Perception of Risks / Reinaldo Escobar

There are many who try to imprint their pronouncements with the hallmark of official discourse. To blend in and achieve uniformity with that language, they select certain words, certain phrases and investigate ways to say typical newspaper articles, academic dissertations or legal allegations.

One of the most recent linguistic elements of this nature consists of a curious pairing in which one part is the concept of “risk perception,” and the other part is “vulnerability.” Meteorologists, epidemiologists, traffic safety specialists, economists, don’t hesitate to say that to the point that the perception of risk is higher, one can reduce the vulnerability of the presumed victims of a danger.

I confess my ignorance of the origin of this equation, which not only seems logical to me but even lucid. I suspect that it has been imported from an international academic environment — perhaps from military strategy or scientific language — when some clever member of a Cuban delegation was caught out there sowing it in the fertile ground of lack of originality in the official phraseology. The funny thing is that the verbal combination is not indebted to either Marxist dialectic or the harangues of the barricade. It’s implacably cold, but catchy.

Try it yourself and confirm it. Say, for example, that the lack of information in our press about criminal acts noticeably reduces the perception of risk that a person in the street should have and, as a consequence, increases the vulnerability of a citizen to criminal attacks. The triumphalist tone of the ministerial reports to the Cuban parliament don’t allow an adequate perception of the risks that threaten our society, which leads to greater vulnerability, be it with regards to the economy, education, healthcare, tourism, or anything else.

If we think of all the vulnerabilities that open before us, like cracks on the edge of the abyss, when the lack of perception of risk posed by transparency, secrecy, the verticality of command, the lack of citizen participation in decisions, the absence of political debate, the penalization of dissent, in short, it’s scary.Perceiving the risks, decreases our vulnerability.

27 June 2014

We Were Young / Reinaldo Escobar

Almost 27 years ago the magazine Somos Jóvenes (We Are Young) was born. That edition was historic because of the publication of two investigations, one, The Sandra Case, about prostitution, and the other titled Academic Fraud? In that era we were able to publish a note in the state-owned newspaper Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) announcing the launch of the controversial magazine.

Under the title Academic Fraud? we unmasked one of the negative phenomena of our society, which went far beyond that committed by the students facing their university exams, and manifested itself in other sectors that had nothing to do with the teaching process, at least formally. Continue reading

My Bad Memory / Reinaldo Escobar

Official institutions should do what they promise they will. If this institution is the most official of all and the promises touch on essential matters, then the inescapable obligation is almost solemn.

With the members of its organization and with the people whom it governs by law, the Cuban Communist Party has at least two outstanding obligations, both of them contracted during the First National Conference, held on 28 January 2012.

One of these is already drafted, “the conceptualization of the fundamental theories of the Cuban economic model,” and the other is the renewal of the Party Central Committee by at least 20%. Continue reading

14ymedio: Neither the First nor the Last / Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio_logoAs Yoani Sanchez has already announced, midweek this coming week a new digital medium, baptized 14ymedio, will see the light. We have the intention to update it daily and, if possible, more than once a day.

When the Internet becomes, for Cubans, something simple and accessible as it is for every other 21st Century Latin American, perhaps them we’ll be on the list of favorites of housewives who want to make a dessert, of entrepreneurs who want to know where to invest their money, or why not to, of politicians who need to know the trends in public opinion. Continue reading

The Invisible Posters / Reinaldo Escobar

1398697393_plaza-de-la-revolucion-primero-de-mayo-cuba-580x326I haven’t heard that in the last half century someone has managed to bring posters with “politically incorrect” messages to the May Day parade. I don’t doubt it’s been tried; I even believe that with a good dose of ingenuity some brave soul raised a banner with second or third readings. But for this celebration, which has the declared intention of being the largest in the world, I would like to raise (or see) a board where one could read messages like these:

“Raul: the earth isn’t trembling, but we are.

(Appropriate to all employment sectors)

“Millionaires the world over, invest your money in Cuba. We promise not to strike or demand wages.”

(Workers from the Mariel Special Development Zone)

“Doctors had the patience to wait for better wages, we do too.”

