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

CELAC: Declaration of Havana and the Tibetan Book of the Dead / Juan Juan Almeida

Without doubt, the pro tem presidency of the largest of the Antilles at CELAC, has been significant in achieving influential goals, to the benefit of Cuba, going well beyond the scope of commercial and diplomatic considerations.

Not even the Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez Parilla himself could accept anything other than that this alliance of Latin American and Caribbean countries represents the common regional aspirations.

What’s strange is that there are gathered there serious regional political managers, famous practitioners in the art and folklore of politicking, psychedelic gurus, dictators disguised as democrats and angry favourites, a rare mixture. continue reading

During the weekend, the vice Ministers of Foreign Relations of each country, worked, or put on a show, of arriving at a consensus on the documents to be approved at the summit, among them the Declaration of Havana and the action plan for the organisation in 2014. For today, Monday, to be discussed by the Foreign Ministers and then to be signed by the Heads of State and Government which, like skilled dancers are now arriving in Havana. And, as added value, among other things, to show support for a government which says it is in a genuine period of change. To be more exact, “transformation of its economic model”.

A document which — according to what we were briefed on by Mr. Abelardo Moreno, who this time is functioning as National Coordinator on the Cuban side and vice minister of Foreign Relations — is enigmatic and manipulative in shape, more so than the famous Bardo Thodol (Tibetan Book of the Dead), because it describes as a zone of peace a part of the planet where there is no liberty.

Although, taking into account that this Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (CELAC) is no more than a strategic grouping created in the middle of a changing international environment, the report is pretty well predictable.

The final document, after a ceremony, will agree to establish a forum of cooperation between China and CELAC which will serve to strengthen and institutionalise the relations between the Asian country and this kind of iconic structure put together by a group of different nations which, in order to demonstrate a monolithic unity as a strategic zonal partner, are inviting to the meeting the Secretary General of the OAS (Organisation of American States)   and the Secretary General of the United Nations.

Just by chance? No, The government of the island has an excellent talent for sending us its message with absolute subtlety and a total lack of merit. Anybody with half a brain and a frontal lobe is able to recall that the Panamanian president, Ricardo Martinelli, announced publicly that he would not come to the CELAC summit in Havana to make clear his unhappiness with the government for its handling of the matter of the North Korean ship Chong Cho Gang, detained in Panama, transporting Cuban arms to North Korea without declaring it, thus violating the resolution prohibiting this issued by the United Nations itself.

Now, does the name Ban Ki-moon sound familiar? Obviously. There springs to mind the excellent advice my grandmother gave me when I was a child; “Truffles can turn an ordinary dish into a culinary delicacy.”

Translated by GH

27 January 2014

I’ll Skip My Turn / Juan Juan Almeida

It is natural and deferential that General Raul Castro invited Mrs. Dilma Rousseff, President of Brazil, to the opening ceremony of the first phase of the container terminal in the industrial area of Mariel; after all, Brazil is its largest investor.

Also, complying with the rules of protocol, and a little excess in praises during his opening speech, the Cuban president praised the presence of other leaders who are attending the summit of CELAC. Typical “prostitute” tactic to attract new investors.

But what I didn’t understand was why Raúl merged, in his inaugural address, CELAC, Mariel and the 161st anniversary of the birth of Martí. I was left like Evo Morales, head in the clouds.

28 January 2014

CELAC vs CERELAC / Juan Juan Almeida

I was going to comment, or more to the point gossip, about the recently concluded Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, but I’m fed up with the topic, and I think you are too. We spent more than a week on this old song… that if Argentine president Cristina Fernandez lunches with you-know-who, that if Ban Ki-moon gets his hair cut in the historic district, that Raul Castro makes nice with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, and there are even toasts to the health of the Mariel mega-project, so it won’t turn into salt and water. And to top it off,when I say CELAC, I immediately think of its relationship to Cuban CERELAC (a baby porridge), and it shocks me just to mention it. Trauma not overcome.

1391130195_cerelac31 January 2014

The President of Argentina Lunches with Fidel / Juan Juan Almeida

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner left the Hotel Nacional at 12:40 (local time) heading to the residence of Fidel Castro to share a lunch with him, according to what the president herself told the press.

Previously, having received in her room a girl of 9 who wrote her a letter in which she said she’d been born on the same day as Néstor Kirchner.

