The Language of the Enemy / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera

One of the urinals is "clouse" (photo: Camilo E. Olivera)
One of the urinals is “clouse” (photo: Camilo E. Olivera)

Decades of stigmatization of the English language weigh on Cubans’ collective unconscious

cubanet square logoCubanet.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”

Ten years later, in some urban schools and high schools, English classes were offered using the Spectrum manual. This coincided with the period that followed the first Cuban law of foreign investment in 1982. The 1990’s marked a radical change after the end of the Soviet Union. In the midst of the crisis, language schools were filled with Anglo Saxon language learners.

The Americans come. The Cubans go.

This time the US invasion seems to be serious. They are not the “assassin marines” that, like the famous “Coco” of the horror stories for children, the regime showed in its political cadre training schools. The blondes do not disembark with M-16 rifles; they arrive with sunglasses, cameras, dollars and an almost insatiable curiosity.

In the capital’s private inns and restaurants knowledge of the language pays well in order to cater to those potential visitors. Few reckon that, when the current US president leaves the White House – Obama has been the main promoter of rapprochement between the two countries – things could take another turn between the two shores. A Republican leader, winner of the November 2016 elections in the US, would have the option of reversing the current process of detente.

Nevertheless, the perspective plans for “Yuma tourism” grow in the minds of the small business owners. The closest thing to the fable of the shepherdess and her jug of milk.

Meanwhile, other Cubans offer to sell their homes, cars, bodies, whatever will bring them money. The first step is to fly to Ecuador, then begin the odyssey en route to the United States which, recently, has taken on dramatic overtones on Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua.

Talk to me in English

English language proficiency is essential for entering the US labor market on good footing. Weighing over thousands of potential Cuban emigrants from several generations is ignorance of that language that opens doors and opportunities. Others reject it being in Cuba.

Arriving in the north, they need to double their effort in order to adapt to another way of life which includes the need to communicate in the language of the host country.

Misnamed a thousand times in Cuba as “the language of the enemy,” it is the most important commercial language in the world. The greater part of music, movies and popular culture in general that is produced and consumed at a worldwide level is of Anglo Saxon origin. Cognizance and observance of federal laws of the United States and of each state also require knowledge of English.

The United States has not only been the refuge for those who flee the Cuban regime but also a challenge to creativity and self-improvement for those who arrive from the Island. And the English language forms a logical part of that necessary challenge.

camilo-ernesto-olivera.thumbnailClick name for author bio: Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro

 

 

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

“El Sexto,” on a Hunger Strike and in a Punishment Cell / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera

Maria Victoria , “El Sexto’s” mother (photo by the author)
Maria Victoria , “El Sexto’s” mother (photo by the author)

The artist’s mother denounces her son’s treatment

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.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

“If You March this Sunday, You Won’t Leave the Country Again” / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera

Gorki during a prior arrest in August 2008
Gorki during a prior arrest in August 2008

Ultimatum from the political police to musician Goki Aguila, participant in the peaceful marches of the Ladies in White.

cubanet square logoCubanet.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:

“I barely had time to make a couple of calls,” says the musician and host of the offline radio program Gear Shift. “Then, while I was being taken to the patrol car, I asked the agents the reason for the arrest. They did not know how to answer me.” Continue reading ““If You March this Sunday, You Won’t Leave the Country Again” / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera”

The patrol car took the route towards the well known Fifth Station in Playa township.

Kafka, in STASI version, according to State Security

“On arriving and being taken to the jail, I insisted that they explain why I was there. Then, the guard in charge of that area found out and told me: ‘You are here for an interview with CI (Counter-Intelligence).’ The other guards looked at me as if I were the most sought after criminal in Cuba. They said: ‘If CI summoned you, it is because they have something heavy against you.’ No one wanted to accept that I could be a prisoner just for thinking or acting politically differently.”

After more than two hours, Gorki was taken to an office inside the station itself. There he had a meeting with an officer from State Security who did not identify himself. This one, in a hectoring tone, threatened the musician:

“The agent told me: ‘If you go this next Sunday to the Ladies in White, you will never leave this country again. Those who have invited you to play in the United States are going to have to get you on a raft. I am personally going to make sure you are not able to leave from the airport.’”

