Alamar and Hip-Hop / Yoani Sanchez

Let’s go to Alamar! My mother would say and we would head out to visit some relatives who lived in that so-called “Siberia.” We arrived in an area of ugly, coarse buildings haphazardly tossed on the grass. We would play with other kids among these concrete boxes in the high grass that grew all around. It smelled of the sea, and also of boredom. It should have been the city of the New Man, but it was just a failed architectural experiment.

Alamar, despite its urbanist failings, has been the hotbed of a vibrant and rebellious musical genre: hip-hop. Its amphitheater has hosted some of the most memorable alternative concerts in Island memory. Hard songs, composed with the words of daily life and the poetry of the street. Duels between opponents who, instead of throwing weapons or blows, launch words and rhymes. How did the stage for this “citizen laboratory” end up sheltering these lyrics of the rebellion? What happened with the victorious anthems that led to such corrosive verses of survival?

What happened was that reality set in. Alamar was one of the areas of Havana hardest hit by the economic hardships of the Special Period. It saw thousands of its inhabitants leave during the 1994 Rafter Crisis, and suffered extremely long power cuts accompanied by robberies and other acts of violence. The Russian technicians left, the squatters made the empty homes they left their own, and the Chilean exiles who lived there, for the most part, returned to their own country.

Then the immigrants from the eastern provinces arrived, illegal constructions extended on all sides, and the police declared that bedroom city a “danger zone.” A “people warehouse,” conceived for disciplined and mediocre people, demonstrated that when you play with the social or constructive alchemy, you rarely achieve the desired results.

Amid the gray cement, the tiny rooms and the boredom, hip-hop has become the daily soundtrack. Alamar has its own rhythm. A cadence that hits the head like the waves that crash against its dogtooth coastline. Like the picks hitting the ground to lay the foundation of a quadrilateral and submissive future that never came.

21 April 2014

Dialog, Why? / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Screen Shot 2014-04-20 at 11.00.52 AMIn my country, for more than half a century, the government hasn’t dialogued with anyone. The Cuban Revolution doesn’t recognize any other interlocutor than itself, incarnated in the figure of the Maximum Leader, the now decrepit Fidel.

Executions, thirty-year sentences, perpetual exile. Whoever wanted to dialogue in Cuba ended up in one of these three categories of tropical totalitarianism.

Even today, in the 21st century, with a dissidence that has occupied certain alternative spaces of expression at the cost of much sacrifice, the Cuban gerontocracy has to die in power without having crossed words with anyone, except its own clan, the so-called “historic” generation.

Dialogue with the Communists, thus validating elections and other hypocrisies, is always a deception or a trick. The Communist have nothing to say, its not their international mission. They only follow the orders of a political party that incarnates their own dogma. They are soldiers dressed as civilians.

The idea is to take power at any cost and to never let it go in any peaceful way. There is a stage in which the Communists simply annihilate their adversaries. And there is another in which it is pertinent to sweet-talk the opponent with masquerade of a dialogue.

That is why Communist parties were illegal in so many countries for so long, a reasonable law by simple instinct of self-preservation. But today the democracies feel ashamed for being democracies–they carry a complex about being better in the face of the worst–such that no one is willing to defend the democratic establishment, either in the first world and in the developing nations.

So the Communists in Latin America, for example, although they are not all called that, now mine our social systems in blessed peace, and the entire continent tends as a bloc to violate citizens’ basic rights. Every caudillo legitimately holds his presidential seat for life, always with a red star in the logo of their respective parties.

Personally, I don’t believe that a party of violent inspiration and intolerant rhetoric should participate in the democratic game in any era. In Cuba, after fifty years of the Communist Party hijacking political life, it’s clear that there will be no democratic transition without the disintegration of the Party. And without making it illegal for a time perhaps similar to the despotic half-century of the Cuban Communists, whose contempt for dialogue soon became a contempt for decency.

In Cuba, a few days ago, TeleSur broadcast live and direct the dialogue between the opposition and Venezuela’s dictators. An opposition which unfortunately now has no other option than to sit at the dictatorial roundtable, provided it is authorized, and at the moment in which it best serves the powers-that-be to buy time to cauterize the popular protests, criminalize their leaders, and at the end of the day perpetuate themselves.

Venezuela’s rulers know well what they are doing. They are “dialoguing” for perhaps the last time. Soon they will not have to bother with these desperate deployments, where the entire planet is disturbed, but lazily so, by their hegemonic manias.

Soon the H in Havana will prove to be much more than a silent deadly letter. If there is no awakening among the international community, if the Venezuelan democrats who have given the best of themselves (their lives) are abandoned to their fate, as in their moment the world dismissed several generations of Cuban democrats, the made-in-Castro Communism will feel the impunity of falling, like a silent wasteland upon our future, always so futile in so many nations.

