lack of water a small sedition in the hippo’s ponds was organized; but everything was sorted out, after a long chat, the artiodactyla — the cloven-hooved — came to understand that Cuba is a “blockaded” country.

Serious trauma, that of a lion that traveled to breed and seeing the Cuban lionesses feeding on bananas and fish heads, none will meet and they have a bad character.

For the rest, everything’s normal. The National Zoo is ready, waiting on the 26th.

2 April 2013

Permanence, Legitimacy and the Future in Havana / Juan Juan Almeida

If there is one thing I learned from being close to power, it was not to focus on explicit actions but rather on non-verbal messages that go unstated. It is precisely for this reason that today, while many are captivated by dreamy visions and hopeful about evolutionary developments that to me still seem embryonic, the Cuban government is approving and reaffirming steps towards a greater permanence, legitimacy and future for itself.

I have 103 reasons — three of them personal — for being opposed to what is called Revolution. But that does not mean that I cannot see the growing empowerment of an administration that on the one hand combines investments in key areas such as tourism, technology and education while at the same time guarantees the sustainability of the system by increasing the number and size of certain personal bank accounts and overseas investments. I will comment more on this at another time.

It is clear that the abuses, apathy, incessant propaganda, a surfeit of rhetoric and ongoing requests for martyrology-worthy sacrifice have caused the majority of the population to distance itself not only from the government, but from the opposition as well.

The housewife, the farmer, the worker, the doctor, the thief and the student are neither political nor apolitical, but rather anti-political. The government is aware of this and has taken concrete steps, pretending to bridge this gap between the leaders and the led by appointing executives who are younger… sorry, I meant to say less elderly, less corrupt and more in touch with the people, although in practice none of them have real freedom or executive power.

Last year there was an unusual freeze on the military budget. Several days earlier the General asked the armed forces community for its trust. Political ploy or not, it is one more thing to round out an image of a pragmatic leader aware of administrative and financial limitations.

The eyes of foreign investors, however, see a slow but recovering economy, open to foreign investment and eager for free trade. Since it is almost a rule that capital is unconcerned with ideology but worships opportunity, the swift negotiator quickly falls into the mix and ends up being fodder for the government, which uses him to advance its interests and pressure governments, states and monarchies. They learn too late that recouping investments is not a function of production levels or the labor market, but rather of avoiding the leaks in the very dilapidated state plumbing system.

Fluent in diplomacy and official propaganda, they know that today’s world is not about militant leftists or well-to-do rightists, but about people who lean towards one side or the other based on their own overall interests. Therefore, many agreements are facilitated, giving teeth to those who cannot smile and colors who those who cannot see. From an endless number of patients they humanely raise armies of the grateful.

The Cuban government is preparing itself by forced march to confront the future, which I can see upon crossing the street. I do not want to appear negative, because I am not, but I cannot help thinking of my astute grandmother, who possessed a wisdom without equal, when she used to tell me, “There are two kinds of people in this world — those who have power, and those referred to as ’the nobody bosses of nothing.’”

Juan Juan Almeida

28 March 2013

And Before CIMEQ…

On our small island many have felt the need to emigrate. Most do it out of disillusionment, others out of desperation, some looking for comfort, and a few rare specimens simply to be different, out of morbid fascination.

When the hirsute insurrectionists came down from the mountains hungry for promiscuity — which certainly did not go unrequited — they were very young and the only diseases they could contract were venereal. In such circumstances they could not go to ordinary hospitals.

It was to provide care for these people with very unique profiles that a small clinic and laboratory were set up in a house (on East Street between 37th and Park in Nuevo Vedado) belonging to then comandante René Vallejo, whom everyone respected because, in addition to being an extraordinary doctor and wonderful conversationalist, he was an excellent spiritualist.

With Vallejo they could kill three birds in one shot, as the saying goes. “The first hospital for revolutionaries” was a little rough. It started off very small, but Cuban leaders were procreating with the agility of claria,* unlike the broader population who were desperately emigrating from the east to the west, and from the west to Miami. They needed to expand this health care center for the elite, so it was moved to Miramar.