Gorki thinks that “these officers are sick with impunity. They really believe that this system is going to last forever. Their bosses make them think that. We are all buried in a blend of the films ‘The Lives of Others’ and Kafka’s story ‘The Process,’” added the musician.

Gorki in his studio. (Photo by author)
Gorki in his studio. (Photo by author)

Porno Para Ricardo, the Ladies in White, Kerry and the Pope

The band Porno Para Ricardo is scheduled to travel to the US to join a tour. On prior occasions, the group’s musicians were held on the island by express order of Cuban security. Gorki has had to travel via Mexico and turn to session musicians hired by the sponsors in order to be able to perform.

“There are two important visits coming up which have these repressors very nervous. One of these is the American Secretary of State John Kerry. The other is Pope Francis in September. I don’t doubt that they are gearing up for a flash wave of repression. They will do it, as soon as they have the American flag waving at the embassy across from the Malecon,” he says.

At the beginning of July, Gorki Aguila debuted his theme entitled “Ladies in White” in Gandhi Park, near the Santa Rita Church. He did it surrounded by the respect and emotion of these brave women and the activist members of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms. A little latter, everyone marched in defiance of repression. They have continued to do so. They will do it again next Sunday.

About the Author: Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

They Arrest Gorki Aguila, Leader of the Rock Band Porno Para Ricardo / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera

Gorki Aguila, file photo
Gorki Aguila, file photo
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.

Translated by MLK

Professionals of ‘Snitching’ / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera

"Combative vigilants." Sign about the CDR (photo from the internet)
“Combative vigilants.” Sign about the CDR (photo from the internet)

cubanet square logoCubanet.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”

When the property seizures began in the early months of 1959, the “Guarapitos” proposed ravaging a farm named La Francesa belonging to Pedro “Pepin” Carbonell and his family. The “Guarapitos” arrived and confiscated the largest cattle and slaughtered them for their consumption. No one could touch them. It was futile to try to denounce them to the authorities. They were protected by being efficient tools of Revolutionary terror.

Later other individuals joined the group with the same vocation of informing. Among them were Faustino Sanchez, Lucas Cabrera Lugo (Tatico) and Benito Mirabal.

Benito Mirabal and the Fisherman

They nicknamed Benito Mariabal “Moustache.” For years, he was one of the most prominent snitching characters in the region. He denounced people trying to leave the country and also reported street vendors. He was sent by State Security officers to watch, day and night, those named as dissidents.

In the last years of his life a rare disease attacked his legs. The doctors diagnosed it as gaseous gangrene, and they had to amputate them.

While Benito was hospitalized, the fisherman residing in the area, friends of his family, brought good and fresh fish for his nourishment. Several of them used to and do make their living from what they catch at sea.

Sometime after having recovered, Moustache Mirabal asked one of his grandsons to take him, in his wheelchair, to the nearest guard post. Once there, he denounced those same fishermen who had fed him. He accused them of illegal fishing. Several of the fishermen lost their licenses, had their boats confiscated or were fined.

Idelfonso Estevez (Alfonso), active snitch.  Henequen Mariel (photo courtesy of the author)
Idelfonso Estevez (Alfonso), active snitch. Henequen Mariel (photo courtesy of the author)

Alfonso is capable of snitching even on his mother if she were resurrected

Certainly Idelfonso Estevez may seem like just another old man when he goes out of his house. But right now he is known as the “greatest trumpet” (biggest informer) in Henequen Viejo.

So that no one may doubt his unlimited commitment to the regime, he has placed on the fence around his house several pro-government signs. One of them alludes to a sentence of Raul Castro and the other advertises the “process” (sic) for strengthening the Committee in Defense of the Revolution (CDR).

