A “Clandestine” Meeting with Ernesto Londoño / Miriam Celaya

Ernesto Londoño

Ernesto Londoño of the New York Times editorial board

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, HAVANA, Cuba, 2 December 2014 — Young journalist Ernesto Londoño should feel very gratified professionally: he has not only managed to raise a bitter media controversy in recent weeks, stemming from his uncharacteristic editorial which appeared in the New York Times (NYT), in favor of bringing closer the governments of the US and Cuba and the lifting of the embargo, among other proposals, in line with the Cuban official discourse; but these days he has taken a “business trip” to the Island and has held several meetings with some media, including the most official media of all, the newspaper Granma, at whose headquarters he was cordially received on Monday, November 24th by the editorial team headed by its director. Londoño published several photographs of the occasion on his Twitter account.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday the 25th, the magazine OnCuba welcomed him at its headquarters in Havana, where “he talked, asked and responded to our concerns” according to an interview published by that journal, which states that Londoño is conducting research that will allow further development of the Cuba issue at the NYT. The page overflowed with photographs that testify to the meeting, depicting a smiling and relaxed Londoño.

And indeed, it appears that Londoño’s intention and that of his editorial bosses is to gather as much information as possible from diverse opinion sectors in this controversial trip. Or at least, that is what his phone call on Friday the 28th to the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, evidenced. During that call, he requested to meet with her, and she agreed to conduct a meeting which should also involve other team members, including 14ymedio‘s editor-in-chief Reinaldo Escobar, reporters Luzbely Escobar and Victor Ariel González, Rachel Vazquez, in charge of the cultural section, columnists Eliecer Avila and this writer, Miriam Celaya. The urgency of the meeting precluded the presence of provincial correspondents.

The Hotel Saratoga, a “Neutral” Venue?

On Saturday, November 29th, at 11 am according to our previous agreement, we met with Ernesto Londoño at a “neutral” venue as the mezzanine of the hotel where he was a guest, the Saratoga, located on Prado and Dragones Sts., right across from La Fuente de la India and adjacent to the Parque de la Fraternidad and the Capitol, where some of us connect to the Internet at the astronomical price of 12 CUC per hour, and to put up with the anguish of slow service and full of “blockades”. In fact, coincidentally, during our close to three-hour conversation, there was no connection.

Ernestro Londoño meeting with On Cuba

Londoño at the publishing offices of OnCuba

All around us, the ill-concealed movement of the agents of the political police in their ridiculous disguises as ‘guests’, employees or clients of the cafeteria, reminded us that, under totalitarian regimes, neutrality is always a chimera. In all that time, not even one of the waitresses came near us to see if we wanted to order at least a coffee, something remarkable in a country where Cuban born citizens cannot remain sitting, occupying a table if we are not “consuming”.

Anyway, all that police deployment was a useless waste: we, the disobedient ones, did not go there to share secrets or to make compromises, but to express ourselves as freely as we usually do in our writings, so we didn’t even take the trouble to lower our voices.

The first impression, after the introductions with the journalist-revelation of the moment, was disappointing: Londoño could not answer the questions that each of us had prepared for him because “he must ask for the approval” of his NYT bosses. The essential requirement was for us to submit the questions in writing and wait for his answers. We also could not photograph him during the meeting. Any opinion he expressed personally at that meeting could not be published by us.

Suddenly, what we thought would be a meeting between colleagues in two different media, at which we would exchange views and discuss topics of crucial interest for Cubans, was turning into a “clandestine” date, with a certain tinge of adultery, a sort of media conspiracy designed to feed and diversify knowledge (his) about the Cuban reality, but without our ability to disclose his view points, his motives about our country or where his interests were headed.

In stark contrast to his stay at Granma newspaper, the meeting would have a restraint (embargo?) imposed precisely from the anti-embargo defender, the NYT. Live and learn!

Londoño at the offices of the Communist Party newspaper Granma

Londoño visits Granma Newspaper. Here, in the photography department, in the presence of Antique cameras.

Nevertheless, the representatives of 14ymedio present at that meeting agreed to offer Londoño our opinions about anything he was interested to know about our country, but we would be free to publish whatever we stated on our own… because such are the advantages of those who don’t need permission to express themselves.