19 April 2014

Angel Santiesteban’s Work Again Recognized in France

The dictator Raul Castro continues stubbornly to make the world believe that he’s bringing to Cuba an opening that in reality doesn’t exist. He continues being the same dictator as always, violating the rights of all Cubans, submitting them to misery, censoring the press, harassing, beating and imprisoning peaceful opponents.

Angel Santiesteban, unjustly imprisoned, has completed one year after a rigged trial for some crimes that his ex-wife and mother of his son invented together with the political police. They sought to silence his critical voice against the dictatorship, but they have not succeeded. No punishment, beatings or prison itself has made a dent in him.

And by keeping him locked up, the dictator hasn’t prevented his literature from continuing to be recognized in the world, which condemns the injustice against him.

Again in France, this time in Marseille, his book of stories, “Laura in Havana”, published in 2012 by L’Atinoir, will be presented before the public.

Raul Castro continues violating his own law, taking away Angel’s passes that he is supposed to get every sixty days. It doesn’t matter to Angel, because when his companions go to visit their families, he takes even more advantage of the time and the calm to continue writing.

The Editor

A meeting

We invite you to a convivial meeting with Jacques Aubergy and Rasky Beldjoudi, Saturday, April 12, at 5:00 p.m. at the Maison Pour Tous de la Belle de Mai (House For All of the Belle of May).


Jacques Aubergy is a translator, bookseller and publisher. His publishing house, L’Atinoir, publishes authors of noir fiction and Latin American writers.

He will speak to us of his trade, how he chooses his books, and will make us know intimately and with passion some marvels of Latin American literature chosen by him.

He will also present the book, “Laura in Havana,” a collection of ten short stories by Angel Santiesteban-Prats, published by Atinoir.

Angel Santiesteban Prats is one of the greatest Cuban authors, presently in prison after having openly criticized his country’s system. His imprisonment has generated strong support from Reporters Without Borders and the world-wide community of bloggers.

An enthralling book

“The Eleventh Commandment” is a book by Rasky Beldjoudi, a resident of the Belle de Mai.

The name Rasky Beldjoudi will surely mean nothing in particlar to you. You have never noticed him, although it’s very probable that you have already seen him on Caffo Square or perhaps, one day, sitting next to you on bus 32.

However, Rasky is impressive, muscular, and his Belgian accent with a Kabyle (Berber) accent leaves no one indifferent. Since his infancy, Rasky has accumulated difficulties. From scholastic failures to precarious employment, he knew years of struggle and the hell of drugs.

In spite of an uneven road and a life story that is sometimes not very glorious, he succeeded in rising above the circumstances of his life and has just published “The Eleventh Commandment”: an enthralling autobiography, written in a remarkable style, full of humanity, and unbelievably touching.


Saturday, April 12 at 5:00 p.m.

Maison Pour Tous de la Belle de Mai

6 Blvd. Boyer, 13003 Marseille

Free admission

Event organized by Brouettes & Compagnie, the association CIN-CO and the Maison Pour Tous de la Belle de Mai.

Translated by Regina Anavy
4 April 2014

Guille, The Macho Guajiro / Angel Santiesteban

Angel Santiesteban Prats dedicates this article to Guillermo Vidal, to remember the tenth anniversary of his death. He wrote it from the Lawton Prison Settlement for the column “Some Write” from the digital magazine “OtroLunes” (“Another Monday”).

By Angel Santiesteban Prats

It’s always a pleasure to remember Guillermo Vidal.

Sharing with him the adventure of writing has been one of the great rewards that life has offered me. His sympathy, modesty and talent seasoned his conversations. He was a man called to make friends, easy to like, and always persecuted by injustice, since they never could make him bow down. He maintained his literature at a high price, because he didn’t yield even one iota of his level of social criticism.

When they expelled him as a professor from the university, they didn’t even ask how he was going to live or maintain his family. Being despised and marginalized by the government of his territory in Las Tunas, by the demand of the political police, he became himself.

He was part of an intellectual existence that he accepted with stoicism, without complaint, which he endured in solitude and repaid with brilliant writing. That was his revenge.

After treating him like the plague for many years, the government offered a tribute to an official writer, and we agreed to attend if Guille would be among those invited. Once there, in the seat of the Provincial Party, in the same lair as the dictatorship, one of us said publicly that our presence had no other end but to lionize Guillermo Vidal, the most important living writer of Las Tunas, and one of the most important in the country; that it was a way of supporting him and demonstrating our friendship.

The government functionaries and those in charge of culture opened their eyes, surprised by the audacity. Those were the times when we still had not gained some rights that we have now, and where for much less than what is done today, there were immediate reprisals.

