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

A Teacher Rapist in a System of Ostriches / Juan Juan Almeida

This past October 21st, Dario Alejandro Escobar, a cuban resident on the island and graduate student in journalism recently published an article on his blog “Un Guajiro Ilustrado“, controversial rebuttal post titled “Metafora del modo subjuntivo.” (Metaphor in the Subjunctive tense).

In the post, the author, in addition to captivating the audience with his interesting and entertaining writing style, gave shocking insights to a hypothetical group of students and their professor. This hypothetical situation embodies the typical teaching method of using videos and images, although those images in my opinion are more pornography than worth anything for sexual education.

I’m no expert, and I’m not going to question if the act is a product of a photo montage, or a real life case, but the evidence points towards something strange, novel or civilized project organized by CENESEX (Cuban National Center for Sex Education). It’s difficult to judge something only from looking at a couple of photos; but just by imagining the reaction that authorities would have in response to this publication, it is clear that the chain will break based at the weakest link.

This case reminds me of someone, who is known for their “proclivity to certain upreaching habits,” very well-known in the media, and even as of recently as the director of a news outlet. I won’t give more details out of respect for his children, especially his daughter, who was raped a few years ago by an “emerging teacher*” teacher while in the 8th grade in a Havana school, in the residential area of Nuevo Vedado.

In that case, the teacher and abused student were put at the mercy of the principal, who in following protocol, began to investigate although it became chaotic.

By the time the father, someone of high esteem and composure, arrived at the school, in his Lada car with a palpable rage and intent to strangle the teacher at fault, he was ready with cell phone lines open to the Central Committee, and he was focused more on prosecuting than on his own daughter who had been scarred by the ordeal itself.

Phones rang all morning, and the world was seemingly going to crash down, educational system and all, as clear as plain sight. From the secondary school emerged the victim, the accused, and accusers. They marched out in that same order, and made their way to the Municipal office of MINED, the headquarters of the Ministry of Education.

When they arrived MININT Building A, the sun had set, and the moon was watching over them, begging for justice. Meeting after meeting, the uncomfortable delegation argued back and forth through the Malecon. Then they crossed in front of the Spanish embassy, and ended their energetic march at the well-located office of the National Youth Union of Communists. That was the end of the story.

There was a big deal made about the situation, yet little was done after all. After a long-awaited a call from the President the injured father, in a very Freudian version of the destruction of the social order, was transformed into a motivational speaker. The daughter remained raped. And the teacher, being an actor in one of the Commander-in-Chief’s plans, that of “Emerging Teachers*,” wasn’t even tossed out.

Fortunately, many people in Cuba know that “When a motivated and strong people cry out, injustice trembles before them”. Trembling with laughter waiting for a foreigner, Cuba Libre in hand, ready to get drunk.

*Translator’s note: “Emerging teachers” was a program developed in response to a teacher shortage in Cuba, which quickly trained high school students to take over classrooms. Incidents such as this one (and including the death of a child at the hands of one of the teachers) led to the program being reconsidered.

Translated by: Boston College Cuban American Student Association (CASA).

30 October 2013

A Succession from Castro to Castro / Juan Juan Almeida

Historical data show that long before Colombus, America had already been discovered.  Leif Eriksson, son of Erik the Red, was a Viking explorer who in the year 1003 managed to arrive at a land that he baptized as “Viland” and which, according to his description and remnants found, could be Newfoundland.

Zheng He, the famous Chinese military man, according to his travel log, between 1405 and 1433 touched the coasts of the American continent on several occasions.  Khashkhash Ibn Saeed Ibn Aswad was a Muslim sailor who crossed the Atlantic Ocean and returned to Europe with evidence of his trip in the year 889.  We are also familiar with the legend of Hui Shum, a Buddhist monk who by around the year 485 was preaching on the Yucatan Peninsula.

The Hindus speak of Votan, a mythological navigator who lived among the ancient Mayans. The presence of kumara on the Cook Islands, a native American plant, very similar to yams, has been cited as evidence that the native Americans could have come to Oceania. And as if that were not enough, recent scientific studies document the discovery of cocaine and American nicotine remnants in the bodies of Egyptian mummies.