A Gift for the NYT

Thus, based on rigorous ethical issues and honoring the commitment we agreed to, I will only present here a summary of my impressions and commentaries about the meeting and, at no time, the questions and opinions of the foreign visitor.

It is impossible to summarize in only a few words the variety of topics of conversation on that Saturday evening; although I would dare say that Londoño must have been surprised to discover such a diverse group of ages, professions and opinions grouped in the same project. Undoubtedly, he must have noticed the absence of the monotonous “choirs” of unanimous agreements or hesitation among cronies, and he certainly must not have noticed in other meetings the flow of ideas as critical, free and spontaneous: there was no agenda or orders to speak one’s opinion, or taboo subjects. Nobody lead the meeting, nobody moderated, and nobody censured. A real present for a visitor who tries to get close to a reality where entrenched, social auto-censorship reigns.

Politics, economics, society, history, law, Cuba-US relations; new laws; myths and realities of Raúl’s “reforms” and their results so far; necessary steps for real changes in Cuba, which we would like see reflected in the editorials of the NYT; what kind of journalism we Cubans want and what we recommend to foreign researchers if they really want to know Cuba were several of the countless of topics not yet exhausted, but that surely marked the difference between what we are and what they had told Ernesto Londoño we were.

At any rate, despite the limitations and how dreadful what he has written so far in his quasi-perverse editorials, about which I offered my sincere opinion, expressed in several articles published in Cubanet, I’m glad this young journalist has had, so far, the opportunity to listen to opinions from positions and commitments so different as those of the barricades of the official press or the free spontaneity of at least a portion of the voices of the independent press. We hope he will learn to feel the pulse of the Cubans at the bottom rungs, those who subsist in neighborhoods near his expensive lodgings. I hope that, going forward, he is more responsible, or at least that he assumes the consequences of his writings.

I am glad that he has also been in the company of the makers of “critical” publications so light that they enjoy the privilege to work in legal offices in Havana, another reform miracle that betrays the type of changes that the Cuban government has implemented and that constitutes a clear signal of the long road that we Cubans must travel in order to defend our interests, so different from the long Cuban dictatorship and from those that Ernesto Londoño himself has defended with as much ignorance as vehemence from the biased NYT editorials.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Tourists: Filling-in the Gaps / Miriam Celaya

The truth is that I don’t know all the numbers, but I have been browsing the ad pages of Cubatur, Havanatur and all the Cuban “tours” and I found that this year the “all-inclusive” offers have increased which, since the restrictions for Cubans to stay at hotels were lifted, better-off Cubans have been taking advantage of them.

I’m not criticizing anyone for wanting to enjoy a vacation –usually short– at a beach hotel due to lower prices. After all, shortages and discriminations for decades have created a thirst for consumption and pleasure in the Cuban population that manifests itself as soon as the luckier few have an opportunity to escape the everyday filth and misery for a few days.

So, the number of regular Cubans who regularly take advantage of all-inclusive packages has been creating a clientele that feeds on the assorted neo-affluent sectors, corresponding to the most diverse groups and backgrounds: owners and employees of private restaurants, professionals who often have foreign contracts, employees of “enterprises” and shops that operate in hard currencies, the managerial caste, and even black marketers. Everyone wants their piece of Varadero to live the illusion of “I can”, despite the sorrows. And, of course, “everyone stretches out his feet as far down the sheets as they will reach” like my granny used to say, so there are those who save all year to spend a couple of nights at a three-star hotel, up to those who visit a five-star hotel in the outlying resort islands several times a year. It is, definitely, the realization of a long-cherished dream.

Well, it turns out that this year the “offers” to Cubans have skyrocketed. According to an accredited source (with the obligatory reserve), although some press reports state that foreign tourist participation has increased, the truth is that, in order to increase their income and fulfill quotas, tourist operators have had to extend and enhance the offers that so many well-off Cubans purchase. Cubans also serve to fill the gaps, so they will continue to collect fees, making use of what was, until recently, taboo: enjoyment.