What is certain is that on that night and in the following days, we felt like better people and better intellectuals for showing our solidarity with him. Later he let us know that, from that moment, things got better for him. He stopped being banned and persecuted, because the authorities feared his contacts in the country, especially in Havana.

Now that we are on the eve of another congress of UNEAC (National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba), I remember what happened during the decade of the ’90s. After the vote to name the officers, Professor Ana Cairo, the officer of the Roger Avila Association of Writers, and I counted the votes, and there were a surprising number of artists who voted for Guillermo Vidal.

No one else had as many votes; no one even came close. However, later, when I saw who they elected, I understood that the votes were only a game, because Abel Prieto determined the election. They didn’t give any commission to Guillermo Vidal, not even in his own province. He was cursed, on the list of the marginalized.

When he died, it caused an infinite sadness, impossible to describe. I called the Institute of the Book (ICL), since I knew that they would have transport to take writers who wanted to participate in his burial.

The Taliban Iroel Sanchez, at that time the President of this institution, assured me that the microbus already had seats assigned. Of course, he was lying to me, and I intuited that in his words. Later, those who made the trip in that transport told me that not all the seats were taken.

I regretted very much not being able to say goodbye to him in that last moment. They feared that the truth would come out: that they had condemned him in life by closing all the doors to him that he knew his literature, a stroke of talent, would win. Surely I would have said that.

You can’t talk about Cuban literature at the end of the 20th century without mentioning the genres of the short story and the novel. However, in spite of the human misery that surrounded him, and the material poverty they obliged him to suffer, his genius at being a good Cuban jokester is the first thing that comes to mind when we think about him. That’s how I want to remember him now.

The book fairs in Havana take place in February and almost always coincide with his birthday, the 10th, that all his friends celebrated in harmony. We also celebrated February 14. I have one of his books, presented to me during those days, and I remember the dedication to me that “in spite of it being the day of love (Valentine’s Day), don’t get me wrong, I was a macho, macho guajiro.”

He had a spectacular snore. It almost loosened the nails from the beams and raised the roof. When you approached his room, the first sensation was that there was a roaring lion inside. The result? No one wanted to share a room with him.

Once, late in the night in Ciego de Avila, I met another writer from Las Tunas, Carlos Esquivel, literally crying in the lobby of the hotel because he couldn’t manage to sleep with those snorts.

When I described this scene the next day to Guillermo, he laughed like a naughty child. He asked me to repeat the story so he could continue to amuse himself, and he called for the others to listen to what suffering he was capable of inflicting, unconsciously.

In one of the prizes he won, and there were several, he had the luck to receive dollars. Then we got a telephone call saying that he was a relative of Rockefeller, and that he was ready to share his fortune; thus, he was generous. Certainly, in those few months I didn’t have a cent, and he continued in his material poverty. No one except his friends and spouse could believe him.

At one book fair in Guadalajara he told me that sometimes he had the impression that the government permitted him to leave to see if he stayed and they would get rid of him, and he laughed imagining the faces of the functionaries when they saw him return.

In one of his visits to Havana, he confessed to me how surprised he was because another writer told him that he envied him, and he couldn’t conceive of being anyone to envy, and he laughed. “When I go home from the university, at high noon, the cars pass me and no one gives me a ride, and they leave me wrapped in dust to the point that I stop breathing so I don’t swallow the dust,” he said, and he began to laugh.

Then I told him that I would exchange all that poverty for his books, that I also envied him, and he got serious, and in a respectful tone asked me if I was serious.

Thus he always comes into my memory, ironic as the priest’s pardon after confessing sins, and as sweet as the tamarind that they give the leaders to taste.

This year is the tenth anniversary of his physical disappearance. And every year, in spite of some mediocre political and cultural figures who agree to forget him, the imprint of Guillermo Vidal on Cuban culture overrides frontiers and political regimes. And this is elaborated with the passage of time, which was the only thing he didn’t laugh about. To struggle against time through writing was an exercise on which he bet his life.

Published in OtroLunes.

Please follow the link and sign the petition to have Amnesty International declare the Cuban dissident Angel Santiesteban a prisoner of conscience.

Translated by Regina Anavy

9 April 2014

“La Vida Loca,”; a Three-Story Thicket / Jose Hugo Fernandez

The lush forest of the Gran Hotel Jose Hugo Fernandez – Stock photo

HAVANA – Cuba. Perhaps the tenor Placido Domingo nostalgically remembers his stay in Havana. If he does, the Grand Hotel undoubtedly would occupy a special corner in his memory. Unfortunately for us, although perhaps luckily for her, Maria Cervantes, jewel of Cuban pianists and songs, she did not live long enough to witness the ghostly ruins of that place in whose lobby she shone brilliantly.

The Grand Hotel is one of the monuments of an earlier Havana whose restoration seems impossible. What remains of that solid building taking up an entire block (between Teniente Rey, Zulueta, Monserrate and Dragones), is nothing more than a picturesque specter, representative of the current mood of the city as a showcase of underdevelopment and poverty.