Nevertheless, and in spite of this information, 12 October 1492, continues marking the history books.  Sometimes, with insistent repetition, we waste time searching for a day, or a dated event, in order to build a greater uproar than that caused by the arrival of a late train at the station.

The same thing happens to us Cubans.  There are more than a few enthusiasts trapped in the tricks of the almanac: they agree that if we had not had a 10 October 1868, our story would not have gotten to a 10 February 1878, a 24 February 1895, nor a 20 May 1902; nor would we have suffered a 10 March 1952, a 26 July 1953, a 13 March 1957, and much less a 1 January 1959.

Personally I think that the mentioned events occurred just as we know them today.

But history aside, and much in spite of those who only look back with the respectable, repeated and less boring eagerness of constantly theorizing in order to try to straighten out a world that already is not round, today looms the moment of being able easily to predict what the Cuban government has parceled out and designed for us as a future, that which is called “reforms.”

The question is, “Where are we going?”  The answer: next December 2, when the military promotions are made known, and with whether or not Colonel Alejandro Castro Espin will rise to General or not.

A promotion that, on one hand, could create discontent and division in the military hierarchy; and, on the other, reveal to us if the so-called “measures for updating of the model” is the road towards the aftermath of the so-called Castro era, if there are openings that lead towards a (militarized) social democracy where they go on imposing little by little on the liberties of each individual or if there have only been subtle maneuvers directed at the reshuffling of the State structure which only guarantees a succession in which Cuban power passes from hand to hand, from Castro to Castro.

Each country’s government has the right to design its peoples’ tomorrow; in the same way, the people have the legitimate right to accept the future scheme or to reject it.

Translated by mlk

6 November 2013

The Boycott of ALBA / Juan Juan Almeida

As part of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the South Sea (Pacific Ocean) by Spanish explorer and conquistador Vasco Núñez de Balboa, the leaders of 22 Latin America countries plus Spain, Portugal and Andorra gathered in Panama October 18-19.

They held, there, the XXIII Iberoamerican Summit, for this occasion, taking as the central theme “The political, economic, social and cultural role of the Iberoamerican Community in a new global context,” with a primary interest in the desire to re-evaluate this inclusive meeting and, as a marvelous irony, a substantial number of absences.

His Majesty King Juan Carlos did not attend, he is recovering from a recent hip operation. However, in the ultimate gesture of respect and elegance, worthy of royal protocol, he addressed the audience by a video message that was viewed in the opening session.

Nor did the President of Argentina, the lady Cristina Fernández de Kirchner come to the great event , she was also recovering from surgery a few days earlier to remove a hematoma from her skull, and now must keep what he doctors call “strict bedrest.”

What is peculiar is that, in a defiant and obviously premeditated act to reduce the  reputation of and tarnish the event, also absent were the illustrious leaders of the Bolivarian axis. A reaction expected and typical from unenlightened people.

It is not a blessed coincidence that in the digital version of the Sunday edition of Gramna they published, and I quote, ” It is symptomatic, for example, that from the South American region only two leaders attended, Colombia’s Juan Manuel Santos and from Paragua, Horacio Cartes , while no one attended from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA).”

It is rational to expect this manner of behavior from the members of ALBA. Boycotting the event is nothing more than a show of force to promote the culture of fragmentation and also to show their disagreement as a bloc with the fact that Costa Rica and Panama are about to enter the newly proposed Latin American alliance in which Peru, Chile, Colombia and Mexico merge their economies and define joint actions to develop Asia-Pacific ties based solely on respect for bilateral trade.

For this, and other reasons, none of the leaders of the Bolivarian gang attended the meeting, rather, offering false internal commitments, they sent their representatives.

But on the case of Cuba, General Raul Castro, knowing ahead of time that the first document to be signed refers to counteracting, jointly, the application of unilateral measures that violate the principles of international rights and that could affect regional peace and international security, decided to send a special emissary in his place (the CEO of “who knows”) who, judging by his aspect, behavior and dress, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that he’s the director of “Whatchamacallit,” a grand prize winner for business excellence, in the vanguard producing breaded croquettes made out of God-knows-what, or the administrator of those FAR (Revolutionary Armed Forces) homemade schemes to exceed their planned sales of crates of festering fruits, rotted roots and wilted vegetables.

