The Euphemism that Looks After Me / Alejandro González Acosta

‘El compañero que me atiende’ is for sale on Amazon and in some Florida bookstores. (14ymedio)

Alejandro González Acosta, 1 December 2017, Mexico City — Lichi[1] told me that the last time he was in Cuba[2], he went to visit a G-2 colonel at home, the brother of a famous Cuban historian who was Lichi’s good friend in Mexico. Between drinks and confidences, Lichi asked him:

“Come on, man, just between us: You’re surely watching me and having me cableao[3] [listened to] everywhere, right?”

“No, Lichi,” the other responded. “There’s no need because we already know how you think, even what you publish. In addition,” added the security officer, “we don’t have the technology[4] we used to have when the bolos[5] were here. There’s not much left that’s in good working order. And the little we have is directed toward the Central Committee of the Communist Party, because we’re interested in knowing what they’re thinking and planning.”

Perhaps this was just another one of Lichi’s many fictions, but I suspect that this one was true. continue reading

It makes me think of the anecdote that was recently published in El compañero que me atiende [The Compañero Who Looks After Me] (Hypermedia, 2017), the timely anthology that Enrique del Risco (“Enrisco” to his friends), an exiled Cuban historian in New York, compiled and edited.

Like so many other common expressions on the island, this title probably isn’t fully understood by someone who isn’t Cuban and hasn’t passed at least a part of his life in Cuba during the last 60 years. “The compañero who looks after me” can be, for foreigners, a waiter, a mechanic, some employee, who with kind and fraternal camaraderie procures some service or product for them. But we Cubans know that’s not the case: far from it.

Just like the “accomplishments” of the Cuban Revolution that were showcased with pride—every child would have education and every sick person his doctor—so every citizen can count on having his own policeman, solicitous and attentive to what he says, hears and thinks. This ubiquitous and omnipresent character, almost omniscient and supposedly omnipotent is, ultimately, “the compañero who looks after me.” In a totalitarian system like the present Cuban one, where “everything not prohibited is obligatory,” it’s normal that half the population monitors the other half, and even among that half, nothing escapes them.

Something really monstrous that escapes the comprehension of the rest of the “normal” world (Cuban hasn’t been a “normal” country for a long time) is that this “compañero who looks after me” has in turn his own “compañero who looks after him,” and this one possesses another “compañero who looks after him,” in an uninterrupted and infinite succession until you come to the top of the pyramid where that Big Brother who monitors everyone and perhaps even himself is busy looking suspiciously into a mirror of informers. Everything is possible in that surrealistic Caribbean world.

Enrique del Risco understands this perfectly, and thus gives his pertinent commentary about The Trial and The Castle, written by the famous and prophetic Czech author, which he includes in his preface. It’s been said—and it’s no joke—that “if Kafka had been born in Cuba, he would have been a genre writer.” For modern Cubans, The Trial and The Castle have a solid and macabre arquitectonic symbol: Villa Marista, the “home sweet home” of all the compañeros who look after us.

If anybody knows this theme of a “compañero who looks after me” it was Lichi. His famous Informe contra mí mismo (Informing Against Myself) is nothing more than the response, after years of boredom, that he gave to the seguroso [State Security officer] who was trying to get him to inform on his own family.

This matter of citizen spying is almost a genre of opposition Cuban literature: Antes que anochezca (Before Night Falls), by Reinaldo Arenas, would be another response to that “compañero who looks after me.” And Contra toda esperanza (Against All Hope), by Armando Valladares, also. And En Cuba Todo el mundo canta (In Cuba Everybody Sings), by Rafael E. Saumell. And Fuera del juego (Out of the Game), although you would have to say here “the compañero who takes of ‘us’,” since it should include his then-wife, the poetess Belkis Cusa Malé; En mi jardín pastan los héroes (Heroes Graze in My Garden); La mala memoria (Bad Memory), by Heberto Padilla; Mapa dibujado por un espía (Map Drawn by a Spy), by Guillermo Cabrera Infante; La nada cotidiana (The Daily Nothingness); La hija del embajador (The Ambassador’s Daughter); La noche al revés (Night in Reverse), by Zoé Valdés; and 20 años y 40 días (Twenty Years and Forty Days), by Jorge Valls. Even El hombre que amaba los perros (The Man Who Loved Dogs), by Leonardo Padura, is, in its own way, also a novel about permanent vigilance.

For Cubans of this epoch, the Forest of Eyes in Alice in Wondertown is a reality with nothing imaginative about it: Everything is seen and known in this total fortress that is the Cuba of the Castros. Thus, this work of Lewis Carroll served Jesús Díaz for his brilliant interpretation of Alice in Wondertown (1991), with a characterization of the unforgettable Reynaldo Miravalles in the powerless role of the Director of the Sanatorio Satán (Satanic Sanitorium) in the town of Maravillas de Noveras, with his bony accusing finger, descending from the heavens in the rattling elevator.

A little before, Díaz had managed—finally!—to publish his unforgettable novel, Las iniciales de la tierra (The Beginnings of the Earth), where the protagonist Carlos Pérez Cifredo confronts another variant of the “compañero who looks after me”: the interminable autobiographical document that so many Cubans have written, the famous cuéntame tu vida (Tell me about your life), the implacable and intrusive spreadsheet of entry to a political organization. This can also be considered a parallel genre to what Del Risco puts forth later. In some place on the island—perhaps in the Villa Marista—there must be an enormous archive with all the “tellmeaboutyourlife” stories that have been written in these almost 60 years. A Library of Babel of denouncements and, worse even, self-denouncements, saved for memory, disgust and posterity. We should then have a new V. Chentalinski to do with this what he did with The Literary Archives of the KGB.

We can’t deny it: The German film The Life of Others and Kundera’s The Joke are, for Cubans, part of a vital daily bibliography, a kind of Caribbean self-help literature, and this book confirms it. But wise friends are warning me that these references should also include classics like The Rebel, by Camus, and The Captive Mind, by Milosz.

Fifty-seven living authors participate in this “work of multiple creation,” all of them Cuban, the majority outside the island, but also some who live there, for whom the very fact of publishing in this book could have serious consequences—at the very least, a friendly visit from “the compañero who still takes care of them.” There are 57 testimonials, but there could also be 11,616,004 (the total population of Cuba according to the last official 2017 census), since all have, had or will have a similar story (without counting the 2,000,000 in exile). And all the Cubans dispersed throughout this broad and alien world since 1959 have at least one anecdote about that solicitous companion of our terrors and fears.

But let’s not be naive: The perversity of this system is not limited to Cubans alone. Everyone on the island is suspect, even if the opposite is proven. Correspondents and foreign diplomats also have their “compañero who looks after them,” although organized under other façades: the International Press Center, first, and the General Protocol Directorate, second, both camouflaged under the cover of the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

And vigilant attention is not limited to Cubans on the island, either. In the Exterior, they also continue being the object of the watchful supervision that is organized from the Regime’s embassies, always scandalously overpopulated and with an intense espionage activity, under the façade of the Chancellery, supported by that large Ministry of Exterior Police that is the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People.

Thus, this book is fully registered in the testimonial genre that the Cuban Revolution gave birth to itself, in works like Operación Masacre [Operation Massacre], Trelew [Trelew], and many more, but from the other camp, the other side of the door… or the wall. Although the official “critics” say that if testimony is not “progressive, revolutionary and committed” it is not testimony, Reality contradicts them. In fact, today the testimony of the victims of communist repression is much more alive and convincing than that of the repressors who are determined to deny it or misrepresent it.

The intellectual who is monitored and persecuted in Cuba has been around for a long time. Convinced that they were harassing him, Manuel Zequeira pretended to make himself invisible by putting on a sombrero. José María Heredia left the country disguised as a sailor, an authentic proto-balsero, fleeing from the police. José Jacinto Milanés ended his days in a mental hospital, in a fog of paranoia. José Martí traveled to Cuba as “Julián Pérez” in order to outwit the pre-Castro customs and immigration. Virgilio Piñera was permanently obsessed with “an old panic,” expecting them to come for him. Raúl Hernández Novas, in spite of going about hunched over, couldn’t really hide himself because he was very tall. He committed suicide after experiencing “the enigma of waters,” and he rushed headlong—da capo—to a liberating death.

A typical Cuban feels himself permanently under surveillance. Even when he finally manages to escape the island-prison, for a long time he searches for microphones in lamps and underneath tables if some unwary person asks him something he considers compromising. He never says what he thinks, because he knows very well the price he will pay. He’s been trained. Later he loosens up and even talks too much: Some joke that they pay him to talk and then pay him more to shut up.

The image of a guard holding a sharp, threatening machete and a wide-open eye, watchful and omnipresent like something out of Santería, are the symbols of the CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), the most pernicious, corrupting and demeaning of all the gruesome inventions on the Island of Doctor Castro.

I’m listening to you, whispers the emblem. Without knowing it, those frustrated old ladies, bitter and needing to feel they’re useful for something, the classic cederistas, are the descendants of the Parisian Bluestockings of the Place de Grève and the fisherwomen of the Marais. They are not named Charolotte or Lisette, but rather “Cusa of the Committee.” What the hell!