This is not disclosed in the press, but it is so. That’s why the media publishes an occasional report in the news and on the regular press where there is a reference to “Cuban workers who enjoy camping facilities and beaches and recreation centers”; but I am absolutely sure that they never have dedicated one to show wealthy Cubans basking in the sun at hotels in Varadero or the outlying islands: we all know that they have already decriminalized the differences among us, but they should not be displayed so brazenly. These are the conditions to enjoy the benefits of Raúl-type socialism, aren’t they?

Translated by Norma Whiting

22 August 2014

Absence Breakdown and an Unforgettable Brief Trip / Miriam Celaya

Miami. Image taken from the internet

Another absence breakdown in my old blog, once again abandoned for more demanding reasons: obligations I could not postpone, having to do with work, as happens to individuals whose income is dependent on their jobs, and a brief (very brief!) one-week trip to Miami, because I needed to finish several articles and a presentation at an event.

I could not relate how rushed my trip to the “endearing monster” was, though my Cuban friends in Miami assured me that I was not in the US, but “in Miami,” which feels the same but is not. And indeed, one feels so encircled by Cuban surroundings in Miami that –if not for such a difference in the setting–it would seem you haven’t left Havana.

I visited Radio and TV Marti, I was on various shows of their causes, I met some of the journalists, commentators and friends who were just voices on the phone up to then, and I reunited with colleagues, journalists and bloggers and other émigrés, like Luis Felipe and his wife, whom I was able to hug.

I was at Cubanet for a very short while, where I also felt welcomed by colleagues in the writing profession; I met again with my friend Hugo Landa, whom I had met in Stockholm in 2013. I spent a very enjoyable time with all of them.

I laughed and cried, when I was in Miami, overwhelmed by the emotions of long gatherings with cousins I grew up with, who left Cuba recently, and with very dear friends, one of whom I hadn’t seen in 20 years. I also had the privilege to visit my father’s favorite brother, his playmate as a child and a friend in their youth, who left Cuba for good 52 years ago and they never saw each other again.

It was at once moving and wonderful to see that over half a century of barbarism and separation imposed by the Cuban political power have not been able to erase the love between us. They wished to divide us and have only managed to multiply us beyond the Florida Straight. While it is true that it’s come at a high cost, the hatred has failed.

I haven’t been able to answer the question “how is Miami?” frequently asked by relatives and friends on my return to Cuba. Miami is indescribable, at least for me. It’s not my cradle and will never be my home, it is true, but in that city the energy and strength of the people of this Island vibrate, the people who have made Miami grow and contributed to its prosperity, with their tremendous capacity for work, so it will no longer be alien to me.

Miami surrounded me with sincere affection, I was not an intruder nor an outsider, and maybe that’s why I don’t know–nor can, nor want–to define it.

Just two words come to my lips when someone asks my impression of her: love and hope. That is what Miami means to me.

Translated by Norma Whiting

7 July 2014

Note to my Readers / Miriam Celaya

In recent months entries in Sin_EVAsión have been sparse. I beg the readers to excuse my absences from this blog. Contrary to what may seem, such “gaps” are due to the increase in volume of my work. As you know, though this blog was not exactly the digital place where I started as a citizen journalist, it did contribute significantly to the dissemination of my work. It opened several possibilities for publication elsewhere, in which articles I wrote regularly appear.

Recently I also began to work with the new newspaper 14ymedio, an opportunity I could not pass up and a space where I will continue to work with opinion work, analysis, or reporting. In the blogger platform of that medium, my son, Victor Ariel and I have also started a collective blog. The title of this new blog is “A Pie y Descalzos” (On Foot and Barefoot), which aims to provide an overview of Cuba “from a viewpoint at ground level” i.e., from the common people. As a result, I’m often overwhelmed with work, which consumes my time and energy, affecting updates to this site.

I also have to ensure my regular income, because one cannot live by just romance and good intentions. If, however, in previous years I wrote for Sin_EVAsión almost exclusively, for some time I have had the opportunity to make some money writing for other media publications, so I am doing that. I am not the New Man, so my critics may vent their fury on this note and with a statement I make without a hint of pretense (as is my style): I love the money I get from the fruits of my labor and with my limited talents; I owe it to nobody, and I don’t intend to be embarrassed by it. To hell with the parasites and the envious ones. As an addendum, I will say I don’t get remittances, which fills me with satisfaction.

