It Costs / Regina Coyula

All the hospitals I’ve visited lately have put up  some eye-catching posters: “Your health service is free, but it costs.” I’ve seen these relating to ophthalmology, surgery, orthopedics, dentistry, and I recently saw a generic one for the Institutes. Then they enumerated a list of services, from the simplest and least inexpensive to complex procedures costing thousands of pesos.

For the citizen who made several unsuccessful visits before finally receiving a medical consultation after a long wait; for  the person whose hospital admission is like moving day, having to take a tub and heater for bathing, a fan, a lamp, insecticide, and the major part of the food in the house; for the man resigned to the unwritten law that in order to receive appropriate health care he has to provide something extra, snacks for each shift, cigarettes for the nurse, a little “gratuity” to facilitate the ultrasound or the analysis—this colorful wall poster is nothing but propaganda. Propaganda and a neutralizer. It doesn’t cost you, so don’t complain.

(And I’m not saying whether it costs, with the pseudo-salaries and inflated prices.)

I admire the skill and dedication of the doctors, but the excellent service that we were promised as “medical power”—not because of the number of physicians per capita (although you can find that in the Amazon or in northeastern Brazil), but because of the quality of health service as a whole—was lost along the way. And no one can convince any Cuban that the fault is due to the blockade and the imperialist threat.

During a wait of over an hour for a scheduled appointment (visible through a window in public view) with of an employee whose function is to deliver laboratory results, a young man who decided to lie down on a bench and sleep through the wait—with that grace Cubans have for taking the edge off any situation—in front of one of the afore-mentioned signs, caused all of us who were waiting to laugh: The public health costs us, but because it’s free …

21 April 2014

Impressions of an Unprecedented Event / Regina Coyula

Those of us in Cuba who sat in front of the television at dawn, witnessed an unprecedented event: The dialogue between the government and the opposition in real-time, from Venezuela.(*)

Unprecedented in the sense that the majority of Cubans, born after 1959, don’t know what opposition to the government is. They have heard talk about mercenaries and traitors and but to see, sitting across from the Venezuelan government, a group of politicians with other points of view, provokes different reactions.

I followed the speeches of both sides with equal interest. The government remained on the defensive against accusations from the opposition, but within a framework of respect. Only the Vice President of the National Assembly seemed to confuse the meeting room with a platform for agitation, and Capriles, from whom I expected much more, organized his time badly to leave the impression that there was a catharsis around the presidential election loss.

I found the topics on the table very familiar. The Venezuelan government went for the Cuban model–I refuse to repeat that this is socialism–and the achievements in education and healthcare fail to hide the other realities which they enumerated in facts and figures. President Maduro too often forgot that he was elected with half the votes, which means that his support comes from half of Venezuelans. One of the great responsibilities of Chavism is the social fracture provoked, and as well stated on both sides of the table, with two opposite halves you can’t make a country. However, they have a Constitution that is not Chavista but Venezuelan and in which citizens feel they are represented and protected, at least in theory.

IO don’t have a lot of optimism about the future of these encounters. They are different postures and it was left very clear that those in power don’t intend to cede it. The violence and shortages affect everyone regardless of ideological tint. But Maduro is that the opposition will only enter Miraflores as visitors.

(*) From TeleSur, which for Cuba is a major window of information not offered by national television.

11 April 2014

The Means and the End / Regina Coyula

Much has been written about Zunzuneo and Piramideo and I’m not going to be an analyst. My reflection is simple: Could a mass messaging through Twitter subvert governments like those of Great Britain, Canada, France, Australia, Sweden, Costa Rica?

Beyond the well-known 15-M (May 15th) protests in  Spain, the student movement in Chile, and Occupy Wall Street in the very belly of the beast, the social networks have mobilized, have probably knocked down politicians, but they haven’t knocked down governments.

Where does this turn into a dangerous thing? In countries where a bad economy, lack of freedoms, or both, create the conditions. The Arab Spring is the best known referent. The displeasure of the Cuban government is not about the alleged violation of the telephone privacy of its citizens (that would be a colossal joke)  but precisely because the government knows very well the express or buried opinions of much of its citizens about the bad economy, the lack of freedoms, or both, and what they least want is that a significant group of them would organize themselves through this means.

And also, I believe, reacting in the face of the launch of Yoani Sanchez’s announced project–a new digital newspaper–a “means” that could align the feelings of citizens in response to the bad economy, the lack of freedoms, or both.

9 April 2014

Photophobia / Regina Coyula

According to the still very useful UTEHA dictionary, photophobia is a medical term which means discomfort or pain to the eyes due to light. But the photophobia of my story has nothing to do with medical apprehension, but rather with social apprehension.

More and more I am hearing about people who want to take photos in public places and are told that it’s prohibited. It’s not a matter of taking photos of military units or the movement of troops, no. On a public street, in a pharmacy, in the agro-market, in a maternity hospital, in a night club, a stern employ arrives who threatens the photographer, who, generally, abides by the absurd order.

This paranoia can’t be spontaneous, it has to obey “training passed down”, where behind every camera lens could be hiding, horror!, an independent journalist, which is to say, a CIA agent.