"We must advance at the pace we Cubans decide, without haste but without pause." Signs on the yard fence at the house of Idelfonso Estevez (photo by the author)
“We must advance at the pace we Cubans decide, without haste but without pause.” Signs on the yard fence at the house of Idelfonso Estevez (photo by the author)

A family source who asked to remain anonymous told us that during the Special Period, this man’s refrigerator was all eaten away with salt residue, and he needed it fixed. A nephew, who did this kind of work informally, restored it for him at no charge. Two blocks away lived Ricardo, brother of Idelfonso. He had a little chain saw with which he did carpenter work. Neighbors commissioned broomsticks, knife handles, and things of that sort.

Two weeks later there appeared in the area two inspectors. They came checking on who had private jobs without being licensed and paying taxes. They went to see Idelfonso, and he, without thinking twice, denounced his nephew and his brother. Idelfonso, “The Guarapitos” and all the guys that are like him, would “snitch” even on his mother if she were resurrected, he said.

For more about the author click the link below.

Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro

Translated by MLK

Mariel, the Past and Present of an Exodus / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera

Fishing school, El Mosquito camp in 1980, seen from the point of view of the River Homonimo (photo by the author)
Fishing school, El Mosquito camp in 1980, seen from the point of view of the River Homonimo (photo by the author)

“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 square logoCubanet.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.

In the days following, the presence of boats and yachts from the north increased. The people from the town of La Boca as well as Mariel were taken militarily by army troops and police personnel. Continue reading “Mariel, the Past and Present of an Exodus / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera”

Fifteen years earlier the Cuban government had equipped the port of Mariel, located 20 miles to the west of Havana, as an embarkation point for a migratory bridge leading through Boca de Camarioca in Matanzas. Between April and October of 1980, 125,000 Cubans left for Florida, in what came to be known in the United States as the Mariel Boat Lift.

The way of the cross of the Marielitos

The Cuban government announced that all who wanted to do so could leave. But, as a condition, they had to apply for permanent dismissal from their places of work or education. With this safe-conduct pass, many who had taken refuge in the Peruvian embassy went out. They were victims of fascist acts of repudiation in favor of the regime.

Many Cubans carried out diverse actions in order to visit relatives who were waiting for them in that port. Men, women and children arrived there with visible signs of the humiliation suffered at their places of origin.

But something as bad or worse awaited them at the last stop.

At the corner of the Wakamba pizzeria, the mobs armed with sticks and iron bars lurked, cheered on by local government officials. Those who arrived were hunted down and beaten with a vengeance. Then the police “intervened.”

Little beach near the mouth of the port, town of Boca del Mariel (photo by the author)
Little beach near the mouth of the port, town of Boca del Mariel (photo by the author)

Those attacked were taken to the Border Guard Unit known as El Mosquito, located at the mouth of the river of the same name four kilometers from Mariel. They were confined there for days or weeks. The conditions in the barracks were inhumane. They mixed the families with criminals or prisoners taken from penitentiaries, sent to this checkpoint to then be deported. The place was guarded by armed military personnel and trained dogs.

On the trip back, the buses took a route to Mariel crossing the bridge. At the end of this, the authorities posted children brought from the schools of Baracoa and Henequen. The teachers passed out eggs and rocks for the students to throw at those in the vehicles.

Currently, on this site, where so many Cubans suffered, is a school that teaches fishing.

The threshold of freedom

The pier of the Camaronera Flota (today the Astilleros Astimar Company) was the last step in the way of the cross. Those who were leaving were concentrated there on two boats next to the pier, at that time, empty and half finished. They waited to be called from a list. Then on boarding they passed through another control.

As a condition of being able to take their relatives, those who came with the boats had to permit themselves to let their decks be stuffed with other people of various kinds. There were those who chose refuge for their families in the cabins.

When the boats pulled away from the coast, the last image, from afar, was of the columns of smoke coming from the chimneys of the Mariel power plant.

Entry point of the former Mosquito Camp, currently a fishing school (photo by the author)
Entry point of the former Mosquito Camp, currently a fishing school (photo by the author)

On a stretch of the perimeter wall of that plant, there was for many years a sign that said: “Through here they left and they will never return.”

The sign disappeared during the nineties. That was when the crisis increased. Those who “left” turned into the support for those who stayed.