As for my friends I know they don’t need any explanations, but my respect and affection, so I address this note to them as well, to let them know that I’m still with them.

However, Sin_EVAsión will continue as my personal platform, the most intimate and beloved, the space of my own individual “me”. If my work has been of any value in this site, I owe it to my readers. Thanks for following, and don’t leave me. I won’t leave you either.

Eva-Miriam

Published in Sin EVAsión, 23 May 2014 by Miriam Celaya

Translated by Norma Whiting

Saga of the Official “Journalist,” “Admitted Terrorists,” and a Cat / Miriam Celaya

Reading a newly released item this Thursday, May 8th, on page 4 of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Terrorism, the True Face of Zunzuneo, by Amaury del Valle), brought to mind a lively flamenco-rumba that a Spanish singer made popular on the radio in the decade between 1970 and 1980. Perhaps some 50-something readers might remember its funny lyrics, about an individual who was upset because someone had called him “a cat”, which he considered an insult because “cats eat mice, mice eat cheese, cheese comes from milk, milk comes from a cow, a cow has two horns, Oh, oh, oh, I’ll kill him!” Cuckold (horned) was for him the true meaning hiding behind the nickname “cat” He was obviously being labeled cuckold, hence he made the association between such opposing ideas as a cat and a cow’s horns.

However, the newspaper article I referred to faithfully mimics the attitude of the song’s cuckold: it associates. Without doubt, the presence and intentions of the four suspected terrorists from Miami recently arrested in Cuba, with the networks Zunzuneo and Piramideo, which have engendered so much talk these few weeks. So, Zunzuneo and Piramideo are as “terrorists” as the four delinquents who were captured. In fact, the idea is not so far-fetched; the Cuban regime feels real terror in the face of information and the new communication technologies. Continue reading

Just Another Miscalculation / Miriam Celaya

1398445396_etecsaAccording to a recent official statement by Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA) [Cuban Telephone Company], the technical difficulties in messaging service and other cell phone problems are due to errors in miscalculating demand.

It is the system’s universal principle to come up with an inverse explanation to every difficulty, which could be interpreted as follows: it is not really the inability of the only telephone company in Cuba, but that there are too many users. That is, we are more addicted to communication than officials imagined.

Since this past March 3rd, when the new cell phone e-mail access system (nauta.cu) went into effect, considerable delays were experienced in SMS access, as well as additional service outages. Now the Central Director of Mobile Services, Hilda María Arias, stated that for over a year they carried out research and completed investment processes required for this service, however, they “did not calculate the fast pace for its demand in this short period of time”, and, due to transmitting of data, “more network resources are being used”, which has slowed e-mail, SMS reception, and cell phone service

Of course, while this official explains that steps are being taken to counteract the difficulties, the solution must come from an increase in forecast investments.

ETECSA, as we know, is the name of the communications monopoly in Cuba, controlled by military business leaders, who have now committed to expand services through new base stations that expand possibilities for Internet access, transfer the balance between cell phones and extend the expiration date of cellular lines.

Indeed, if this promise is fulfilled, this would be good news for those of us who are addicted to information and communication. In any case, to justify the current service difficulties after one year of researching the project, and knowing the huge demand for cellular service among Cubans, despite its high cost, seems more than mere miscalculation.

Translated by Norma Whiting

25 April 2014

Magic Formula to Revive Socialism / Miriam Celaya

Raúl praying

Raúl praying

Will investors be able to save the conquests of the olive green caste by soaking their hard currency in the Castros’ holy water?

HAVANA, Cuba: In recent weeks, the new Investment law–the latest magic formula to overcome the endemic crisis of “the model”–has been preeminently occupying space in the official Cuban press.