The citizens, of course, say that in order to have legal force, the said prohibition has to be clear and very visible, and be endorsed by a resolution and not by the caprice of an administrator, director or the police.

If there is nothing to hide, why the fear?

 Translated by Regina Anavy

2 April 2014

Confused Phrase / Regina Coyula

“Revolution is to shape ethical principles.” I repeat from memory a phrase I heard today in the press. Attributed to Fidel Castro, I’m not too sure if it forms a part of a well-known fragment of one of his speeches (Revolution is…). A phrase in the midst of the corruption, laziness, the poor quality of education, the visible lack of an education that governs relationships among young people–and those not so young–the patterns of the political police harassing the dissidence.

An incomplete list but sufficient. The so-called Revolution not only doesn’t shape new ethical principles; it lambastes the existing ones for being “bourgeois.” The irony: the Revolution ended years ago, and ethical principles are degraded to the point where it will take several generations to restore them.

To say it in the official way: this is neither the time nor the place to wield a phrase so devoid of content.

26 March 2014

Sociology of Transport / Regina Coyula

My acquaintances in public transport like Ms. C tells me that we are now facing another cyclical crisis in urban transport. In the rush hours you see bus stops which are full up and people hanging about in queues 50 metres long and who are trying to guess where the bus is going to pull up, which, you can be sure, will not be at the stop.

The “blues” and “yellows” we used to see have disappeared, those inspectors authorised to stop public transport and organise passengers wanting to get on. In contrast, lots of fairly empty buses associated with work places, pass the crammed-full bus stops, one after the other, giving rise to lots of colorful comments on the subject of the privileged few.

In the face of this phenomenon, I always ask myself whether it wouldn’t be better if this semi private transport were incorporated into the public transport, but as a dear acquaintance says to me: The “Razonamil* I’m taking must have too strong an effect.

The irritation of buses whizzing past just adds to other frustrations, every one of  which is a burden. Therefore, waiting for a bus and, if you can manage to get on, listening to how everyone in there gives vent – even if briefly – to his individual view of the process of modernisation of the economy, and how it provokes immediate reactions from other passengers, is a good thermometer, even though it may be that the general “reaction” is one of indifference.

Looking at the passengers’ faces doesn’t show you a happy society. Some of them pass the journey dozing, even though they are standing up; the younger ones often cut themselves off with their earphones or, on the other hand form noisy groups and are often abusive if people protest.

Most of the passengers are men and they are also the majority sitting down. Rucksacks, baskets, briefcases and parcels which seem to be heavy, take up a space which is already insufficient for the passengers. Gaunt faces, acrid smells, verbal violence in response to the slightest incident. And the heat is the last straw in this micro world.

*Translator’s note: “Razonamil” is a joke, a fake name of a drug that makes Regina “see reason”.

Translated by GH

28 March 2014

A Brief Dictionary of Cuban Newspeak / Regina Coyula

Production — that is true production — this country does not produce, but in the matter of being creative with language, we are champions.  Psychologists are at the head of the invention of words, as if our language were sparing of synonyms.  The bureaucracy cannot be more creative with abbreviations, but the press, the press has specialized in euphemisms.  I invite you to add words to this incipient list.

Newspeak / real meaning

jinetera (jocky) = female prostitute

pinguero (penis provider) = male prostitute

to struggle = to steal

diversion of resources = embezzlement

missing = misappropriation

extractions = evictions

physical disappearance = important death

self-employed = private worker

factors = participants

internationalism = Cuban participation in other countries’ issues

interference  = foreign countries’ participation in other countries’ issues

temporary facilities = ¿housing?

semi-bus = truck used to carry passengers

modernization = leave me alone and go play somewhere else

Translated by mlk.

11 March 2014

Snipped / Regina Coyula

Like anyplace else, a successful business has many ingredients. Here many have failed because they engaged in activities they knew nothing about. But others prosper, become very visible, and then fall under the evil gaze of those who would give up an eye if they could see a neighbor get screwed over.

A quiet street of Nuevo Vedado had frequently become jammed with people, all wanting to buy at La Fontanella, a bakery that began modestly but then put up an eye-catching lighted sign. What began as a business in part of a house became exclusively a factory and sales outlet, with rotating shifts, open to the public from nine in the morning until nine at night.

Such prosperity drew attention and/or aggravation, and Monday dawned this week to find the business closed. The commentaries are various: stolen flour; workers walking off; problems with the ownership of the old family home, now converted into a bakery. The truth is that La Fontanella had become a troublesome twig on that bonsai which Minister Murillo, and the updating of the economic model, had designed to be kept well pruned.

Translated by Tomás A.

7 March 2014

Citizens-in-waiting / Regina Coyula

Photo: Luz Escobar

My country is so devoid of citizen initiatives, citizens live convinced that the “citizen” itself is a pejorative and almost criminal term used by the police, so how can they imagine that the word is not only beautiful, but that it has erotic overtones: the citizen-sovereign is he who elects his representatives and removes then if he is not served by them. In this “democracy” that we suffer we have managed to reverse the terms, so these “whatever” slogans and others in disuse lacking a rhythm and the name of the actual leader come into play.

