14ymedio, Havana, 14 August 2017 — The government of the Solomon Islands, an archipelago located in Oceania and part of the British Commonwealth of Nations, has suspended the sending of medical students to Cuba, according to comments from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, Tenneth Dalipandam speaking to the local newspaper, the Solomon Star.
The official said Friday that authorities are considering “training the Cuban graduates to a certain level” before they reconsider “sending students” to the island in the future.
The President of the Education Committee of Parliament and Human Resources of the Archipelago, Nestor Ghiro, also previously stated that graduates in Cuba “are not doctors until they complete certain stages of training in [their home] country to qualify as doctors.”
Ghiro pointed out that they cannot even be called “doctors” until their training is completed in the Solomon Islands.
In 2007 the Cuban Ministry of Public Health and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services of Solomon Islands signed a cooperation agreement. The legal instrument opened the way for fifty young people to study medicine in Cuba, a figure that reached 150 students seven years later.
Cuba covers the costs of the schooling and the Government of Solomon Islands is responsible for paying for air tickets and other student expenses. Most of these young people study at the Latin American School of Medicine (ELAM), which since 2005 has graduated more than 28,000 doctors from 103 countries.
The two nations established diplomatic ties in December 2003 and a decade later the first Solomon Islands embassy in all of Latin America was opened in Havana.
The Solomon Island’s cancellation of sending students to Cuba is not an isolated event. The professional quality of Cuban graduates has been questioned in countries such as Uruguay, Brazil, Costa Rica and Pakistan, among other nations.
Chilean doctors graduated from ELAM have also faced serious difficulties in passing the theoretical-practical exams required to practice their profession in Chile.
In 2012, of the 477 students graduating from foreign universities who presented themselves in Chile to take the National Examination of Medical Knowledge, only 20% passed. The majority of those who did not pass the exam had obtained their degrees in Cuba.
Ivan Garcia, 14 August 2017 — A week in Punta Cana, Cancun, or some paradisiacal beach in the Bahamas. And if the family is well heeled, two weeks on a luxury cruise.
The excursion to an all-inclusive hotel in the Caribbean, in addition to the quinceañeara and her parents, can include the girl’s best friend and boyfriend. Orestes, a corpulent mestizo who makes a living “under the table,” explains to the Hispano Post the latest trends in girls’ 15th birthday parties in Cuba.
At a private cafe in the Vedado neighborhood, Orestes details about the expenses. “A week in Punta Cana, at an all-inclusive four-star hotel, three people, can spend $1,400 on the room reservation and maybe 200 or 300 more fulas (bucks) on purchases and gifts. I advise you to bring more money, because both the stores in those resorts and the markets in Dominican Republic have quality packages at good prices and you can buy merchandise and then resell it in Cuba and cushion the expenses a little.”
Orestes goes on to give more details. “Before the trip 300 CUC (339 dollars) are spent to get three passports. Then the visa, whether the Dominican, Mexican or Bahamian, has to be paid for, in addition to fulfilling a lot of requirements, because although the United States has repealed the policy of wet foot/dry foot, the perception in Latin America and in the world is that Cubans are likely immigrants. People who have a multiple-entry visa for the United States do not have problems, because with it they can travel throughout the continent without any other visa. And if you’re lucky you can get a tourist visa for the daughter and pay for a stay in Miami Beach, which would be ideal, but the accommodation and expenses are higher.”
He pauses to drink a mamey milkshake and stare for a moment at the Confederations Cup soccer match between Portugal and New Zealand, from a flat screen at the coffee bar. Orestes goes on to explain:
“Already with the expenses of the hotel, air ticket and other preparations for three people, the sum fluctuates between 3 thousand and 4 thousand CUC. But the expenses of a quinceañeara party that pulls out all the stops do not end there. The package of photos, something usual among the quinceañeras, costs 120 CUC for the cheapest and 950 CUC for the most expensive. Add to that, from 400 to 500 CUC for the purchase of clothes, getting her hair done at a noted hairdresser and, to finish the job, about 2 thousand CUC for a not too flashy party, because a quality celebration is 5,000 CUC,” aays Orestes, who says that, on the party for his daughter, including the trip abroad, photos, clothes, hairdressing and party, he spent the equivalent of $10,000.
“Brother, and I have not finished yet, because I have two other daughters who will also have to celebrate their quinceañeras,” he concludes with a forced smile.
The quinceañera festival is a tradition that goes beyond Cuba: in several Latin America countries they are also celebrated. According to a historian consulted, “This custom dates back to the Middle Ages, when kings and princes, landowners and merchants awaited the time of puberty (coinciding with the onset of menstruation and, therefore, the reproductive age of fertility) to make the most of their daughters. It was time to expose them publicly before the greedy eyes of future husbands. And among these, select not the most handsome or someone of appropriate age for the young woman, but the one who could offer a higher dowry.”
At one time in Cuba, rich families broke the bank, the middle class saved and organized a more or less sumptuous party. The daughters of employees and workers were satisfied with modest celebrations. Other families could not even afford that. “I turned 15 on November 10, 1957 and my parents only gave me a sweater that cost ten pesos,” recalls the journalist Tania Quintero.
“In my fifteenth, in 1985, in parties, drinks and clothes bought in tourist shops, my parents spent about 800 pesos, which at that time amounted to 200 dollars, as the fula was exchanged on the black market at four pesos to one. My parents were professionals, they had good salaries and they started saving from the time I was four or five years old. At my daughter’s party, in 2012, we spent almost 4 thousand dollars,” says Betty, a language teacher.
And in five years, the expenses have multiplied by a factor of ten. As has the vanity, tackiness and frivolity. If at one time the savings of the parents were enough to organize the 15th birthday party, now the celebration involves the whole family and relatives living abroad.
“If you have relatives in the US they save you. They may not be able to send you a lot of money, but it’s a relief if they send you clothes, cosmetics and hair products,” says Luisa, a divorced mother who has spent a decade collecting money for her only daughter’s Quince.
