Decades of stigmatization of the English language weigh on Cubans’ collective unconscious
Cubanet.org, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, 27 November 2015 – It was Saturday night at a restaurant located on the downtown corner of O Street and Avenue 23. The bathroom was closed but, at least not completely. A sign, placed on the door to one of the available toilets, announced that it was out of order. As the Hotel Saint John is very close by and the restaurant is in a tourist area, whoever placed the sign tried to write it in Spanish and English.
But where it meant to announce closed was written “clouse.”
Imperialism talked and sang in English
After 1972, the Russian language requirement became widespread at various levels of education.
For years, repression of Anglo music, especially rock, marked more than a generation of Cubans. According to the regime, imperialism spoke and sang in English. As a result, classics of Anglo Saxon rock and pop from the sixties and seventies were known in Cuba through Spanish versions by groups from Madrid and Barcelona. Or there emerged on the island musical duos like Maggies Carles and Luis Nodal, “translating” into Spanish songs that were originally from Britain or the United States. Continue reading “The Language of the Enemy / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera”
Cubanet.org, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, 17 September 2015 – Danilo Maldonado, “El Sexto,” is being held in a punishment cell, and his hunger strike continues. His mother, Maria Victoria Machado, managed to visit him on Wednesday afternoon in the Valle Grande Prison, located on the outskirts of the Cuban capital.
During these days when the temperatures in Havana get very high, “the jailers give him water only twice a day,” said Maria Victoria to Cubanet. The artist’s mother says that “eight days after the beginning of the hunger strike, Danilo has spent four in the punishment cell. They hold him incommunicado wearing only underwear. He has refused to put on the prisoner clothing.”
“I have no reason to put it on because I have no reason to be a prisoner,” responded Danilo to the officer who informed him that he had to wear the uniform, according to Maria Victoria’s account.
On Tuesday afternoon, two State Security officers visited her. Their objective was to convince Maldonado, using her, to abandon his strike. Maria Victoria’s answer was that “she supports her son and stands firmly by him.”
The agents told her “that he just played into the hands of ‘the enemy’.” But Machado told them that “those whom you label that way, they are the only ones who have helped me in all this time that my son has been a prisoner.”
According to Maria Victoria, her son told her that the hunger strike is “to the end.” He said that he is prepared physically and mentally to sustain it until they give him “an immediate release, because the only other option is death.”
The performance and graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado, “El Sexto,” has been a prisoner since last December 25. Police arrested him that day when he was headed to Havana’s Central Park. He was carrying two pigs with the names Fidel and Raul painted on them. His intention was to release them in that central location as part of a performance entitled “Animal Farm.”
His case file was “lost,” according to the prosecution. However, they notified his mother three days ago that the document had been “recovered.”
They accuse Danilo of the supposed crime of “contempt” against public figures of State power.
Ultimatum from the political police to musician Goki Aguila, participant in the peaceful marches of the Ladies in White.
Cubanet.org, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, 6 August 2015 – Tuesday, August 4, Gorki Aguila, leader of the punk band Porno for Ricardo, was visited at his home by an official from the PNR Sector (Revolutionary National Police). She tried, without success, to get Aguila to accept a badly drafted and irregular summons.
After that visit, on Wednesday at about midday, Gorki heard a knock on his apartment door. On opening, he found two police officers who were bringing orders to arrest him:
Cubanet.org, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, 5 August 2015 – Around noon Wednesday, musician Gorki Aguila was arrested, and his whereabouts are unknown.
The vocalist for the rock band Porno para Ricardo managed to communicate via telephone with this reporter just when two police officers presented themselves at the door of his home in order to take him. They did not explain the reason for his arrest or identify the place where they would take him.
Days earlier, law enforcement officers had approached Gorki Aguila’s house in order to bring him a police summons. Given apparent irregularities in the preparation of the document, the artist refused to sign it.
This arrest occurs within a few days of the arrival of the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to Havana for the inauguration of the American Embassy.
Cubanet.org, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, 18 June 2015 – An old man is going out of his house in the little village named Henequen Viejo, near the Port of Mariel. Everyone there knows him as Alfonso. In reality, his name is Idelfonso Estevez. At first glance he seems like an old man like so many others.
However, the village’s inhabitants and his closest family members fear and hate him. Alfonso is not surrounded by the protective affection of his fellow man. The local members of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) take care of him. He is one of their most notorious “snitches.”
His story began years ago. He belonged to a group known as the “Guarapitos”: Alfonso, Jesus, El Viola, Camilo and Titico Borrego. They formed a group of auxiliaries in service to MININT at the beginning of the 1970’s. They dedicated themselves to watching everyone in Henequen Viejo. They gave away those who opposed the regime or anyone who annoyed them. They turned the area into a stronghold of terror. Continue reading “Professionals of ‘Snitching’ / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera”
“They left through here and will never return,” recited a sign on the wall of the power plant. Nevertheless, those who “left” became the support of those who stayed. Today many share the Miami exile with those who said goodbye to them by throwing eggs or rocks
Cubanet.org, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, 28 May 2015 – In the town of Boca del Mariel there is a small beach preferred by the locals. Next to it are the facilities of the former bulk sugar terminal. A little further beyond operates the Maximo Gomez power plant.