Who could expect more, after the resounding success of the Chong Chon Gang  carrier ship, the sweetened armaments and the diabetic crew.

22 October 2013

Where the Rabble Came From / Juan Juan Almeida

fda400e3-944a-4907-a202-f49d59364966_mw1024_n_s1The government in Havana, as a transformative method to fight the alarming reality of the times, visibly marked by social deterioration, goes all out and launches a highly publicized campaign to restore lost civic norms and restructure popular morality through the force of laws imposed, articulating expectations and establishing rules. It’s as absurd as an athlete trying to cross the finish line and getting tangled up in the tape.

They say their new battle is against vulgarity, marginalization and coarse behavior. Conduct that we mustn’t forget, without looking for who’s to blame, because in reality the times deserve solutions; they were brought about by the young rebels, the outlaw troops arriving in 1959, who implanted disrespect as the order of the day, Liquidating our traditions and ending up destroying everything.

The Revolution was imposed as a factor of civilization. Then, belief in a God not wearing olive-green, using a napkin, toilet paper, and phrases such as “excuse me, please, and thank you,” were customs that were criticized because they were considered petit bourgeoisie relics. It was established and became the custom to address others informally, and thus, at a stroke of a pen, respect and courtesy were erased.

That monster was born, raised and trained in the arts of mimicry and camouflage. Now they want to show the superiority of some sectors which, knowingly or not, coexisted and coexist on the margins of morality, and like  part of an emancipating Utopia they created an apology for the skilled criminal who is respected much more than a scientist, a teacher, a soldier, a doctor, a construction worker, a housewife, a farmer or an artist.

The phenomenon entailed — in addition to a great spiritual stench — absolute popular saturation before the official rhetoric of the bright tomorrow, the political mythology and a morality that were assumed as a forced behavior. The few who didn’t accept it revealed themselves in a subtle and silent way.

Those of us who to the schools in the countryside learned that the onset of puberty in females was a source of hallway gossip and jokes. A girl’s first menstruation used to be a private thing. Modesty became a devalued noun. So it is not surprising that those same little girls now push their daughters into the arms of tourists, and see sex as currency

We are concerned about the disturbing social pandemic , which is nothing more than the result of that awful “idyll.” But the whip is not a solution, nor is giving more power by decree to the repressive organs of State Security and the National Police.

Social indiscipline is a serious issue that involves us al , we must act together without fear to find the causes that gave rise to this dangerous form of questioning power and end the collective self-laceration as a means of escape.

The so-called Revolution is collapsing; how sad and tragic that it is falling on us. A terrible metaphor describing the national reality.

15 October 2013

The General Gains Time / Juan Juan Almeida

To the President of the Councils of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba, the words freedom, prosperity, love and family are plain and simple “persuasion” that, when it comes time for manipulation and pressure, have more of an effect than fear. He didn’t lie last Friday when, in feverish runaway of egotism and pride, he publicly revealed during one of the plenary sessions about the recent closure of the Eighth Congress of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), “We must change the methods of struggle, but not the combat.”

Developing objective. The law has allowed it; and his immorality facilitates it.

With the rise of self-employment, the General has managed to entertain the illusion that some sectors traditionally repressive and, in a parallel way, has managed to gain the appreciation of some who, with money (ill-gotten or not) today see the chance to feel and present themselves as successful businessmen.

Changing the immigration law was a smart move, and internationally applauded. By itself, it alleviates state inefficiency, opens the social valve opens and results in good income. And along with the new form of repression, more surgical, that no longer seeks to imprison but rather to crush the internal opposition and civil society to the point of exhaustion, it has become an essential weapon, Because following a simple logic, the most notable figures in the opposition, on traveling and comparing, will relocate outside or keep on traveling until they disappear from the national scene.

Some unwittingly, and others very reluctantly, are transmuted into spokespersons  in a well-calculated government move that shows a false but convincing transformed vision of this “Raulista” Revolution which, in order to gain territory as part of the same combat using different methods; instead of sending soldiers, today it signs business and/or bilateral cooperation agreements with various countries in the world, where it then sends a very opportunistic invasion of Cuban doctors who, with admirable sacrifice and laughably remuneration, take on the noble labor of returning smiles to those who lost the teeth.