“La vida loca,” announces a phrase written on one side of the old hotel. Its anonymous author, possibly unintentionally, managed to synthesize an amalgam of thoughts that go through our minds when we stop and observe it.

Apparently, someone, many years ago, intended to rescue the Grand Hotel. So a strong scaffolding was mounted around the sides. However, time passed, and it was all forgotten, to the point where within those metals structures a forest has grown with no less exuberance than in the Island’s abandoned fields.

Anyone seeing it might thing that the lack of attention was specifically intended to convert the place into another green lung for Havana.

Opened in 1925, in a very solid and modern construction for its time, the Grand Hotel was famous for being the cleanest and cheapest in our capital. Old Havanans especially remember its slogan, “One hundred rooms with bath,” where free 24-hour accommodation was granted to everyone from the interior of Cuba who came in the Diario de la Marina express for the express purpose of staying there two days.

The reputation of good service, along with its affordable prices and its privileged  location (one block from the Capitol or the Prado, and the doors of the historical center) assured it a commercial preeminence for a long time, and also ensured its special recognition by of the capital’s citizens.

It could have stayed in business for much longer, as a hotel or large housing complex for Havanans. But government laziness and irresponsibility transformed it into a three-story thicket.

Note: This author’s books can be acquired on Amazon at this link, and also here. His blog is here.

Cubanet, 8 April 2014, José Hugo Fernández

Now People Don’t Want the “Chavitos” (CUCs) / Alberto Mendez Castello

Money exchange or money unification. Speculation Crisis. AFP

Currency speculation has the island on the edge of mental collapse. Monday with which to pay wages is scarce. Peso equivalents to the dollar aren’t sold. Informal money changes want real dollars.

Puerto Padre, Cuba — The State Currency Exchange (CADECA) resumed the sale of convertible pesos (CUC) today, after some interrupted for lack of non-convertible, i.e.  Cuban pesos (CUP). “We are exchanging any quantify of convertible pesos for national money (CUP), without any problem,” an employee of CADECA said this morning, when asked by this correspondent. “For me, they changed 24 CUC at 24-to-one, and you see the 100 peso notes they gave me in exchange,” said a man after leaving CADECA.

Indeed, the curiosity of the young man was not unfounded: although the date on the notes was 2008, the paper and ink “smelled” as if it had just come off the presses. The private exchangers don’t accept CUCs now because, simply, people won’t by them.”

“I brought seven hundred CUC here and I haven’t sold one,” said the exchanger, about noon, regarding the convertible pesos popularly known as chavitos. “The people who don’t receive remittances don’t have money, and those who do receive them don’t need chavitos.”

In Puerto Padre, CUC used to be common in people’s pockets; a large community of immigrants, primarily based in the U.S., sent dollars relatives and friends which reached the recipients already changed into CUCs through Miami agencies engaged in this business.

The same applies to medical personnel or those of other institutions, who, in filling government posts in Latin America and Africa, are also holders of convertible pesos. Interestingly, these government collaborators are frequent customers of private moneychangers who operate illegally, buying U.S. dollars to carry on their missions abroad to buy appliances and other goods that it would otherwise be impossible to bring to Cuba with what are paid for their “internationalist” collaborations.

“I don’t buy chavitos now, only dollars in large bills, all they have,” whispers an underground exchanger on the corner. For every 100 dollar bill, today he pays 97 pesos.

Cubanet, 19 March 2014, Alberto Méndez Castelló

Violence and Public Discourse / Yoani Sanchez

Poster for the sixth anniversary of the magazine Coexistence

A woman hits a child, who appears to be her son, on one corner. The passersby who see it don’t get involved. A hundred yards further on, two men get in a fight because one stepped on the other’s shoe. I arrive home thinking about this aggressiveness, just under the skin, that I feel in the street. To relax my tension I read the latest issue of the magazine Coexistence, which just celebrated six years since its founding. I find in its pages an article by Miriam Celaya, who coincidentally addresses this “dangerous spiral” of blows, screams and irritation that surrounds us.

Under the title “Notes on the anthropological origins of violence in Cuba,” the scathing analyst delves into the historical and cultural antecedents of the phenomenon. Our own national trajectory, steeped in “blood and fire,” does not help much when it comes time to promote attitudes like pacifism, harmony and reconciliation. From the horrors of slavery during the colonial period, through the wars of independence with their machete charges and their high-handed caudillos,  up to the violent events that also characterized the republic. A long list of fury, blows, weapons and insults shaped our character and are masterfully enumerated by the journalist in her text.