(Workers in Education)

“We don’t need independent unions to support the Revolution.”

(Self-employed Cubans)

“No change in the currency will change our attitude to work.”

(Foodworkers Union)

“We don’t need alternative sources of information. What the newspaper Granma tells us is more than enough.”

(Union of Cuban Journalists)

And so on as long as the fantasy lasts us. It wouldn’t be luck, but that texts of this nature would manage to leap the barrier of “Revolutionary vigilance.”

I also doubt–forgive me brave souls–that the necessary dose of courage could be assembled, even to dare subtleties like these.

However, these play-on-words would be harmless jokes, if on the platform they had the gift of reading what is in the minds of those who march (not to mention what those who didn’t attend were thinking). If the invisible posters (by some miracle) soon materialize, then there would be others who would begin to tremble.

28 April 2014

Play it again, Sam / Reinaldo Escobar

My former colleague Jose Alejandro Rodriguez who aptly handles the Letters to the Editor section in the newspaper Juventud Rebelede (Rebel Youth), last Wednesday published the comments of a reader annoyed by the absence of beer in the snack bars and markets.

Since I noticed the absence of this refreshing liquid a couple of weeks ago, I supposed it would be difficult for anyone to venture to complain about its lack because, if he did so, the intrepid one would betray himself as a consumer of a product considered luxurious in our complex trade relationships.

I remember when our the first hard currency snack bar opened in our neighborhood and the commentators agreed that it would be counting on people who were spending their “bucks” on something that wasn’t a basic necessity. Life demonstrates that we were wrong. Despite the fact that a worker who earns 480 Cuban pesos a month has to work 8 hours to give into the whim for a cold brew, it’s clear that neither Cristal nor Bucanero can be considered privileges of the new rich.

If pitted olives were missing, or Norwegian salmon, maybe no one would notice, except for foreigners living in the country and a few others among the economically well-off, but it happens that there is an authentic popular complaint against the loss of domestic beer and Jose Alejandro has been the first to break the news in the press, although with the limitation that the complaint was directed against “the producing entities, distributors or sellers of beer in Cuba” and that “it’s past time when they should have explained the why so sudden disappearance.”

Why, in the midst of a campaign against secrecy, haven’t our media gone and knocked at the door of those who are obliged to give an explanation? Is it because from the top management of the Department of Revolutionary Orientation no one has sent down the order to address the issue? Or perhaps it’s because no official journalist dares to confess that he himself drinks a brew from time to time or has anything to do with those who do. I myself have been a victim of this unspeakable guilt complex that leads us to give the impression that we are not even aware that beer is missing.

The unborn body of this New Man, who failed among us, usually appears as a ghost to give us a fright when we are about to make a consumer misstep. Touch wood!

14 April 2014

The Prisoners / Reinaldo Escobar

Not a week goes by that we don’t receive a phone call from some Cuban prison to denounce physical abuses, denial of visits, lack of medical care and other outrages. The vast majority are common prisoners, men and women, many of whom say they have been politicized in prison. The majority consider themselves totally innocent of the charges that sent them to prison, others accept their responsibility for the imputed events but feel they’ve received a disproportionate sentence.

It’s almost impossible to verify these complaints and this desire for objectivity from which we suffer keeps us from talking about every case. Our greatest treasure is the credibility we’ve achieved among our readers, but every call provokes a dilemma that makes us see ourselves as egotists or cowards, after listening to a Cuban behind bars spell his name–so we will get it right–and state the name and rank of the boss of his prison, the person who denies him medications, suspends his visits, or sends him to the punishment cell.

However serious the crime committed, no citizen should be helpless against the abuses of power. Whose duty is it to protect their rights?

7 April 2014

The Battle of the “Chinese” Doctor / Reinaldo Escobar

Dr. Jeovany Jiménez

In September of 2006 Dr. Jeovany Jiménez, exercising his revolutionary optimism, wrote a letter to the minister of Public Health to protest a ridiculous salary increase that didn’t correspond to the needs nor the expectations of the sector. The response was to disbar him from practicing medicine. Jeovany created a blog, and went to the extreme of a hunger strike. Incredibly, his right to practice medicine was returned to him.