Two lavish mansions which occupied the corner of 34th and 43rd streets were transformed into a clinic. It included a pharmacy, hospital admissions, emergency room, operating rooms and a physiotherapy center in the basement. This initially was the facility that some now refer to as the 43rd Street Clinic, the Council of State Clinic, or the Kohly Clinic, named for the district where it was originally located.

The country’s most senior leaders, their friends and family members are not the only ones treated there; bigwigs from Africa and Latin America are also its patients

Within a short time the little clinic grew like an empire, taking over the houses in front and later those on the side. They added a delivery room, neonatology, surgery, and dentistry departments, a spa and all the rest. It was a full-service hospital for the criminal jet set, run by an on-duty medical colonel, always under the supervision of the invisible but much feared Dalia Soto Del Valle.**

At the time, “according to Raul Castro,” Nuevo Vedado was becoming a vulgar neighborhood where the rabble-rousers lived, while Miramar was taking in a new caste of people — those who seemed rich but were not. By practicing the type of fraud that can be hidden within legal loopholes, evictions were carried out in several homes and a new ghetto was created quite a bit to the east. There are luxurious houses in Siboney that share the same level of inaccessibility.

The leadership got older and, although a doctor, ambulance and experienced nurses accompanied each of the most senior officials, ailments and ongoing emergencies were beginning to be a problem. The clinic was far away and too exposed, which meant that rumors about one leader or another often leaked out.

With this in mind they were hurriedly transferred to CIMEQ, where they could be looked after in the mysterious and impenetrable Objeto 20.***

Politics in Cuba is like a wall behind which something dirty and unknown is always hiding. In this case it is Aesculapius — the god of medicine — dressed as transvestite.

Translator’s notes:
*Claris is an invasive species of catfish introduced into Cuba from Asia.
** Fidel Castro’s current wife.
*** A private area within the CIMEQ complex for exclusive use by Fidel Castro and his closest family members.

21 March 2013

Cuba on the Point of More Reforms / Juan Juan Almeida

Juventud Rebelde didn’t lie when it said in its Sunday edition, “Raul returned to the fatherland with the emotion reflected in his face after intense days in Caracas.” I believe it wouldn’t be wrong to say that their words set a road map and marked guidelines.

The revolutionary government has lost its wet-nurse and knows, clearly, that without patronage it cannot choose to continue its unbelievable discourse, nor seek the permanence of something within Cuba that almost no one needs.

As my grandmother used to say seated before her balance sheet, before taking some tobacco, “What creates real uncertainty and despair is not what happens but what is going to happen.”

Times are changing for everyone, and we have to change with them. I know that within the island there are, at least, two sides. One has the power and, as so often happens with precious bounty, it is not disposed to cede it, but to hold onto it it will have to urgently reinvent itself.

Its main enemy, within and outside the public arena, is the ballast that generates its own inertia. Today, like never before, the dominant class on the island needs with urgent haste, and not discretion, a more democratic approach. It is disguising itself in a moderate esthetic, although its target continues to be the same, to gain time, always betting on biology, the oxygenation and multiplication of forces.

I think without renouncing any of their “convictions,” they can’t do anything other than to bend their orthodox path slightly toward a space with more understanding, including with the dissidence (which confuses Uniformity and Union) which at first glance doesn’t seem separated by great differences.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but I dare to say that before next year, perhaps before this coming summer, they will announce new economic reforms, including political reforms, designed to create a new Constitution or to reform the current one.

They will separate the State, the Government and the Party to increase power in support of more political evangelism, and more legitimacy. It’s clear, they will build barricades that would allow them to remain immune faced with those of us who want to judge them or at least want to see them sitting in the dock.

Havana is becoming a territory that everyone — even I who have never been very cautious — need to look at with moderation and care. Someone wrote, that the most well-tried method to absorb the enemy is the make him feel important. We recall that for the Cuban government the world is nothing more than a great battlefield.