The process that started in 1959 deserves special mention, as it made class hatred and the elimination of those who are different fundamental pillars of the political discourse. Thus, even today, the greater part of the anniversaries commemorated by the government refer to battles, wars, deaths or “flagrant defeats inflicted” on the opponent. The cult of anger is such that the official language itself no longer realizes the rage it promotes and transmits.

But take care! Hatred cannot be “remotely controlled” once fomented. When rancor is kindled against another country, it ends up also validating the grudge against the neighbor whose wall adjoins ours. Those of us who grew up in a society where the act of repudiation has been justified as the “legitimate defense of a revolutionary people,” may think that blows and screams are the way to relate to what we don’t understand. In this environment of violence, for us harmony becomes synonymous with capitulation and peaceful coexistence is a trap that we want to make “the enemy” to fall into.

19 April 2014

A Law with Dark Corners / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Rebeca

The Foreign Investment Law, debated and approved by the National Assembly in extraordinary session, has some worrisome aspects, both for foreign investors as well as for Cuban citizens.

It seems that Cubans living in other countries are not covered under the law since the definition of a domestic investor applies only to current legal residents of Cuba and to cooperatives. The latter are legally recognized non-state administrative entities which may participate as domestic investors in projects financed with foreign capital but which remain completely under state control to prevent the accumulation of excess wealth.

Elsewhere, investment priority is usually given to a country’s own residents, then to its overseas residents and lastly to foreigners. In Cuba it is the opposite: foreigners get top priority. Afterwards, we have to listen to authorities tirelessly proclaiming themselves to be the defenders of national dignity, independence and sovereignty.

The claim that investments “may not be expropriated except for reasons of public utility or social interest, as previously defined by the Council of Ministers” should give one pause. This is a well-established procedure in most countries. Before such actions can be taken, they must be discussed and approved by legislative bodies (a house of representatives, senate, parliament or national assembly).

It is a process in which those concerned — governmental authorities as well as those in the opposition who may hold with differing views — participate fully. Final implementation is subject to review by the judicial branch, which makes sure any such actions do not violate the constitution.

This is not the case in Cuba where the National Assembly is made up exclusively of deputies from one party. It is a legislative body without an opposition in which anything the government proposes is approved unanimously. The Cuban judiciary, which is nothing more than an appendix of the government, also has no independence.

In spite of anything that has been stipulated in writing, investors lack any real protection or legal recourse. They remain subject to decisions by a centralized authority in the person of the president, who for political, ideological or circumstantial reasons can act as he pleases without having to consult anyone, as has happened repeatedly over the last fifty-six years.

Regarding employment of Cuban citizens, the law stipulates that an investor must hire workers through an employment agency selected by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment and authorized by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security. Payment to workers would be by mutual agreement between the investor and the employer. Neither exchange occurs between the investor and the worker directly but through a state intermediary.

Though the purported purpose is not to generate revenue, it stipulates that a portion of the wages paid by the investor will be retained to cover costs and expenses for services provided.

As one might expect, there is a big difference between what the investor pays and what the employee receives. The salary paid to the employee will correspond to a minimum wage set by the employment agency, which it claims will be higher than that for the country’s other workers. Also factored in will be a coefficient which will allow the agency to adjust salaries based on a worker’s performance.

The unfortunate history of low pay for doctors, teachers, athletes and other professionals working overseas to fulfill the Cuban government’s contracts with other countries speaks volumes.

It would perhaps have been advantageous to draft an investment law that also regulated state investments (considering the many examples of bad investments made over the years). It might also have covered private investment, differentiating between foreign and domestic investment.

In regards to domestic investment, it might have included both investment by Cubans living on the island as well as those living overseas, especially since the latter currently must also possess a Cuban passport to enter and exit the country, thus confirming their legal status as Cuban citizens.

This law is not free from the burden of obsolete concepts of failed socialism, with the objective in ensuring a leading role for the state. It lacks sufficient transparency to really stimulate foreign investment and includes some traps into which those who bet on it, without giving it enough thought, might fall.

7 April 2014

Why Doesn’t the Cuban Regime Dialogue With the Dissidence? / Ivan Garcia

Nicolas-Maduro-Henrique-Capriles-570x330Luis, retired military and supporter of the regime, has a few arguments to debate with several neighbors playing dominoes in the doorway of a bodega in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton.

The theme of the day is the dialog between the opposition and Nicolas Maduro’s government, broadcast on Thursday night on TeleSur. Among the players were professionals, unemployed, ex prisoners and retirees.

“When we see this type of face-to-face debate, one realizes we are living in total feudalism. Cuba hurts. Here we have a ton of problems that have accumulated over these 55 years. The government has no respect. The solution is to carry on: more taxes, prohibitions on private work, and raising the price of powdered milk. Why don’t they follow the example of Venezuela and sit down to talk with the dissidence,” asks Joel, a former teacher who now survives selling fritters on Calzada 10 de Octubre.