A joke about the government can be fatal. In my time, among friends, as an exculpatory and prophylactic exorcism, expecting the presence of microphones—or people with the same mission—after hearing a “joke against the government” we would finish roaring with laughter with a sentence: “On the record: If I’m laughing it’s because of indignation.” And in Cuba, even when we hung up the phone, it listened to whatever was said nearby, an old tactic from the NKVD and the KGB.

A person who is very dear to me lost his promising career as an economist because he told a joke about Nicolás Guillén with a mocking version of his poem, Tengo, in a group of supposed friends, and one of them ran to inform the Cuban Securitate, who expelled him from the University of Havana. Everything culminated in a grotesque scene: the then Rector (Reptile) obliterated him with a critical sentence: “Between doubt and the Revolution, I stand with the Revolution.” Later, this same rector was gloriously dethroned: Such is life in these tropics, dearest. Because the best thing about this story is that the earth is round (although some nuts still doubt it) and continues to turn….

The deeply religious mentality of communism, and especially that of the two former students of schools that were directed by severe priests, as were Stalin (in a seminary) and Castro (in the Ignatius College of Belén), creates a system of constant “examination of conscience,” of which “the compañero who looks after us” is a fortunate confessor in civil clothing. These “castles of the soul” and the Marxist-Ignacius “spiritual exercises” that culminate in the famous auto-criticism (much better and more effective if it is public and humiliating), are part of a process of continual and interminable catechism and purification. Everyone needs to be reviewed periodically, and in this way, one is offered the generous possibility of “repentance.” What is not pardonable is to decline the confession and the auto-inculpation, and even less to persevere in the error with the disastrous bourgeois “auto-sufficiency” that opposes accepting the charges and sins….

One thing that is especially perverse about this “head police” is that, against every presumption, it doesn’t hide; on the contrary, it is shameless. It exposes itself; it demonstrates that it’s always present and that it’s everywhere, because its principal mission, in addition to causing fear, is to dissuade and advise—lovingly and persuasively—almost like a friend: “Don’t burn yourself, dude.” “Don’t create problems.” “I understand you, compadre, but….” It is, let’s say, a kindly, sensitive executioner, almost deliquescent and ethereal. A “guardian angel” in shirt sleeves, who not only can expel you from Paradise but also put you in prison, which is Purgatory or Hell, depending on the sentence.

Enrique del Risco aptly baptizes it Género totalitario policíaco, the totalitarian police genus. It could also be a species of communist bildungsroman, a kind of Cuban formative novel, the “sentimental education” of the “new man.” Or also police eschatology, because of the persistent phantom who always is persecuting you. Or the neo-Gothic novel of castrismo, with its horrendous monsters. Or comic surrealism. A chance Orwellian 1984 but in the continuous indicative present, up to date, 2017.

The kindness of “the compañero who looks after you” goes in two directions: to control and support you, but also to look for your cooperation, to convert you from being someone suspicious to being an informer. Because creating a snitch is the jewel in the crown for the compañero, and there are many who have been persuaded and are now limping along this path.

Informing has been presented historically as a “revolutionary virtue” from a very old date. In the Soviet Union of Stalin the example of the little pioneer, Pavlik Morózov (1918-1932) was very popular. In a supreme surge of generous militant communism, he denounced his parents and grandparents, who were executed. Then he died, according to the propaganda, assassinated by other vengeful family members, but the latest research in the KGB archives allowed Catriona Kelly to make sure in her book, Comrade Pavlik: The Rise and Fall of a Soviet Boy Hero (2005), that apparently it was the “compañero who looked after him” who liquidated the talkative Pavlik, following higher orders, in order to later dedicate to him statues, books, songs, a symphonic poem, opera and even a movie by the laureate, Sergei Eisenstein (Bezhin Meadow, 1937). This should serve as a wise warning to incautious collaborators that their task is extremely dangerous, not only for their victims, but also for the compañeros themselves. “If there were no heroes, you would have to invent them, whatever the price.” So said the good Koba behind his smoking pipe.

One of the most diabolical perversions of the system is that, in addition to having a mandatory Identity Card, every citizen has a File, but unlike the first, which he must always carry, he never sees the second, although it decides his life the whole time: whether he progresses or not, if he makes progress or fails, if he goes forward or falls back, if he lives or not. And this file has a permanent, dedicated scribe, who is, precisely, the compañero, that “annihilating angel” who doesn’t miss a step or a footfall, a bloodhound always sniffing your tracks, that devoted scribe who writes your Book of Life.

In the twisted, repressive logic of Communism, everyone is guilty and thus punishable. If we are alive, of course we’re committing some sin and various crimes. It’s only a matter of finding out. Therefore, if the Power decides to investigate your life, it will always find something for which to blame and punish you. And if nothing appears, it’s invented: Ángel Santiesteban knows something about this.

It’s a shame that Fidel Castro wasn’t able to read this book, which has him in it as a permanent presence. I imagine he would have enjoyed it a lot, because he would have recognized his most transcendent work. He was fortunate to have a long, although sterile, life, always surrounded by the veneration and obsequiousness of his terrified close friends, and he surely would have enjoyed knowing about the creativity of his subordinates to whom he delegated the honorable task of being vigilantes, in that government that’s a carbon copy of Minority Report, constructed “with the delight of an artist.” The ideal for him was that everyone carry his own vigilante inside, a kind of tortuous doppelgänger or devious old uncle, embedded in the subconscious. This compañero is, therefore, a kind of vampire, insatiable and contaminating. After sucking your blood, he prolongs your life, but also makes it impure, in his image, like his spawn.

But I have a terrible suspicion: In reality, the system and its agents are not really worried about what people think, but rather what they say and do. It’s a kind of tacit complicity that although they imagine, suppose and even know what you think, what really matters is what you do and say, obliging people to act falsely without a break, in a permanent performance, a schizoid, never-ending performance, with an irreparable psychic dissociation which forms the character of the present “new man”: “I know that you don’t like me, but what’s important is that you obey and venerate me.”

Without doubt, one of the most cruelly delicious and masochistic experiences will be when this nightmare regime finally collapses, and people can read the bulging files (that I hope they don’t destroy in their precipitous fall), guarded by State Security, the grand fabric of the “compañeros that take care of us.” I trust that they won’t eliminate them because I know that, perversely, they would want to leave the seed of discord to be sown for 100 more years. But, finally, with the sad truth would come mental, social and individual health. “In 100 years,” said the French aristocrat while he climbed the stairs to the guillotine that awaited him, sharp and thirsty, “all this will be only an anecdote.”

This “compañero who takes care of us” is also a character out of cinema, a comedian in a guayabera or safari outfit, with pockets full of pens and pants, with one pant-leg carelessly but elegantly tucked into a boot. Don’t forget that the dark glasses are an essential part of the image. He deserves a movie that would be shown in festivals of horror films and involuntary humor, like the series Mobil 8 and Sector 40, with that sinister and mocking “Manquito” chasing us everywhere.

You would have to expect now the passionate testimony of the other side, written by them; it could be entitled The Compañeros Who Served, where the magnificent influence that the ones watched had on the vigilantes would be appreciated, obligating them to read philosophy, history and art, and even listen to curta music, in order to understand and be able to monitor their prey better. Such a grand cultural level they would attain thanks to that! Because, let’s not forget—supreme irony—they also have been permanently monitored by their own “compañeros who look after” them.

But the “compañeros who look after you” have also been good teachers and have educated outstanding disciples, and now their presence is not required, since their pupils have become very capable themselves. The cultural officials—Barnet, Prieto, Arrufat and several others—are already so good at that Dark Trade as were in their time the “compañeros who looked after them.” You can’t deny that they had excellent teachers and became magnificent students.

Those “attentive compañeros” have been the same “literary advisers,” “curators of exhibitions,” “vigilant publishers,” “omnipotent and decisive jurors of literary competitions,”… truly protean and know-it-all. And, in addition, very proud of their mission. I remember a famous painter and graphic designer, who proclaimed cheerfully and loudly that he was a “trumpet,” meaning a snitch on his colleagues, for which he was compensated and decorated with the Medal for the Twentieth Anniversary of the Ministry of the Interior. It’s the small vanity of the miserable, the joy he couldn’t hide for this variant of ideological bullying, a surprising cross between a cat and a rat.

If anyone inside this genre merits that a novel be written about him, it would be José Abrantes, perhaps the most dramatic figure in recent times in terms of the artistic tension of conflicts. Possibly someday one of his descendants will decide to write it, since the former Minister was the first instructor and creator of the “compañeros who looked after,” before being looked after himself by his trained trainees.

Although they often are solitary, the “compañeros who look after” can operate in harmonious duos, not at the same time but rather successively: First Good Cop appears, and if you don’t understand the lesson, Bad Cop shows up. Or the opposite, according to the individual. But they’re well distributed, coordinated and organized. They’re a didactic couple, in the purest Makarenko style: all a pedagogic poem. They’re the Stakhanovites of culture and thought, the Lunacharskys of ideas, the Dzerzhinskys of metaphors. In sum: the Dear Enemy.