And yes, they still have the old traps capable of catching the naive, manipulating the sentiments of those who have for years enjoyed the pleasure of eating as a family, and handling the innocence of so many others who don’t even have a table to sit at. The danger is over tightening the nut and breaking the thread of the slight social cohesion.

The new role of the Castro regime is to show new-found false benevolence. Now they will invoke the necessary words — Justice, Liberty and Democracy — as they share out food to later collect votes. Because if it really is true that when you go hunting you don’t use the rifle in reverse, there are true stories in which the shot of the marksman has backfired.

13 March 2013

The Rumor of Being G2, an Imported Harm / Juan Juan Almeida

Under the direction of Yuri Andropov, of the KGB, a totally terrifying maneuver was organized, destined to sow doubt in the eyes of the world to raise questions and stigmatize about the eminent scientist and activist in favor or human rights and civil liberties, Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, the Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1975.

Against the Russian dissident they created rumors, malicious comments and jokes, and they falsified and published documents about his personal life that seemed credible and invited people to judge him. The entire power of a State against one individual.

Some time has passed since then; but this continues to be the most common of the assassinations of the credibility and decency of the human being.

This sign instituted as state terrorism — a very well-learned skill, with the highest marks, by the “always most humanitarian” revolutionary government — seems to be gaining momentum. It is the modus operandi, that MININT (Ministry of the Interior) converts a name into target practice exaggerating a truth, minimizing realities, distorting points of views, multiplying the doubts and feeding the rumors.

Everyone who distances themselves from the common doctrine, becomes the object of criticism, rejection or ridicule. Be it their cultural level, their manner of dress, of speaking, their skin color, sexual orientation and even manners. The government strives to hide their dissidence and manages to identify them as ugly, liars, dysfunctional or frustrated.

Questionable to proceed; but very well thought out; who has among their aspirations to be poor one day? The idols of the crowd are lovely, powerful, talented, intelligent or rich.

The are multiple ways to discredit a human being. Whoever dissents inside or outside the island, or facing this dictatorship that is committed to not respecting even the most minimal ethical norms, much less legalities, has an adjective foisted on them to undermine their authority and reputation.

The most common and overused way of creating distrust of some critic or opponent is spreading the rumor that “so-and-so works for G2 — Cuban State Security.” Beyond the horror of feeling ashamed when I hear Cubans questioning Cubans, using the same arguments of the dark machinery that, although quite rusted, still manages effectively put a wrench in the gears.  We do not need to echo so much doubt.

It is true that technological development is directly proportional to human freedom; but also the internet has become the perfect tool for the Cuban State to launch “discrediting active measures,” convinced that, pushed by its agents of influence, special collaborators, and those ever less sympathetic, using the uninformed, resentful and/or envious as a breeding ground on the web and social networks.

We need to change old structures, abandon obsessions and with a little effort erase the prejudices that time marks, like a tattoo, in the center of the Cuban genome.

The damage is anthropological; we must overcome it, we have to.

7 March 2013

Havana, Lechery and Deceit

LujuriaLooking back from 2013, I think one of the most controversial measures for the Cuban people last year were the approval of Law No. 113, the new tax system. and Decree No. 308, which since its appearance in the Official Gazette, regulates the norms and procedures that, according to the newspaper Granma, began to be applied in a gradual way starting in January.

In principle, I agree with the new legislation. The economy of my country was built on the cement of an architectural system of arbitrary crime, where many thieves, from all over the world, came to Cuba with suitcases full of money to evade international regulations and, without explaining the origins of the money, deposited it in our bank and invested it in our country.

Here I should point out that some of those crooks ended up cheated, because we were living — and I’m not sure if I should refer only to a time in the past — in a tax and moral amnesty, which among other things affected our candid island modesty, and without any justification, forced us to practice that worn-out Chinese proverb, “A thief who robs a thief…”

One of the meanings of the word freedom is to be part of a disorder; but even so, we Cubans (solvent or not) must recover our culture of taxes.