In short, like I was taught one day by my late grandmother Rosario, who could not write but was very successful with pithy sayings, “Beware of those who always boast of wearing a cross on their chest, because they carry the devil in what they do.”

Personally I think that, lacking an element of surprise, the only thing capable of robbing the slant-eyed pro-Russian President of Cuba of his dream, is the regional situation. To wit, Venezuela, for fuel; and the convenient peace talks between the FARC and the Colombian government in Havana, in temporary recess, which should continue as of October 3rd.

The General, like any military strategist, knows that the more prolonged these dialogs are, the smaller the maneuvering room for the Colombian government to negotiate. And, if the FARC guerrilla group is converted into a political force capable of participating in presidential elections, by diving “magic” it could win and change the balance of forces on a regional map extending the influence of Cuba in the area.

Then, what they once did with weapons, they could solve with agreeable words, firm handshakes, and seductive female company. Trained and ready to dance and kiss. Actually, they are very effective methods, but nothing new.

1 October 2013

A Functionary Writes Me From Havana / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida as a child with Raul Castro

A day like yesterday, September 22, in the long ago 1927, in Chicago, Illinois, the most expensive boxing match in all of pre-television history was held. I do not know if it was luck or misfortune, but the historic match brought bettors more frustration than joy. At Soldiers Field stadium, before more than 10,000 fans of pugilism, the favorite Jack Dempsey lost his crown facing someone who was then virtually unknown, Gene Tunney.

Like everything in life is, boxing is fickle; how variable is the luck of those who bet on the challenger. I take advantage of the mention of this anniversary to acknowledge a slightly fraternal message with sentimental engagement that came for me a few days ago from Havana like a snack hidden in the mouth of a naive “office boy” who, through ambition (always commendable, by the way), is determined to live a dangerous experience that goes a little beyond the controllable.

Receiving the oral epistle, with its juxtaposed olive-green authoritarian tone, I respond. According to the Royal Spanish Academy, “treason” mean, and I quote the text from the dictionary: 1- fault that is committed breaking a fidelity or loyalty that should be kept; and 2 – (relative to the right), crime committed by civilian or military that threatens the security of the nation.

In none of its forms, taking into account that the RAE handles the Spanish language much better than I do, I take the hint.  However, I believe that the concept belongs to the devious and predictable transmitter, who to do something deep doesn’t find a better option but to practice scuba diving.

The absurd verbal communication, less extensive than a twitter and plagued with silly chatter uttered with contempt, says among other things that I write crap. Understandable, in Cuba to offend is habitual and as common as palms trees and clay pots (tinjones).  And, although I must admit that I liked it, it saddens me to know that a Cuban functionary, instead of working towards rebuilding the people’s trust and their sense of purpose, dedicates every Monday to reading this column and making a synopsis of it to send through direct channels to the presidential office.

Faced with such aberration, and with the sole objective of bringing my contribution to preventing the resources of the State being so dilapidated, I thought to write one paragraph less each week, but it’s not worth it.

From the epic fanfare so recurrent in the politics of the trench, and the excessive use of grotesque sexual imagery, we won’t even speak; they are merely spent and decadent resources that don’t catch my attention. Of course, many still haven’t understood that from the Iliad and the KamaSutra, nothing new has been written with regards to politics and sex.

The message made me sleepy; and the messenger gave me nightmares. From an early age I learned that in Power’s pack of hounds, those who remain silent, afraid, those who bark, lie, and the rest, they are just good people who make bad decisions.

By the way, speaking of cheap bravado, and of the ironies of history, coincidentally on a day like today, September 23, 1990, the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein publicly threatened to destroy the State of Israel and you already know where and how it ended.

25 September 2013

Robertico Carcasses, The Monster / Juan Juan Almeida

Roberto Carcasses at the piano. Photo from Cubanet.

I am happy and confident that at some point in the future, the world’s dictionaries will exclude some words, among them Ideology and Dictator. By then, most fortunately, no one will speak of Fidel, Hitler or Pinochet; and in the schools they will continue mentioning names like Beethoven and Mozart, fortunately art transcends, as do performers.