I’m not sure if I should congratulate Jeovany, who is lovingly called “the Chinaman” by his friends. It’s true that in the entire labor history of Cuba, never before has there been such a high salary increase as will be received by public health workers as of this May. It’s clear that on this occasion it’s not about a ridiculous salary increase, because the increases in many cases double the original salary, but it’s also true that in the best of cases the increase received will be enough to buy six pounds of pork and a case of beer. Whether this is a luxury remains to be determined, starting from the esteem those professionals are held in, and what we think they truly deserve.

Over five years, Jeovany Jiménez sent a total of 20 letters, never responded to, to the Minister of Public Health and managed to collect 300 signatures in support of his request. Now they will tell him “that wasn’t the time” and that now all that remains is to show appreciation.

24 March 2014

Numismatic Change? / Reinaldo Escobar

The much discussed Cuban dual monetary system, which has distorted the economy for more than twenty years, seems to be facing its final days. Among the few reports that have been released, it appears it will be the CUP–the Cuban or national peso–that will survive, and the CUC–or Cuban Convertible Peso– that will cease to circulate.

In addition to the actual value of each of these currencies, they differ in that the differ in that if the CUP has a photo of a historical figure, the CUC has a sculpture of the same personage. Also on security issues, CUC far exceeds its alter ego.

The question we ask ourselves is whether there will be a change in the real value of money we earn as wages. How many hours will one have to work–once the money is unified–to buy a pound of spaghetti, a quart of oil or a beer?

We also wonder if we will continue to earn the same and if the prices of merchandise will remain the same. For example, if a refrigerator sells now for 500 CUC, will we have to pay 12,500 CUP for it. To ride the same distance that we pay 3 CUC for in a hard-currency taxi, now costs 10 CUP in an almendrone (the shared taxis for Cubans). How will the price be adjusted when we have a single currency?

The amount of cash that will have to be carried to the store will force the artisans to make larger purses, unless they print new denominations with values of 500 and 1,000 CUP. Rumors are already circulating about the faces we’ll see on the new bills. Juan Almeida and Vilma Espín are the favored candidates.

Although almost no one in Cuba has enough money, some will save the abolished chavitos as souvenirs, at least the coins, a good opportunity for the numismatists.

17 March 2014

The Loyal Opposition / Reinaldo Escobar

Photo: Silvia Corbelle

I recently attended an academic event at the Felix Varela Chair. Lay Space magazine opened the doors of the old San Carlos and San Ambrosio Seminary for the public to freely participate in an exchange of ideas about the reforms undertaken by the Cuban government. I would have had a lot to say about the high scientific level with which they were addressing the problems discussed there, but for now I prefer to focus on a detail brought to light by a question posed by my colleague Iván García.

How is the “Loyal Opposition” defined? Loyal to whom, inquired the independent journalist. According to the panelist Arturo López-Levy, this concept finds its antonym in apostasy.

Although I collect them, I hate to fall into the facile habit of quoting dictionaries, but I have no choice but to refer to the first meaning of the term “apostasy” which is “the repudiation of Christ by those who have been baptized.” In a wider sense it’s appropriate to use it for a very wide range of meanings from resignation to treason. The trouble with synonyms is that the equivalence of meaning between the two depends on the context.

When the academic López-Levy attributes the adjective “loyal” to a certain kind of opposition and uses “apostasy” to refer to those who place themselves at the polar opposite of the opposition milieu, he is crossing a frontier in which those belonging to one or the other group end up identifying the loyal as traitors and the apostates as loyal… and vice versa.

The blame for this confusion lies not with semantics, but with history.

When opponents from exile or from the island support the blockade-embargo, including the Helms-Burton Act; when they receive financing from the “black beast” which is the Cuban American Foundation, or talk with that arch demon Carlos Alberto Montaner, they automatically fall into the list of on apostates from the loyal opposition.

The same can happen to anyone using the microphones of Radio Martí, visits the United States Interests Section in Cuba (SINA), or meets with some representative of the U.S. government, the only one in the world that has a legally structured program to overthrow the government of Cuba. They are betraying the Fatherland! And are denounced by the loyal opposition.