27 January 2014

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Uprooted Population Accepts Denigrating Employment Rules / Juan Juan Almeida

Since General Raul Castro formally occupied the throne of Cuban power February 24, 2008, he publicly promised to clear a series of obstacles and assured in a highly theatrical ceremony the creation of a kind of hospital where the infirmities of a worn out country that has been sold egalitarianism could be healed and where for more than half a century the human beings belonging to whatever gender, age, ethnicity or religion have not managed to become equal.

Alfred Adler, the Austrian founder of individual psychology, said that the superiority complex that accompanies the supposedly distinguished social classes is simply an effort to compensate for true, hidden feelings of inferiority.

So, as was expected, such an illusory path towards national progress, rather than advances, brought a significant regression in the social reality and needs of a people.

Our country is sick and in a terminal state. The palliative medicine called political reforms is nothing more than a tendentious manipulation that failed with the emergence of a class, or better said a claque; and with it, an unchecked increase of stale inequalities that already were abysmal. continue reading

Obviously, it is not my idea in this article to criticize those so vilified rich, because I have already said many times that, new or old, it seems to me very fine, and I don’t see anything bad or arrogant or offensive in the fact of having money or quantifying wealth.

I refer to those other characters that have launched a paladar — a small private restaurant — or made a hostel of their houses. A new group of entrepreneurs who on earning with their businesses, as if by magic they inherit a certain governmental arrogance and believe themselves deserving of it.

There is something that we all believe but on certain occasions we do not want to hear. The satisfaction of our material needs only finds fulfillment provided that they are repaid with educational and cultural growth.

In Cuba we are living in a curious, vertiginous and singular period of change in social relations. A new paragon, a new structure, where this group of people who through boredom, imitation or because of the illusion of uncertainty, adopt the old customs of institutional mistreatment and bet on an archetype of entrepreneurial behavior worthy of dead magnates, in which democracy is reduced to a facade, or a ridiculous and incongruent word-of-the-day incapable of convincing the whole of society.

The abuse, unacceptable from any point of view, cannot nor should it treat people as property; the worst is that as a dark metaphor that encloses an open ending, the Cuban workers, members of an uprooted population, with low self-esteem and victims of oppression, turn these injustices into the order of the day and accept denigrating rules of work with long days, miserable wages, intellectual debasement and sub-human conditions, as if it were about a model of neo-slavery.

Translated by mlk.

21 January 2014

The Car in Cuba: To Die With Face to the Sun or to Live With Eyes Closed / Juan Juan Almeida

If you have some years like I do, you will remember that some time ago, trendsetters, while they publicly occupied radically conflicting positions on the big billboards of the ideological scene, coexisted embraced in the comfort of the only and non-proletarian star of Mercedes-Benz.  Beautiful symbol that still today represents a kind of category for those who are anchored to the era of the World War and “the Cold War.”

In Cuba, the hunger to buy a status symbol doesn’t mean the brand of the Teutonic giant, but any car with the flavor of liberty and air conditioning.  The gentlemen “upstairs” well know that under the publicized slogan of “updating the model,” more than achieving the dreams of a sacrificed people, is to make money off them.

The Cuban government eliminated the uncomfortable restriction that demanded an official permit to acquire a vehicle, but in exchange, the prices are astronomical. Before this new measure, the privilege of having a modern and private car was only within the reach of a certain number of workers, a limited group of high officials (this includes friends, girlfriends, lovers, brown nosers, relatives), famous artists and elite athletes. continue reading

Prices might infuriate, but not scandalize.  Experience has shown me that there is nothing easier in our archipelago than to die facing the sun, or to live with eyes closed.  Cuba is a captive market without second options.  As the days pass, Cubans will accustom themselves to this new level of “anti-life.”  Did something happen in the afternoon in which without warning they raised the prices of milk, electricity, water, soap, beer, and gasoline?

The wheeling and dealing in used cars, whether of second or seventh hand, will continue functioning and hybrids will be imposed.  Permit me to clarify that the Cuban hybrid car is not conceived in that classic conceptual format that you know, which combines a combustion engine with an electric one.

It is a work of art, a colossus of the industrial gothic; which to achieve, primarily you have to acquire a circulation permit for a non-existent or hopeless car; then resolve by any means possible an authorization to buy a rebuilt motor for this supposed automobile that only appears on paper.  With that paper, the motor and some indulgent gratification, known as a bribe, which never hurts, get another authorization to buy a body in the path of what one day were rental cars for tourists; and finally, with everything in order and a magician, this Frankenstein is assembled that, simply said, broadly speaking, sounds ugly but is beautiful.