No wonder, although there are always people who strive to get our attention and try to manipulate us from one shore or the other using bombastic verbiage, dangerous pandemic ideas and/or extravagant dress, that it was a musician, Robertico Carcassés, who hit the home run in the middle of the Malecon, during a political event held at none other than the José Martí Anti-imperialistic bandstand in Havana, the social gateway, also known as the “Protestdrome,” a plaza erected facing the United States Interest Section in Cuba, where the Cuban government sends its frequent, soporific and boring missives, with which it tries to show a false political strength and/or popular cohesion.

It is clear that the young artist, famous for his talent and his magisterial way of interpreting the difficult art of musical improvisation, does not live divorced from reality and knows with certainty the significance of each and every one of the words he chanted.

And it’s not the hair that’s bad, it’s that the comb is no longer working.  Free access to information, the manipulation of public opinion, the electoral system, the “blockade,” the internal blockade and lack of rights, are issues that constantly weigh on Cuban homes. And also in Robertico’s home which, in addition, in his case, suffers like so many other Cubans the mark of family separation. One of his sons has lived for some time in Miami.

Consciously or not the scope of what he said in his catchy improvised interpretation, the truth was that he made an impression, and now the question is, what will happen.

Well, if we put the event in context, using our brains and not our hearts, it’s easy to know that nothing will happen to the artist.

In the Facebook profile of his group, Interactive, it is announced that he would not perform this past Saturday, day before yesterday, at Cafe Miramar, nor will he be in Havana in the Bertolt Brecht theater hall of Vedado this coming Wednesday.

Also posted was a note, but then it disappeared, saying that the members of the group had been summoned to a meeting at the Cuban Institute of Music, where they were informed that Roberto is “separated the sector” indefinitely. A word too ambiguous that to my mind means an eighth note, because I am sure that very soon Robertico will again play and enjoy national and international stages, but now more firmly because he has shown that he is not only a part of that large group of outstanding musicians within a generation of monsters, as Cubans always say, that feels committed only to playing a musical instrument, it is also of those cabinetmakers who can chisel ,in a piece of the national wood, the sculpture of a new social life.

17 September 2013

A Thousand and One Cuban Hexes to Enchant Arabs / Juan Juan Almeida

When my great grandfather was born, there was an Arab presence in Cuba.  It is impossible to exclude from national history the Lebanese Antonio Farah, who arrived on the Island in 1879 and achieved the position of city councilor in the local government of Pinar del Rio.  Likewise, there is an ample list of Syrians, Palestinians and inhabitants of the southeast zone of the Arabian peninsula in the Gulf of Persia (today the United Arab Emirates) who with the force of their bravery and talent rose to important positions in our Liberating Army.

And it is curious, because unlike many other groups of migrants, the arrival of the Arabs on the island had a very individual form, they did it in small groups that could freely choose their destiny.

All this, plus the enchanting stories depicting camels, turbans, sultans, deserts, castles with golden domes and thieves with thick eyebrows who with their sensual coffee looks made carpets fly, made the nationals offer them a Caribbean refuge.

For the current Cuban government, calculated by nature and pragmatic by necessity, Arab is synonymous with riches.  So it demonstrated a few days ago, when after carrying out a campaign last July in Qatar to attract investors, Havana paid respect and lent its newly bought fleet of Teutonic cars to a discrete group of multimillionaire Saracens who made landfall on the island in an airplane where all the unthinkable eccentricity escaped from fantasy and became reality.

A palace of luxury in the sky–that’s how the flying vessel was described by the workers of ECASA (Cuban Company of Airports and Aeronautical Services SA, the only company that operates within Cuban airports)–where an entourage of investors traveled showing off their opulence and, to flatter their vanity and by orders of the General, received special attention.  Explainable, power is a venom that carries the challenge of losing a lot to gain everything.

All options were made possible in an attempt to curry favor with a heap of petrodollars who seemed disposed to buy the world.  And the Cuban civil servants, determined to end their old autobiography of failures, during the negotiation avoided the debate of sovereignty and the familiar old tensions that constantly stimulate pyrotechnic politics between Cuba and the United States.

