Causes and Effects of the Embargo / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, Havana — On the 4th of January, 1959, the Constitution of 1940 was modified without the knowledge of the Cuban people. On the 10th of January, the death penalty and seizure of property was established for “political misdemeanors,” leaving the interpretation of which open to the executors.

On the 7th of February the Basic Law was published, abolishing in actuality the Constitution of 1940, articulated in a completely vengeful and repressive manner. On the 5th of April the CTC (Workers Central Union of Cuba) declared the right to strike “unnecessary,” even though the workers had not been consulted.

On the 19th of April, with Cuban participation, military intervention was undertaken in Panama. On the 13th of June and the 14th of August the same occurred in Santo Domingo and Haiti, respectively. All were failures. On the 23rd of December “post-scripts” began to appear in newspapers, the first limits on the freedom of press. continue reading

Between the 4th and the 13th of February of 1960 Anastas Mikoyan, the Prime Minister of the USSR, visited Havana and signed the first Cuba-USSR agreement. On the 17th of February BANFIAC (Bank of Agricultural and Industrial Promotion), BANDES (Bank of Economic and Social Development), and the FNC (National Financier of Cuba), institutions of the Bank System created under the Constitution of 1940 by the government of Dr. Carlos Prio Socarras and developed under the government of Fulgencio Batista, disappeared. In that same month of February, newspapers, journals, the radio and the television were “nationalized,” totally eliminating the freedom of press.

On the 1st of May “Elections for what?” was set up, approved by the population present during the act of the Civil Square. Between June and the 6th of August, 36 central sugar companies, the Electricity Company, the Telephone Company and 17 banks, all North American property, were nationalized without compensation or with unacceptable offers of compensation (not to be paid before a period of 30 years, through bonuses, with a fund created by 25% of the value of sugar that the United States would buy at a fixed annual quota of over 3 million tons, at a price not lower than 5.75 American cents per English pound).

On the 13th of September the government of the United States announced that, if the program of “nationalization” were to continue, they would place an embargo on Cuba. On the 13th of October, by Law 890, 105 central sugar companies, important industrial businesses (Crusellas, Sabates, Hatuey, La Tropical, La Polar, Sarra, Taquechel, Johnson, large department stores, the railroads, 18 distilleries, among them Bacardi and Arechabala) as well as 376 other Cuban companies and industries, were expropriated.

By Law 891 the Cuban and foreign bank systems and, by another law, 273 more companies, were nationalized, and the Urban Reform Law was passed, lowering rents and, in continuation, eliminating private property beyond housing. On the 19th of October the government of the United States established the embargo, with exception of certain medicines and foodstuffs.

On the 24th of October the Cuban government expropriated the remaining 166 North American businesses. On the 16th of December, the USA cancelled the Cuban sugar quota. On the 31st of December a Cuban military insurgence began in Algeria in relation with its border war with Morocco.

On the 8th of January 1961, relations between Cuba and the USA broke off. Between the 15th and the 19th of April the military action at the Bay of Pigs occurred, ending in failure for the government of the United States of America. On the 25th of April, a total embargo on Cuba was established.

On the 1st of May private education was nationalized, later carried out on the 6th of June. On the 5th of August national monetary reform was undertaken, freezing bank accounts and reducing them to a maximum of 10 000 pesos, handing over only 200 pesos per person. On the 17th of September the priests were deported and placed on the ship “Covadonga.”

On the 25th of January, 1962 Cuba was expelled from the OAS. From the 22nd to the 28th of October the so-called “Missle Crisis” occured, ending with an agreement between the USA and the USSR that excluded Cuba.

On the 13th of August 1968 the so-called “Revolutionary Offensive” was declared, “nationalizing” more than 50,000 micro-businesses, totally eliminating private property.

Between the 2nd of January, 1969 and the 20th of May, 1970, the “Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest” failed, dealing a mortal blow to the sugar industry.