What Fatherland? The other side responds. The one that finds Socialist Revolution synonymous with the Communist Party and with the person of Fidel Castro himself? Will it perhaps be this fatherland that those on the other list claim to be loyal to? Does being a member of the loyal opposition mean belonging to a group of people who are not insulted or beaten by “the outraged people,” people who have never experienced a repudiation rally, who have always been able to enter and leave the country, and even give speeches at foreign universities?

People who have probably never been fired from their jobs, nor expelled from their classrooms, nor even been visited by the “friendly compañeros from State Security’s Section 21″? The ones who can count on an untouchable space and aspire to one day be designated as legitimate interlocutors from the powers-that-be?

Admission to this fiesta bears a high price, especially having the prudence that, once accepted, to never bother the landlord by warning him that out there are others dissatisfied, others with many issues to bring, claims, demands. Political correctness is to ignore this populace that fails to shed the nauseating odor of the dungeons and, better yet, from the prestige conferred by the condition of academic blamelessness, to accuse them of apostasy.

A socialist revolution is not a religious faith, “Revolution and Religion don’t rhyme,” the poet Herberto Padilla warned us. The first is the work of men, the second — I’ve been given to understand — has a divine origin. Those who deny their faith don’t fear going to hell, because they no longer believe in its existence. Those who disagree with ideological convictions that once embraces are simply exercising a civil and intellectual right that in my well-thumbed dictionaries is defined as to rectify. What can we say about those who never believed and from the start chose a different path.

I’m very familiar with another opposition that exercises a loyalty that has nothing to do with the submission of pets. Loyalty to the most pressing desires of their people, loyalty to justice and freedom.

14 March 2014

Conduct / Reinaldo Escobar

If an imaginary group of Cubans, isolated from all information since 1984, had been shown the movie Conduct today to bring them up to date on reality, they’d have escaped the theater sure that the film falsified the situation: that it was trying to show a pessimistic and counterrevolutionary version of their country.

But that’s not how the people reacted coming out of the theaters, wiping away their tears, their hands red from so much clapping. Especially those Havanans who saw projected on the screen the reality that hits them: their own neighborhood in ruins, the alcoholic neighbor with a child practically abandoned, the lack of ethical values, the police corruption, the discrimination against Cubans from other provinces, the physical misery on every corner, the moral misery in every opportunist.

Fortunately Carmela remained, the retirement-age teacher who, despite having seen her children and grandchildren emigrate, preferred to remain alone on the island, and in her classroom “as long as I can climb the stairs,” because she’s convinced she has the strength to help those kids in need of love and understanding.

Splendid cinematography and excellent editing support a script whose author, Ernesto Daranas, also served as director. Nowhere do the hackneyed topics of Cuban cinema appear: the mockery, the jokes with double meanings, the rain, folkloric touches, sexual exhibitionism and official messages.

But the biggest absence in Conduct is “the New Man,” whom those hypothetical Cubans, asleep or in a coma, conceived even up to the mid-’80s and who they would have expected to see incarnated in this work bringing them up-to-date. The children that those imaginary viewers would insist on finding in the film would be educated children and not those foul-mouthed coarse bullies; the schools would be equipped with laboratories and the houses would appear comfortable and safe.

There would be no dog fights, nor strung out women prostitutes, much less the drama of Carmela facing an attempt to fire her for protecting a student threatened with being sent to a reform school for defending a girl who dared — let’s hear it for audacity! — to place an image of Cuba’s patron saint on the wall of a classroom.

The producers didn’t create an artificial space in the studio in the style of The Truman Show, nor was there some antique store where they found the school desks and blackboards, nor did they make a citadel out of cardboard. The director didn’t have to carefully teach the actors — kids, teenagers or elderly — linguistic models and formulas far from their own personal experiences. Perhaps it was because of this that the audience, after long lines to get into the theaters where Conduct is showing, so identified with it, felt so excited. Because of this and because those present in the movie theaters haven’t spent the last 30 years sleeping, but rather starring in this tragedy.

21 February 2014