A sociologist in Havana says that more than a tradition, “Quince parties have become a social event where many families want to show off their economic solvency. Show that they are different. There is a sort of rivalry. And those who can, they want to organize a party more lavish than those of their daughter’s friends at school. A total escalation to foolishness and waste. The worst thing is that many families who spend large amounts of money leave other priorities of everyday life unresolved, such as repairing their home.”
Mariana, the mother of 16-year-old twins, says that the day after their birthday she did not have the moneyf or a cup of coffee. “You are sending your daughters out into that world, where in the typical pack complex, every girl wants her party to be the same or better than her friend’s. It’s kind of like a drug. And parents and relatives begin to spend wildly. They want to rent the best costumes, the best photographer, the best hair stylist, a famous television presenter and the most recognized DJ. Absolute madness.”
Those who benefit most from this celebration fever is the private sector. Giuseppe, an Italian who landed in Cuba after his marriage, was dedicated to photographing seabeds.
“But that kind of photography does not earn cash in Cuba. Then I scrambled and with my savings I opened a business photographing weddings and quinceñearas. The main thing is to be creative and offer quality. The rest comes alone. I have cheaper packages, between 200 and 300 CUC. But people usually choose photo packages of 600 CUC or more. Each package includes transportation, rental of costumes and videos. The most sold packages are those where the girl, thanks to the techniques of photoshop, embraces her idols, and a magazine in made about her life or announcing famous brands. Yes, it’s pretty kitschy, like those parties, but they drop of nice wad of cash,” confesses Giuseppe.
Actors, musicians, comedians and TV presenters earn extra money as masters of ceremony. “Besides drinking and eating for free, the Quince parties allow me to support my family and buy quality food. For every presentation including a comic show for an hour and a half, I charge 150 CUC,” says a well-known comedian.
On a single party you can spend the salary of four years of a high level professional. And there is no class distinction. From the poor who count their centavos to those who have bank accounts, everyone in Cuba likes to celebrate their daughters’ fifteenth birthdays.
Now a novelty has been added. Young Cuban men are also celebrating their 15th birthdays. It does not matter that on the Island the average monthly salary is 25 dollars and many families only eat one meal a day. Ostentation can do more.
Juan Juan Almeida, 3 August 2017 — The Cuban government is again relying on a proven strategy in an attempt to avoid surprises on October 22 when voters go to the polls to elect delegates to the various local and national legislative bodies, which will in turn be responsible for electing the president of the Council of State.
This curious initiative began with an orientation that had the feel of a series directives handed down by senior officials of the Communist Party, the Central Committee and the national coordinator for the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). continue reading
On numerous occasions General Raul Castro has said he intends to step down as president in February 2018. After having been in power for twelve years (ten as president, two as acting president during the illness of his brother Fidel), the eighty-six-year-old is in declining health. Remaining as head of the Communist party until 2021 would seem more like a ploy to guarantee immunity from prosecution than a step towards maximizing his control over the country or influencing the direction of government.
“I just came back from a meeting where they outlined all the things that we must do to raise public morale for the upcoming elections. People have to be happy because on this occasion they will be choosing those who will choose the next president, which seems redundant,” says a provincial CDR coordinator who prefers to remain anonymous.
The CDRs were designed to hold neighborhood meeting during July and August, assuage any doubts about the elections and make sure there are no unexpected proposals from unforseen candidates by paying attention to their constituents’ “revolutionary condition.”
Communist party and government officials are touring the island, meeting with local officials and party members and assigning them tasks in an effort to encourage an effective voter response. According to one source, the battlefield of ideas continues to be the main frontline.
The following are some of the tasks that have been assigned to party cadres and members:
Review the personal history and attest to the aptitude and ability of every member of the provincial, municipal and district electoral commissions.
Visit schools and check the documents and election materials that are to be distributed in each neighborhood.
Review voter registration rolls and verify that the Address Registry has been updated in every CDR.
Explain to, reason with and convince reliable voters in each community of the need to forcefully deal with problems caused by disturbances of public order or actions by members of counterrevolutionary groups who, with foreign funding, are attempting to disrupt the normal functioning of the electoral process.
Recruit young people with proven leadership abilities in every neighborhood to create a corps of activists who will spread ideas, encourage action and spur participation by members of the community.
Coordinate with representatives from public health and transportation, giving special priority to hygiene and sanitation with the goal of preventing the accumulation of trash over prolonged periods of time in underserved locations.
Insist that delegates have direct contact with the public and that they craft compelling messages that preferably have little to do with political positions.
Talk to voters in order to objectively and critically evaluate local problems and determine with renewed vigor the political adjustments that need to be made in each area.
Work closely with more enthusiastic groups and demographic sectors so that they might have influence on those who are apathetic or indifferent.
Coordinate with representatives from the cultural, transport, housing and supply sectors to optimize conditions for stability and assure widespread citizen participation.
Guarantee blood donations, which are important and essential.
Allow citizens to maintain orderly conduct, work together to assure that the elections take place in a peaceful atmosphere and participate in the opening and closing of the polls.
Monitor compliance with the assigned tasks, the Election Law and directives from the National Electoral Commission.
14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Miami, 12 August 2017 — The Government of the Castro brothers has always maintained that their fundamental social achievements have been “free” health and education, available to all people, which became an international calling card, to try to counter criticism of their massive, flagrant and systematic violations of the political, civil and economic rights of the Cuban people and, in passing, to seek outside influence and obtain economic benefits.
That these achievements have not been “free” is more than proven by the fact that the regime has never been able to hide that it appropriates the results of the production of all the state enterprises, the majority of the country, and it deprives employees of most of their salaries. Everyone knows that Cuba, along with Venezuela, has the lowest minimum ($10) and average ($23) monthly salaries in Latin America. continue reading
Today, although Cuba has more doctors per inhabitant than any other country in the region, the truth is that more than 50,000 of them, particularly the specialists, are carrying out “missions” abroad. In addition, the conditions and technical resources of neighborhoods clinics, polyclinics and hospitals, which serve the population, do not support stable and quality services, while appointments for exams, admittance to a hospital or surgery can come when the patient is already beyond hope.