On the 23rd of April 1971, cultural repression and intolerance was instigated by the First Congress of Education and Culture. On the 30th of July they restricted access to universities to “revolutionaries” only.

In August 1972 “parametración” was established, resulting in the expulsion of around 300 actors and directors for theater, radio, and television from their posts. On the 22nd of November the State reorganized itself along Soviet lines (instead of Ministries there were Committees).

On July 29th, 1975, the OAS revoked the sanctions against Cuba and, in August, President Gerald Ford realized a partial lift of the embargo. Cuba’s military intervention in Angola began on the 12th of October, putting an end to the brief thaw between Cuba and the United States.

On the 18th of March 1977, President James Carter authorized travel to Cuba and established the US Interest Section, giving way to a new opening in relations. In November Cuba sent troops to Ethiopia to participate in the Ogaden War against Somalia, further frustrating this opening.

On the 14th of December 1984, the United States and Cuba signed an agreement awarding 20,000 American visas annually to Cubans.

On the 9th of November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell.

On the 7th of May Cuba announced its withdrawal from Angola and Ethiopia. With the disappearance of the Eastern European Socialist Camp, and the ending of huge subsidies to the Island, a Special Period in Times of Peace was declared, establishing 14 restrictive measures making life even more difficult for Cubans.

On the 8th of December, 1991, the USSR collapsed and on the 9th of December Soviet troops withdrew from Cuba.

On the 12th of March, 1996, the Helms-Burton act was enacted in response to the demolition of planes belonging to “Brothers to the Rescue,” ending the brief thaw in relations during the Clinton administration.

On the 18th of October 2001 the retiring of the spy base “Lourdes” is announced.

On the 12th of January 2002 the liquidation of the sugar industry began, by means of work ironically named “Alvaro Reynoso,” who was defender of the same industry.

On the 18th of December 2014 relations between Cuba and the US are reestablished. During the Obama administration a number of cooperative agreements are reached, despite “Cuban immobility.”

On the first of January, 2016, with the advent of the Trump administration, relations chilled, a process that continues to this day.

 Translated by Geoffrey Ballinger

Our Annual Summer Dengue / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 22 October 2019 — By the end of Cuba’s colonial period, the country was suffering from a high mortality rate. Malaria, smallpox, childhood tetanus, typhoid, yellow fever and other diseases were decimating the population.

An interventionist government in the United States first assigned General Brooke, then General Wood, the task of quickly improving the country’s sanitary conditions and its overall state of health.

To this end it created the Department of Health, the precursor of the government agency established later under the same name. It was given broad responsibilities and, with the participation of prominent Cuban and American doctors, gradually managed to rid the country of endemic diseases, whose frequent outbreaks were a serious problem. continue reading

The process continued during the Republican era, with major sanitation projects and the organization of an efficient health care system made up of medical offices, relief homes and hospitals, augmented by private medical practices, located in the island’s main cities and towns. In cooperation with the Pan American Health Fund, task forces were set up to provide vector control and prevent epidemics.

Work brigades cleaned out streams, ditches, lagoons, wastelands and sewers. Residents were enlisted to sanitize their own homes. Insecticides such as the well-known DDT and the Yokel-brand mosquito repellant coils were also used along with anti-mosquito screens on doors and windows, and mosquito netting on beds.

Dengue fever was unknown in Cuba until it appeared in 1978 as a result of widespread, unsanitary conditions in urban areas and misguided eradication efforts by work brigades at the time. Once it became an epidemic, authorities were forced to train new teams and equip them with fumigation equipment purchased from Japan and brought in on aircraft owned by the Cuban national airline.

Officials made direct purchases of Malathion, considered the most effective insecticide at the time. They circumvented the U.S. embargo by enlisting Colombian drug runners, operating between Caribbean countries and the United States, to deliver it on their trips home.