Today those who left in 1980 share exile in Miami with many who said goodbye with eggs or rocks and later fled in the raft stampede of 1994.

The dictatorship that made them abandon the country still governs with an iron fist poorly disguised with a fine silk glove.

Pizzaria Wakamba in Mariel where the trip ended on Route 218 from Miramar (photo by the author)
Pizzaria Wakamba in Mariel where the trip ended on Route 218 from Miramar (photo by the author)
Warehouse where the registry of the Port Captaincy was located during the Mariel exodus (photo by the author)
Warehouse where the registry of the Port Captaincy was located during the Mariel exodus (photo by the author)
Muro-de-la-refineria-Maximo-Gomezen-este-tramo-existio-este-cartel-Por-aqui-salieron-y-jamas-volveran-Foto-Camilo-Ernesto-Olivera-722x505
Section of the Maximo Gomez refinery wall where the sign existed (photo by the author)

About the author

camilo-ernesto-olivera.thumbnailCamilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro – City of Havana (September 14, 1970) – Screenwriter and Researcher – He has participated in theorist events in almost all the rock festivals that have taken place in Cuba from 2001 to the present – Workshop for screenwriting, production and staging of musical events (UNEAC, CARICATO) 2004 Graduate of television script and drama course (ICRT Teletransmisora training department) 2006 collaborator on Cuban non-official publications concerning the rock genre like “El Punto G,” “Insanedrac,” “Ilusion.” Since December 2007, he has been part of the Cuban Rock Agency where he works as a cultural promoter and member of the editorial board of the magazine “Rock del Patio” (in process). His texts are published in “La Corchea” (ICM), websites AHS, maximrock.com, cubametal.com, esquife.cu, Cubaencuentro, Voces, Cubanet and Diario de Cuba.

Translator: MLK

Estado de Sats… for our Spanish-speaking viewers

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.

The Estado de Sats YouTube channel is here.

29 April 2015

Being Forty Years Old in Cuba / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera

dominó-coverThey 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 square logoCubanet, 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.

Those who remain view their lives like those of shipwreck victims on an island that has capsized. Some cling to debris, trying to stay afloat. Others see fulfillment slipping away in a country that continues to deny them a future. Continue reading “Being Forty Years Old in Cuba / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera”

Cubanet interviewed people in Bayamo and Havana: one a small city, the other the capital. They offer a portrait of a generation for whom hope has been extinguished.

Bayamo, a country within a country

One couple agreed to be interviewed by this reporter on how they see their lives now and in the future. The man will turn forty in two years. Both declined to give their names.

“They say that in 2016 the outlook in Bayamo could be very different, but that is exactly what the government promised my parents and what I inherited from them was crisis and the urge to leave behind these people and this country,” he says.

“This is a beautiful city,” says the woman, “but it feels very small when we see the tons of opportunities we are missing. The ones who prosper here, more or less, are the ones who get help from those who left when they were young to try their luck in another country. I don’t want my children to live with the despair I inherited from my parents. On that he and I both agree.”

Another man, known as El Pelón (the Bald Guy), graduated during the educational chaos of the last decade.

“I have a lot of family living in the United States,” he says. “At one time I thought about making the crossing to Miami, leaving through Puerto Padre. But life got messy, so I’m still here. By the time you’re forty, you feel the initial urge slipping away. It’s like you have entered a stage of life where you are moving at half speed. You resign yourself to things. Arriving in a new country at twenty is not the same as when you are over forty.”

 In Havana forty at forty

The Maxim Rock theater is a hotbed for the young and not so young. It is Saturday in the capital. Tonight, two generations of music fans co-mingle, intent on having the best time possible. This reporter managed to have a conversation with one couple. He is forty; she is much younger. Both spoke informally without giving their names.

“Twenty years ago,” he says, “I was walking around Vedado, hunting for foreigners and ’hustling.’ It was the 1990s, the era of blackouts and all those nightmares no one wants to remember. You had to be brave to leave but also to stay. That’s what I tell people when they ask me why I am still living in Cuba.”