The new cars, without doubt, will be sold, including the Peugeot 508 for 262,000  dollars.  Someone has to show off, and for that there is everything; presumptuous officials, artists, athletes, new style self-employed, repressed with dollars under the mattress, and of course, the kings of the dawn.  In short, the speculation of Havana.

I do not believe that any businessman, nor the buzzards of “Cuban-American merchandising” that are now taking their baby steps of sending cars (stolen, new or used) from Miami to some nearby port, in order to then locate them in Havana, inspired in this apparently anarchist measure, and excited about the car show, might be able to travel and sell cars on the island to everyone who wants to buy.

In the emerging car business of Cuba it is not the market but the State who will dictate guidelines. An old government tactic called plunder with iniquity.

Translated by mlk.

10 January 2014

The Fate of the Six Cubans of El Dorado / Juan Juan Almeida

Today, although motivated by shaking the walls with the scoop in the competitive world of information, knowing that six Cuban citizens are bogged down in Bogota facing the possibility of being returned to Cuba moves me.

Angel Barrios Cabrera (33), Eudardo Roldán López (39), Greysi Padrón Basulto (27), Yoanker Paradela (30), Brian Betancourt (41)  and Nayip Mayo Horta (31), without pursuing the fate of Icarus, in order to escape from the island and from Minos, decided to jump and fly on a sea of uncertainty to Ecuador, a county that even with all documentation in order, did not permit them to enter.

It is true that at any border, immigration officials have the last word to permit us access or not to the territory on arrival; but it is noteworthy that this pattern of behavior with regards to the return of Cubans is becoming habitual. continue reading

So habitual that it now raises suspicion and even smells of the existence of a prosperous but incipient business destined to finance the updating of the new Cuban economic model.  I cannot guarantee it; but the lack of evidence and the obvious increase of the flow of returned Cubans is food for thought, and a lot.

Rejected in Quito, and taking advantage of the return trip to Havana, they decided to stay in Colombia and after days stranded in the El Dorado international airport, this Saturday, January 11, Bogota extends them a safe conduct permit to enter the country for 10 days, valid starting this Monday, so that they can go out, move through the city and reside temporarily in one of the refugee centers of the ACNUR, an agency of the UN.

Here it should be noted that when I spoke to one of them, whose name I do not say because as my grandfather used to say, “A deal is a deal, and respecting it is gentlemanly,” he told me that a good Samaritan Cuban had gotten them toiletries, clothes and food. Bogota is a very cold city inhabited by warm and supportive people.

He also told me that this immigration waiver will allow them this week to prepare and present the refugee claim before the Colombian Chancellery, and in this way get an extension of the document that will permit them to stay in that country for a period of two or three months.

I believe it’s quite clear that the fact that the Colombian authorities have granted this kind of safeguard is only a step which, of course, is thoroughly appreciated, but it does not mean that they have granted them refugee status.

In my personal opinion, it is a simple political measure by Bogota, with the clear intention of not affecting relations between the governments of Colombia and Cuba, besides not obstructing the peace process that curiously and opportunely just resumed in Havana after a recess taken by the negotiating parties and the good reason of the December holidays.

On ending my long and often interrupted telephone conversation with one of the six Cubans, he asked him to please call his mother in Cuba, and so I did.  After conveying the good news and all the rest, I was surprised by the reply of a woman who with incredible strength answered, “You tell him. . . that I will miss him like crazy; but not to give up and to fight, only in this way are dreams achieved.”

Translated by mlk

16 January 2014

Castro, Correa and Maduro Awaiting 2014 in Varadero / Juan Juan Almeida

We are almost at 31st December and in all the world people celebrate that holiday. In Cuba, the incoherence of our life obliges us, at midnight, to make a toast and express our wish that the next year, 2014, will be better and less painful for the prisoners, the ill, and for all those people who, without much choice will receive the coming year awaiting a call or a hug from those people who cannot be here. For everyone, a prosperous new year.

The president of the Republic of Cuba as you would expect, will also celebrate this date, receiving a select and chosen group of friends, the first day of January, and with that, the coming of another anniversary of the Revolution, number 55.

Yes, Raúl Modesto Castro Ruz will welcome in 2014 in his house in Varadero. In his private villa, or, rather, in the complex of houses which make up the “discreet” and modest mansion, recently done up for the occasion. continue reading

All prepared with punctilious care. The doors and windows (made by KÖMMERLING) imported from Germany and installed afterward by trusted specialists in this shameless summer house, for family recreation. Appropriate for a great leader who publicly advances a stubborn policy of austerity.