The ex-soldier Luis feels dislocated by the several ideological pirouettes of the Castros. Unrelentingly sexist and homophobic, these new times are an undecipherable code.

“Even I have my doubts. I fought in Angola. We were trained in Che’s theories not to cede an inch to the enemy (and he signs with his fingers). But now everything is a mess. The old faggots, that we used to censure, walk around kissing on every corner. The self-employed earn five times more than a state worker. And the worms are called señor. If the government is on the wrong path, say so loud and clear. We supporters have a few reasonable arguments to fire back,” says Luis, annoyed.

The dialogue table between the opposition and the government in Venezuela was a success for many in Cuba. Arnaldo, manager of a hard currency store, continued the debate until around two in the morning.

“I was amazed. I don’t not know if it was a blunder of the official censorship. But the next day on the street, people wondered why dissent in Cuba remains a stigma. As for me, the discourse of the Venezuelan opposition was striking. They spoke without shouting, with statistics showing that the failure of the economic  model and highly critical of Cuban interference in Venezuela,” said the manager.

Noel, a private taxi driver, believes that “if the pretension was to ridicule the Democratic Unity Table (MUD) with the discourse of the Chavistas. it backfired. Capriles and company had a deeper analysis and objectives than the government. Like in Cuba, the PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) defended themselves by attacking and speaking ill of the capitalist past. They do not realize that what it’s about is the chaos of the present and how to try to solve it in the future.”

In a quick survey of the 11 people watching who watched the debate, 10 thought the opposition was superior. The best comments were for Guillermo Aveledo and Henrique Capriles.

“Those on the other side seemed like fascists. Frayed, with a mechanical discourse filled with dogmas like those of the Cuban Communist Party Talibans. The worst among the Chavista was the deputy Blanca Eekhout. She’s more fanatical and incoherent than Esteban Lazo, and that’s saying a lot,” commented a university student.

Although institutions and democracy in Venezuela have been taken by assault, with under-the-table privileges, populism and political cronyism among the PSUV comrades, in full retreat, the fact is that there is a legal opposition allowed to do battle in the political field.

Cuba is something else. Despite the efforts of CELAC (Central and Latin American Community) and the European Union patting the old leader on the back and seducing him with the red carpet treatment, it continues as the only country in the western hemisphere where dissidence is a state crime.

The opposition on the island is repressed with beatings and verbal lynchings. A law currently in effect, Law 88, allows the regime to imprison a dissident or free journalist for 20 years or more for writing a note the authorities deem harmful to their interests.

For Ana Maria, a professional who applauded Fidel Castro’s speeches for year, seeing a political dialogue like that in Venezuela on Telesur, allowed her to analyze things from a different perspective.

“It’s a dictatorship. No better or worse. It’s hard to accept that many of us Cubans have been wrong for too long. I lost my youth deluded, repeating slogans and accepting that others, without asking me my opinion, manipulated us at their will,” she confessed.

Eleven U.S. administrations, with controversial programs or others of dubious effectiveness such as Zunzuneo, have been unable to spread an original message and change the opinions of ordinary citizens, like the enduring repression, economic nonsense, rampant corruption, prohibitions of 3D movie rooms and the sale of cars at Ferrari prices, among others.

In these autocratic societies, you never know if an apparent reform will produce benefits or it will begin digging its own grave. It’s like walking on a minefield.

Iván García

Photo: Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela, shaking hands with Henrique Capriles, secretary-general of the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD). Madura greeted him without looking at his face, though Capriles looked at his, demonstrating and more correct and better behavior than the successor to Chavez. Taken from Noticias de Montreal.

15 April 2014

Cuba: Changes Come, Although the General May Not Want Them To / Juan Juan Almeida

For more than half a century, the Cuban Revolution developed exclusively inspired by the powerful and omnipresent archetype Fidel Castro.  An image that no longer exists or is hidden is the dressing rooms of the current political-economic-social theater. That is why when someone asks me if there exist in Cuba objective and subjective conditions for forging change, I always begin by saying: It depends on what we understand and want to assume by “Change.”

It is clear that the so extended process called the Cuban Revolution did not lead to a more just or prosperous or inclusive society, but to a strange and irrational collapse that still endures. The seizure of all powers, judicial and executive, did away with the legal protection of the citizen, and imposed apathy and fear; like that singular combination that exists between a cup of coffee with milk and a piece of bread with butter.

The old Asian theory that speaks of two elements is the basis of the idea that all phenomena of the universe are the result of the movement and mutation of various categories.  The good and the bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the yin and the yang.

