The Hard Fate of Those Who Grow Old / Alberto Mendez Castello

Cuba, old age, selling little cones of peanuts on the street.

PUERTO PADRE, Cuba — Old Raul was a worker for Communal Services, but an unyielding cervical disease at age 54 made the Medical Commission discharge him. Now he is 74 years old and has a pension of 242 pesos, “but I go over 40 just on my wife’s drugs,” he says.  Most of the time he stays seated on the sidewalk in front of a market that sells unrationed products, and sells spices and homemade bags to take on errands.

Raul gets around on a bicycle, but old Gilberto has to fight on foot, with short steps, in order to sell the occasional homemade cumin packet.  He was a truck driver.  He spent 41 years behind the steering wheel:  ”I was driving throwing rods since I was 11 or 12 years old,” he says.

Skeletal illnesses took Gilbert from work.  Now a septuagenarian, he and his wife “live” with a pension of 242 pesos, and of those some seventy go for medicine. Those retired because of illness cannot get a license to work for themselves:  ”The other day an inspector wanted to give me a fine of 700 pesos.  Take me to the police, to say there everything I have to say.  In the end he left me alone.”

Mariano had a better position than Raul and Gilberto, and unlike them, did not retire because of illness but because he finished his years of work.  At the time he retired, he held an administrative post in the municipal hospital.  After retirement, other institutions took advantage of him until his health took a bad turn.  Now Mariano is a paraplegic. Pedalling a tricycle with his hands, he tries to earn a living selling prú, a soft drink made of herbs and fermented roots.

Blanco also pedals a tricycle with his hands.  He is an ex-operator and driver of tow trucks, who was transformed into a babbling paraplegic by two thromboses.  Now he has to get by with a pension of 242 pesos for him and his aged mother:  ”More than 40 pesos go for nothing more than medicines; if I don’t sell knives we die of hunger,” he told me at the same time he was lamenting the difficulty of finding knives to sell because Customs has limited their entry into the country.

In Puerto Padre there exists a Grandfather House where, for 25 pesos a month, old people receive breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks.  ”Sometimes here we even have beef, today we have chicken,” said Jimenez, a retired bricklayer.  But this Grandfather House only has capacity for 40 old people, who have to go sleep in their homes.  So it is no more than a small remedy for this great wound that is old age, not only in Puerto Padre but in all of Cuba.

Hundreds of old people, almost all of them sick, almost always in precarious conditions and not a few on the edge of the law, have to pursue working in order to earn a living in this city.  False reasoning does not produce a good soup.  According to Law No. 117 of the State Budget for 2014, incomes for contribution to Social Security are 3,034.5 million pesos, but the expenses exceed 5,122.7 million pesos, therefore there is a deficit of 2,088.2 million pesos, to be covered by the central budget account.  That is okay if the numbers are real.  But they are not.

Cubanet, March 3, 2014,

Translated by mlk.

Cuba’s History Told by Beans / Alberto Mendez Castello

Cuban ration booklet — AFP

PUERTO PADRE, Cuba.  Within the systematic scarcity and increasing cost of daily life, the last week was marked by gaps in supplies.  And although cement, steel and deodorants are missing, groceries are particularly missed.

More than the bread of the ration books that has gone missing some day or another, stomachs cry out for the “midnight,” for the one peso bun that could be acquired unrationed, along with the rationed bread, but that now is not produced for lack of flour.

For many without purchasing power, it mattered little during the several days that chicken was lacking in the “Hard Currency Collection Stores” (as the State itself named them).  But it did matter, and quite a lot, when this week, after standing in long lines at the butcher shops, the ration of “chicken for fish” was not enough, nevertheless and being a rationed product, people had to content themselves with getting on a list for when a second round is produced, that no one knows for sure when it will be produced.  ”This is more of the same, ’when it’s not Juana, it’s her sister’,” grumbled one of those who did not get his quota of “chicken for fish.”

As is known, although Cuba is surrounded by the sea, on this island fish is a scarce product and is expensive, so that when it’s time to supply it through the ration book, the government substitutes some few ounces of imported chicken, which on many occasions, because of factors of corruption or bad administration, does not reach all the consumers of certain localities, adding to the discontent of the population because of … “shortages.” Continue reading

Danger, collapse! / Alberto Mendez Castello

PUERTO PADRE, Cuba, November, www.cubanet.org — The latest collapse in this city, that of the carpenter’s shop El Nivel, and the next that presumably will occur, that of the Plaza Hotel, make the residents of Puerto Padre ask themselves:  How long will this town destroy itself without the government doing anything to stop it?