The menu is no problem, in the purest and most exquisite Parisian style, with island tweaks. The culinary offer will be professionally served by glove-wearing waiters, and supervised by an official of the FAR (Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces),whom they call Albert Einstein because he has no talent, and who authorised the music to be provided by an orchestra of such cultural ineptitude that they played recorded music instead.

And, how can we speak of the food without mentioning the guests? Right, we will take it one step at a time, because the story still has some unknown quantities.The current president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, his majesty Nicolás Maduro is expected, and, they say, the Ecuadorian head of state, his excellency Rafael Correa. Friends whom they will put up in the recently repaired guest houses, inside the private villa.

And the drink won’t be lacking, catering for all tastes, there will be drink waiters, equally trustworthy, for whatever last-minute fancy. And for those drinkers who lose it after drinking too much, they will serve a reinforcing consomme with meat and chicken and lamb. To finish the night, or start the day as the case may be, they will provide beautiful white deckchairs, in the Mediterranean style, on the sand.

If there are any snags with the party, or if at the last minute they change the plans due to my fateful indiscretion, you need to know that I was happy to break the secret, but the credit isn’t mine, rather that of an army of idiots wearing sunglasses who made it impossible to hide it.

Now I remember the braying, sorry, the speech of the comrade General when he predicted, during the recently-finished second regular session of the 8th term of the National Assembly of Popular Power, that in 2014 we hope to get to a prosperous and sustainable socialism, less egalitarian and more just, with new targets and more sacrifices. The politics of obsolete octogenarians racing against the calendar.

Tomorrow we will drink a toast to all Cubans, those who are here, those who are there, and those who are over there. And we wait for the new year with the absolute conviction that our day is just around the corner.

Translated by GH

30 December 2013

How They Banned Christmas in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

With a cloudy sky and rough seas which were dangerous for small craft, last Wednesday the 18th the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba approved, as if by chance, the import of new and used cars into the country.

Dear God, they arranged the same media distraction when, in 1997, just before the visit of His Holiness Pope John Paul II to Havana, without any explanation, the revolutionary government, pen in hand, decreed, or re-decided, that 25th December should be a public holiday.

Since then, without fear, our grandparents dust and polish their traditions and, in spite of adversities, disguise the island with odours because, some more and many  less, on Christmas Eve they brighten up their homes with some pork, chicken, rice, beans, and food, preferably yuccas, seasoned with a delicious mojo sauce based on bitter orange and lots of garlic.  You can come across the same thing in the Christmas specials in restaurants. continue reading

A complete national calorie binge, uniting sad people, proud people, happy ones, peaceful ones, Catholics, non-Catholics, agnostics, protestants, devotees of the saints, masons, atheists, all of them, to celebrate the festivities and await the coming of a child who was born over 2,000 years ago.

They made use of all sorts of reasons to erase Christmas: The death of Ernesto Guevara, the sugar harvest period, revolutionary priorities, in the end, everything you all know perfectly well; but it was a Christmas message which paradoxically fell from the sky on December 24, 1968, which aroused the fury of the ex-commander-in-chief and after some mad cursing put an end to the celebration.

It turned out to be the Man, I am of course referring to the one dressed in olive green, seated to the right of a short wave radio tuned to VOA. Suddenly he heard the voice of astronaut Bill Anders approaching the moon’s dawn, and, instead of an announcement of war, read the opening verses of Genesis, expressing his admiration for the wonders of the cosmos and the greatness of its creator.

Fidel Castro went mad, he felt diminished, nevertheless he carried on listening, awaiting the sound of cannon fire, and received a bolt of lightning in the vein.

The transmission from the sky ended with: “And on behalf of the crew of Apollo 8 we will end by saying Goodnight, Good luck, Happy Christmas and may God bless you all on the good earth.”

His pride overwhelms him. He gets up, scowling, waves his arm in an arc and – like a Spanish dancer – stamps his heels as if the ground were Tablado de Corazones [Ed. note: quote from a poem by José Martí, El alma trémula y sola]. After a moment, they heard “………(a swear word), that’s the end of Christmas.”