“Something will have to change. These people’s time has passed,” she says referring to the government. They are committed to the same old same old. But they are very mistaken if they think the public’s silence is due to resignation.”

Dominoes, a game of life and politics

At a Casa de los Abuelos senior center, a buiding which is somehow miraculously still standing, a group of men is getting ready to play another round of dominoes. Everyone here is past the age of forty. As in the game of life and politics, each playing piece is a bet to be wagered in silence. Their faces tell the history of this country, spanning the dying past that landed them at this table and a future as uncertain as a domino.

At the same time their counterparts are playing another round in Miami’s Maximo Gomez Park. They are veterans of nostalgia. Some still unabashedly await the imminent downfall of the two brothers, just as they did when they arrived in Florida at age twenty.

However, the prospect of reconciliation without freedom for Cubans living on the island continues to shadow those on both sides of the Florida Straits.

Cold War, Hot Motors / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro

autos-chevrolet-cover1

  • Is the Cuban government considering declaring as “heritage assets” the classic cars that roam the streets?

cubanet square logoCubanet, 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”

Although the US and Cuba broke diplomatic relations in January, 1961, there had been no new vehicles or replacement parts entering the Island directly from the North for at least a year prior.

A half-century later, American-made autos are vital to the transport of passengers on the Island. In the US, they are “classic cars,” high-priced collectors’ items. In Cuba, they are called almendrones.*

Cold War vs. Hot Motors

Agustín Godínez bought his first car, a ’55 Chevrolet, in 1970. In 2002 he acquired a Dodge. For years, only those vehicles that arrived in Cuba before 1960 could be bought and sold via a transfer of ownership outside State control. That was until recently.

“The American cars have continued rolling along, thanks to the inventiveness of our mechanics and machinists,” Agustín explained. “These fellows retool parts harvested from other cars. American cars can function with parts from the Soviet Volga, made in the ‘60s and ‘70s. They also work with parts from the Chaika (GAZ-M13), manufactured by the Russians in the ‘50s and ‘60s, which copied elements from the American autos Mercury, Chrysler and Dodge.”

Agustín Godínez and his 1955 Dodge (Photo by the Author)
Agustín Godínez and his 1955 Dodge (Photo by the Author)

Godínez added another crucial fact, regarding the resistance of these cars to the ravages of a tropical and salty climate. “During that period the bodies of these cars were made of heavy steel which included lead amalgam,” Godínez explained. “On top of that, you had the proper paint and maintenance.”

Today They Are Taxis, Yesterday They Were “ANCHAR”

In the second half of the 1970s, the Ministry of Transport created an association of private taxis. It admitted for membership only drivers of cars manufactured prior to 1959.

ANCHAR (National Association of Transport Drivers and Vehicles) guaranteed fuel at low cost. It also ran a store that stocked parts and pieces for those cars. The establishment was located in the capital suburb of Mónaco. The association regulated the fares charged by the carriers: basically, 50 centavos [based on the Cuban peso – CUP] per passenger, or up to 5 Cuban pesos per party, to travel to any point in the city.

In the 1980s, a trip to Guanabo Beach from the Havana train terminal would cost up to 2 pesos per person. The vehicles were identifiable by their orange-and-black paint jobs.

What Does a Classic Car Cost in Cuba?

In 1971, a vehicle manufactured in the second half of the 1950s could be had at a price that ranged between 1000 to 1200 pesos CUP. Other models, built in the late 1940s, could cost up to 600 or 700 CUP.

Currently, the private buying and selling of these cars is conducted in CUC [Cuban convertible peso], a national currency equivalent to the US dollar. The value of the autos depends on the model, year, and condition. For example, a Chevrolet from the late ‘50s could cost the buyer, at minimum, 7,000 CUC. At the exchange rate of 1 CUC for 24 CUP, this would be 168,000 Cuban pesos CUP.

At this moment it is unknown whether the Cuban government plans to declare as “heritage assets” the classic cars that exist in Cuba.

They stand out to any visitor: the streets of Cuba are a veritable rolling museum. One can spot specimens ranging as diverse as a Ford from 1929 and a 1950s Chevrolet, to the miniscule Polski, nicknamed “the little Pole.” The latter was copied from a model patented by Fiat, as well as the Soviet Lada Niva.