Of the five hotels that used to be, only two are still in service, Villa Azul and Campana.  Comodoro and Plaza remain closed, falling to pieces, and of Colon there remains only a foundation.

The Sierra, one of the best restaurants that was, remains scrapped, as Hurricane Ike left it in the early morning of September 8, 2008.  And The Vaquerito, a cafeteria that used to offer various dishes at affordable prices to people of low income, also had to close its doors given its calamitous state.

In the same city center, the shoe store has already come tumbling down, and the principal repair of the Hospital Docente Guillermo Dominguez, today in the worst state of sanitary health, fails to materialize.

“As of today we cannot say that we have the resources to undertake these projects,” said the president of the Municipal Assembly of Popular Power, Miguel Jorge, interviewed by local television last week.

Mr. Jorge’s claim is a fallacy: Puerto Padre does generate financial resources capable of achieving its restoration, but they are not going to wind up in the municipal chests but at other lofty bodies of Power.

Nothing serves better than this example: in the same city center where the mentioned collapses have occurred, and where others will occur for lack of undertaking urgent repairs, seven “hard currency collection stores” (TRDs) — as these State stores are called — are operating.  In one of those, for certain the smallest, they have daily sales in excess of three thousand five hundred convertible pesos.

This small TRD alone annually collects more than a million and a quarter convertible pesos, with only the work of three employees.  And the profits of a TRD are well-known: “With what I sell in a day, they can pay me my salary for a year with money left over,” an employee told me on condition that I not reveal his name to the press.

Thousands of Puerto Padre residents live abroad, mainly in the United States, and except for stingy people forgetful of their origins, they all send help to their family members, in many cases old people, who, without the remittances from their relatives, would remain malnourished if not dead if they relied on food rations.

Food, clothes, shoes, domestic appliances and construction materials are sold at prices much higher than the realistic sales figures, producing earnings which, if only a part of them were spent on the municipality, today Puerto Padre would not present, in most places now, this image of a bombed city.

In addition to having the Antonio Guiteras headquarters, the major sugar producer in Cuba, Puerto Padre counts on another privileged “industry”: that of the remittances.

But while their absent children send heavy sums from abroad in convertible currency, a great part of which is going to wind up in the cash registers of the TRDs, the city collapses, without the authorities doing anything to stop it.

Remember this a crime against humanity.  The historical legacy of people is not only destroyed by action, with bombs, but also by omission, on the part of those who have the responsibility of preserving it for new generations, and yet they remain with arms crossed, while the cities collapse.

Notices warning “Danger, collapse!” are not rare in this city.  Hopefully those posters soon will have no place in Puerto Padre, and the Plaza Hotel will not end up in ruins as did our emblematic Hotel Colon.

Hopefully. We children of this town work for that, those of us who remain here, and those who left, and no one, through whatever powers they may possess because of their cannons and tanks of war, is entitled to divert the channel of our sweat to add gold braid to their uniforms.

Translated by mlk

27 November 2013

New Business Owners Consider Turning In Their Licenses Due to Lack of Freedom / Alberto Mendez Castello

PUERTO PADRE, Cuba, November, cubanet.org — Officials in charge of overseeing the self-employment sector are updating their documentation of its licensees and subsequently warning them of possible violations.

Eddy Vega — a manufacturer and vendor of plumbing supplies, who buys and refurbishes pieces of tubing, accessories and old keys — was warned in no uncertain terms by his interviewer that it is strictly forbidden for anyone but the state to trade in metals. Eddy, a practicing Christian, told this reporter he is thinking of turning in his business license.

Self-employed workers are summoned to the old social workers’ headquarters, where they are interviewed one-by-one.

Similarly, food sellers, carpenters, masons, people who lease out their homes and anyone who is self-employed are called to appear. A carpenter said, “It’s very difficult to work this way. It’s already almost impossible to get wood. There are too many obstacles”

Small hotel operators were summoned by city officials in Viviendas a week ago. One official who requested anonymity said, “We have to exert control… Often lodging crosses the line into prostitution.” One operator, who asked not to be identified, confessed, “I’m going to turn in my license. In the future I will take in guests discreetly like before, without paying taxes. I think I will save up all the money that for months would have gone to paying taxes for paying the fine, if I am ever caught.”