A very different situation is presented by the clinics and special hospitals for the top leaders and for the rest of the high military and political bureaucracy that is attended in exclusive facilities, such as the clinic for Security Personnel, the CIMEQ Hospital and some floors of the Hermanos Ameijeiras National Hospital. Another privileged segment is foreigners who pay with foreign currency and who are seen at the Cira Garcia Clinic, all in Havana.
With regard to education, the material situation of primary and secondary schools and higher education institutions is deplorable; they do not have the necessary materials for an average international quality education. Due to the low salaries in the teaching profession, many educational institutions at all levels never have a complete team of teachers. Worst of all, since there is no internet access, modern education, which in most Latin American countries is based on this medium, is practically absent, with only limited availability in universities.
But most importantly, the fundamental, undeclared goals of the “free” health and education services are not to maintain a healthy and educated population capable of meeting life needs. Rather, the first goal is to try to guarantee a working population with a high technical and professional level and in good health that can be exploited in state-owned enterprises and international services, particularly medical services, which bring in foreign currency for the Cuban government. Secondly, the goal is to guarantee, through this patronage blackmail, a people who are committed to continuing to thank the “revolutionary government” for those benefits.
State-ownership, which is now predominant, until recently controlled all sources of labor and income, except for the exploitation of the approximately 20% of land in private hands. That situation has changed, but still today most of the workforce is engaged in state, military and para-state enterprises.
Nevertheless, the systematic deterioration of the health and educations services, as a result of the system’s inability to produce and manage resources, worsened since the fall of the USSR and the “socialist camp,” which aid from Venezuela is not making up for, has generated corruption and widespread discontent in the population.
Another important result of this deterioration is that the most vulnerable sectors such as the elderly, single mothers and the disabled have faced large cuts in the social assistance system, precisely because they contribute the least to the state coffers.
Such that, today, it is no longer even possible for the system to guarantee the control of a prepared and healthy labor force, to hyper-exploit in the generalized slavery frameworks of state-socialism, nor to guarantee the support of the majority of the population for the “free” services. And the state’s international goals are also affected since the countries receiving Cuban doctors are diminishing with the fall of the populist-state wave in Latin America and because, as the Cuban reality becomes better known abroad, there is more rejection.
If this is how “fundamental achievements” perform, we can imagine how the remainder do.
14ymedio, Havana, 14 August 2017 – The Office of the Attorney General of Cuba declared the “final dismissal” of the case against the activist Eliécer Ávila, accused of the crimes of receiving and illegal economic activities. The court also ordered the seizure “in favor of the Cuban State” of most of the property seized during a police search in April.
On 5 August, the leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement received on a document signed by the prosecutor Bileardo Amaro Guerra dated July, to which he gave 14ymedio access. In it he is informed that the accusations have been “filed.” “We have considered the lack of criminal record of the accused and the attitude maintained during the process,” explains the text. continue reading
The measure adopted by the Public Prosecutor’s Office corresponds to what was stated in the Law of Criminal Procedure, whereby the prosecutor has the power to dismiss a case “if he considers that the act is not a crime or is manifestly false, or the accused as authors or accomplices are exempt from criminal responsibility.”
Avila has decided to appeal the seizure of his belongings, of which only three personal organizers, an almanac and an old travel insurance policy were returned to him. The remaining belongings, whose list in the judicial document covers ten pages of objects seized during search, will pass into the hands of the State, including a personal computer and mobile phone.
Avila’s defense lawyer, Osvaldo Rodríguez Díaz, has appealed the prosecutor’s order because the document is full of “gibberish.” “In its content it refers to activities of a non-governmental organization,” in reference to Somos+, but the accusation against the activist is based on an alleged economic crime.
Rodríguez also questions that, given the economic nature of the allegations, the case has been taken to Villa Marista, the headquarters of State Security in Havana.
The prosecutor’s document says Avila “sells clothing at home, when what was actually seized is something else,” says the defense lawyer, for whom the arguments are “far from being considered serious by that instance, of legality and truth.”
Wilfredo Vallín, President of the Law Association of Cuba, confirmed to 14ymedio that “the final destination of the items that are seized in a search should be decided by the court” and that “what is seized in a house is to be presented in court as evidence to indict the person.” He describes the prosecutor’s order as “a totally illegal procedure” in this case because “it is a group of objects of high value.”
The search in Avila’s house happened after several members of his movement held a protest at the International Airport Jose Martí of Havana to demonstrate against Customs, which confiscated the belongings of several activists who returned from a seminar organized in Colombia by the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America.
Police records and searches of dissidents have become a growing practice in the past year, and the Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation has denounced this in its reports.
14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 14 August 2017 — With so much secrecy, so much myth and legend, it is not even known for sure if this August 13 was the actual date of the 91st anniversary of Fidel Castro’s birth. His life was so surrounded by exaggerations and lies that even the moment he was born and the name with which he was registered are open to question.
However, beyond any doubt, the day was propitious to reflect on the legacy of the former Cuban president, an imprint that has been reduced in officialdom’s Conceptualization of the Socialist Model to “his concept of Revolution” and the stubborn “conviction that yes we can achieve victory” with our own efforts. continue reading
That concept of “Revolution” – which is presented as his political will – is so ambiguous that it can be taken both as a result obtained and as a goal to be achieved. This theoretical hodgepodge is evidence of the lack of depth of the author’s thinking and his tendency to political opportunism, which allowed him to create slogans to encapsulate different moments.
Official media reproduce such a definition as a method for achieving dissimilar goals, the final fruit of a process or a tangle of moral values close to the commandments of good behavior. However, in the absence of the violent component – which typifies any academic definition of Revolution – lies its main failure, to which is added the absence of the class approach that could be expected from a Marxist-Leninist.
The main teaching Fidel Castro has left us, which teachers warn their students they should pay attention to because “it will be on the test,” is voluntarism. The Commander-in-Chief instilled the idea that whomever is willing to defend a position at the risk of his own and others’ deaths, becomes invincible.