Since 1990 there have been no massive imports to the Island of parts and pieces for Eastern European-made autos. Even so, the Moskvich, and also the Lada models 1600, 2107, and Samara, are still circulating.

At the halfway point between East and West, 50 years are summarized in this Cuban motorized ajiaco** which has not ceased from rolling up to today.

Photos by author:

ADAPTACION-DEL-TIMON-DE-AUTO-FIAT-AL-DODGEFOTO-CAMILO-ERNESTO-OLIVERA-Copy
A Fiat Steering Wheel on a 1955 Dodge

AUTO-POLSKICOLOR-AZUL-EN-SEGUNDO-PLANO-LADA-NIVA-1600FOTO-CAMILO-ERNESTO-OLIVERA-1autos-cover-722x505CHEVROLET-1952-EN-SEGUNDO-PLANO-DE-COLOR-NEGRO-CHAIKA-M-14URSS-1977-

Fleet of private transport vehicles
Fleet of private transport vehicles

Translator’s Notes:
*The nickname refers to the almond shape of these antique cars.
**
Ajiaco is a traditional Cuban stew. The term is often used to convey great diversity or miscellany – similar to the idiomatic use in the US of the term, “pot pourri.”

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Where to Have Sex in Havana? / Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro

He who waits, feels desperate. Internet photo

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.

These advertisements (rooms for rent by the hour, night and day) are often seen in the Malecon area. Photo by CEO.

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.

Cubanet, 20 March, 2014 | Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro

Translated by: AnonyGY, Michaela Klicnikova

Artists on the General’s Farm / Camilo Ernesto Olivera

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…

UNEAC-PEÑA-DE-POESIA-Copy1“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

Translated by mlk.

18th Century Mansion – Forgotten but Not Gone / 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.

Cubanet, March 5, 2014.

Translated by Tomás A.

Venezuela is not Angola / Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro

Cuban special troops

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”

If the political situation in Venezuela goes completely out of control, the first victims would be the Cuban civil collaborators. “And in the same way as happened in 1977 when Nito Alves confronted Agostino Neto, it cannot be ruled out that FAR will intervene in Venezuela citing the protection of the collaborators.”

The question of how they will do it is more of form than of substance.  But Angola was a country recently released from colonial domination, in contrast with Venezuela which possesses a democratic tradition that has shown itself to be persistent.  “Nevertheless the silence or complicity of the Latin-American countries with the abuses of the Burro from Miraflores is a bad sign.”

Cuban soldiers in Angola

On the other hand, the government of Raul Castro is facing a difficult choice: “If the military intervention by Cuban troops generates a spiral of such violence that it involves massive deaths among the civilian Venezuelan population and Cubans, the political cost for Raul Castro would be very high within and outside of Cuba. The US government would hold all the cards in its favor to declare it a hemispheric plague. The Latin-American governments would have to take a clear position in the matter or public opinion would hold them to account.” And a possible dialog with the CEE would grind to a halt.

Towards the interior of Cuban, just look at the sad destiny that the African veterans suffer. My interlocutor said: “It is unlikely that a lightning political campaign of Raulism will gain the support of the island’s people for military intervention in Venezuela. At first, he will send elite troops trained in confronting disturbances in urban zones.”

In 1992 Fidel Castro declared that the era of Cuban military missions abroad had ended.  Two decades later, the drums of another fratricidal war may be about to beat on the doors of the Cuban family. The worst scenario possible is not impossible.

Cubanet, February 28, 2014 /

Translated by mlk

“I’m For Sale From the Neck Down” / 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.

I explained all this to the girl, who looked at me puzzled. After listening intently (I think), she turns over and asks me to scratch her back. When I think she’s not going to say anything, she confides, Continue reading ““I’m For Sale From the Neck Down” / Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro”

“This government knows that as the only one it can continue to sell the country. What it’s doing is creating a paradise where the yumas — the foreigners — can earn a ton of money and the Cuban people continue to be fucked.”