These actions by the authorities serve as a policing tool, as outlined in the Cuban Penal Code: “Those not covered under any of the dangerous categories referred to in Article 73 (habitual drunkenness and alcoholism, addiction and antisocial behavior) with links to or relationships with persons potentially dangerous to society, to other people or to the social, economic and political order of the socialist state, and who may be prone to crime, shall be given warnings by the prevailing police authorities to prevent their engaging in socially dangerous or criminal activities.”

The Penal Code also stipulates that the warning shall, “in all cases,” be issued by written affidavit, explaining the reasons for the warning as well as the response of the person being warned. It also calls for both the person being warned and the attending officer to sign the affidavit.

In spite of the stipulation in the Penal Code, police do not ask those being warned what they have to say in response to the warning. Instead they ask, “What are you involved in?”

Needless to say, self-employed workers here are not allowed to think about why they cannot acquire pieces of tubing and old keys for reconditioning and later resale.

by Alberto Méndez Castelló

Thursday, November 7, 2013 | Cubanet

Spanish post
7 November 2013

Price Prohibitive Dairy Products / Alberto Mendez Castello

abasto-leche-bodegas-cuba-300x202PUERTO PADRE, Cuba, October, www.cubanet.org – “Milk production is in serious trouble here,” said the first secretary of the Provincial Committee of the Communist Party in Las Tunas, Ariel Santana Santiesteban, in a meeting last month with farmers in this town.

The cows do not produce as much milk as need, because of poor management, it was reported at the meeting. Their basic food is insufficient. The dairy cattle don’t have enough forage to allow them to maintain production when the pastures are bare from lack of rains, reported the politicians and administrators meeting with the dairy farmers.

imagesMore than a logical concern for the dairy herd, the concern of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) over the low milk production recalls simple reasons of mathematical logic. When milk production is low, the town can’t supply the quote established for children up to age seven and sick people, and powdered milk has to be substituted for fresh. Producing a ton of milk powder uses twelve thousand liters of fresh milk which, at a little more than two pesos a liter, is a payment to the dairy farmers of some twenty-three thousand Cuban pesos.

The Las Tunas Dairy Products Company produces powdered milk, which in addition to being supplied to the ration stores, is sold in five hundred gram bags at 2.90 CUC (convertible pesos), in the State-owned hard currency stores. A kilogram of nationally produced powdered milk sold in those stores, is the equivalent of 5.80 CUC, and a ton at 5,800 CUC, is 145,000 in Cuban pesos.

leche_cubaDespite milk powder costing more than six times what the State pays the dairy farmer for the raw material, anyone who wants to drink a glass of milk without asking for trouble should go to the State-owned hard currency stores.

The dairy farmer is forced to sell his milk to the State. Commerce in milk, cheese or any other dairy product is prohibited between individuals and punishable by law. The same is true for coffee. And beef? Don’t even talk about it: His Majesty, the State monopoly market, is owner and lord.

For many people, inside and outside of cuba, it’s as if good old “Daddy Socialist State” was paying for everything: public health, education, milk for children and sick people, etc.  When, in reality, we are the ones who pay.

At the National Farmers Meeting, held this last September, the vice-president of the Council of Ministers, Marino Murillo Jorge, said, “… we are fewer than 11 million people, of whom 5 million work, and of these, approximately 960,000 work in agriculture, of which about 300,000 are not directly linked to production.”

Can anyone tell me who pays for the automobiles, the gasoline, the offices and the salaries of these gentlemen who produce nothing?

Alberto Mendez Castello

From Cubanet, 16 October 2013

Coach Drivers’ Protest in Puerto Padre Makes the Government Give In / Alberto Mendez Castello

PUERTO PADRE, Cuba, October 1, 2013, Alberto Mendez Castello / www.cubanet.org.- A group of coachmen demanding their right to travel on the road protested this morning, near the municipal government headquarters here.

The demonstration was strong, but not violent, as the protestors gathered on Libertad Avenue and Angel Ameijeiras. Parked on this street, the line of horses and coaches extended more than two blocks. The last vehicles were parked in front of the Municipal Committee of the PCC (Communist Party of Cuba ).