Commentaries, interviews with officials and experts on the subject, and reviews that look at the advantages and benefits of assimilating foreign capital as the most expeditious way to finally give birth to the socialism that spent over 50 years in the gestation phase, emerge from the pages from government pamphlets and television news announcing that the good “new” capital is the philosopher’s stone for development. So let’s forget all the ideological catechism defended until now, because our rulers have discovered that soaking hard currencies in the Castros’ holy water will safeguard the “conquests” …of the olive green caste.

And it is precisely about the conquests of the elderly druids and their acolytes that the foreign investment law was born with congenital deformities that require deep reconstructive surgery if they really intend for it to work.

The most important flaw that is obvious from the outset is the legal aberration of expressly excluding the rights of Cubans on the island to participate as investors in their own country, an issue that is unparalleled in any civilized nation, and that alone disqualifies the best intentions beforehand. Another issue, no less twisted, is the exclusion of free contract (that is, allowing foreign investors to hire Cuban workers directly). Both elements are unsustainable since they are not justified or serve any function other than to maintain absolute control over the population to prevent the weakening of political power.

Dilma Ruseau and Raúl Castro inaugurate the Mega Port at Mariel

Dilma Ruseau and Raúl Castro inaugurate the Mega Port at Mariel

Therefore, the Castros’ hired applauders are saddled with the thankless task of challenging independent journalists’ criticism of the law, since new technologies allow other opinions to circumvent the official information blockade and reach the population. Fundamentalists will now take to the trenches to fight another battle against freedom of opinion.

So an obviously poorly trained journalist did take to the trenches when he approached the subject from an article in the Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) newspaper (“Good investments and ‘skeptical’ versions”, Yoerky Sánchez Cuéllar, Sunday, April 20th, 2014, pg.3), which misses the mark from its own opening paragraph, when referring to the authors of the inquiring articles as “preachers of a policy aimed at promoting foreign interests over national affairs”. This cluelessness indicts the rookie’s inexperience, when he refers in such terms to the critics of a law that precisely favors “foreign interests” at the expense of the Cuban people.

Havana’s International Commerce Fair

Havana’s International Commerce Fair

Yoerky’s errors did not end here.  He obviously has access to the independent press but does not dare to reproduce the arguments of the criticisms of said law. It is untenable to be a representative of the people while advocating, at the same time, in favor of legislation that strips the people of their essential rights, contained in international pacts and declarations ofwhich Cuba is a signatory.

“One of the causes for the media’s ‘skepticism’ is related to the fact that the law prohibits foreign investors to directly contract with workers, a role that will be up to national employer organizations,” Yoerky indicates, and he explains to us that such a measure “protects our human resources, considered as the country’s most important asset.” Unfortunately, he forgot to explain how stripping Cuban workers of their capacity for free and individual contract constitutes “protection” for them and what “guaranties” this offers the investors.

“Who better than us to select employees, taking into account taxing requirements which will contribute to higher solvency and satisfaction to all parties…” wonders this Beefeater, immersed in a “collective us” that always emerges when the lords try to convince the herd about the need for sacrifice. Maybe he is ignoring that, when they sold us out as a “pseudo-republic,” foreign companies freely hired Cuban workers, who did not need a government agency to determine their suitability, their wage levels or the taxes they would pay to the State, so the current investment law implies a serious labor rights setback.

In short, far from being enlightening, the referenced writing stirs the murkiness of a law that holds more questions than answers. We continue to not know how the “investment portfolio” is defined, or what devices will manage it or prevent favoritism, influence peddling, corruption, patronage, and other ills.

There is no mechanism or information system that will allow Cubans–its supposed beneficiaries–to find out what items, who, and how to go about investing, much less verifying amounts, earnings, and how the wealth to be gained will be distributed. The “exceptional reasons of social interest or public utility” that will determine expropriations haven’t been clearly established either, and they will be left at the government’s discretion, while rampant widespread corruption–in spite of many battles and comptrollers–continues unabated and constitutes a threat to any investor in a country in which the actions of individuals are patterned for survival.