It does not matter if the cause to be defended is erroneous or valid. The cardinal rule, according to this theorem, is to accept a goal with unlimited enthusiasm and persevere in its realization at whatever price necessary.
Intensive grazing brought to Cuba by a French scientist, construction ‘microbrigades’, consecration in scientific research centers, special programs of rabbits, geese or buffalo, the doctor for 120 families, all called by the name ‘Plan Fidel’ and many other initiatives carried the personal imprint of one who considered himself an indisputable specialist on any subject he was superficially interested in.
Nothing and no one could stop Fidel Castro, except his own indiscipline and the sudden reluctance that came over him when he discovered some new object of obsession.
A monument recently erected in Crimea to his memory says that “victory is perseverance,” a bitter reminder that Fidel Castro was the worst disciple of his own teachings. He was only consistent in the act of never admitting that he was defeated, as defined in his favorite motto: “turning the setback into victory.”
Athletes may be able to inherit their legacy to win a competition seemingly against them, but in politics and economics it is nefarious to obsess over an apparently miraculous solution.
One should not persevere in the error, is also what we learned from Fidel Castro.
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 10 August 2017 – The Cuban population is aging at an inverse ratio to the investment required to support this share of the citizenry. Almost 20% of Cubans are over 60, and a recent government study sees aging as “the nation’s biggest demographic challenge.”
Health spending fell from 11% of GDP in 2009 to 8% in 2012, according to data from the Statistical Yearbook of Cuba. The investment in social programs affecting the elderly has been reduced since Raúl Castro initiated timid reforms in the country’s economy.
The economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago has calculated that the number of hospitals in the country has decreased by 32% since 2007, while personnel engaged in public health has fallen by 22%. Despite the steady increase in the number of elderly people in the country, there are only 20,000 places in some 300 grandparents’ homes (for day care) and 144 nursing homes. continue reading
According to sociologist Elaine Acosta, there is evidence that a significant share of Cuba’s 2,219,784 people who are over 60 “lack effective opportunities to enjoy a dignified old age.”
In addition, the expert believes that “the difficulty of social policy to anticipate and plan the resolution of problems related to old age only aggravate the crisis of care that faces Cuban society.”
In the face of what could be the end of trade with Venezuela, the aging population of the island, which has seen the purchasing power of its pensions reduced by almost 50% since 1989, is facing an unsustainable pension system in the medium term, Mesa-Lago explains.
The situation is complicated, because Raul Castro’s government eliminated many of the goods and services formerly provided ‘free,’ drastically reducing the items covered by Social Assistance, as well as the number of beneficiaries.
In 2016, 54,968 older adults received social security pensions, some 8,415 fewer than in 2011. This population segment has also been hit in recent years by the elimination of subsidies for several products in the ration book, and the resulting quadrupling of prices.
A study published by Cuba’s National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI), reports that 79% of Cuba’s elderly live in urban areas, while the remaining 21% live in rural areas. Women make up just over half of the island’s aging population, at 53%, with men accounting for 47%.
The phenomenon of aging generally occurs in societies that have achieved a high rate of human development. Among the elements that influence a country’s aging statistics are migration, fertility rate and mortality.
In the case of Cuba, life expectancy was 79.5 years in 2015, one of the highest in the Americas. However, the low level of fertility – 1.6 children per woman, closer to European figures – and a steady migration have contributed to raise the average age of the country, which in 2016 reached 40 years.
The impact of the aging of the population reaches all spheres of society and has repercussions on the economy, because an important segment of society ceases to produce and has to be sustained by an ever smaller population or workers, notable in the Cuban case. Social services face an increase in the demand for services to the elderly and there is also a direct impact on the pension system.
Relative to population, Cuba’s oldest provinces are Villa Clara, Havana and Sancti Spíritus, in which the population over 60 is 23%, 21% and 21% of the population, respectively. The youngest province on the island is Guantanamo, followed closely by Artemis and the Isle of Youth.
In the case of municipalities, the youngest are Yateras and Caimanera, both in Guantanamo province, with only 13% of the population over age 60. Those with the highest proportion of elderly are Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution municipality – the location of the headquarters of Cuba’s octogenarian rulers – where 27% of residents are over 60, followed by Placetas and Unión de Reyes, both with 25% elderly populations.
“According to estimates by the United Nations Population Division, Barbados and Cuba will be the most aged countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in the immediate perspective,” the ONEI reports.
The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, which funded part of the study, notes in its research that in 2025, 25% of the Cuban population will be over 60, a figure that will reach 33% of the population by 2050.
14ymedio, Ernesto Santana, Havana, 12 August 1917 — The year 1967 was crucial and socially and culturally very spirited, as demonstrated by the Summer of Love in San Francisco, California, which marked the beginning of the hippie movement in the United States. The epicenter was the Haight Ashbury, an urban area of two square miles which attracted thousands of young people from all over the country.
San Francisco was already a notable focus of the Beat Generation, whose greatest poet, Allen Ginsberg, was a sort of Golden Gate – a great bridge – between that generation and the new movement that made this great open city its mecca. The countercultural tsunami that began at that time, was felt throughout the world and its effects are still very difficult to measure objectively.
In fact, that Summer of Love began in January with the Human Be-in, a big event in response to the recent banning of the use of LSD, to which many artists and intellectuals who were leading the indefinable revolt were invited. The motto was “Leave your fears at the door and join the future.” continue reading
In June, the temperature rose still further with the Monterey Pop Festival. Meanwhile, hundred thousand young people from all over the United States and other countries descended on San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury neighborhood, giving shape to a ‘flower power’ garnished with psychedelic rock, free love, a lot of drugs and growing opposition to the Vietnam War. What was called the Age of Aquarius had begun.
In Monterey, several of the great contemporary musical leaders performed, including the The Who, The Animals, Jimi Hendrix, Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company, among others. The song written to promote the festival was San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), sung by Scott McKenzie and written by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, which became the hippie anthem. The San Francisco Chronicle baptized the event the ‘Summer of Love.’