That wasn’t all he suspended, from then on all religious events were victim to a bout of amnesia imposed by the triumphant young government of 1959. After about 30 years of exaggerated prohibition, it is making a comeback like a new opportunity. Our family-eclectic-religious cultural heritage and our traditions which were wounded by the Spanish conquest, cannot be erased by decree, they endure, this is the proof. HAPPY CHRISTMAS

Translated by GH

24 December 2013

Rodrigo Malmierca’s Hidden Grudge / Juan Juan Almeida

A veritable media sandstorm blasted away just a few days ago in Brazil when at the IX Plenary Session between Brazil and Cuba, the Cuban Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment, Rodrigo Malmierca openly declared that any political entity without the branding initials of Cuba’s Communist Party — CCP for short — would never be allowed to run in a Cuban election.

In light of Malmierca’s remarks, a group of Cuba savvy and well-informed people who understand Cuba’s reality first hand, countered by producing serious, sensibly-minded, and razor-sharp studies and retorted that Malmierca’s sly words — or threat-in-the-making — could only serve to further isolate Cuba.  On that note, the Brazilian group discretely suggested that a fairly unobtrusive way to avoid widespread buffoonery during future Cuban elections would be to demand all upcoming political parties register under names capable of generating the acronym of CCP.  A sample roundup of CCPs: the Christian Civic Party (CCP), the Cuban Constitutional Party (CCP), the Conservative Cuban Party (CCP), the Cuban Catholic Party (CCP).  (Others variations are possible.)

FYI: Current Minister Malmierca is a big-name, bright individual but more muted and deadpan than a double-blank tile in a heap of dominoes.  Pre-Internet 1980s knew Malmierca as an all out rebellious and non-conformist youth.  No doubt the modern Cuban blogger dissidence movement would have rung true for young Malmierca.  But back then — and about to graduate from the University of Havana with a degree in economics — the early Malmierca shunned the philosophical aesthetics language of the Cuban Revolution in ways comparable to modern protest.

Malmierca’s early life exploits read like a political police thriller of never-ending “demonstrations” known and talked about in every secret inner chamber but carefully concealed in folds of red velvet — the metaphor is a line borrowed from Eliseo Grenet’s lovely bolero, “Your mouth’s pearls” — to protect his family’s background (father was chief founder of State Security, former Vice Minister of the Interior, former Minister of the Interior, active card-carrying member of the Communist Party, and Freemason).

For better or worse, the young Rodrigo originally believed free thinking ideals were worth the effort, and he assumed whatever risks and consequences came in tow.  But out of nowhere, and as if by pure magic, he was recruited by the Cuban Central Intelligence Agency.  A once pure heart turned lethal.  Out came the plainclothesman guayabera shirt as urban camouflage for network spying.  First came ECIMETAL, then a role as advisor to the Cuban embassy in Brazil, later on, as ambassador to Belgium and the EU, next as representative of Cuba at the UN, and finally, as Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade and Investment.

Whatever prestigious jobs and assignments were culled for him and despite all the reassurance top appointments bring, Rodrigo Malmierca has never been a loyal pooch obedient to the call of one master.

In public, he is a man of few words and speaks only when necessary to avoid the risk of damaging his administrative legacy.  Seems he also understands that if a political system markets equality as a top shelf product, being different spells mortal sin.  Those in the know claim that deep down he has never forgotten his past.  The story goes that only Malmierca’s innermost circle experiences Pandora’s box unleashing the visceral grudge he holds against general Raúl.  Between these two men, an old adage is key: “Paying tribute to someone like you has merited my own substantial reward.”

Translated by: JCD

5 December 2013

Cuban People and Human Rights / Juan Juan Almeida

Once again, the subject of human rights is polarizing Cuban society.  Many would agree that keeping the topic center stage is an especially meaningful and noteworthy endeavour.

To be fair, we must acknowledge that the Cuban government deploys more than 40,000 doctors, nurses and teachers who volunteer time and expertise in more than 100 countries around the world.  Faraway patients who have lost both the will and the physical ability to smile get beaming Cubans to offer comfort and relief.  But in Cuba, the opposite is true: Basic sanitation is lacking to the extent that some people actually die from otherwise totally preventable illnesses.

Like any other, Cuban society longs for open rights to healthful rather than unhealthful care and wants to experience life in a seamless universe where societal freedoms coalesce with justice.

Good or bad, I am comforted by Article 8 of Cuba’s current Constitution.                I quote: “The State recognizes, respects and guarantees freedom of religion.  The Cuban Republic will enforce the separation between church and state.  Any creed or religion shall be granted the same rights.”