One Sunday in mid-April 1980 the beach-goers saw four boats flying the flag of the United States enter. They observed how they were directed toward the area of the neighboring pier. At that time the presence of armed Cuban officials became apparent. Later it was learned that there, in a sugar storage warehouse, was the temporary headquarters of the captaincy.
Unfortunately we do not have the resources to translate and subtitle all the wonderful videos coming out of Estado de Sats and the Forum for Rights and Freedom, but for our many readers who do understand spoken Spanish, we just wanted to remind you they are there.
This particular video is a discussion of the Americas Summit in Panama.
They are referred to as old folks, half-timers and the pure. They are shipwreck victims of a capsized island. They cling to debris, trying to stay afloat.
Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, February 27, 2015 — Men and women in Cuba who have reached the age of forty are referred to as tembas (old folks), medios tiempos (half-timers) and los puros (the pure).
Those approaching this age have lived through the periods before and after 1989 on the island. Their childhoods were spent between schools in the countryside and schools like those in the countryside, an ostensible bonanza subsidized by the Council of Mutual Aid (CAME) and the war in Angola. As young people they heard the echoes of the fall of the Berlin Wall, and suffered through the crisis and blackouts.
Is the Cuban government considering declaring as “heritage assets” the classic cars that roam the streets?
Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, 2 January 2015 — Apropos of the imminent reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the US, General Motors (GM) recently expressed interest in exploring the possibility of doing business on the Island. Perhaps they see it as a promising market to sell parts and pieces for the cars that this automotive super-company produced during the 1940s and ‘50s.
As the old-timers tell it, US car manufacturers would test their products in Cuba, assessing whether the cars could withstand the harsh conditions of our tropical climate. American cars of such makes as Cadillac, Buick, Chevrolet, Pontiac, Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, Packard and Ford, rolled around – and continue rolling today – throughout the cities and towns of the Island. Continue reading “Cold War, Hot Motors / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro”
Havana, Cuba. It happened in the Motel on 11th and 24th streets, near the iron bridge connecting Vedado and Miramar. In a room rented for two hours, the unpleasant whisper was heard: “Mami, you have a wonderful stench!” It was the 1980’s, Cuba was still receiving 5 billion in subsidy from the Soviet Union, the shortages of the Special Period were still far away, but vulgarities were emerging.
More than two decades ago those hotels where people go for sex* (or to make love) — Cubans call them posadas — were abolished in Havana. A cyclone was guilty. The wind and heavy rain left thousands of people in Havana without a roof, and the government, due to the lack of housing, sheltered them in these posadas.
It was a difficult solution for the sheltered ones: “We had to put up a sign at the entrance: ’This is not a posada anymore, families are living here, do not disturb,’” said a person housed there, in the old Venus posada, near the train station, and he added. “Couples would arrive, drunk, screaming, ’Desk clerk, give me a room we are dying to …!’ Imagine those vociferous vulgarities, where small children and old people were living. What a shame!’
The destiny of the posadas in Havana definitely changed after the so-called Storm of the Century, in March 1993. During that time the majority of them were under the control of the Popular Power. Some of them were in a state of disrepair, with leaks in the roofs and mold in the walls.
There are cities in the interior of the country, such as Holguin in the east, where posadas still exist. In that provincial capital, the government managed to set aside years ago a budget for basic repairs of old hotels in the urban area; the Majestic and El Turquino. These maintained payment for services in Cuban pesos (CUP).
In another inland city of Cuba, in Santa Clara, the two hotels, Modelo and América, received investments for repairs and were reopened with a grand pomp. The inhabitants of Santa Clara fixed them in order to have a room where to make love for two hours, which the desk clerks don’t report. Sweet deal.
In the capital, the price for one room — in private houses — corresponds with the facilities that offer, and the location. They charge more in Vedado, close to the zone of the Oncologic and the Calixto García hospitals. In Playa, the tenants, situated close to the Casa de la Música de Miramar, have regular customers. The prices range from 5 CUC per hour. Depending on the quality of the room and the day of the week, the amount may be higher.
Near Havana’s Malecon — basically an area of prostitution — a lot of families rent their daughter’s room, or that of any family member, by the hour to prostitutes and pimps. One tourist said that, accompanied by a mulatto girl, he came to a house in the Laguna Street in Havana, where the family was watching the soap opera on TV and the father of the family said to one of his daughters: “Go wake up your grandmother, a couple is here.”