But that warm, colorful, lysergic and loving season ended with many shadows as well. The media abuse, caricaturization and manipulation – turning it into a tourist attraction – was such that in October, as a controversial metaphor, the “Burial of the Hippie” was performed. Protagonists of the Summer of Love would end up dispersed in hippie communes and farms in areas around San Francisco.
The famous murderer Charles Manson would also be one of the undertakers of that flowery adventure. His stay in Haight Ashbury and his hippie aspect led to the macabre homicides of his tribe casting a shadow over the countercultural movement which, above all, celebrated life, love and peace.
However, the hippie tide left a legacy that still lingers in ecological consciousness, in a wide range of music, in opposition to war, in overcoming sexual prejudices, in defense of freedom of expression and civil rights, and even at the root of the rules of the World Wide Web. And the memory remains that, at least for a brief time, a utopia, an alternative society could be experienced.
Cuba and its eternal summer (not of love)
In our country, rock, since its arrival in 1956, promised to have a long, fertile and enriching life. When rock ‘n’ roll came to Havana – mainly through films such as Blackboard Jungle and Rock Around the Clock – there were frenetic dance moves in the movie theaters.
In 1967, the Beatles were the gods of a mass secret cult despite the fierce prohibitions of ideological commissars who watched with alarm the proliferation of combos and the growing sympathy of young people for the music of the Anglo-Saxon cultural empire. The hippies were sick, decadent, petty bourgeois: the antithesis of the New Man.
If those hairy people loved rock, peace and freedom, young Cubans had to settle for the Nueva Trova, national dance music and military hymns and marches. They must prepare to hate and kill the enemy designated by the Maximum Leader and his club of solitary hearts; they must obey blindly. Any doubt, any different individual opinion was ideological diversionism. The Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) were already trying to straighten out the deviants before the Summer of Love.
A documentary of those years, Youth, Rebellion, Revolution, directed by Enrique Pineda Barnet, shows a meeting between Cuban students and those of other countries and illustrates the violent, intolerant and alienated spirit that many young people assumed at the time. The opinions expressed in the movie seem pathetic now, although the old commissars wish they were still in vogue.
“A hippie is a loser… hippies represent a stage of youth rebellion, a step towards politicization. Not in general, but of a part of those people,” say some voices in the film. “It’s an apolitical youth, already integrated into a system that is much more pernicious than hippies. Hippies are an ornament,” says another. “The revolutionary is the best artist of the 20th century,” says one of the boys.
A Latin American youth pontificates: “Protest art is sold like they previously sold romantic art. Within the protest there are lines: the yellow line of protest without cause, then there is the green line of those who preach peace and then there is the red line of those who really protest. Among the many signs, one prays: “The light of the dawn is before us. We must rise and act. Mao Zedong.”
In Cuba, just in case, John Lennon, apostle of that counterculture, is sculpted seated, his mouth closed, a friendly pose: a bronze statue that allows hundreds of tourists to sit next to him every day.
14ymedio, Havana, 12 August 2017 — The artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has places the Manzana Kempinski Hotel in the center of its actions. This time he was photographed with an enormous sledge hammer poised a few inches from the window of the Giorgio G. VIP store in the gallery located on the ground floor of the exclusive accommodation.
The controversial creator explained to 14ymedio that the shop he chose “is super expensive” and inside “a garment or accessory costs 300 times the salary of a Cuban,” a reason that led him to select the place that, in addition, has “ties to the hotel.”
The artistic action is the third of the series With All and for the Sake of a Few that Otero has been engaged in since the inauguration of the Kempinski Manzana, managed by a Swiss company and the Gaviota Group which is controlled by the Cuban military. continue reading
The provocative image of the creator, sledge hammer in hand, was published on the social network Facebook and is entitled What Michelangelo Pistoletto did not think of, referring to the exhibition of the outstanding Italian artist in Havana. Among the most well-known pieces of this painter and art theorist, there is a performance art piece in which he smashes a mirror with a sledge hammer.
“Pistoletto’s work speaks of the deconstruction of the image, but my call is more to action than to representation. To destroy the real and not the representation of the image,” details the Cuban creator. Although he recognizes that it is only the “space of the threat” and that “the threat becomes a real event.”
“In the end it’s about that, how to do it without doing it, how to break it without breaking it,” he says.
Pistoletto alludes in his piece to “breaking the glass, breaking the institution” but the Cuban wants to pulverize that space “outside the institution, an allusion to the dichotomy of the world of art that does not go abroad and stays in its bubble, elitist, and it does not go out.”
The main idea of the series carried out by Otero is precisely to “break the border” that separates Cubans on the island from the exclusive accommodation, especially because of the low wages workers receive on the island.
Recently, the young artist held a raffle in which he sold 250 numbers at a price of 2 CUC each (about 17 months average salary in Cuba), to cover one night’s accommodation in the luxurious facility, the only five-star plus hotel in the country.
With 500 convertible pesos collected, the raffle winner checked into the Manzana Kempinski Hotel and shared with the organizers the images of his stay in the luxurious property.
In the first part of the series, the artist settled in the gallery of luxury shops on the ground floor and placed a sign at his feet asking, “Where is Mella?” with an image on his head of the communist leader Julio Antonio Mella, whose sculpture was removed after the restoration of the property.
For Otero, the building has become “the symbol of that visual rupture within Old Havana” where “the supposed capitalism that is entering the country” touches down.
Fernando Damaso, 31 March 2017 — Although hardly anyone is surprised at the clowning about by the person who calls himself ” the first indigenous president” (in fact, there was another one before him), now, with his going on about “a sea for Bolivia” he is becoming news again.
Bolivia lost Antofagasta, the Atacama desert and the sea coast in the Pacific War or the “Saltmine War”, [trans. note: The full alternative name was the Birdshit and Saltmine War] which went from 1879 to 1883. It was ended in 1883 with the signing of the Treaty of Ancón. In the Treaty, Bolivia lost land to Chile, and also Peru and Argentina. Peru, which annexed the Bolivian territory of Tacna and Arica, returned the saltmine provinces of Tarapacá and Arica to Chile. Argentina kept hold of the territories it had annexed.