Cash payments were made once personnel from the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) confirmed the quality of the product. The drug runners were resupplied with fuel to complete their journeys back to their countries of origin and, when necessary, were provided with lodgings and a place to rest in a marina.

Daily press reports described how Cuba was being sprayed with massive amounts of smoke. Even eggshells were being crushed because it was feared they could become breeding grounds for the dreaded aedes aegypti, the mosquito whose bites transmit the disease.

Fumigations took place around the clock, first with Malathion, then later with smoke from burning petrol. Hoping to contribute to the effort, Soviet military units stationed in Cuba provided authorities with equipment that produced clouds of smoke, which proved to be effective.

There was even an “invading caravan” which began in the west of the country and moved east along the Central Highway, fumigating cities and towns along the way. Epidemiologists leading the effort, however, doubted its effectiveness, suggesting its impact was more psychological than practical.

Then one fine day, sometime after the latest death, the epidemic was officially declared over. Among a few intimates a MINSAP official confided, “Rest assured that, as of today, no one else will die from dengue fever. If there is a subsequent death, it will be attributed to another illness.” In spite of all the measures taken, the epidemic took more than a hundred lives.

Nevertheless, dengue returns every summer. This has been going on for decades. It has unquestionably become endemic. And given the unremittingly poor state of environmental hygiene, it seems the illness is winning its war with MINSAP.

See also: In-depth reporting on Dengue Fever

Self-Employment Under Scrutiny / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 26 August 2019 — The statements made years ago by the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party in defense of self-employment now seem inconsequential considering how Cuba’s president, his administration, the National Assembly, provincial and municipal assemblies, and public officials at all levels now ignore them.

In real life, self-employment is subject to a wide variety of pressures and arbitrary actions with the goal of preventing its development, and even encouraging its demise, under the ruse that everything is being done to “impose order and prevent illegality.”

Why then, I ask, have officials not concerned themselves with imposing order and preventing illegality in the public sector, where such oversight has been sorely needed for the last six decades? continue reading

The private sector already operates in a precarious enviroment. The absence of wholesale markets, excessive fines, corrupt inspectors and officials who live off blackmail and arbitrary inspections are just some of the problems.

Recent measures enacted against private transport workers — for example, an increase in monthly license fees to operate in some sections of the capital, at a time when tourism is in decline, for the benefit the state-owned hotel chain and its accomplices — are examples of a discriminatory policy against an emerging economic sector that now makes up 12% of GDP.

It seems that socialism, a failed system incapable of competing honestly with the private sector, has condemned private initiative to life behind bars while hope has received the death sentence.

In interviews, many state media officials express support for various absurd laws, decrees and regulations when in reality and in private they reject them and wish everything would change, a reflection of the national sentiment at large. Everything else is just blah, blah, blah.

The Doctor of Cubanness / Fernando Damaso

Ramón Grau San Martín. Source: Wikipedia

Fernando Dámaso, 15 April 2019 — Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín was the seventh President of the Republic. He governed from 10 October 1944 to 10 October 1948. During the very month he took office, a fierce hurricane struck the Island, causing great destruction. For many citizens, this natural phenomenon constituted an important omen: the Grau government was kicking off with stormy winds — and a stormy government it would be, despite being established amidst the prosperity produced by World War II, when sugar came to achieve a high price on the world market.

Grau, who promised to achieve a “government of Cubanness,” and who liked to say, “Cubanness is love” — and that, besides, in his administration, women were “in charge” — promulgated the Law of the Sugar Differential to benefit the industry’s  workers, fixing the producers’ share of the final molasses (a statute of indisputable social utility).

He also launched a vast Public Works Plan that notably improved many neighborhoods in the city of Havana — despite some projects being so poorly constructed that they eventually had to be demolished and rebuilt. He established the compulsory licensure of degreed and non-degreed professions, a summer schedule for businesses, a lawyers’ pension, and retirement funds for workers in the textile, sisal and tobacco industries, among others. continue reading

From the start of his administration, Grau tried to associate it with the “hundred days” (9/10/1933-1/15/1934) and lend it continuity via social measures — although many contained a high dosage of demagoguery, so much that he became popularly known as “the Divine Gallimaufry.”