In the meantime, in the popular memory the remembrance of the posadas of eastern Havana or of the Circunvalación, immaculate hotel rooms with air-conditioning, bathrooms with cold and hot water, clean sheets and bar service 24 hours, to which any couple could come by car, without being seen by prying eyes.
In today’s Havana you will find it difficult to find a safe, comfortable and clean room to have sex, if you can’t pay in hard currency or a pile of money; you can risk going down to the reefs, venture into the darkness of a park, although this is not recommended: bad guys are roaming there.
*Translator’s note: Because of the crowded housing conditions in Cuba and the fact that young people can’t afford to live on their own, nor do they own cars, privacy is hard to come by.
HAVANA, CUBA. Each day we awaken, and the dinosaur is still here. The delegates of the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) will meet with the master generals of the island-farm on the 11th, 12th and 13th of this month.
In the tedious lines that the UNEAC members stand in for the Internet, in the navigation room “LaJungla.com,” the commentary is acid. The lack of respect for them and the dismissal of their opinions on the part of the institution’s leadership is evident. The creators are losing their fear of saying what they feel and think:
“I am shocked to hear (Miguel) Barnet speaking of UNEAC as the spiritual vanguard of the country,” a young playwright said to this reporter, “in reality this is no more than a playpen where an aging, conformist and reactionary intellectual majority is huddled. They are more afraid of losing perks than contributing to the Battle of Ideas in the last decade.”
“After seeing the way that the pre-Congress meetings were held, what I hope for is another act of revolutionary reaffirmation,” added the playwright, “the only agreement that is going to be reached here is summed up in this sentence: ’Tell Raul Castro what he wants to hear, and maybe he will listen.’ On the general’s farm, intellectuals are like toilet paper, always disposable although politically correct.”
The younger members are refusing to accept the closed atmosphere that is breathed. The taking of certain positions of power within the institution on the part of people with a prefabricated curriculum is also a striking fact. Their labor is focusing on dividing and disrupting thought that is critical of the system. They are the cultural police watching the members and reporting to their superiors:
“They are infiltrating their acolytes into disaffected groups in order to learn what is said and rewarding them under the table for the confidential information,” said a poet who requested anonymity. “It is a watered down version, subtle, of the atmosphere that was breathed here in the ’70’s, which does not stop being worrying.” They are playing old and gray cards, applying the Zhadanoviano method of the so-called black lists. Manipulating the membership with floodgate mechanisms for access to or refusal of the rewards, incentives or other perks.”
The calamitous state in which the majority of cultural institutions find themselves, a situation that is worse in towns in the interior of the island, is a fact: Theaters and culture centers falling down. Influence peddling, money embezzled by programmers hiring Reagetton artists who, in their turn, pay a percentage “under the table.” Radio and television censorship. Salaries that do not go far…
“You cannot promote culture on an empty stomach,” said a promoter from Bayamo. “In my city they closed the visual arts school, and the art instructors’ buildings are full of leaks.” I mentioned to her the promotional poster for the congress and the sentence by Fidel Castro that appears on it: Culture is the first thing we must save, and she responded: “The country’s culture is not saved with a putrid ideology, it is saved with a strong and well run economy. And for there to be an economy, there must be free enterprise, opportunities to invest and prosper for those within and outside of the country.”
The future of UNEAC as a historic dam or fence to control the artistic herd is in doubt. Another intellectuality is being born from the wreckage of fear, and it is approaching the vilified borders of political dissidence. Although in this 8th Congress of UNEAC, the intellectuals are like toilet paper, always disposable.
Cubanet, April 3, 2014, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro
The Casa de las Cadenas, in Guanabacoa, could collapse on several families. It has withstood hurricanes, but now needs help.
HAVANA, Cuba. – The walls have stood for nearly 270 years. But the degree of deterioration in the old house is worrying. Wood and tile ceilings on the second floor have been collapsing, not only because of the climate, but also from neglect. Roots from shrubbery and prickly pears crisscross those interior walls that are exposed to the outside. The exterior walls are cracked. Several families still live on the ground floor of the building.
The Casa de las Cadenas also gives its name to one of the oldest streets in Guanabacoa. Some time ago the local historian, Pedro Guerra, said that it is one of the most important historical buildings in the western part of the island. Built in the early eighteenth century, it was the first two-story house in town.
It is located in the heart of the designated Historic Center of Guanabacoa. It has been recognized by the government’s National Monuments Commission. According to oral tradition, documented by Elpidio de la Guardia, in his History of Guanabacoa:
Religious images were sheltered there by the Parish Mayor following a severe storm that destroyed the town in 1730. Masses were officiated there during that time. In return, the owner of the house was accredited by King Philip V of Spain to grant asylum to fugitives from justice. Only two other buildings throughout the Spanish Empire had this prerogative.