It takes a lot of magic to revive Cuban socialism

It takes a lot of magic to revive Cuban socialism

Yoerky does not say, perhaps because a servant is not able to understand it, that in the absence of civil liberties and democratic changes no palliative measure will be able to overcome the crisis. Undoubtedly, investors will always turn up who are ready for an adventure with the regime, and thousands of Cubans will probably flock to apply for jobs of “our own procurement” because nothing motivates a crowd as much as a poverty auction. Maybe by then this young man, an undertaking of the official media, will see this as another “victory of the Revolution.” I will not attempt to argue the point: I have spent 54 years attending them without any benefit whatsoever.

Translated by Norma Whiting
Cubanet, 22 April 2014 | Miriam Celaya

Driving in Reverse / Miriam Celaya

Image from the Internet

(Originally published in Cubanet the April 11, 2014 , titled ” Raul Castro Goes in Reverse”)

Clearly, the new Foreign Investment Law “approved” by the usual parliamentary unanimity last March 29, 2014, has been the talk of the town on the topic of “Cuba”, for the Island’s official as well as for the independent and foreign press.

With the relaxation of the existing law–enacted in 1995–the new regulation is aiming to throw the ball to the opposite field: if Cuban residents of the US cannot invest in Cuba currently, it would no longer be because the regime bans it, but because of the shackles imposed by the embargo, a trick of the elderly olive green crocodile that continues with its wiles and snares despite the collapse of the system.

Amid the expectations of the government’s and of aspiring investors, there stretches a wide tuning fork of the ever-excluded: the common Cubans, or the “walking Cubans” as we say, whose opinions are not reflected in the media, magnifying their exclusion.

This time, however, the cancellation of the innate rights of Cubans is causing social unrest to multiply, in a scenario in which there are accelerated shortages in the commercial networks and persistent and increasing higher prices and a higher cost of living.

Rejection of the Investment Law

Shortages, as well as inflation, indexation and bans for certain items of the private trade, have caused many family businesses to close since January 2014 due to the uncertainty surrounding the heralded–and never properly explained–monetary unification.

In addition to the lack of positive expectations, these are the factors that thin out the social environment and lead to generally unfavorable reviews of the new law and its impact within Cuba.

An informal survey I conducted in recent days in Central Havana after the March 29th extraordinary session of parliament shows rejection of the new Law on Foreign Investment, almost as unanimous as the “approval” that occurred in the plenary: of a total of 50 individuals polled, 49 were critical of the law and only one was indifferent.

In fact, the issue has been present with relative frequency in many cliques not directly surveyed–uncommon in a population usually apathetic about laws–in which the dominant tendency was to criticize various aspects of the law.

The main reasons for the people’s discontent are summarized in several main points: the new law excludes, arbitrarily and despotically, Cuban nationals, which implies that the lack of opportunities for the Island’s Cubans is being maintained.

Foreign investors will not only have great advantages and tax considerations which have never been granted to the self-employed, tariff concessions with respect to imports (which is just what traders in imported items asked for and was not granted); the State will remain the employer of those who will labor in foreign-funded enterprises, implying consequent hiring based on Party loyalty–be it real or fake, and taxed wages; widening social gaps between sectors with higher levels of access to consumption and the more disadvantaged sectors (the latter constantly growing).

At the same time, many Cubans question the vagaries of government policy which, without any embarrassment, favors the capital of the expats-–the former “siquitrillados*, the bourgeoisie, gypsies, worms, traitors, scum, etc.”–over those who stayed behind in Cuba.

The logical conclusion, even for those who stayed relatively associated with the revolutionary process, or at least those who have not openly opposed the regime, is that leaving the country would have been a more sensible and timely option to have any chance of investing in the current situation. There are those who perceive this law as the regime’s betrayal to the “loyalty” of those who chose to stay, usually Cubans of lesser means.

Another topic that challenges the already diminished credibility of the government is the very fact of appealing to foreign capital as the saving grace of the system, when, the process of nationalization of 1959, it was deemed as one of the “fairer measures” and of greater significance undertaken, to “place in the hands of the people” what the filthy bourgeois capital had swiped from them.

Cubans wonder what sense it made to expel foreign capital and 55 years later to plead for its return. It’s like going backwards, but over a more unstable and damaged road. Wouldn’t we have saved ourselves over a half a century of material shortages and spiritual deprivation if we had kept companies that were already established in our country? How many benefits did we give up since the State, that unproductive, inefficient and lousy administrator, appropriated them?