Enrique del Risco qualifies this large anthology as an anomaly, because the genre obviously will not enjoy commercial success in countries where it’s a living reality, since it belongs to the “literature that is rigorously monitored,” and also because—for understandable mental health reasons—it doesn’t want to be remembered or revived in a society where it has already been eradicated. Thus, it is a thankless and upsetting genre, but one that is necessary so that the experience will not be repeated. This anthology-book (in both meanings) is, then, a text that is not only literary and historic, but also informative and educative. It constitutes a whole Practical Manual of Totalitarian Teaching that is operational. If only for this reason, it deserves to be widely read. Perhaps it would serve others to know—although no one learns through others’ experience—what Cubans have gone through and already suffered (and continue to suffer): those beings that are happy, unworried, playful and always under suspicion, Cortázar’s anxious cronopios and esperanzas, permanently monitored by severe famas.

This book is, on the other hand, a work of catharsis and exorcism, and it could be the genuine Book of Text of the Grand Ministry of Social and Political Domestication. It also can have another use: showing the interior mechanisms of spying and snitching, and it can be an antidote and a preventive prophylactic, with recipes that the great artistic maestros elaborated from their unhappy personal experience of evading, confounding and deceiving that vigilante, that monstrous euphemism that is needed to “look after us,” in order to survive as an efficient and productive element of a dreadful mechanism. This book, possibly, is a collection of recipes to neutralize it.

 Translated by Regina Anavy

[1] Eliseo Alberto de Diego García-Marruz (Arroyo Naranjo, September 10, 1951, Mexico City, July 31, 2011).

[2] The last time he was alive. Later he returned, now cremated into “beloved ashes,” to fulfill his wish to be scattered on the murky waters of the river near the home of his birth, by his Herculean twin sister, Fefé (Josefina de Diego), his striking daughter, María José, and a group of close friends.

[3] With hidden microphones.

[4] The technology, equipment, microphones.

[5] Russians.

 

‘Sputnik’ and ‘Russia Today’ Invade the Cuban Media

The references to ‘Sputnik’ and ‘RT’ are increasingly frequent in Cuba’s official media, which cites them among their main sources.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 December 2017 — While the accusations grow against Russia for using social networks to manipulate the Catalan crisis, the American elections and Britain’s Brexit, the Kremlin-financed press gains space in Cuba. The references to Sputnik and Russia Today, which is now called RT, are increasingly frequent in the official media, which presents them among its main sources.

The Russian state news agency Sputnik and its international television channel RT are mentioned every day in newspapers, and TV news and radio programs on the island. The content taken from both media ranges from scientific announcements, to information about Russia to international issues.

Without substantiating the veracity of the information provided, the analysts of the official press assume the points of view, the opinions and the assertions of those media, with the same complicity with which they once promoted information from the Soviet newspaper Pravda and the official new agency TASS. continue reading

Questioning the legitimacy of the West, promoting skepticism of democracy, doubting the future of the European Union, disseminating conspiracy theories about the powers that move the world, and denying the decision-making capacity of citizens in liberal systems are some of the ideas most repeated in those state media.

In support of this scaffolding are added “testimonies” and opinions to reinforce the idea of ​​the superiority of authoritarian regimes in comparison with the chaos that seizes parliamentary debates when approving new security measures or passing laws, in societies governed by the separation of powers.

The current closeness with Russian media contrasts with the attitude of the Cuban government towards Novedades de Moscú (a weekly newspaper published in Spanish) and Sputnik magazine in the years of Perestroika and Glasnsot in the Soviet Union, when the circulation of those publications was censored in Cuba.

The cult of personality around Vladimir Putin and Fidel Castro is also part of the recipe of this propaganda press, with more intentions to indoctrinate than to inform. Analysts warn that the average person does not know if what they see is propaganda or information, one of the keys to the success of these media, especially on social networks. In addition, RT and Sputnik also display a rampant absence of criticism towards any regime allied with the Kremlin or any enemy of the United States.

According to them, the launching of the missiles by the Kim Jong-un regime is the correct North Korean response to “the joint naval maneuvers of the United States, Japan and South Korea,” while the most recent Venezuelan elections represent the “greatest victory’ of Chavism and the “final defeat” of the opposition.

The information published by the official Cuban media on the Catalan crisis was mainly based on RT’s reporting. The support for the separatists reached its climax the days before the illegal referendum, which was presented as a democratic consultation in opposition to the position of the Spanish Government, which defended the constitutional legality but which was branded by the Russian media as “fascist” and an inheritor from the dictator Francisco Franco.

These official bodies of the Kremlin also have a political agenda when narrating the Cuban reality. Positive verbs such as “grow” and “develop” or nouns of a humanistic nature in the style of “solidarity,” “justice” and “collaboration” dot the information about Cuba, in which the supposed achievements of the Cuban health system, its sporting feats and official events are highlighted, while productive inefficiency, police repression or migratory exodus are silenced.

Both media fail to mention the political opposition within the country and, when they do, they repeat terms such as “internal enemies,” “counterrevolutionary” or “financed by the United States,” while presenting Raúl Castro’s government as having broad popular support and a proven diplomatic ascendancy in Latin America.

The worn-out formula of the small “revolutionary” David against the great “imperialist” Goliath fits within all of their content about the relations between Washington and Havana and the diplomatic thaw promoted by Barack Obama. Clearly, according to them, the economic problems faced by the island’s resident every day are the absolute fault of “the blockade.”

On 25 November, RT broadcast a program with the lead “One year after the death of Fidel Castro Cubans remain faithful to his legacy,” in which it delved into topics about the genius and charisma of the former president, in addition to interviews only with his eternally grateful supporters.

Last May, a few days after Donald Trump announced in a speech in Miami the change of course in the relationship between Washington and Havana, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez offered an interview to the Russian network, one of the only two media that commented on the subject. The other was the Chavista channel from Venezuela, TeleSUR.

Several ideas were emphasized in the material presented: the US president develops a policy “typical of the Cold War”; the White House mutilates “the civil rights” of its own people; and any criticism launched by the occupant of the White House towards the Plaza of the Revolution represents the sin of “a double standard.” Three points from the Kremlin’s information booklet on Cuba.

These biased positions have been widely disseminated on social networks thanks to the island’s cyber soldiers who militantly share the content of RT and Sputnik. Both media also work to indoctrinate the Cuban audience through the Cuban press, thus Moscow influences the way in which the reality of the outside world is perceived by Cubans.

Unlike many European countries where alarms have been sounded over the new media war that is being deployed by the ex-official of the KGB who is now president of Russia, Havana willingly lends itself to all the manipulations of Putin and offers him, in addition, a captive audience of 11 million Cubans.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Desiderio Navarro Dies, the “Lone Ranger” of Cuban Semiotics

The Cuban intellectual Desiderio Navarro. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 December 2017 — The essayist, literary critic, semiotician and translator, Desiderio Navarro, died Thursday in Havana, at 69 years of age as a result of cancer that, for the last year, had prevented him from appearing in public.

Navarro, born in Camagüey in 1948, was a renowned polyglot and poet, as well as a rigorous and coherent essayist. In Cuba, he excelled in the studies of semiotics, a discipline that he helped disseminate within the island and that served as a tool for much of his research.

Raised as a Catholic, in his first years in Camagüey he was considered an “uncomfortable” young person, as 14ymedio confirmed with his high school classmates. During that time, he participated in a dispute that turned into a fight in 1961. In that memorable event he allied himself on the side of the young Christians from private schools who led the student organization, against the self-styled “revolutionaries.” continue reading

Later he would settle in Havana and become a student of Marxism. His closest friends considered him more “Marxologist than Marxist” and he made a great contribution to the study of that ideology in Cuba by translating from Russian important theorists of Soviet Perestroika.

The researcher led a bitter controversy against the essayist and poet Guillermo Rodríguez Rivera, whom he accused of committing plagiarism, while the latter ended up denouncing him before the courts for the alleged crime of defamation. That confrontation is considered one of the most talked about disputes between Cuban intellectuals of the last decades.

Navarro founded and directed for 45 years the Criterios magazine and the eponymous theoretical-cultural center, which disseminated among the readers of the Island numerous theoretical texts, especially from Eastern Europe, due to his extensive knowledge of the languages ​​of that region.

The intellectual is also recognized for his meticulous analysis of the poetry of José Martí, Nicolás Guillén and Luis Rogelio Nogueras. Professor and critic Margarita Mateo says that he approached each analysis with “the rigor, dedication, intellectual honesty and ethical values” demanded by a researcher.

In 1986, he published an article in the Casa de las Américas journal that summarized a part of his semiotic work: “What I have written sometimes has the worn look of something already written by others, but also, much of what others have written bears my signature.”

At the beginning of 2007, the well-known Intellectual Debate or Little Email War broke out as a result of the appearance in the official media of several censors from the ‘Five Grey Years’Navarro actively participated in the organization of the discussion sessions that followed the email exchanges and prepared one of the most complete compilations of those texts.

Prominent among his books of essays are Culture And Marxism: Problems And ControversiesExercises Of OpinionThe Causes Of Things and Thinking About Everything: To Read In Context, as well as several theoretical and literary anthologies.