As happened with other structures in the oldest part of the capital during the last century, the Casa de las Cadenas was converted to a rooming house. In 2009, Nilda Maria Peralta, the last tenant on the second floor of the building, who was later evacuated, lamented about the apathy of the authorities regarding the plight of the place:
“There are nights I don’t sleep, worried because there could be another collapse and I’m alone up here. What is sadder is that nobody cares.”
Five years later, the deterioration continues:
“Most of us who live here have neither the expertise nor the financial resources to repair a historic building like this; that’s up to the government,” one of the tenants told this reporter.
A local man, with a mixture of irony and bitterness said:
“Hopefully resources will appear and they will ’grab’ them to restore it soon, because when this house says ’I’m going down,’ there will be deaths . . . What’s holding it up is the same miracle that kept it from being destroyed by that hurricane that came through during the Spanish times.”
Another man, who had been silent, said:
“But what can you expect from a government that doesn’t even maintain its city hall?”
He was referring to the nearby old mayor’s palace, which now belongs to the People’s Power. The property is showing obvious signs of deterioration.
The photos that accompany this text corroborate the sad state of the Casa de las Cadenas, that historic symbol of the once beautiful Guanabacoa, which is about to completely collapse under the weight of time and neglect.
Cuba is not the same as 40 years ago, but its leaders are the same
HAVANA, Cuba, February — Cuba intervened militarily in Angola on the side of the MPLA in August of 1975. In 1977 Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) supported the government of Agostino Neto in order to suppress by blood and fire an internal rebellion.
After that moment, the Cuban government took in its hands, in a less surreptitious manner, control of Angola. Within the MPLA there were divergent opinions about the role the Cubans were playing in the country’s political situation. On the death of President Neto in 1979, they pulled strings for the appointment of Jose Eduardo DosSantos to the post.
“In 1978, Fidel Castro knew that he could not count on the USSR unconditionally,” says an ex-official connected to the Cuban embassy in Angola at that time, “and his plan B consisted of strengthening political and military control over Angola. The Russians involved themselves in the matter when they saw the possibility of trafficking arms in exchange for gold and precious stones. This the high Cuban officialdom did from the moment they gained control of the Angolan governmental entities and the main access roads into the country. The political and military caste that came into power in Russia post-1991, did it, too, with the money earned there and in other low intensity military conflicts.”
Now, in the case of Venezuela, the strategy is different but seeking the same objective. “Venezuela is not Angola, and Cuba is not the same as it was 40 years ago,” explains my interlocutor, “but the individuals in control are the same. They have sent civil collaborators like a screen to try to cloak their strong presence within the structures of all levels of that country. Chavez handed the house keys to the Cuban DGI (State Intelligence Directorate), and Maduro is a bad version of Jose Eduardo DosSantos.” Continue reading “Venezuela is not Angola / Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro”
Habana, Cuba.- The girl rests beside me, as naked as a country without rights. She turns tricks on weekends to keep alive her mother, who became infected with HIV when she herself was a prostitute over a decade ago.
“My mother had to do it to raise me, when things got tough during the nineties. Now it is my turn.”
She may be called Adriana, Yusimi, Anisley… Prostitution has thousands of faces; many are feminine but many others are masculine or transsexual. I ask her if she knows anything about a regional meeting of heads of state that is to be held here at the end of January. She looks at me in disbelief and answers:
“I saw something about in on Telesur, but I don’t see any benefit in their meeting. Other countries may fare better, but here we are going downhill, every day its worse…”
Soon, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) will meet for the fourth time; this time in an impoverished Havana. Raul Castro and his court of generals will try to combine the art of “Political Prostitution” and “tick techniques*” on the backs of the economic integration groups. Now that the European Economic Community “seems to be feeling squeamish” toward the repeal of its Common Position on Cuba, CELAC emerges for the Castro leadership as the ideal house pet.
The Chinese, for their part, come to play the role of the developed countries at the Port of Mariel. They won’t be alone, but they want to ensure a convenient springboard for foreign trade in the area from the Caribbean area to Latin America.
HAVANA, Cuba, January 6, 2014 / www.cubanet.org – Twelve midnight rang on 31 December, and 2013 ended. Havana said good-bye with its streets half-empty streets in Vedado and the speakers all reggaeton in the indigent heart of Buenavista. Apparently almost no one paid attention to the televised speech, where the government tried to wish Cubans a happy new year.
Nor were cheers for the Revolution heard, nor for Raul, and much less for Fidel. No one responded much to the fireworks on the Malecon, prohibited by law, but traditional, fired into the air.
According to what I was told by friends walking along by the exclusive clubs in the Playa area: “The music stopped, but so that everyone could join the chorus in the last ten seconds of the year. At 12, people burst into applause, hugged, and then went on dancing. Continue reading “Happy New Deception / Camilo Ernesto Olivera”