To try to change present-day frontiers between countries, which have been settled by treaty and agreements favouring the winners, following wars and occupations, is not really doable. It would mean changes pretty much all over the world, which is absurd.
Also, Paraguay doesn’t have an ocean outlet either, just as, for example, countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which hasn’t held back their development.
The ambition of the “Bolivian indigenous man who became president”, rejected by Chile, seems to be more a response to his “indigenous jingoism” policy, intended to gain support for his intention of putting himself forward again as a presidential candidate, something which was turned down in a referendum. Everything seems to indicate that the “indigenous” has enjoyed power so much that he wants to perpetuate it, intending to arrange a new referendum on something which the Bolivians have already decided.
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 11 August 2017 — Military boots and olive green trousers drawn on a poster have provoked great anger among communist militants who seem to have managed, through their complaints, to get the organizers of a sanitation campaign to remove the poster from the streets and sewers near Havana’s Malecon.
The initiative, with the motto “Clean the Coast,” was organized for this coming Sunday, 13 August, coinciding with the 91st anniversary of Fidel Castro’s birth. The date, coupled with the image, has been considered “disrespectful” to the deceased ex-president by some citizens, forcing, according to sources from one of the organizing entities, a cancellation of the day.
The cleaning activity was organized by the José Martí Cultural Society (SCJM) and the José Martí Youth Movement (MJM), but ultimately it has been replaced by other activities in the capital, said Reinaldo Perera, a member of the first of these associations. continue reading
“No, we are not going to undertake the activity that was initially planned in the area of the sidewalks on the Malecón to clean the sewers from the 23rd street to a little further down. It was only going to be a sanitary cleaning,” Perera points out.
However, another employee of the SCJM, who preferred to remain anonymous, told 14ymedio that “the poster was withdrawn and the cleaning canceled because several members of the Communist Party called to complain about the misuse of Fidel Castro’s image.”
“Showing that part of the body and particularly the military boots was not pleasing to many people,” according to the worker. “We were warned that we had to remove all the signs we had placed in the areas surrounding the Malecon.” Some, he adds, were also afraid that the poster would be interpreted as the announcement of a police operation.
Yussy, a 28-year-old transvestite, is among the frightened. “When we saw the poster everyone was scared because it said that on that day they would not let us go to the Malecón and the police would crack down on the jineteras (female hookers) and the pingueros (male hookers),” he says outside the Yara cinema, a few yards from the Habana Libre Hotel.
“It would not be the first or the last time they did something like this, but people did notice it because of the boots, an area of the body that is not shown that much; on posters they usually put the face and maybe also the shoulders,” reflects Yussy.
An employee of the cinema says that the poster caught people’s attention and tourists “were endlessly taking pictures… An elderly gentleman, very upset, asked if the management of the movie theater had put up the poster,” she said, and added that he was going to call whomever he had to to protest what he considered a lack of respect.
The Government has prepared numerous activities of remembrance on what would have been the former president’s birthday. Starting Wednesday, at the Expocuba fairgrounds, south of the capital, there are children’s games, displays of the operation of locally manufactured induction cookers, and a sale of hygiene products from the Suchel company.
Since the beginning of the month the Casa del Alba Cultural, located in Havana’s Vedado district, has had an photographic exposition titled Fidel: Intimate Portrait, with snapshots taken by his son Alejandro Castro.
Thousands of miles away, in Crimea, a eight-foot high monument was inaugurated with the image of Castro and the words: “Victory is perseverance.”
Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 29 May 2017 — Yes, General, on this point I entirely agree with you: “The enemy uses ever more sophisticated information weapons”. He clearly is the enemy; the one who stubbornly opposes all my people’s progress; the one who brazenly deprives them of their rights; who obliges them to live in misery; who lies to them with empty slogans, and without any sign of embarrassment, who embezzles their resources and squanders them on sectarian whims; who forcefully suppresses dissident voices, and who stoops to the vileness of dragging and hitting defenceless women without even respecting his own laws.
Thanks to terror enforced by brutality, firing squad and prison, these accomplished villains managed to take all the levers of power from the beginning of the 60’s, ending up ruining a country intended by nature to be prosperous, and today we can see how these awful people are sharing out what they have looted from my country. continue reading
Those terrible enemies of my people, General — used to their monopoly of lies — are the ones who tremble with fear when light is thrown on the truth. But when things change — not thanks to them, but in spite of them — and there is something called progress and something inherent in human nature called free will, neologisms have appeared which don’t fit with absolutist jargon — words unintelligible to them, unpronounciable in the mouth of an enslaved people. Fully accessible, uncensored internet? OMG! Freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and association? Never! Among other licentiousness permitted by that cruel international capitalism which surrounds us.
Because of the egotism, paranoia, cowardliness and stiffening of the mental joints on the part of those public enemies you mention, my country has just seen a string of excellent opportunities pass it by, offered by a North American president who broke with the approach of all his predecessors. Therefore, we can see how those same immoral people who yesterday barricaded themselves in, aluding to non-existent sirens of war, today climb back into the same trenches, hiding from the pipe of peace. When, in their arrogance, they decline to similarly hold out their hand, they show themselves once more to be against my people, like the incorrigible opportunists they have always been.
It’s precisely because of the pigheadedness of these enemy nonentities sitting in judgement over the Cuban people, General, that half of our harvests are still left to rot before they get to our tables, that a significant part of our fields continue to be covered by African marabú (a plant which is widespread in Cuba and seen as an intrusive pest) and another unjustifiable percentage left uncultivated while my country unnecessarily imports more than 1,700 million dollars worth of food a year – including, incredibly, part of its sugar requirement, while, as is well known, when these useless people arrived sixty years ago, Cuba was a net food exporter and the world’s biggest sugar exporter.