Their drivers were waiting for an answer at the gates of Government.

The demonstrating drivers serve the route between the Bus Station and Guillermo Domínguez Hospital. They are the only transport here that goes to the city hospital. The local authorities had banned their use of the road as of last year, alleging damage to the pavement by the hoofs of the horses and the traffic hazards on a winding curve. To serve their route after the ban, the drivers were diverted via a recessed side road and a bridge in disrepair.

Given the demands of the coachmen, the authorities had promised to repair the bypass road. But only one bulldozer worked the trail, leaving it equally impassable.

Unfulfilled promises from the highest political and administrative authorities of the municipality led the drivers to ignore the ban and to continue using the road. But on Monday the police began to impose fines on the drivers. The reaction was to paralyze transport by taking their coaches to go complain to the government.

The Government’s response was not long in coming: from now on and until the problems of the bypass route are solved, they can continue traveling down the road.

Having achieved their demand, the protest of the drivers in Puerto Padre ended before  noon.

1 October 2013

From Cubanet

Half a Million “Crazies” Loom / Alberto Mendez Castello

PUERTO PADRE , Cuba , www.cubanet.org – Dragged into the torrent of criminality by genetic defects or by a social environment prone to crime, not a few inmates who today form the very profuse Cuban prison population, have ended up contracting mental illness.

Five maximum security prisons and another 195 prisons form the penitentiary system of the island, where, according to official sources, about 50,000 souls re serving sentences, although human rights organizations place the figure between 60,000 and 75.000.

However, if we add to the above figures the detainees, those who for various reasons spend a few hours to a week in the cells of police stations, assuming only five arrested in each municipality each day, we see that about one thousand more Cubans daily, and that number would be multiplied by the 365 days in the year .

Are Cuban lawmakers action with a view to the future on dementia and crime? According to the Fifth Iberoamerican Congress on Alzheimer’s Disease, which met in Havana October 20-11, 2011, there are 130,000 people with dementia in Cuba. But if this figure is alarming the prognosis is even more so: according to experts, the number of demented could triple by 2040.

This means that in an aging population of about eleven million, almost half a million will suffer some kind of disease that makes it impossible for them to communicate with us and to think clearly.

The exemptions from criminal responsibility are well defined in two paragraphs of Article 20 of the Penal Code: a person is exempted from committing the crime in a state of insanity, temporary insanity or delayed mental development if because of any of these causes he does not have the ability to understand the scope of his action or omission or to direct his behavior.

Now these two sections do not apply if the person commits the crime was voluntarily placed in a state of temporary insanity by the ingestion of alcohol or psychotropic substances.

But if alcoholism is becoming a pandemic in Cuba, which is already having alarming influences on crime, the fractures and breaking up of families is doing no less.

“We would say that Cuba needs today, on the part of its specialists, the precision of a Swiss watch; each of us has as a priceless treasure and we should raise to the level of a national concern every family with a child in prison,” said a sociologist whom I had asked if there are too many prisoners in Cuba.

“The amendments to the Criminal Code, which will go into force from this coming October 1, to some extent will reduce the prison population, as the legislature has enacted the choice of a fine in lieu of imprisonment,” replied this notable criminal lawyer. But, he was wondering, what about those who are already in jail? What about future inmates?

Only an amendment concerning mental health has been considered by the legislature, to tailor the current criminal laws in Cuba: authorization for the Provincial Court of the territory where the inmate is serving his sentence, to make it so that without referring back to whomever executed the sentence, the prisoner can be referred to a psychiatric hospital.

A death now comes to mind: that of Harold Brito Parra, psychiatric patient in the provincial prison in Las Tunas. Dead not so much from delayed medical attention as from the crushing and inconsiderate legal attention. In the same circumstances, Harold would also die today, even with the very recent amendments to the Code and the Criminal Procedure Act.

About the Author

Alberto Mendez Castello (born Puerto Padre, Oriente, Cuba 1956).Degree in Law and Criminal Sciences, graduate in Operational Management. Although an Interior Ministry official from a very young age, professional inconsistencies with his ethical ideas left him no choice but to leave that institution in 1989 to engage in agriculture, literature and journalism. Nominated for the “Plaza Mayor 2003″ Novel Award in San Juan Puerto Rico, and the “Max Aub 2006 International Stories Award in Valencia, Spain .

From Cubanet
30 August 2013