The presence of the Ministry of Foreign Relations, the chief of the political department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and the misguided intervention of the President of the Republic of Cuba in the closing event of the recently held Eighth Congress of UNEAC was a terrible implementation of this old theory, and a disastrous strategy for showing the authority of the Government and the State, and at the same time it tried to reconquer the intelligentsia that as we all now know appears because of obstinacy, compromise, inertia or boredom, but that for some time, due to these same reasons, distanced itself from the Revolution.

The island’s government, upon the prompt and unstoppable disappearance if its leader-guide-priest and example, manages to entertain by talking of transformation while it intimidates us, leaving very clear the place of each in its chain of command.Many times we have seen dissident voices that issue from within the island repressed using mental patients with disorders like bi-polar and schizophrenia that without adequate medication exhibit extremely violent behaviors.  Outrageous.

I ask myself what the representatives of international organizations do, or what  those sensitive and passionate people who decided to defend vehemently and peevishly the Hippocratic oath say, on learning that the mentally ill are used as deadly weapons.

On April 14, 1912, the Titanic, at that time the safest boat in the world, crashed into an iceberg, and while it was sinking, the orchestra played.  In all ways, whether the general wants it or not, change is coming, although I have to admit that since 2008, the man has exerted himself in confusing us with an imaginary and mythological climate of national improvements and radical reforms; on one hand he shows several political prisoners, and on the other he hides political prisoners from us (here the order of the factors does alter the product).

According to the Marxist bible, the Communist Manifesto, a transformation of the structure of the classes demands a change in the social order and a political revolution.

La Habana decided to wind up its old and rusted clock because it had turned into quite the brake.

Translated by mlk.

14 April 2014

Overthrowing the Castros with Twitter / Ivan Garcia

 Young Havanans with their cellphones. From Diario de las Américas.

Barack Obama and the State Department aren’t stupid. But on the issue of Cuba they act as if they were. Their cluelessness is monumental. They should check their sources of information.

The NSA team in charge of monitoring phone calls to and from Cuba, as well as emails and the preferences of the still small number of Internet users on the island seems to be on vacation.

A word to the US think tanks that come up with political strategies for Cuba: obsession disrupts insight.

Let’s analyze the points against having a couple of autocratic dinosaurs as neighbors. It’s true that Fidel Castro expropriated US business without paying a cent. He also seized the businesses of hundreds of Cubans who are now citizens of that country.

Castro has all the earmarks of a caudillo. Ninety miles from the United States, he blatantly allied with the Soviet empire and even placed nuclear arms in Cuba. He destablized governments in Latin America. He places himself on the chessboard of the Cold War, participating in various African wars.

As he was an annoying guy, they tried to kill him with a shot to the forehead or with a potent poison that was activated by using his pen. Out of bad luck of the lack of guts of his executioners, the plans failed.

For five decades, the bearded one continued to lash out against US imperialism. Then Hugo Chavez appeared on the scene along with the troupe of Evo Morales and Rafael Correa. On Central America the presidential chair was returned to the unpresentable Daniel Ortega. Kicking the anti-American can.

I can understand what it means to have an annoying neighbor. I live in a building where a woman starts screaming insults at 8:00 in the morning and other one usually plays reggaeton at full volume. But common sense says, move or learn to live with different people.

Cuba and the United States will always be there. Closer than they wanted. What to do?

An American politician can raise the alarm because there is no democracy, nor political freedoms, nor freedom of expression on the island. He knows that Cubans on the other side of the pond have three state newspapers that say the same thing and that dissidence is prohibited. They consider it a horror. And he candidly thinks, “Let’s help them. Teach them how to install a democracy.”

This is where the gringo philosophy of reversing the status quo comes into play. They are right in their dissections, but the solution fails them.

Cuba’s problems, which range from political exclusion,the absence of an autonomous civil society, the legal illiteracy of most citizens, lack of freedom of the press and political parties and the fact that opposition is illegal, are a matter that concerns only Cubans.

From inability, egos, and ridiculous strategies, the dissidence hasn’t been able to connect with ordinary Cubans. Eight out of every ten Cubans are against the government and its proven inefficiency. For now, their decision is to escape.

It’s not for lack of information that people aren’t taking to the streets. Cuba is now North Korea. Shortwave radios are sold here and thousands of people connect illegal cable antennas. It’s just they are more interested in seeing a  Miami Heats game or Yaser Puig playing for the Dodgers than following CNN news in Spanish.

At present, Cuba has two million cellphone users. They can send text messages. But not to denounce human rights abuses. They used to ask for money from their families in Miami, the latest iPhone, or that their relatives expedite immigration procedures so they can permanently leave the country.

The Internet on the island is the most expensive in the world. One hour costs 4.50 CUC (5 dollars), the same as two pounds of meat in the black market. I usually go to internet rooms twice a week and talk with many people.

The majority don’t want to read El País, El Mundo or El Nuevo Herald. Nor Granma nor Juventud Rebelde. They want to send emails and tweet, to their wave. Upload photos on Facebook, look for a partner or work abroad.