But it couldn’t be any other way in a country where two thirds of its businesses and corporations are run by military people who know nothing about the economy, but who, on the other hand, have been decorated, with honours, for their swindles and embezzlement. What I say, General, is that if an independent journalist can be imprisoned in Cuba because, according to the political police, “He does not have a degree in that profession, is not authorised by the government, nor registered in any agency recognised by the Cuban government”, then the same logic should be applied to those people, and all the Cuban military should be relieved of all civil positions and responsibilities, and should stick to their armed forces activities, the only area of influence they should exercise, given their exclusively military training.
All in all, General, it doesn’t happen very often, but this time you are quite right: right now, the best technology in the country is in the hands of the absolute enemy of the Cuban people. These people, wanting to firm up their unscrupulous strategies, have got broadband, every imaginable satellite connection, the latest cellphones, and unlimited resources for supplying legions of subnormal trolls / agents trying to create currents of opinion favourable to the dictatorship which supports them.
These enemies are the ones who control the ETECSA monopoly (Cuban telecoms company), which is seated like a merciless giant on the doorstep of all the poor people, and which imposes sky-high tariffs for poor telephone service, slow, expensive and censored internet, which is only accessible in the tropical sun on those sidewalks where you can get wi-fi. It’s the same people who bug and listen in to every conversation and message sent from and within Cuba, the same people who wipe your email intray, hack embarrassing websites and censor controversial pages.
But, can I tell you something, General? The fact remains that, for the enemies of my people, your time is up. And you know we can see your fear. The wave of uncontrolled violence against the peaceful opposition in my country during the last year shows your desperation. You know that my people have long since stopped loving you – if that’s what you can call something cooked up by lies. Now, definitely, they just hate you and fear you. That’s why this riff raff launches wave upon unmerciful wave of repression, because they know that fear is the only and last weapon they have left.
Fortunately, fear is a feeling which is phony, fleeting, and fades with time. Now, an ever-increasing part of my people has stopped being afraid of their tormentors and has decided no longer to bow down before the tyrants. But this personal liberation emits a dangerously contagious aura and the enemy knows it. And, although you try to look imperturbable, nevertheless your nervousness betrays you.
I deduce that you yourself have enemies like that. If you happen to bump into them, please tell them, in the name of the Cuban people, that this is the time for them to get out of our way. It’s necessary, and for your own good, General, that you know it too.
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 7 August 2017 — The new measures to regulate the private sector are arriving drop by drop, with last Saturday’s announcement affecting taxi service, calling for the creation of piqueras – taxi stands/stops – fixed itineraries and prices of five pesos for each stretch of 8 kilometers.
According to the Deputy Minister of Transportation, Marta Oramas Rivero, this initiative is intended to “bring order” to the services offered by the almendrones – the classic American cars used in shared fixed-route taxi services. Saturday’s midday television news announced new regulations for private passenger transport in Havana.
“The price of the total route is the sum of these segments,” Oramas said, who also detailed that the new program could be voluntarily taken advantage of by the “private carriers who decide to do so.” However, the announcement has begun to generate suspicion in a sector that, in recent months, has experienced an increase in controls and requirements. continue reading
Last February, the government imposed prices on the 7,100 almendrones in the capital. From the time licenses were first issued for this service in the 1990s and up until now, rates have been governed by the law of supply and demand.
In response to the already imposed regulations, many drivers eliminated intermediate stops and opted only to carry passengers traveling their complete route, a situation that contributed to further complicating transportation in the country’s most populous city.
The new piqueras, which will come into operation “soon,” will be operated “by a state entity and not by a cooperative,” clarified Oramas.
Carriers, however, still lack the necessary information, since it has been explained that those who join the initiative must “establish contractual relations” with the state entity in charge but it is unknown who will manage the piqueras.
“After working for a decade in [state-owned] Taxis-Cuba, I decided to make a living with my own car,” says Walfrido, 38, a regular at Fraternity Park, where he picks up most of his passengers. “If the piqueras are going to be administered by this [new] company I won’t join because it is very inefficient.”
Walfrido fears that “they are going to start organizing the stops and end up telling you where the car has to go.” During his years as a taxi driver in a state entity he often had to “stop picking up customers to transport guests from the government, people who were going to some activity or officials,” he recalls.
Without an independent union to represent them, the chances of the drivers putting pressure on the Government are minimal. However, with the strength that they do have, they have the ability to shut down circulation in the cities.
The vice minister defines it as an advantage that those who are part of the experiment will be able to access the sale of fuel in the wholesale market at a different price, and will be able to purchase of “parts and pieces,” according to availability, to enable them to keep their cars running.
The promise to obtain gasoline or diesel at a lower cost than in state-owned service centers could be a good stimulus if it were not for the fact that many of the owners of these vehicles are now being supplied in the “informal” market. The diversion* of fuel from the state sector maintains an illegal stable supply at prices ranging from 10 to 15 CUP per liter (roughly equivalent to $1.50 to $2.25 US per gallon).
Some welcome the possibility of buying discounted parts. “If they are going to stock the stores I am interested, but as it is right now there is very little to reduce [prices on],” says Rodobaldo, a driver who serves the route to La Lisa. “The month it takes me to buy a light to replace a broken one, that month I am ruined,” he says. “So if they lower prices and have the supply,” it would be welcome.
Each botero – or “boatman,” as the drivers are called – will be able to decide which route to work and “will be guaranteed the exclusivity of the service” offered on that route, said Marta Oramas Rivero, so that “only those designated to work on it” will be able to serve it.
The cars associated with the experiment will be marked with stickers showing their itinerary and the piquera they operate from, while those who do not join the experiment will be identified with a mark that indicates that it is a ‘free’ taxi.
But there are still more questions than answers. “They have not clarified whether the partners [in the scheme] will pay reduced taxes, who will pay the salaries of state employees who will work at the piqueras or if the government will control the expense of that fuel at a lower price according to the kilometers traveled,” says Walfrido.
“This experiment is green, green. It is going to fail and end up affecting a lot of people,” he laments.
*Translator’s note: “Diversion from the state sector” means, in Cuba, all the myriad ways workers, managers and officials steal from the state. Without this “diversion” across a wide range of resources and across the entire country, the Cuban economy would come to a standstill.