A dismal affair to realize how the Department of Religious Affairs (instituted and overseen by the Communist Party’s Central Committee since 1985) which acts to regulate, control and authorize the existence and/or activities of any current or future religious organization in Cuba, is able to violate the freedom of religion decree and many other legal edicts with total and complete impunity.

But to prove lack of religious freedom in Cuba clearly exists, underground and  timeworn arguments and typically heated debates siding one way or the other seem pointless.  Suffice it to say that what is everywhere missing are basic freedoms that guarantee citizens will not be abused or discriminated against by their own government.

It seems shameful to me discuss how island family rights are said to endure in Cuba when many who are allowed to leave — under the auspices of expatriate charity — unfortunately end up barred from ever returning.  And what pitiful freedom can we speak of when blacks who once rose from their barracks to stake their claim on liberty are today forced to endure marginalized lives in filthy ghettos?

In Cuba, another nearly worn out topic is how apparently irresponsible — or at least misguided — government practices are the root cause of our bottomless and spiraling deficit.  For starters, emigration from Cuba increased while the nation’s birth rate decreased.  Next, our aging population has been systematically depleting whatever small pension system existed so that zero funds are available to cover the tab of average retirement.  That said, just what rights to gaining social security are we talking about?

Cuban television shows are mostly about how average Cuban people face everyday joys and sorrows and the unexpected good or bad twists of fate life throws our way.  What is never unveiled, however, are the intense days of suffering borne by those who are jailed helter-skelter for the sole crime of remembering that in 1950, the UN General Assembly proclaimed December 10 as a day when all member nations and special organizations would reflect on human rights as the standard for all people and all nations to achieve.

Translated by: JCD

12 December 2013

Cuba on the UN Human Rights Council: No One Should be Surprised / Juan Juan Almeida

When I was a lad, it seemed a crazy thing to see the instant when the results of the elections for members of the National Assembly, the Council of State, Council of Ministers and the Executive Committee were announced. It was, or is, for the high leaders of the eccentric Cuban Revolution, a moment of acting and feigning shock, the re-elected leaders embrace each other with artful surprise, as if they did not know beforehand what would happen.

For the same reason, but with different motives, the excessive outrage seemed quite ridiculous to me, this astonishment that some displayed on learning that Cuba (the government) had been chosen to be a member of the United Nations Council on Human Rights.

Although some time ago I learned that politics carries a heavy dose of overacting, it’s hard to understand in this case the avalanche of opinions, running from hilarious outrage, to the point of lousy theatrics, through a sovereign naiveté, before the ironic reality that places the island as the country with the most votes from Latin America to occupy one of the two regional seats on the Human Rights Council during the term starting on 1 January 2014 that will run for three years.

Could so much astonishment be because they didn’t know that this appointment was expected? Did anyone really think it would be worthwhile to ask Havana to sign and/or ratify the international human rights accords?

Please, let’s be objective, the world has never been governed by the opinion of the millions of people who are underestimated daily, but by figures and statistics which, on frequent occasions, governments themselves invent, manipulate, alter, synthesize, multiply, sweeten… and you can add all the synonyms you want, because I know in “macropolitics” semantics is irrelevant.

It is well-known that compartmentalization has been and is the Cuban government’s most effective and most used weapon, as a result of which with dangerous frequency many analysts looking at the island do it from mistaken or fragmented perspectives that don’t allow them to have a real view of anything.

Meanwhile, the government itself, knowing that their capital and their exact limitations, through their embassies and different NGOs (for example CENESEX), buy into the opinions of some influences in the powerful groups, and manage to manipulate politicians, get commitments from entrepreneurs, get support from international artists, and use alliances such as ALBA. These are the new battalions that help them to transform old cannons into commercial contracts.

I wonder if at this point there is anyone who hasn’t noticed that when the world turned and the borders moved, the world map changed color.

Cuba is a poor nation, and not a bankrupt business, governed by very rich men, within a dictatorial group, with a family monopoly which, in other times, financed subversive movements, and which today invests great resources in lobbying in support of themselves in whatever international forums are held, because in their struggle, that of today, the adversary is simply an obstacle and what matters is knowing who to use as an ally to achieve your objectives.

Because for the Cuban government,as in the gangland underworld, or the strategic military academy, one’s associate is almost always a temporary comrade, who can be selected for certain issues from a list of enemies.

20 November 2013