And so, sick to death of these ever repeating slogans, the ailing citizen continues on not knowing who he is, braving the incessant drip of problems that define his life, where he is a victim, hero, anonymous or villain; not understanding, submerged in the everyday, that he will be the star of the democratic transition.

Standing in front of a shop window, looking in a mirror, or facing an abuse of power, the citizen ends up realizing who he is.

Between the cryptic and the serious, I wanted to greet the appearance of the Constitutional Roadmap, which is complementary to the Campaign for the signing of the UN Covenants (without tarnishing other proposals I don’t know of or that don’t interest me: more is better) they seem to me to be good fertilizer for the citizen-in-waiting.

26 February 2014

A Comfortable Home (something spoken of in the Constitution) / Regina Coyula

Image: jimdo.com

The journalist José Alejandro Rodríguez on his show on the Havana Channel yesterday referenced several complaints about the quality of newly built or repaired housing, which soon begin to show signs of deterioration. Last week on the show Cuba Says, on the TV news, there was an amazing report on the housing offered to people who remain in shelters, some of the for 40 (!!) years.

And what did I see? A rough and crude property, without plaster, exposed pipes. no slabs on the floor in the kitchen and bath. Some of the “beneficiaries” might even say they were happy, and it’s understandable for anyone who has to live with strangers: no privacy, no space, no sanitation, and no respect for others.

When it’s about supplies, Daddy-State didn’t exert too much effort to resolve the problem of housing, which has become critical, especially in the capital, where the number of people living in shelters, in the last year, reached  number similar to the population of Matanzas.

And not only has the State not resolved the problem of housing, but it weaned its babies transferring the problem to them. Those affected should now solicit loans, become hounds on the trail of construction materials, learn the trade, establish working relationships with people with similar interests, as it should always be, I think; only that those who today live badly should do it for themselves.

They were educated in the idea that good labor, political and social behavior would result in their being awarded housing through having earned credits at their workplace.

The dozen slums inherited from the government before 1959 were quickly eradicated. The same government that took them over is entirely responsible since then for the current number of 160 neighborhoods and settlements lacking facilities. Creating these favelas has nothing to do with the blockade or the imperialist threat; it’s one more demonstration of the inefficiency in administration and production from the same group that insists on convincing us that they can do it now.

14 February 2014

Irony / Regina Coyula

A fine irony is my having seen the documentary Gusano* (Worm) the same day I heard the news that this Monday the European Union could take definitive steps to lift its Common Position on Cuba.

The measures adopted by the European countries in 1996 have to do with respect (or rather disrespect) for Human Rights in our country, and in essence little has changed.

No one doubts the diplomatic success of the Cuban government which, in addition, less than two weeks ago, brought together 33 Latin American and Caribbean presidents and the secretaries general of the Organization of American States and the United Nations respectively, without the issue of Cuban Human Rights going beyond a formal mention.

Now the European Union will go on a tangent, and all this without any advances in the area of civil liberties. Clearly, this isn’t Syria or Chad; it’s not even North Korea, they will say on Monday in Brussels.

Ah! the economy, how many crimes are committed in your name!

*Translator’s note: This video will be available with English subtitles in the coming week.

7 February 2014

An Undignified Old Lady / Regina Coyula

This weekend I devoted to music. I had told my friend Karen, a likeable Brazilian twentysomething, that I like watching films knocking around the house, but it was Karen’s last night in Cuba, and under the influence of a forecast cold front which never arrived, we went with Rafa as chaperone to the Yellow Submarine. We saw the performance of Tierra Santa, (Holy Land) a cover group with a singer who is a cross between Ozzy Osborne and Geoff Tate, and a voice which, while not approaching that of either of those performers, has a good shot at it.

On Friday, now without Karen, Rafa took me to Maxim Rock to see Ánima Mundi (Soul of the world). It is a privilege to see this group, never mind that the sound system is not very good. In the first part they did interpretations of some of their original material. While waiting for the second part, I heard Miel con limón (Honey and lemon) and the band La vieja escuela (The old school). I sang along to famous songs, the stranger in that place where everyone seems to know everyone, and with everyone else singing from memory. I enjoyed both bands, especially the second, a forward preparation for what came next.

Shine on you, crazy diamond was the start of a short trip through Pink Floyd. Only musicians like Ánima Mundi would also take on Money, Another Brick in the Wall, and Wish you were here; a little of EL&P with Lucky man, to finish off in an amazing way with Rick Wakeman’s Arthur.

After this lavish dose of rock; Saturday blend in El Sauce. I persuaded my son to take me, as my husband is impossible in matters musical. Rafa argued with me because for me present day Habana Abierta (Open Havana) is like a cover group for the original Habana Abierta, but what are these young kids going to know about that concert in the Salón Rosado nightclub of el Tropical? I enjoyed the enchantment of the live music and, despite my son’s scolding, I was able to make myself look silly without any bother.

… And don’t ask me any more about the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States Summit (CELAC) which doesn’t affect me one way or the other.

Translated by GH

3 February 2014