He won the Literary Criticism Award several times and the Ministry of Culture, along with the Cuban Book Institute recognized him with the National Editing Prize. At his death he was part of the National Council of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba and recently the University of the Arts awarded him the title of Doctor Honoris Causa.

His wake will be held this Friday, between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm at the Funeral Home of Calzada and K, in El Vedado.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

With Yailin and Yoerky, ‘Generation Y’ Arrives at the Head of ‘Granma’ and ‘Juventud Rebelde’

Yoerky Sánchez Cuéllar, new director of ‘Juventud Rebelde’ and Yailin Orta Rivera, new director of ‘Granma’. (CC)

Both directors were born during the years of the Soviet presence on the Island, grew during the Special Period and have lived much of their lives under the dual currency system

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 December 2017 — After several weeks without someone formally in charge, the job of director of Granma, official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), was entrusted on Tuesday to Yailin Orta Rivera, who held the same position on the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the PCC issued a brief press release in which it states that Orta graduated in 2006 with a degree in Journalism from the University of Havana and began her work as an editor. At 34, the young woman’s career was on an upward trajectory within Juventud Rebelde, where she “was promoted successively to head of department, assistant director and director.”

Orta is a member of the PCC and a member of the National Committee of the Young Communists Union. Her name and photo still do not appear in the Who are we? section on Granma’s digital site. As of Wednesday, the section still includes the fired director Pelayo Terry Cuervo, even though he was removed from office almost a month ago. The reasons for his sudden removal were not stated, then or now, though speculation abounds.

Orta has been replaced at Juventud Rebelde  by Yoerky Sánchez Cuéllar, a 2007 journalism graduate from the Central University of Las Villas, who started his career as an editor for the Vanguardia newspaper in Villa Clara.

Sánchez, also 34 years old, formerly directed Alma Mater magazine, is a member of the Central Committee of the PCC and a deputy in the National Assembly. In several parliamentary sessions in which he has participated he has recited décimas – sonnet-like poems – dedicated to Fidel Castro, José Martí and socialism.

With the arrival of Orta and Sánchez, the two main newspapers of the country are now led by members of Generation Y, young people in Cuba who were born during the years of the Soviet presence on the Island, grew up during the Special Period, and have lived a good part of their lives under the dual currency system. The name of the generation comes from the tendency of at that time to give their children names beginning with “Y.”

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The Country of the Absurd / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, El Cerro, Havana, 22 November 2017 —If in Cuba we were to change everything that needs changing, we would have to rewrite our constitution. Why? Because of the many absurdities that do not permit the economy, nor society, to advance towards development, as do almost all the other nations on the planet—and all for protecting the spurious interests of a small clique that clings to power by virtue of no other legitimacy anymore than sheer force.

The government assures us that it desires a highly developed society, but this can only happen if there is a developed economy. How can this be achieved? By doing everything possible to incentivize development, and that is not how it’s done in Cuba. continue reading

In Cuba there is no store that sells tractors, trucks, farm equipment, or any other tools for the private farmers, who in fact comprise the immense majority (and the few outstandingly efficient members) of the agricultural sector. No big stores, nor small ones, either, offer agricultural supplies. The farmers are used to getting from the national or local government whatever they supposedly need for their work, such as the so-called technological packets, etc. But unfortunately our Ministry of Agriculture and subordinate agencies are staffed by “office farmers” who only know the type of agriculture that provides for our dinner table. And so it is in the rest of our ministries.

They supposedly want to incentivize private labor but unjust, un-payable and exorbitant taxes are imposed that we expect will function as they do in the US—but in a socialist system where the People (in reality the State) own the means of production, raw materials, all the unrealized gains, and all the income and aggregate value. In real terms these taxes function as an amortization of the chronic inefficiencies of the State.

They want the transportation system to get better but they don’t sell new or secondhand vehicles at a just and reasonable price. Nor is bank financing available. They don’t allow individuals to import from abroad, forcing us to continue to rebuild as best we can cars that are 60 or more years old.

They require that private transports be in excellent working condition when there is no State-run garage to take them to for maintenance and repair, no replacement parts provided or for sale, and the few other supplies that make it to the stores, such as batteries, tires and such, end up with astronomical price tags.

They pay lip service to bettering the standard of living while paying miserable salaries at the level of 30 years ago, and prices are, by decree, increased by 270% for sale in the hard-currency stores owned by the military.

They speak of civil society and impede oppositional movements. Our nation is ruled by very veteran military commanders, and even our low-level civilian functionaries now also sport the olive green, apparently as a fashion statement.

They wish for the nation to inhabit the Information Age when there is not a single store in the land that sells computers, while ETECSA, the state telecommunications and Internet monopoly–the only such entity allowed to operate–works very slowly in installing these new technologies despite being able to do it much more speedily.

They come out for improving education while the overwhelming majority of schools are in bad shape or lack adequate conditions for their proper functioning. Many resources are scarce and the professors make, as do all the workers in the country, on paltry salaries, unjust and abusive.

We try to be a medical power when there are not enough available doctors because of their exportation to the Third World, while our pharmacies are increasingly lacking medications to the point that we are approaching catastrophe for the elderly with their minuscule pensions. Meanwhile the black market for legal drugs at high prices continues to grow, for even aspirin is hard to find. To be admitted to the hospital today is a misfortune, not a solution, for the patient. New infections that cannot be controlled are breeding because of dire sanitary conditions.

They appear to try to instill in our young people our traditions and culture when our media, especially television, is increasingly and unpleasantly politicized and all our national symbols are manipulated to a disagreeable and degrading degree of chauvinism. Meanwhile our texts and the programming on offer are ever worsening in quality to the point that the citizenry seeks and finds alternatives such as pirated cable and the celebrated “weekly packet” that even the government tries to imitate with no luck, for it doesn’t change its methods.

The ancient bosses try to reach out to the youth with their speeches when they don’t see, don’t grasp—due to their advanced age—that young people must be approached via their evermore efficient and personal technological resources. Social media is being extensively used in politics (Donald Trump has more than 22 million followers on Twitter) while in Cuba there is still not even the possibility of accessing the Internet at home and apparently it will not be for along time by design of these same bosses.

They want the populace to make money but then we are publicly scandalized when some entrepreneur starts to do so.

They don’t allow the creation, for example, of associations or organizations of independent accountants for private or State-run enterprises. To speak of independent lawyers is subversive.

They authorize private manual labor when there are no supplies: there are carpenters without wood, welders without acetylene and oxygen tanks, etc. Even many years after the supposed opening the much desired wholesale market is still not in existence while the State enterprises do have one and even so they work very poorly.

Private businesses are not allowed to import what they need, and hard currency for foreign travel is not sold under any circumstances.

They change their tune constantly and this confuses the local ideologues and the populace. What’s all this noise about creating one, two, many Vietnams when Raúl Castro has declared a peace zone in Latin America? What about religion being “the opiate of the masses” versus Liberation Theology? Stalin was once a great man and now is a butcher. Fidel previously tried to get Nikita Khrushchev to fire the nuclear missiles but now he had nothing to do with it.

They want our children to be like Che when we should want them to be like Martí.

They want development but without anybody making money, betterment but we know not how, change but not too much of it.

How long?

Eduardom57@nauta.cu

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Shortages and Shady Dealings / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Housing in Havana.

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, 1 November 2017, El Cerro, Havana. Some new phenomena are taking place, products of the state’s poor management and shortsightedness.

Dwellings are being repossessed by people who are buying them legally or illegally.

I occupy an apartment with three bedrooms, one bath, a living/dining room, a balcony, and a rear terrace. It should now be the property of my brother, now that my mother, the original owner–thinking of her very advanced age–transferred the title to her youngest son. continue reading

In this apartment live three people. Not long ago there were five of us. But my aunt and my father died when they were well into their 90s. Presumably, the next in line would be my mother, who is now past 80, and after her my brother, and then I, who am 60.

During the process of changing the deed and drawing up the new and complicated property contract now required by the government, we decided to assign ownership to the youngest son.

We were left speechless and disconcerted when the notary asked us who would be the next heir after we were all gone. My mother chose to name a granddaughter who does not live with us and is four years of age.

In the apartment next door lives an octogenarian lady who was recently widowed.

She is diabetic. Already there is a distant relative who has arrived on the scene and started to occasionally look after the little old lady–and who will surely inherit the property when she dies, for I have seen notaries coming and going over there.

Residential units are ending up in younger hands–legally or through many semi-legal tricks.

There are houses in good condition that remain empty and closed up because their inhabitants are away in other countries, probably trying to get settled somewhere. If it doesn’t work out, they’ll return. If it does, well, one or another of the owners will return to sell the house at a good price.

No longer does the government take over houses left behind by those who leave the country, as was the case until some years ago. Cubans may now continue to hold the title to their properties if they return for at least a few days within the first two years of living abroad.

Those who do not sell their houses leave them in the care of relatives who rent them out to foreign tourists and forward the fees to the owners residing in other countries.

In the upcoming 2020 census, or likely before then, the ration book will lose half of its consumer base for reasons of non-residency in Cuba.