They saw the mine and they offered to let the visitors drill in favorable conditions in strategic sectors of the national economy; participate in the development of the metallurgic industry, invest in tourism, agriculture, medicine, education, and the financial system and banks of the nation; in the generation, transmission and supplying of energy; in transportation, in construction, in buying or running luxury hotel chains, exuberant marinas or even to make the island one enormous brothel.

I still haven’t discovered the reason behind so much genuflection; I only know that after the two full days of exhausting meetings described as “The thousand and one nights,” the Arabs decided to make it clear that they didn’t want to invest but simply to buy.  They paid in advanced an exaggerated sum, even though in reality not so fair, to acquire exclusive rights to the production of Cuban marble for a period of time.  Shortly after they said goodbye with a cold handshake and a smile, bland and insipid as a piece of bread without salt; an admirable form of saying, “Don’t even dream about it, Havana is no Beverly Hills.”

30 August 2013

The Myth of Transition / Juan Juan Almeida

I often ask myself why we do not take a moment and dispassionately take note of the indications and evidence that, starting at the top, the Cuban government is trying to design the post-Castro future for us.

Not long ago General Raúl Castro organized meetings throughout the country at the neighborhood level and at places of work. People were asked to discuss their problems  at these events without fear.

The sense of catharsis these provided was important. People discussed their problems, though without seeing them resolved, and the government bought itself some time. As a result commissions were set up and plans were laid down.

Raúl Castro is a military man who retains a Cold War mentality. Before adopting a strategy, he creates commissions and studies every situation in detail before moving forward. Every demonstrable problem has three separate commissions studying it.

All this compartmentalization means deserters, critics, dissidents and the new public faces on political scene can, therefore, act only as reporters. They cannot speak of governmental plans or the future without venturing into the dangerous territory of speculation and error.

Even Miguel Díaz-Canel — first vice-president of Cuba and the person who, according to the current constitution, succeeds the president in the event of the latter’s absence, illness or death — criticized the restraints on the press during an address to the recent Ninth Congress of the Cuban Union of Journalists, but avoided making any commitments to eliminating them.

Personally, I consider Miguel to be an honest man, but he is an official puppet who is not part of the inner power circle. Therefore, he is not privy to what will happen tomorrow, or even in the next fifteen minutes.

The results of the recent elections and the inclusion of new faces in the Cuban government do not represent a significant change. It is a feeble attempt to promote the false image of a transition, a simulation which aims simply to appear pluralistic. Cuban elections are controlled voting procedures designed to obtain public approval of hand-picked candidates and to place civilian marionettes in government posts.

Ah, but might these people’s thinking boomerang, turning them into tomorrow’s faces of change? I think so, but I do not believe for a moment that during the initial phases of the long-awaited post-Castro era these people are capable of moving the foundations of government, changing the character of the judicial system or altering the solid chain of command that currently exists among the power elite and the military.

I presume that in time the eventual passing of the so-called historic leaders will allow for the emergence of new group who, once in power, will be more disposed or will feel obliged to implement truly democratic reforms.

The self-employment initiative — notice they never call it entrepreneurship so as to distance it from capitalism — was a masterful stroke. It showed a convenient — I would add apparent — path to a market economy. It also created hope in a wide segment of the population which looked towards micro-businesses as a way up. With any luck it would allow these people to ascend from the micro to the small, and from the medium to the macro.

But let us not kid ourselves. This is all a myth. The Cuban micro-business economy is one of tiny shops and subsistence. Instead of a stimulus policy, entrepreneurship is hampered. Profits made by the self-employed do not lead to prosperity because they cannot be reinvested; they can only be used to plug holes.

But every rule has its exceptions. There are private businesses with parallel, presumably illegal entrances which — along with a dangerous but necessary moneyed class of entrepreneurs and intellectuals — are tolerated and used to give society a timely touch of success and prosperity.

It is a well thought-out plan for governing. Pretend conditions are good, confuse everyone, and continue down the path that increasingly concentrates rights in the hands of the state rather than promoting a state of rights.