14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 August 2017 — Every Sunday, Raymel Casamayor meets with several friends in Havana’s Maceo Park and, together, they go for a walk through the nearby streets with a speaker connected by bluetooth to a mobile phone through which all kinds of Cuban rhythms are heard, beyond the rumba and reggaetón that dominate the area.
His musical walks have become the ReConstrucción project, which has been running for more than five months and aims to make sounds that have been overtaken by other, more popular ones, accessible to the public. “People have not had access to other rhythms. They have not had a way to gather and save other music; every day a new one begins and the others are left behind,” he says.
The idea occurred to Casamayor, a sound technician, when he started living in Central Havana and noticed that many people did the same thing but with another type of music. He says that they first lent him a speaker and he started going out into the street with a friend, playing other rhythms to see what would happen. continue reading
“We played Cuban music, Benny Moré, la Sonora Matancera … I really thought people were going to throw eggs at us, but it was the opposite,” he says.
“Every Sunday we are in Maceo Park and when, sometimes, I have to travel to another province, I do it there,” he says.
In Santa Clara he has undertaken his musical walks through the neighborhood of El Condado and has also passed through Holguín, where he sampled his playlist in Gibara, during the celebration of the film festival last April.
Casamayor breaks with the monotonous reggaetón just before five in the afternoon on Belascoaín and San Lázaro streets and begins to link a samba, with a son, with a cha cha cha, a rumba, something of the New Trova, boleros and even a meringue
The heat of the implacable Cuban August has led him to change the start time of the show. “Before we left early, about four o’clock, but now with this sun we are leaving at five,” and he passes out hats among those who approach to listen to the soundtrack of Casamayor.
Some of his listeners make requests. “Last Sunday a man asked me to copy a selection of songs on a flash memory and I bring it here, I give them the song they like and it’s good because later they remember it,” he says.
As they turn into Laguna Street, behind Ameijeiras Hospital, some neighbors recognize Casamayor and stop to dance. In a few minutes the block heats up, those who weren’t there come as they spread the word. In a small walker, a baby leaps to the rhythm of a son while his mother also wiggles her hips.
Ada Maria, 64, comes to a halt when she hears Van Van’s The Tired Ox, and invites her little granddaughter to dance while telling her that this was the music she danced to at parties with her friends when she was young.
“Kids and parents love that we do this because there are very few places to take the kids this summer,” she says.
Some young people join the group to ask for music by Yasek Manzano and the friends of ReConstrucción tell him that, although they do not have any pieces by the jazzman, they will look for it. “We’ll have it next week,” they promise.
At the corner of Calle Escobar and Concordia, in a plastic wading pool at the edge of the street, several sweating children are cooling off. They receive Raymel with such excitement that he himself gets soaked, but the undamaged speaker continues to spread music to the four winds.
EFE/14ymedio, Havana/Miami, 8 August 2017 — The government said Monday that it will not extend “for a very long period” the recent discontinuance of new licenses to open private restaurants and rent rooms to tourists, a measure greeted with concern in the self-employment sector.
The Deputy Minister of Labor and Social Security, Marta Elena Feitó said yesterday, almost a week after the new measures to regulate self-employment were announced, that the brake on licenses will continue for as long as “the approval process of the legal norms that will underlie this policy.”
When the new measures were announced, which, according to the Government, seek to curb irregularities in the private sector, the government said that the suspension of licenses would be maintained until “the system was perfected,” an explanation that caused uncertainty in the autonomous sector, which now includes more than half a million workers. continue reading
“We are not talking about a very long period of time, we are not talking about years, we are talking about a normal process of work for the approval of these rules,” state television said.
Regarding the permanent suspension of five types of license, such as for traditional carters, the paper explained that this is a “continuity measure,” since no permits have been granted for these activities for more than a year.
Feitó insisted that people who already have a license for self-employment can continue to exercise it, while the permits that were already in process (about 1,600) will continue the process for their eventual issuance.
She also highlighted the grouping of related activities under a single license, as in the case of professions related to cosmetic services, and mentioned the creation of two new licenses: “bar service and entertainment” (hitherto included in the license for restaurants) and “baker-confectioner.”
On the other hand, the Ministry of Finance and Prices (MFP) of Cuba published a press release on the sudden closure of the Scenius cooperative, specializing in economic, accounting and tax advice. The Government attributes the drastic measure to repeated violations of the “approved social scope” without specifying the violations.
The government’s action came after the independent magazine El Toque reported the situation of Scenius workers, who say they will defend their work “through administrative and political channels.”
“This is an internal process between the Ministry of Finance and the Scenius Cooperative and it is the responsibility of the Board of Directors of the Cooperative to carry out the discussion process with the partners and to apply what is established in the legislation for such purposes,” said a note published in the official MFP portal.
The Ministry points out that the cooperative, which “is not the most important in the country,” nor the only cooperative that provides similar services, and exhorts its managers, “who have been disseminating information” — referring to the contacts they have had with the independent press — to act with “responsibility and transparency” with the members of the non-agricultural cooperative.
“As set out in Decree-Law No. 305 of 2012, the Cooperative is dissolved if it is in breach of the purposes and principles that underpinned its constitution, and this is within the power of the body that approved it,” the official statement said.
Alfonso Larrea Barroso, a lawyer by profession and commercial director of the cooperative, told 14ymedio that they have hired a lawyer to appeal the decision of the Ministry of Finance and Prices.
Larrea regretted not only the end of the project but the fact that more than 320 people will be out of work after the closure. In Cuba there are 431 cooperatives of this type, a type of organization that the rigid system of socialist planning of the island, set up along Soviet lines, authorized to boost the economy. In his recent speech in front of the National Assembly, Cuban President Raúl Castro attacked this form of management.
“We decided to set up the cooperatives, we tried with some and immediately we launched ourselves to set up dozens,” the ruler added.
The Scenius cooperative, created in 2014, was responsible for evaluating the quality of the accounting records of several state-owned companies and was involved in the preparation and execution of economic plans, the execution of investment budgets and the management of collections or payments.