The housing shortage is not lessening, however, despite the high emigration rate and many deaths, due to the government’s chronic apathy towards seriously investing in this sector, and not allowing others to do so.

The scarcity of medicines is worsening: even aspirin is hard to find. Many medicines end up on the black market.

Last week my brother found himself having to stand in line–in the sun, from 9 in the morning to almost 4 in the afternoon–at a drugstore just to obtain the medications, such as insulin, that my mother needs for her diabetes and blood pressure, as well as cotton, alcohol and syringes.

The aged neighbor lady cannot even think of going to the drugstore that is one km away, let alone stand in line. There are no couriers. She will simply die one day soon and the family doctor will come and declare her dead of old age, and that will be that. Her case will never be studied nor will be of interest to the authorities to determine whether she might have survived a few more years with better care and medications.

ETECSA, the state-owned telecommunications monopoly, with its painfully slow and inefficient processes, is facilitating another lucrative and illegal business opportunity: it has to do with sales of the new “Nauta Hogar” [Home Nauta] contracts. Following more than a year of providing these newfangled internet connections–initially in Old Havana only–ETECSA has approved a little more than 2,000 agreements for a population of nearly 12 million. The service is excessively slow and exorbitantly expensive for local income levels, but ownership can be transferred with no questions asked. Those blessed with these benefits are simply selling them right now at 1000 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly 1,000 USD). They’re on sale now on Revolico (Cuba’s “Craiglist”).

Similarly, the ownership of landlines are priced at that level on the informal market, for this system is maintained very cheaply, but for years now there has been no increase in the number of telephones distributed among the urban population, being that no new contracts are offered anymore.

Fidel Castro used to argue that mobile phones were a bourgeois luxury. Raul Castro authorized their generalized sale in 2008. Less than ten years later, more than half of the population utilizes this service, despite how extremely expensive it is.

How will the ancient rulers ever develop this country if a primary requirement of modern enterprise, be it state- or privately-owned, is efficient communication and data gathering–which Cuba is slow to adopt as official policy? An open Internet would be very harmful to what remains of Castroism. Imagine that this article could appear on the first page of the official Communist Party newspaper Granma, and that everyone, without censorship, could read works like it.

eduardom57@nauta.cu

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Poor Memory? / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Cover of “God Does Not Enter My Office”

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, El Cerro, Havana, 6 November 2017 — I’ve just finished reading an eBook (which has never been published in Cuba) written by someone who was detained in Cuba’s infamous “Military Units to Aid Production” [known by their acronym in Spanish as UMAP], who endured all of the bloody sordidness of those grim Nazi-Castroite concentration camps. The book is a testament of those days written by Alberto I. González Muñoz in 1994-95, titled God Does Not Enter My Office. It was first published by Baptist Publishing in 2003 and has been updated periodically up to its seventh edition, in 2015, of which we speak here.

The author alleges in the introduction that he does not want this material to be interpreted as an indictment of the Castros’ regime. However, one need only read it to be outraged at the many atrocities and injustices that they committed, causing grave damages to Cuban society up to the present day. continue reading

The book recalls testimonies written about Nazi extermination camps, even though there were no crematoria or gas chambers in the UMAP.

The UMAP were intended to effect, through forced labor, an obligatory change in religious persons, homosexuals, and all who were considered hindrances to the Revolution. The UMAP were in operation, to the horror of many, for more than two years–between 1965 and 1967–in remote locations in Camagüey.

In the pages of this book can be found the names of various religious persons who were sent there, subjected to humiliations, officially classified as social blights because of their beliefs, mistreated, and made to labor 16 or more hours daily cutting sugar cane.

It amazes me that personages such as Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, so careful of and complaisant towards the regime as he is–and who a few years ago ordered the forced removal of peaceful protesters from a Havana church–was among the Catholics who endured kicks to the backside and pushing and shoving for the mere reason of being religious.

There is also the case of the Rev. Raúl Suárez, who is seen often in the company of government officials, a gracious host to the delegations from the Pastors for Peace, and who has founded an authorized emporium on 100 and 51st Streets, in Marianao.

Raúl Suárez was in the UMAP–sleeping at night, alongside many other religious persons, on a hard dirt floor, later in hammocks, and after a few months in beat-up bunks–rising at 4:30am, still exhausted from the previous day’s labor, only to be dragged to the work camp, where they would remain sometimes past midnight, cutting and hauling sugar cane by hand.

Could it be they have a poor memory, or is it rather that they fear losing all that they have gained?

Nothing justifies the barbarity that was the UMAP. Crimes against humanity are never defensible. There will come a time when we will be in a position to hold the perpetrators accountable. We do not forget.

eduardom57@nauta.cu

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuban Government Caps Food Prices in Villa Clara to “Stop Unjustified Increases”

Sellers who violate prices in Villa Clara risk severe measures such as seizures and cancellation of their licenses. (Angel M.)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 October 2017 — The Cuban government has set price caps for 47 food products in the province of Villa Clara “with the aim of containing the excessive increases” of recent weeks, “a gap that allows profit at the expense of the consumer,” says a note published on Thursday in the local press.

The measure affects the supply and demand farm markets popularly known as agromercados, which sell agricultural products, pork and other processed products. Fixed and mobile outlets (carts) must also comply with the new regulated prices, according to a provision of the Provincial Defense Council (CDP).

The rule, which is temporary, according to the CDP, seeks to “protect customers against unscrupulous people who profit at the expense of increased needs due to shortages caused by Hurricane Irma.” continue reading

The article, published in the weekly newspaper Vanguardia, explains that before the implementation of these prices “meetings were held with the sellers to explain the reasons for these type of actions for the benefit of the people.”

Regulated prices have been established for various products such as root crops, meats, grains, vegetables, condiments and fruits. In most cases “they should be marketed at the same prices as before the hurricane” and will be “evaluated monthly from November to February, during the recovery phase of agriculture,” according to the article.

Sellers who violate price caps risk “severe measures such as seizures and the cancellation of their licenses.” Local authorities have called on consumers to denounce merchants who violate the provisions.

The Directorate of Inspection and Supervision, the Ministry of the Interior, the State Directorate of Commerce, the Labor and Social Security directorates and the National Association of Small Farmers will also redouble their inspections to insure that the price caps are complied with.

Since the end of last year the experiment of capping food prices has been spreading from the province of Artemisa to all the municipalities of Havana and has provoked mixed reactions. Consumers celebrate the lower prices, but complain about the fall in quality and reductions in supply.

The measure was taken after the issue of food prices led many discussions in the National Assembly session held in December 2016. In response to the demands of several deputies, Raul Castro said that measures would be taken to bring prices closer to wages. The announcement served as a warning to producers and intermediaries.

List of prices established in the province of Villa Clara for food products in the supply and demand markets, points of sale and cart vendors. Product/Unit of Measure/Price before the hurricane/Capped price. As can be seen on the chart, many prices are lower than the pre-hurricane prices. (Vanguardia)

For October 1st*: A Golden Oldie… Because, Why Not?

The [coma-andante] walking coma, wants me to work
El coma andante, quiere que yo trabaje

Paying me a miserable salary
Pagándome un salario miserable

The walking coma wants me to applaud
El coma andante quiere que yo lo aplauda

After he talks his delirious shit
después de hablar su mierda delirante

No walking coma
No coma andante,

Don’t you eat this dick, walking coma
no coma uste´ esa pinga coma andante

Don’t eat so much dick, walking coma
No coma tanta pinga coma andante

Don’t eat so much dick, walking coma
No coma tanta pinga coma andante

If you want me to work give me some money
Si quiere que trabaje pasme un varo por delante

Don’t eat so much dick, walking coma
No coma tanta pinga coma andante

Don’t eat so much dick, walking coma
No coma tanta pinga coma andante

Don’t eat so much dick, walking coma
No coma tanta pinga coma andante

You are a tyrant and there’s no one who can stand you
Usted es un tirano y no hay pueblo que lo aguante

Don’t eat so much dick, walking coma
No coma tanta pinga coma andante

Walking coma, you hold elections
El coma andante, hace unas elecciones

that you invented to stay in power
que las inventó el pa´ perpetuarse

Walking coma, you want me to go and vote
El coma andante quiere que vaya y vote

To keep fucking myself over
para el seguir jodiendome bastante

No walking coma
No coma andante,

Don’t you eat this dick, walking coma
no coma uste´ esa pinga coma andante

Don’t eat so much dick, walking coma
No coma tanta pinga coma andante

Don’t eat so much dick, walking coma
No coma tanta pinga coma andante

If you want me to vote give me a boat so I can leave
Si quiere que yo vote ponga un barco pa´ pirarme

Don’t eat so much dick, walking coma
No coma tanta pinga coma andante

Don’t eat so much dick, walking coma
No coma tanta pinga coma andante

Don’t eat so much dick, walking coma
No coma tanta pinga coma andante

You and your brothers cantankerous old fools
Usted y sus hermanos puros viejos petulantes

Don’t eat so much dick, walking coma
No coma tanta pinga coma andante

No, no… No coma tanta pinga
No, no… coma andante

No, no… No coma tanta pinga
No, no… coma andante

*The birthday of Communist China (68 today) and a lot of other things and people.