Photo: President Raúl Castro with First Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

21 August 2013

They Criticize Corruption and Traffic in Diamonds / Juan Juan Almeida

From the same instant in which General Raul Castro was enthroned as President, he hasn’t stopped warning that “The battle against crime and corruption has no room for doubt.” On many occasions he has been seen at the podium exhorting publicly the members of his cabinet to maintain an “implacable” conduct against the mentioned scourge.

It’s difficult to convince that popular body that for lack of confidence, without realizing it, passed from alarming sloth to heartless hibernation.

In order to execute his crusade and give veracity to his words, in the year 2009 he created the Controller General of the Republic of Cuba, an organ that until today has carried out audits on all the State institutions and brought before tribunals those accused of economic crimes and corruption, a good number of functionaries, employees and directors of state enterprises, an ex-minister and an ex-vice minister of the food industry, foreign businessmen, an ex-son-in-law of the above-mentioned General President and family members who, confused, wealthy or followers of a lucrative ideology, one day swore loyalty to the revolutionary process.

For some citizens, the General represents a Caribbean Grim Reaper with a collapsible neck, who, with an olive-green cowl and a scythe in his hand will put an end to the kleptocracy. “The struggle against corruption” is an epic banner that the First Secretary of the Communist Party decided to raise, and to hoist it more, he named as gonfalonieri his son the Colonel, a middle-aged man who is a specialist in judging everything and an expert in looking after personal objectives.

Certainly, the law is the only form of giving an effective and round answer to the problem of corruption; but sadly, the publicized content is one more myth, which isn’t precisely destined to eradicate the matter from the Cuban horizon, but rather will concentrate the country’s resources and total power of the State in the hands of the most corrupt, most restricted, most faithful, and even most compromised group belonging to the Castro Espin clan.

Why didn’t the General say anything when the Cuban government was discovered attempting to transport military materiel through the Panama Canal hidden under tons of sugar in a North Korean ship?

If this isn’t muddy, then there’s the possibility that before the unpolluted island ruler, neither was it corruption that a group of “cooperating Cubans” engaged in bringing in contraband diamonds from Ghana and Namibia to Havana, stones that later were sent by air to a beautiful port city in northeast Belgium, Amberes, casually known as the world center of diamond trafficking and commerce. How could that happen without the approval of the State that sees everything, like Big Brother?

I also recall very well that some years ago, in 1989, a group of high military officers were punished for similar acts. And look here, curiously, these trafficking specialists, whom the Cuban government feigns not to know, are all ex-military man and civil workers of the army that works for ANTEX S.A., an anonymous society of Cuban capital located on the African continent, with offices in Angola, whose initials mean strangely (and excuse me for the use and intentional abuse of these adverbs) the name of General ANTonio Enrique (Lusón) EXportations. A Raulista convert who not only is corrupt but also basks in it.

Translated by Regina Anavy

15 August 2013

Blood for Export /Juan Juan Almeida

I was born in the bosom of power, a world of abundant lies. I was reared and educated among the corrupt who, even as they pretended to be simple guardians of virtue, in certain private circles often forgot to guard their terrible secrets and told horrific stories with tremendous ease. This is how I heard in detail about those sentenced to death and their physical condition as they faced the firing squad. They described men who were drowsy, sweaty, weak, whose breathing was irregular and whose color was corpse-like.

At the time I did not realize and even questioned how much the terror, the trauma, the effects and consequences of the perverse path that the dark mechanism they call “revolution” can have on an individual or group. While it was logical to think that having the nerves to confront death could lead to a collective symptomology, my obtuse non-conformity compelled me to find an explanation. Asking questions, I discovered an explanation that was both simple and terrifying. Before being executed — as though that were not enough — the condemned had their blood extracted.

I know this is hard to believe. Therefore, I would like to add that there are confirmed accounts and important testimony on Archivo Cuba, the website of an organization which, for reasons unrelated to financial gain, has carried out a serious investigation on the subject and tried to document the deaths and disappearances of men — guilty or not — whose biographies remain inconclusive; men whose broken lives once had owners; men who even today await the trial that will vindicate them.