What revolution are you taking about?

At any rate, the majority has a clear conscience that the revolution and its displays of social justice and equality are behind us, in some corner of the twisted road. “Do you think this new law will save the revolution?”

I provocatively ask an old man who sells newspapers in my neighborhood. “Girl! Which revolution are you referring to, the one that made Batista flee or the one that is making all Cubans escape? The 1959 revolution was over the moment ’this one’ handed over the country to the Russians, now the only thing the brother wants is to give it back to the Americans and to keep himself a nice slice.”

I probably never before heard such an accurate synthesis of what the history of the Revolution means today to many a Cuban.

*Translator’s note: Those who lost investment and personal property when companies were nationalized in 1959 and early 1960’s. From one of Fidel’s speeches, “we broke their wish bone and we will continue to break their wish bone”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

11 April 2014

The Voices of Cubans? / Miriam Celaya

Arrogance is a personality trait impossible to hide for those who suffer from it. In fact, it becomes more obvious when an arrogant individual tries to cover his proverbial petulance under a cloak of feigned humility. The worst of such a subject, however, is his histrionic ability that allows him to deceive considerable groups of people, particularly those who desperately need someone to speak “for them” or those who, quite the opposite, enjoy the blessing of authority.

In the case of Cuba, where freedom of speech, of the press, of information and of association are among the major shortages of this society, it is not difficult that, from time to time, some savior may appear self-proclaiming to be “the spokesperson for Cubans” which–it’s obvious–betrays immeasurable insolence, not only because it lacks the allocation of powers, but because it previously assumes an often repeated lie that, for some chumps, has become the truth: Cubans have no voice. Allow me, Mr. Arrogant and his troupe, to correct your mistake: Cuba’s Cubans do have a voice, what they lack is the means to be heard, not to mention the great number of deaf people in the world.

But, of course, a shining hero will always appear–usually with credentials and even with a pedigree–who, from his infinite wisdom, will quickly delve into the deeper intricacies of the Cuban reality and will be the only one capable to interpret it objectively because he, balanced and fair, “is not at the end of the spectrum”. Interestingly, these specimens proliferate virulently among accredited foreign journalists on the Island.

Since I don’t wish to be absolute, I suppose that there are those who are humble and even respectful of Cubans and of our reality, only I have never had the privilege of meeting them. It may be my bad luck, but, that said, to practice journalism in Cuba armed with credentials of a major media outlet and with the relative safety that your work will be published and–very important–duly financially rewarded, seems to have a hallucinogenic effect on some of them.

Such is the case of quasi-Cubanologist Fernando Ravsberg, to whom I will refer as “R” as an abbreviation, a journalist recently fallen from grace with his (ex) employer, the BBC, who has written a plaintive post following his clash with the powerful medium and, oh, surprise! after many years of working as a correspondent in Cuba and having collected his earnings has found that “he does not share their editorial judgment” as stated in his personal blog, Cartas Desde Cuba. R, inexplicably, took longer to find out the editorial standards of the BBC than to get acquainted with the intimacies of such a controversial society as that of Cuba. Continue reading

Potatoes, Food and Condoms: The Shortages Diversify

Image taken from the Internet

Chronic shortages in Cuba are extending their tentacles with renewed vigor. The cycles of absence of numerous products are ever more frequent, even in the markets that trade “in hard currency.” Lately toilet paper has disappeared (for the umpteenth time in recent months), and similarly there have been short “gap” periods in which there have been no toothbrushes, toothpaste, wheat flour, powdered milk, soaps and detergents, sanitary napkins, etc. Nothing seems to be safe from the black hole that is Castro’s socialism, in which life is reduced to “not-dying,” while running a perennial pilgrimage after those articles which, anywhere in the civilized world, are a part of the most common reality.

With regards to food, it’s better not to talk about it. It’s enough to see the Dantesque scenes offered to us by the lines that form at dawn whenever someone announces that this or that farmers market “is going to have potatoes.” The police in Central Havana are practically on a war footing attending to the brawls that occur in the crowds who aspire to buy the longed-for tuber.