With Water Chest-high / Camilo Venegas Yero

Playing dominoes in Cuba after Irma.

Camilo Venegas Yero (from his blog “El Fogonero”), Dominican Republic, 11 September 2017 — I found this image on a Facebook wall. It illustrates today’s Cuba like few others. In it, it is clear that the ruined country survives from catastrophe to catastrophe, without producing anything that makes it move in any direction (when you’re stuck any movement is better than nothing).

The sea, driven by Hurricane Irma, fills the streets of Havana. It would seem there is no time to lose, however this group of Havanans wastes it playing dominoes. Shortly before I saw this photo, I read a dialog between Dominicans. They commented on “the great discipline of the Cuban people.”

“It is admirable,” one of them said, “everything the Revolution does to minimize the impact of these natural disasters.” Another noted the million people evacuated, and even that a group of actors had performed to ease the stress of the refugees. continue reading

Is it perhaps that there is not a great concentration of victims in Cuba? The problem for Cubans is not the tensions of a storm, but the poverty-stricken daily life that awaits them after its passage. I was tempted to share this image with the Dominicans, but these kinds of discussions already exhaust me.

Tomorrow, when the waters return to their level, they will steal something, or buy something stolen, or – if they are fortunate enough to have a family member in exile – call them to resolve their problems. Today the sea is chest high, tomorrow it will be reality that causes the same feeling of suffocation.

That is why they can’t think of anything better to do than to sit in the water and shuffle the dominos.

Cuban Students Rebel Against the Uniformity of the Classrooms

Students are asked to “eliminate” their dyed hair if they want to enter the classroom. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 September 2017 – The return to class, for thousands of children and young people, means a return to the discipline of school after two months of vacation. This September, school directors have focused their crusade against fingernails and hair painted bright colors, and students are forced to get haircuts or remove the enamel to conform to the regulations.

In July and August, far from the classrooms, many teenagers chose the strident tones of summer fashion. Red, green, blue and purple have been a trend in hair and phosphorescent colors are favored for fingernails, a rainbow that the schools are not willing to accept.

“I do not want to see anyone here with phosphorescent nails or hair dyed in colors,” warned a fifth-grade teacher on Monday, at the entrance of her classroom in a school in the Plaza de Revolución municipality. The scene has been repeated in schools all over the island, which stick to regulations to limit the creativity of students. continue reading

Julio Mojena, the father of twins residing in the Havana neighborhood of Cerro, considers the restrictions arbitrary since there is no written rule that specifically states them. His sons dyed their hair in August and now, he laments, “they can’t go to class until they get haircuts… In my time it was the length of the hair and the earrings, now it’s the color. What will it be tomorrow?” he asks.

“Each school can make adjustments to school regulations” depending “on the characteristics of their community,” a Ministry of Education official, who prefers to remain anonymous, told 14ymedio by phone.

Although there is no specific regulation on hair color, nails or any other detail, the official maintains that “in the schools uniformity is demanded” in the physical aspect of the student body and that this detail is supported by the general regulations.

The official acknowledges that there was a time when the length of males’ hair was strictly regulated, but that now they may “wear their mane to the collar.” Formerly males’ hair could be no more than just over an inch long.

In the eighties the crusade against hair length and the maintenance of aesthetic uniformity among students even jumped to the pages of the official newspapers. However, the José Martí Pioneer Organization (for elementary schools) and the Federation of Middle School Students did not mediate in favor of those they represent and the students did not win that symbolic battle for differentiation.

Nevertheless, controls have softened over the years, especially since the economic crisis forced families to substitute parts of the school uniform for home-made ones or to buy their children’s school shoes in the hard currency markets as a result of a breakdown in the supply of manufactured products in the ration market.

Now it is common to see students in the regulated garments modified with pleats, raised hems or adjusted sleeves.

Nor do girls and young women escape the restrictions. “In this classroom you come to study and those nails decorated with figures or painted with phosphorescent colors distract the attention of other students,” a Spanish teacher tells his students at Baragua Protest Junior High School in Central Havana.

So far this year, at least ten girls from the school say they have had problems with the manicure they were wearing when the school year began. In contrast, the pressure for them is less in terms of hair; if they dye their hair blond or red it is ignored, although other tones, such as violet, blue or green may not be.

“Reality evolves faster than school regulations,” explains Zulema Vázquez, a sociologist with two school age children. “The teaching authorities have a mentality from the last century and are not prepared to deal with the new situations that are taking place,” she says.

The specialist considers that any attempt at uniformity in terms of physical appearance eventually causes children and adolescents to find more sophisticated ways to differentiate themselves. “It can be the length of the skirt, a piercing, adjustments made to a blouse, the color or the length of the hair, but in one way or another, they will find a way to break the monotony,” argues Vázquez.

María Molina, mother of a teenager in Cienfuegos, told 14ymedio that her 14-year-old son was unable to start the school year at José Gregorio Technological Institute where he is training to be a “teacher of agriculture,” because his teacher and the school’s principal did not allow him to attend with his dyed hair.

According to Molina, the teacher and the director warned that “if you don’t cut your hair or dye it black” he would not be admitted. The mother tried to negotiate an intermediate solution and proposed that the young man cut his hair a little every week until the dyed part disappears, but her alternative was not accepted.

“As a mother I feel frustrated, I called the provincial and municipal education department and everyone repeats that we have to respect the school regulations,” she concludes with irritation.

Cuba’s Most Pressing Problems / Eduardo Martinez

Trash overflowing and collecting around the available dumpsters at Aquila and Estrella Streets in Havana. Photo by Orlando Freire Santana

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez El Cerro, Havana, 5 September 2017 — We list here the most pressing problems faced by average Cubans:

1-A greatly reduced ration book of subsidized foods. High prices in the markets. Very little on offer in the stores. Relatively cheap goods of horrendous quality. In an island surrounded by water there is no fish. Fishing is not permitted.

2-Total sustained inflation of 1000%. Constant reduction of the average Cuban’s buying power. continue reading

3-Almost total absence of locally produced or imported cosmetics and perfumes. Scarce, poor and expensive supply of clothing and shoes. Shortages of detergents, toilet paper, soaps, etc.

4-Terrible public transportation in a constant state of decay. Very expensive taxis. Private alternative drivers greatly harassed by police and inspectors who stringently enforce technical and aesthetic standards for which they provide no support.

5-Extremely high and burdensome taxes imposed on all private businesses, absence of incentives, no wholesale market, absence of low tariffs, barriers to importing, excessive and corrupt bureaucracy, great number of regulations and prohibitions that obstruct free enterprise, etc.

6-Abysmal state of the never-finished National Highway and of urban and rural roads throughout the country, where no work to reverse this situation can be seen. Advanced and irrecoverable (in terms of planning and current economic possibilities) deterioration of the housing stock and all urban infrastructure. Railway lines that are technologically backward, save those that have to do with access to the Port of Mariel.

7-Obsolete airports. New and more severe customs restrictions on the entry of merchandise and products when in fact the opposite should be the case, if the objective is to incentivize minimal but effective commerce. Impossibility of importation by private individuals or entities.

8-Dual monetary system*. When the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is eliminated it will leave only the Cuban Peso (CUP) along with the exorbitantly high current prices. A median monthly salary consists of little more than 300 CUP monthly, while the cost of living for that same period is 2500 CUP.

9-High unemployment, not officially recognized.

10-The presence on the streets of a high number of uniformed police officers, members of State Security, and of inspectors who obstruct private enterprise and public life.

11-Exceedingly high emigration, especially of young and highly qualified professionals. Very low birth rate and very rapid aging of the population.

12-High housing deficit. Scarce and very expensive construction materials. Properties being bought-up by foreigners hiding behind national residents, incentivized by (for them) low real estate prices compared with those in their own countries.

13-Highly censored news media that don’t report on many matters of national and international interest. Scant possibility of accessing the Internet. Dreadful radio and television programming. Culture that is mediated and restricted by a Ministry that inhibits and prohibits more than it encourages, supports or represents.

14-Bad education with non-systematic improvisation of evaluative measures (such as oral exams for the 12th grade). Low expectations of students, indifference and apathy on their part for a future devoid of interest.

15-Bad medical and health services throughout the Island in light of the acute shortage of professionals for so many residents. Chronic absence of primary and secondary medications. An abusive black market in health care and products. The appalling state of public hospitals. Full waiting rooms but an extreme dearth of personnel given the exporting of the healthcare labor force to work in foreign countries in exchange for hard currency paid directly to the government.

16-Very little possibility of accessing recreation centers.

17-Violence, aggressiveness and widespread coarseness in the streets. High social indiscipline as a consequence of the sharp and sustained economic crisis in the country. The appearance of uncollected trash heaps around insufficient or very deteriorated garbage cans–founts of stink, mosquitoes and disease–on the corners of not very privileged or centrally located neighborhoods. The appearance of legions of dumpster divers (barehanded garbage pickers, usually old or chronically displaced persons) in search of recyclable aluminum cans, empty soda bottles that can be sold to private entrepreneurs, remains of edible food, anything that can be sold to unsuspecting buyers, etc. These ladies and gentlemen care little about order and hygiene, and they contribute to the nation’s urban disaster.