“All those presidents,” she continues, “come to see how they’re going to share out the cake those here are offering, and the result will be more money for the government and more poverty for us.”

Then the girl stretches out her body, and sighs with the nonchalance of someone who knows she has nothing to lose except, perhaps, the next minute.

She looks at me and smiles:

“Most men don’t even talk to me. You at least try to make me feel comfortable. We hookers can’t afford the luxury of being noble, just like we can’t stop earning money. Me, from the neck up, I don’t let anyone in… What I sell starts here,” and she places both hands on her clavicles.

Cubanet, 22 January 2014 | 

*Translator’s note (Thank you to Ernesto Suarez)

“Tick techniques” means pretending to solve the problem while perpetuating it to profit from it. It comes from an old Cuban joke: There was an old country doctor whose son was also a doctor.  The father had not taken a vacation in a very long time, and the son convinced him one day to take a holiday in Havana.  Off went the old doctor, and the younger one took care of his patients. Within a few days, the old one receives a telegram from his son: “All is well in the town. Cured Mr. Garcia’s earache. It was a tick.”  Mr. Garcia was the richest man in town.  The old doctor flies into a rage and fires back a telegram: “You stupid idiot. That tick put you through medical school!”

Translated by: Antonio Otero Saínz

22 January 2014

Happy New Deception / Camilo Ernesto Olivera

55-aniversario-cabezalHAVANA, 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”

Throughout the night, a steady stream of small explosions, seemed like the shots of a 22 caliber..dominated the streets of Buenavista. Some “bomblets,” invented by guys who know how.  It was hard and loud. As if they knew what the firing squads sounded like five decades ago…

The tradition of throwing buckets of water into the street was repeated. People don’t lost hope that with the old year the evil will go. For others, the new year smells of new deception. The truth is in the street and not in the meetings of the Council of State: “Any reason is good enough for us to grab a bottle of rum or some beers. Why beat your head against the wall of what can’t be fixed?” So a group of young people, halfway to sloshed, answered me on the first day of 2014. One of them added, “For me, they closed the 3D cinema with which I was earning some pesos, I sold the plasma TV and the chairs, luckily I just stay in Cuba.”

Fin-de-año-2013-2-300x224“My mother gave me the money for the business from France but she warned me. That these people are cheaters, they say one thing today and something else tomorrow. She was always clear. It’s not worth investing a penny in this country, not even a penny, and much less a drop of your time. In the end, they’ll cheat you.”

I comment to them that it’s hard to find someone under forty who doesn’t want to emigrate. “The only people who count here are all those old people who are on Raul’s side in power.” “Aside from them, no one has the right to prosper and have a decent life.”

Someone else in the group said, “When I studied at Lenin Vocational, I learned where “Papa’s kids” went at the end of the year: Cancun Mexico, Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. And naturally they let you go, because they know that the comedy of their grandparents is over and they live convinced that they’re going to inherit the country.”

Fin-de-año-2013-3-300x224“I asked Ochun for a Yuma (foreign) girl and it seems that she heard me, I’m “trabajando el paño” — he tells me semi-confidentially, one of those hustles that so abound here. He and another guy have hooked two German girls who are enchanted with the grace of the “Cubaniches.” I ask him about the future and what he wants for the new year: “I can sum it up for you in one sentence,” he answers, “that this cute blonde gets me a visa and guarantees my ticket with no return. That my old age doesn’t find me in this country.”

Fin-de-año-2013--300x224The wall of the Malecon is a historical melting pot of parties and lamentations. Walking around I met a group with a small speaker, taking and drinking. I asked them what they expect from the new-born 2014. “Nothing new, we have to continue to struggle with what there is,” one of them told me. “The return of the Five Heroes!” another jokes, and they all busted out laughing.

At that moment Cuba’s top hit came on, in the voice of the Puerto Rican Marc Anthony: “I gonna live, I’m gonna enjoy, live life…” and everyone sang along like a hymn. Perhaps this song sums up, despite everything, what a good part of Cubans expect from the new year.

Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro

From Cubanet | 5 January 2014