Now it turns out that the shortages have reached condoms, those attachments needed for the safe practice of what some call “the national sport.” Things have reached such an extreme that it has come to the point where drugstores and pharmacies have mobilized staff to change the expiration dates that appear on this product–already expired–to “update” it and be able to sell it. There is testimony that in some of Cuba’s interior provinces this task has been assigned to recruits doing their military service: a strategy of total combat in the face of the alarms set off by this small and humble latex object. According to the authorities, this is being done “because the dates on the containers were wrong.”

Consumers, however, are wary. In a country where corruption and deceit are part of the reality, no one feels safe. Some paranoiacs go to the extreme of suspecting it’s part of an official conspiracy to promote births in Cuba… What it really does is lead to an increase in abortions.

At the moment, a friend tells me, half-amused half-worried, that if in the 90s she had buy condoms to use as balloons at her son’s birthday party–today a young man of twenty-something– now she will have to buy balloons to practice safe sex.

31 March 2014

I Don’t Feel Alluded To / Miriam Celaya

Photos taken from the Internet

The Cuban media, experts at manipulating jingoistic sentiments and fabricating nationalist trash, is using the anti-Cuba signs wielded by demonstrators against Nicolas Maduras’ government to manage at will national public opinion in the interior of the island. The task is simple, given the great disinformation of the natives here and the impossibility of accessing sources other than those offered by the Castro press monopoly. As a consequence, the most ignorant or naive, not to mention the ever-present useful idiots, walk around talking about how “ungrateful” the Venezuelans are, with the number of doctors and aid that “Cuba” has given them… As if it weren’t about a simple transaction of renting out slaves between masters, already generously paid for with petrodollars which are, in short, a treasure that belongs to the Venezuelans and not to the governing regime.

However, the most surprising thing is that these signs, along with the public burnings of Cuban flags, have been another touch that triggers outrage, not among the poor disinformed within Cuba, but among the Cubans of the diaspora, some of whom are speaking on behalf of “all” those born on this island, to attack the protesters who are every day risking their lives and liberty publicly and bravely protesting in the streets of several cities in their country.

I certainly understand the reasoning of susceptible Cubans: they feel alluded to when “Cuba” is insulted, and it’s no less true that directing the outrage against “Cubans” and not against the government would be, at least, erratic. Personally, however, I understand that it is not the intention of the opponents to Maduro and his cronies to insult Cuba, but to direct their rejection to the Castro’s regime, the outrageous interference of Cuban agents in Venezuelan intelligence and the army, the parasitism on the Venezuelan economy, the Castro control over national policy.

That’s why I do not feel alluded to in these acts. In fact, Cuba is for me something beyond the textile symbol of a flag. Venezuelan protesters are doing much more for their country than many Cubans, who today are offended by them, are willing to do for theirs. Believe me, my compatriots, with all due respect for their ideas, which as far as I’m concerned they can burn all Cuban flags they want, if this is the price to lift their own spirits and gain freedom. The day on which they fully regain their rights, and Cubans and Venezuelans sit down to talk together, I am sure that we will understand each other on the best terms. Until then, I offer them my deep admiration and respect.

24 March 2014

Jurassic Cuba / Miriam Celaya

Mass demonstrations in Venezuela. Image taken from Internet

The news agencies don’t have a moment’s rest these days: a satrap in Ukraine has been overthrown through demonstrations and street protests amid the harsh winter, people stand on long lines to see with their own eyes the pomp and pageantry in which the ex-ruler, an ally of Russia, lived.

In Venezuela, student demonstrations continue, supported by opposition leaders finally came together to confront the Maduro government. In Ecuador, the opposition has just delivered a commendable blow to the government authorities by winning an unquestionable majority vote during local elections this Sunday February 23rd in important places like Quito and Guayaquil, putting the brakes on the rampant President of the “citizens’ revolution.”

The world is moving at breakneck speed, changing scenarios and uncovering new players, while we in Cuba remain in the political Jurassic era, with a government of dinosaurs perpetuated in power. Continue reading