18-The ruling class is not interested in any type of aid from the North Americans, for they fear that–as will happen anyway, as is in fact already happening–their power will quickly slip through their fingers, and in six months time this country will become another Puerto Rico.

eduardo57@nauta.cu

Translator’s Notes:

*Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos (CUP), worth about 4 cents US, and Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC), each worth 25 Cuban pesos, or about one dollar US. It has been a longstanding, but as yet unfulfilled, promise of the government to move to a single currency.

Translated By:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

How Does the Cuban Survive? / Eduardo Martínez

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, Havana, 31 July 2017 — In the 1960s and even the 70s, the legitimacy of the system–despite its continuous economic fiascos and failure to achieve an adequate and genuinely Cuban social system–was acceptable for the hopeful lower classes, while the middle and upper classes were fleeing to Miami.

Fifty-eight years after the triumph of the Revolution and still under the same regime, we ask ourselves the same questions, and many more besides.

The so-called Special Period began in 1990, a crisis from which, more than a quarter-century later, we have been unable to emerge. But the government obstinately insists on committing the same errors that produced the misfortunes of today. continue reading

This system appears equitable in theory, but in practice (the evaluative test of truth) it has proven to be dysfunctional.

The government attempts to improve and change the system, but in practice, nothing improves and nothing changes.

Of what use has been the enormous propaganda expounded around the Economic Guidelines and the last two Congresses of the Communist Party?  What changes have effectively improved the very precarious living standard of the Cuban people?

A foreigner might ask, “What is this man saying? What ‘very precarious living standard,’ when in fact they have government-guaranteed basic subsistence, free education, unbeatable social security, and enviable health care comparable to the best in the world?” He might think that I am a “mercenary on the imperialist payroll.” But whoever thinks this way does himself little favor. We shall speak of these matters…

The changes the government has made–to allow for a certain degree of self-employment in minute private businesses–improve the living standard of a few very determined entrepreneurs who, come hell or high water, are trying to earn incomes that will provide them a decent existence.

But these individuals are few and far between, and they have a difficult time of it, given the great number of erratic and disorganized regulations, the stress of inspectors and functionaries constantly hanging around demanding the expected and the unexpected, the high cost and difficulty of obtaining inputs, and the draconian taxes that must be paid to agencies that provide no type of security, facilities or guarantees for the work they supposedly regulate. And there is no wholesale market to lower prices and provide some assurance of supplies, preventing start-up merchants from snatching up all available materials needed by individuals.

Up until a few years ago, everything was guaranteed. You would work for the State until the age of 60, then retire with a little pension that would support you until death. Today, nothing is guaranteed. Nothing.

Of what use have been those vaunted “Guidelines”? We Cubans continue to live in poverty, on the lowest human scale.

The current situation of average Cubans–more than 90% of the population–is dire, literally unsustainable. The government knows this but does nothing to improve this situation, even though there exist the means and resources to do so, the methods and a trained labor force desirous of working for a suitable salary.

A redistribution of profits is needed, a clear and transparent accounting system, so that the citizens may know where every cent that we produce is invested: it is our right…

Readers will forgive the digression that follows, because regarding this subject, I find myself obligated to put forth concrete examples that could hurt the feelings of many.

One of my neighbors in Havana’s El Cerro neighborhood is an engineer who is now quite advanced in years. His wife was a professor. Both have been retired now for decades, with pensions of 200 Cuban pesos* (CUP) per month each. They have no children or other relatives. They were once faithful and honest functionaries, and members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

The minimum cost of living is at about 2500 CUP (approx. 100 Cuban convertible pesos, CUC*) per month. With that sum one can acquire basic foodstuffs and medicines. Forget clothes and shoes, household appliances, home repairs, etc.

Both of these elderly people have to decide between what they will eat or what medicines they will buy when needed. In the not too distant future they will die and will not be counted in the national statistics as dead from starvation or lack of adequate medical care.

Last month, by way of the ration book, they bought the assigned amount of chicken, five eggs, and a half-pound of “soy ham” per person. This couple cannot acquire anything in CUC. Where is the protein in their diet? The fruits and vegetables they need?

In their prime, this aged couple were active members of this society and faithful followers of the PCC. Today, they do not officially exist. They will soon leave this earth and nobody will have done anything for them. They live in isolation, confined to their apartment during their last days.

This is how the majority of the aged survive. Many were faithful followers of Fidel who, at some point, renounced their emigrating relatives, took part in repudiation rallies and hurled eggs at those who were leaving, always applauded at the Plaza of the Revolution–even when their monthly ration of rice and sugar was reduced by a pound under the standard quota—and who trooped along in the Marches of the Combatant People, etc.

This permanent economic crisis and the astronomical inflation that the government maintains by force directly harms the elderly. There has been much official talk about helping them, taking care of them, but nothing has been done of any great scale. Old folks’ homes are extremely scarce. To enter one, you have to give up your pension to the State and, to get his or her attention, you have to give up your house to a functionary who decides if you will be admitted.

Lack of adequate medical care? How can that be?

My brother, generally healthy and very active, took ill a few days ago. He went to the doctor’s office on the second morning of a severe malaise, but on that day they were only seeing pregnant women. He was not seen. On the third day he returned to the office and the general practitioner, without so much as examining him, let alone taking his blood pressure or listening to his heart, among other basic check-ups, prescribed him analgesics. On the fourth day, still suffering the same complaints, but worsening, my brother visited the polyclinic and the doctor on duty was about to prescribe him something, without performing any examinations, blood work, urinalysis, etc. Nothing. My brother fled before the doctor could get a word out. He turned to a well-known cardiologist, who within in a nearby hospital discovered that he is a diabetic, and placed him under treatment.

Doctors find themselves constantly besieged everywhere by relatives, friends and acquaintances in search of at least basic medical attention, and this increases their workload tremendously, because desperate people are knocking on the doors of their homes at all hours.

It takes me a half hour to walk to the hospital where my wife works as a gynecologist. For her–who of course does not own a car–it takes two hours. She has to constantly stop to give street consultations to the persons who are impelled to seek her out because of the deficiencies of the health care system. She, with infinite patience, gives them her time and does the best she can.

Today, overburdened Cuban doctors are forced to economize, to employ a personal evaluative scale by observation before utilizing expendable or electronic resources that might be costly to the State. This is per training by the Ministry of Public Health. Where do they put the more than $8-billion earned by our foreign medical missions?

In the pharmacies, no antacids, anti-fungals, anti-allergens, potent analgesics, antibiotics, etc. can be found. There is practically nothing there except for medicinal syrups concocted from traditional herbal recipes. Even aspirin is scarce. Notwithstanding, many powerful medicines, some of Cuban manufacture, are sold on the black market at exorbitant prices.

In the poorly provisioned hospitals, to gain admittance is quite difficult, albeit free. For a surgical operation one needs a miracle or a friend.

When a patient is admitted, he or she must bring bedclothes, food, fans, drinking water, etc., and–in light of the devastating shortage of nurses–someone must remain with the patient to ensure the timely administration of treatment and medications. Upon release from the hospital, if the patient does not slip 10 CUC to the ambulance drivers, there is a wait of three days for the ambulance service from the hospital, or else one must rely on expensive private taxis.

Have we spoken of the enormous waiting lists for operations? The sick must wait weeks, months, years, and then die because the operating rooms are never available due to advanced deterioration, or lack of bedding, anesthesiologists, water or surgical sutures.

Is this the celebrated medical service?

Everything I refer to here is demonstrable. One only needs to visit a hospital as a patient.

But the rulers always have some luxury tour planned out for the gullible or those who want to believe.

Today in our society can be seen sharp differences between a rarefied group of enriched government bureaucrats (along with a few successful miscreants) and the overwhelming majority of the people.

There are excellent neighborhoods such as Nuevo Vedado, Miramar, Siboney, Atabey, and some other area along the periphery of Havana such as Fontanar, etc., where these personages somehow finagle (there is always something murky about these transactions) grand mansions, practically all built in the 1950s, as this is the only architectural era on which one can rely for elegance and style.

There is a law on the books, of which little is said, which imposes space limitations on permits for new construction. That law refers to modest dwellings of just a few square meters per inhabitant.

Near my house, a functionary who drives an enormous Mercedes has built a residence of nearly 1000 sq. ft., utilizing a private work force. With the blocks and cement they have used just on the surrounding wall, a modest apartment house could be built.

No argument here against big mansions. The problem is when its occupants sharply preach all that about “do as I say, not as I do.”

At this time, the government appears to be in a profound financial crisis. It hardly exports anything, tourism has not increased as predicted, and the price of petroleum is still low (thanks to Venezuela). All that’s left are the scarce products of our pharmaceutical manufacturing, biotechnology and the export of human capital to the detriment of our already precarious internal services.

There are shortages of supplies to the CUC stores, and delayed and even more scarce stocks of regular and subsidized foodstuffs.

What will low-income people, the aged, eat when there are no more provisions to be had through the ration book?