Are they fed up with politics? I suppose. Are they afraid of going to jail if they openly confront the regime? Of course. Are they masochists who do not want to live in a democratic society? Evidently so. But they have no vocation to be martyrs.

This political apathy among a great segment of the population, weary of the olive-green loony bin, is fertile ground for the proselytizing efforts of the opposition, which has not done its job,

People are there in the streets. Only dissidents prefer to gatherings among themselves, chatting with diplomats and, since 2013, traveling the world to lecture on the status quo in Cuba and get their photo taken with heavyweights like Obama, Biden or Pope Francisco.

For the gringos I have good news and bad news. The bad is that it is great foolishness to expect to topple the Castros with Twitter, call it Zunzuneo or whatever it’s called. The good news is that this type of totalitarian regimes has not worked anywhere in the world and they crumble by themselves. You have to have patience.

There is a popular refrain in Cuba that states the obvious: desires don’t make babies.

Iván García

7 April 2014

Neither Blacks Nor Whites, Just Cubans / Fernando Damaso

Photo by Rebeca

Neither black nor white, Cuba is mixed, some of the country’s investigators and intellectuals have asserted for some time now. The declaration seems to respond to an eminently political intention: incorporation into the current Latin American mixed ethnicity, so fashionable among our populists.

This tendency, promoted by the authorities and some associated personalities, instead of looking objectively at the African influence in the formation of the Cuban nationality and identity, overestimating it to the detriment of the Spanish, also an original race. To do this, for many years, they have officially and supported and promoted its demonstration, both in arts and religion, with the objective of presenting it as the genuine Cuban.

Bandying about issues of race has many facets and, hence, varied interpretations. Marti said they didn’t exist, and wrote about the different people who populate the distinct regions of the planer, noting their unique characteristics, both positive and negative and which, in practice, differentiate them. His romantic humanism went one way and reality another. In more recent times,  they sent us to Africa to fight against colonialism, to settle a historical debt with the people of that continent brought to Cuba as slaves, according to what they tell us.

That is, we accept that they can’t free themselves and we, in some way considering ourselves superior, come to their aid, independent of the true political hegemonic interests, which were the real reason for our presence in favor of one side in the conflict, during the so-called Cold War.

Without falling into the absurd extremes, talking about superior and inferior races, in reality there are differences of every kind between the historical inhabitants of different regions. To hide or distort it doesn’t help anyone. Some ethnic groups have developed more than others and have contributed more to humanity, and still do.

No wonder we speak of a developed North and the underdeveloped South, and it has not only influenced the exploitation of some by others, as both the carnivorous and vegetarian Left and their followers like to argue. There are those who, with their talent and work, are able to produce wealth, and those who find it more difficult and only create misery.

In Cuba, the original population lived in north of South America and expanded to the Antilles. Afterwards came the Spanish, and later the blacks, Chinese, Arabs, French, Japanese and the representatives of other nations of the world, bringing their customs, characteristics, traditions, virtues, defects and cultures, which in the great mix (never in a pot) formed the Cuban nation. For many years whites were the majority, followed by mixed, blacks and Asians (in 1953, whites were 72.8%, mixed 14.5%, black 12.4% and Asians 0.3% of the population).

From the year 1959, with the mass exodus of whites and Asians, who settled mainly in the United States, and the increase in births in the black and mestizo population, plus the various racial mixtures, their percentages increased within the country, but not among Cubans living abroad, who are mostly white.

To ignore the statistics constitutes both a demographic and political mistake, they are as Cuban as those based in the country, often with more rooted customs, traditions and culture. Cuba is white, mestizo, black and Asian and much more, but above all, it is Cuba. Who benefits politically from this extemporaneous definition of a mixed  Cuba? What are they trying to accomplish? to divide Cubans still further?

It is absurd that, after years indoctrinating people about the non-existence of races (say man and you will have said it all), and not taken into account published statistics, now appears this strange assertion,which no one is interested in or cares about, whites, blacks, mixed, Asians, trying to survive within a system that has been unable, for over 56 years, of solving its citizens’ problems.

It’s a secret to no one, that it is precisely and black and mixed population that is most affected by the economic and social crisis, the most discriminated against by the authorities, despite their discourse, propaganda, and the 30% quotas within political and governmental organization.

With the exception athletes and artists, blacks and mixed-race are the poorest, hold the worst jobs, are least likely to graduate from college, live int he worst conditions, often bordering on slums, and are the most likely to be in jail or prison.

I doubt that the conclusions reached by these investigators and intellectuals have some practical value or help in any way to change this terrible situation, nor to the authorities of Public Order cease to besiege them, continually stopping them and demanding their ID cars on the streets of our towns and cities.

11 April 2014