I invite you to consult the law that went into effect on January 1, which obliges people to pay taxes: personal, utilities, sales, services, land transport, transmission and inheritance of goods, documents, etc. And to review the nine taxes that, although they appear in the body of the ordinance, it will not be in effect for now.

If we immerse ourselves in the spirit of this new tax policy, we will find that it is basically economic. The country is falling apart and this danger falls on everyone in sight. It’s a source of additional relief that it only seeks to collect, not benefit.

This statute passed by the members of the National Assembly of People’s Power (people who are well-read, erudite and eloquent), is an act of publicity which, like any discourse carried out in parables, should not be put into effect. It is nothing more than an incomplete law riddled with loopholes which, subtlety saturated with gimmicky babbling, appears as quasi-chimerical perfection and manages to convert the defrauded into the defrauder.

In a punitive spirit, small tax frauds are persecuted as if the nation’s corruption rested in the carpenter, the shoe repairer, the kiosk vender; and not in the big cities or the State enterprises. Who did they think they were fooling; just a few years ago the Ministry of the Armed Forces (MINFAR) disbursed the shameful sum of several million dollars to set up a project of private jets with airplanes that never flew or left their hangers because there were no buyers. This, indeed, was a mega tax fraud, worthy of being punished.

But Lae No. and its Decree No. 308, are chess moves. A cold creation of the Cuban government which, hidden behind the typical trip of the old poker player, launches on the world, and especially on the United States, a message of solidity and change. If the Spaniards know wine, Havana knows lechery and deceit.

9 March 2013

Degeneracy Among Cuban Military Officers/ Juan Juan Almeida

Some official, unofficial and foreign media outlets have been subject to a certain government manipulation, serving as an echo chamber by focusing special attention on the fight against corruption, which seems to have the become the principal challenge facing the Cuban president. It was for this reason that in 2009 he created the office of Controller General, the bureau in charge of conducting audits of state businesses and institutions.

“We can`t think twice about the battle against crime and corruption,” said the General in a speech before the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party. He thought it sounded catchy and since then the refrain has become a leitmotiv.

I ask myself how far the mighty sword of the controller’s authority or scope of action might reach. I suspect that the purpose of this imaginary wordplay is more mythical than real. It has the hint of a purge and less transparency than a Tamagotchi screen.

We all know that the concept of corruption goes a little deeper than the corrupt bureaucrat. It does not enjoy “real official consent,” yet it leads to unnecessary and superfluous expenditures from the state treasury. I prefer not to call it “stealing,” which is such a horrendous word.

The anti-corruption verbosity of the president-general is simply a Stanislavsky-like mannerism — something energetic and appealing to the ear. He should channel all this talent into something more constructive, or more respectable, like not ordering crowds of paramilitaries out into the streets every Sunday to attack defenseless women.

Cuba does not realize that this is just another infection eating away at society.

Has the General forgotten that during his term as head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces military leaders participated not only in military campaigns, but also in popularity contests and licentiousness?

I cannot believe that Raul Castro, a symbol of Victorian puritanism and a man obsessed with scrutinizing other people’s lives, has not read even one of the many reports dealing with incidents of assault or sexual abuse by Cuban military personnel.

The president of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba knows perfectly well that there is an endless list of high-ranking leaders and important officials with gargantuan appetites, who are as high spirited as festival clowns. They have been seen to be involved in one or another “little scandal” related to inappropriate sexual practices in which they have made use of pressure, position, rank, deceit, subjugation or shamelessness.

How to combat this degeneracy? Here is a telling figure. According to the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces’ own figures, which are no doubt overly conservative, more than 40% of Cuban women who served in Angola during the war years or afterwards were victims of sexual assault or rape. And this does not include those who remained silent out of fear.

The island’s leadership is made up of perverts, who are very attuned to all the meanings of the word corruption.

1 March 2013