There are markets for fresh agricultural products and pork and lamb, but their prices continue to rise unabated. For example, at the peak of the harvest season, a pound of tomatoes or onions costs 10 to 15 Cuban pesos, which is more than a worker makes in one day, and let’s not even speak of pork, which costs 35 Cuban pesos per pound.

If the government is trying to gain access to the bank credits of major world markets to salvage at least one part of the socialist economy, it will find itself forced to cut back on all types of services to the population, and even if not, they will continue to deteriorate. And we are well past the times of Marches of the Combatant peoples, of military slogans and harangues.

Still, this government has nine lives. In the 1960s, the Soviets bailed it out. Later, Hugo Chávez came on the scene to rescue it. Today, as Chavismo is mired in problems, the help will come from whom we least expected it.

Will the regime accept the political and social cost of a massive infusion of North American investments? Hopefully it will, because I’m dying to eat a double Big Mac and wash it down with a liter of Coca-Cola on the corner of Malecon and 23rd.

Really, the Castros have never cared about the people’s calamitous situation. What they care about is the State, their State, the one they hope will survive them, so that they will not find themselves as defendants in a Cuban version of the Nuremberg Trials.

eduardo57@nauta.cu

Translator’s Notes:

*Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, worth about 4 cents US, and Cuban Convertible pesos, each worth 25 Cuban pesos, or about one dollar US. It has been a longstanding, but as yet unfulfilled, promise of the government to move to a single currency.

Translated By:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

Cubans Stranded In Panama Are Wary of the Deportation Initiated By the Government

Some twenty migrants organized a press conference outside the Gualaca camp in Chiriquí province to complain that they have been victims of a “deception”. (El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 29 August 2017 — This Monday the process began to repatriate 75 undocumented migrants who were stranded in Panama after the United States ended the wet foot/dry foot policy that allowed Cubans who touched American soil to stay. The Cubans stranded in Panama accepted that government’s proposal to return to their own country, in exchange for financial support and a visa to legally return to Panama, but some say they feel “betrayed” because the first deportees were not given an appointment at the consulate.

“We feel betrayed by Panama because they sent the first two emigrants to Cuba and did not give them an appointment at the consulate in Havana,” one of the Cubans, who has asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said via telephone. continue reading

This Monday a Cuban couple was repatriated to the island and according to the Panamanian Deputy Minister of Security, Jonathan Del Rosario, they received economic aid so that they can start over as self-employed. Regarding the consulate appointment, the couple says that they were only given telephone numbers for the Panama consulate in Havana and not a date as the deputy minister had said.

“I am a man of my word, and everything we have promised is going to be fulfilled,” Del Rosario told 14ymedio from Panama City.

According to the vice minister, the pre-appointment is a record that shows that the migrants have fulfilled the promise to return to Cuba. “The list of those who return will be transmitted to the consulate through the Foreign Ministry,” he explained.

“We have to have patience and confidence because everything we have promised has been fulfilled over time,” he added.

The first Cuban returnees were the ones who had spent the most time outside the country. According to the families of both migrants, who live in Havana, the trip was in line with what was planned and they are now “reuniting with family.”

“I have been very clear, very honest and very frank, I do not see why the migrants are suspicious,” said the deputy minister, who added that “those who misbehave or become rebellious will move from the Gualaca shelter to Migration for their deportation.” He lamented that the repatriation process could be at risk because of the despair of some islanders.

So far, no other migrants have been sent back to Cuba because it is the Panamanian administration that pays for the tickets and economic support, something for which it is still organizing the budget. “It’s a complex process that requires time,” Del Rosario explained.

Meanwhile, a dozen Cubans organized a press conference outside the Gualaca camp in Chiriquí province on Tuesday to complain that they have been victims of a “deception.”

“Not all Cubans think in the same way, there are some of us who are ungrateful and don’t value what this country is doing for us, but we are not everyone,” says a second migrant who asks for anonymity for fear of the protest leaders.

“We are desperate, that is true. The months pass and we are still here thinking that we will have to return to Cuba and start from scratch,” he adds.

Note: Our apologies that these videos are not subtitled in English

The Cubans fear having to face the difficult task of getting an appointment at the Panama embassy in Havana. Some applicants have waited more than six months to be seen by the consulate due to the thousands of calls received every Thursday to process visas to that country. Faced with increasing demand, Panama’s Director of Immigration, Javier Carrillo, told 14ymedio that the number of visas would increase from the current 500 to about 1,000.

At the end of June, the Panamanian government proposed to the 124 Cubans who were in the Gualaca camp that they voluntarily return to their country in exchange for $1,650 and a multiple entry visa to Panama.

A little more than half of the undocumented immigrants accepted this proposal because of the impossibility of legalizing their status in the country or entering the United States where, as of January 12, with the end of the wet foot/dry foot policy, Cubans lost the privilege of being granted automatic refuges status if they reached American soil.

‘Che’ Guevara Welcomes Passengers At Miami Airport For A Few Hours

A poster with the image of the Argentine guerrilla was exhibited for some hours by mistake in one of the main terminals of the Miami airport. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 1 September 2017 — Miami Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez, whose family had to go into exile after the Cuban Revolution in 1959,  never thought that his image would be linked to that of Ernesto Che Guevara, one of the “bearded ones” who established communism in his homeland.

The image of Guevara welcomed passengers at Miami International Airport for a few hours on Thursday night and continuing into Friday morning, just a few yards from another image showing Giménez as part of the exhibition The Irish in Latin America, sponsored by the Irish embassy in the United States to highlight the contributions of immigrants from that country to the history and culture of Latin American.

“Che Guevara wanted to make people ‘an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine’, as he put it. Far from being considered a hero, they should measure him by the same yardstick as Osama Bin Laden” continue reading

“The picture of Che is no longer there, they took it away,” said an airport employee who asked to remain anonymous.

“I saw it last night and I did not agree. They should have put another photo of a celebrated person from Cuba, but not Che who was a murderer. It’s fine that the communists in Cuban or Venezuela display it there, but not here,” said the employee of Cuban origin.

Greg Chin, communications director for the airport told 14ymedio that in one of the preliminary versions of the art exhibition organizers presented the poster with the image of Argentine guerrilla, but that the authorities of the terminal made it clear they would not display it out of respect for the community.

“It was taken down early in the morning. It wasn’t on display at the airport for even 12 hours,” he explained.

The image of Giménez remains at the beginning of the exhibition ,which contains a total of 27 posters with personalities of Irish descent that marked Latin American history. The legend under his image extols his Irish ancestry and credits the ties he has created between the two communities.

The mayor’s office said he “deeply regrets” the incident and they were unaware of the images that would be displayed at the airport.

“In an essay about the exhibition they included the image of Che Guevara and the staff of the air terminal themselves expressed their rejection of this figure and what it represents in Miami,” said Stephanie Severino, a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office.

The exhibition is divided by the main countries where the Irish emigrated to. Five of the images are dedicated to Cubans and highlight historical figures such as José Martí, Father Felix Varela, Ricardo O’Farrill and Alejandro O’Reilly.

Ernesto Guevara, born in Argentina, participated in the struggle against Batista and then joined the revolutionary government with Fidel Castro; the Irish exhibition presented him as a physician committed to social justice.

Fragment of the original exhibition of “The Irish presence in Latin America”. (Courtesy)

“After graduating as a doctor, Ernesto spent the rest of his life fighting against poverty and injustice in Latin America,” declared the exhibit, classifying him as “one of the most celebrated revolutionaries of the twentieth century.”

The image of Che that was displayed last night at the airport’s E terminal was created in 1968 by Irish artist Jim Fitzpatrick. It is a poster in white and red with the image of Che Guevara under the name VIVA CHE, and is inspired by the famous photograph taken by Alberto Korda.

The Irish ancestry of Guevara comes to him through his paternal grandmother, Ana Isabel Lynch, born in Argentina. The family’s Irish roots from Patrick Lynch, who established himself in Buenos Aires in 1740, married to a wealthy heiress.

The Irish embassy in the United States told this newspaper that the panel with the image of Che was not supposed to be included . “It was removed as soon as we discovered the error this morning. We fully understand the sensitivity and deeply regret the error,” said communications director Carol Jordan.

María Werlau, director of the NGO Cuba Archive, dedicated to collecting information on Cuban historical memory, believes that the image of Che Guevara is one of the “most successful” advertising campaigns in history.

Werlau is the author of a book entitled The Forgotten Victims of ‘Che’ Guevara which details the shootings directed by the Argentine guerrilla after summary trials in Havana’s La Cabaña fortress.

Che’s biographies are voluminous but almost never thoroughly investigate his crimes. Guevara was one of the forerunners of the infamous UMAP in Cuba [forced labor camps for dissidents, priests and homosexuals]. He wrote against the Indians and against the blacks. In his own writings he recognized that he liked to kill,” she explained.

For Werlau, placing the image of Che next to patriots like Martí and Varela is the “product of the ignorance.” According to the expert, the Cuban exile has not been able to raise awareness of the need to dismantle the propaganda of the Government of Havana.

Che Guevara wanted to make people ‘an effective, violent, selective and cold killing machine’, as he put it. Far from being considered a hero, they should measure him by the same yardstick as Osama Bin Laden,” she added.