My motive for writing this is not to lodge an accusation, though clearly that is what this is. It is somewhat more. It is to alert readers, scholars, jurists and investigators to a nebulous, little-discussed  subject that remains shrouded in secrecy. And I am not referring to some clumsy foible but to evidence of criminal actions. Unless a document exists that shows the condemned agreed to these procedures, this constitutes a crime against humanity according to the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute.

Fidel Castro publicly acknowledged these actions when, in a long-winded speech on February 6, 1961, he said — and I quote — “Don’t think that just because counter-revolutionaries die in disgrace before a firing squad they are not of use to the Cuban revolution. The blood of these traitors is extracted before execution in order to save the lives of the many militiamen ready to die for the Fatherland.”

But wait, there is more. All Cubans know that to be admitted to a hospital on the island — whether it be for a simple check-up or a surgical procedure — or to even see a doctor or staff member, one is required to show proof of having donated blood. Only then may the patient make use of the benefits of free hospital care in Cuba. In most cases this blood is turned into a commodity to be sold overseas without the knowledge or consent of the donors.

The story is as real as the missiles hidden in containers of sugar. Just a few days ago, before the conclusion of an official visit by President José Mujica to the largest country in the Caribbean, the newspaper El País de Uruguay reported that the leading export in 2012 from Cuba to the honorable Oriental Republic of Uruguay was human blood, the kind with a Cuban surname.

8 August 2013

Louis Vuitton in a Little Shop in Havana / Juan Juan Almeida

It’s been so long, I hardly remember when it was that I first heard the phrase “Social Division of Labor” as a concept. This describes the emergence and separation of different types of work in the same society.

A phenomenon that — according to the enlightened — helped to raise productivity, create private property and a society of classes. Masters and slaves, masters and servants, employers and employees.

All this happened naturally. Work originally began divided by sex or by age group. Then came the distance between farmers and herders, and later that of those who, without producing basic inputs, set out to build necessary things, indispensable tools and useful services. Then, to close that big business cycle, capable of linking producers and consumers, traders and/or merchants appeared.

Over the years, this same division separated the sectors of the economy (industry, construction, agriculture, transportation….) and production sectors such as light industry, machine building, metallurgy, horticulture, etc.

It seems to be a lie; but in today’s Cuba, the division of labor has been, little by little, responding to the same sequence so often repeated both in history. Election, inheritance, necessity, chance, permissibility, circumstances and fashion.

It is impossible to forget that for a long period of time, anyone who had a car, including myself, dreamed of being taxi drivers. Doctors, engineers, artists, lawyers, undertakers, officials, military, police or ambulance drivers. All, because get to a place where we can say, “I am private taxi driver,” was similar to shouting “I’m Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte.”

Of course, things have changed and today, at least one’s dreams, the new Cuban aspiration is to buy cheap merchandise, set up shop and go on almost aristocratic national selling spree.

Houses, halls, corridors, rooms, garages, with a little imagination any space is transformed into a great commercial center.

Centro Habana, for example, is now more like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul; too much merchandise for too few buyers.

In the former Monte Street there’s not a single bit of it that is uninhabited, counters everywhere (they call them showrooms), where you can buy cheap clothes (or brand knock-offs), toothpaste, tubing used, latte, or industrial talc.

Usually these places are supplied by the almost noble act of several battalions of children who dedicate themselves to stealing; state employees who cheerfully take up the art of official theft,  criminals who attack tourists, foreigners traveling to Cuba in plan to lower their costs, hundreds or thousands of Cubans who today form the new Spanish Legion; and let’s not forget hundreds of exiles that for politics (commercial) decided to emigrate and today remember the song “You have to get to school on time.”

Of course, every rule has its exception, there are also gentlemen entrepreneurs who subtly, like temptation, and soft as danzón, hit the target in Havana. On one side of the corner where Avenues and 41st and 42nd converge, in the municipality of Playa, there is more than stores, bridging the huge differences, a tendon stretched to Sarria-Sant Gervasi, the most chic neighborhood or district of Barcelona.

This unique little shop that to the eyes looks somewhat clumsy, hides Roberto Cavalli, Jimmy Shoo, Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, and all the famous brands, as synonymous with exquisite taste and studied distinction, occupy high positions in the hit parade of national ready-to-wear.

And to find the truth, you have to increase creativity.

5 July 2013