At the same time, in a moment of weakness, he allowed certain armed groups (remnants of the 1933 Revolution’s action groups who had been unable to insert themselves normally in the subsequent political process, and who practiced violence and carried out shady dealings) to roam the streets, primarily, of Havana.

This infinite tolerance for gangsterism revived the anarchic episodes of that prior period — which, during the previous administration, had seemed a thing of the past — thereby demonstrating the terrible current state of relations between the Executive and Legislative powers, which had suffered a great decline.

Grau abandoned the semi-parliamentarism instituted by the previous adminisration and went back to a presidentialist style of government, ignoring what had been established by the Constitution of the Republic in this regard.

In addition, his presidency was characterized by some picturesque, even extravagant, successes that reduced his credibility and respectability — such as the strange disappearence of the diamond embedded in the floor of the Capitol (which, some time later, one fine day, with no coherent explanation, appeared on the table in his office, and which he nonchalantly returned to its rightful place as if nothing had happened, without revealing who had masterminded such a misdeed).

Among the tragic events occurring in those years, one that merits pointing out is the so-called “Battle of Orfila,” more like a slaughter, wherein the two most important action groups that operated in the city of Havana vented their personal and business rivalries with bullets, resulting in a great number of dead and injured.

On the international plane, Grau allowed the formation of a clandestine army – the so-called Legion of the Caribbean — which established its base of operations in Cayo Confites and was aimed at overthrowing dictatorships in the region, in frank violation of international laws in force then.

Notwithstanding all these errors, which discredited the government as well as the President himself (turning him into a cartoon-like figure), there was always an absolute respect for civic liberties and freedom of expression — and, as he liked to say, in his government, all Cubans “had five pesos in their pockets.”

Grau was a President subjected to great opposition — not just the traditional kind, but also that of Dr. Eduardo R. Chibás, dissident leader of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano-Auténtico (PRCA), who went on to head it when he was not selected by Grau as the party’s candidate for the upcoming presidential election.

Chibás, a charismatic and populist politician who had directed Grau’s campaign during the so-called “glory days” that had swept him to power in 1944, felt discriminated against, and he became Grau’s most fierce critic and impugner — with and without cause.

On 6 January 1948, general elections were held in which the following candidates participated: for the PRCA, Drs. Carlos Prío Socarrás and Guillermo Alonso Pujol; for the Coalición Socialista Democrática, Drs. Emilio Núñez Portuondo and Gustavo Cuervo Rubio; for the Partido del Pueblo Cubano-Ortodoxo, Drs. Eduardo R. Chibás and Emilio Ochoa; and for the Partido Socialista Popular, Dr. Juan Marinello.  The winning ticket was that of the PRCA.

President Ramón Grau San Martín, a popular figure who aroused great hopes in the citizenry (as much for his support of culture as for his performance during the government of the “hundred days” following the overthrow of Gerardo Machado’s dictatorship), who assumed the presidency with a great majority of the population in his favor — little by little, due to his political weaknesses, began to lose prestige and turn into more of a folk character than a head of state.

As a result, even with the prevailing economic boom during his six years of governing and the many constructive works accomplished with the objective of improving our towns and cities, the people did not feel totally satisfied. A monument or bust was never erected in his memory.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Patriotic Clamor / Fernando Damaso

Various uses of the image of the flag from times past.

Fernando Dámaso, 29 April 2019 — The uproar continues between those who reject and those who accept the use of patriotic symbols, mainly the flag, in utilitarian objects. With this in mind I would like to clarify a few things and offer some personal thoughts.

“Patriotic puritans,” who mainly come from the intellectual community, want to sanctify the flag and turn it into an object of religious devotion.

“Patriotic populists” use it excessively, and often inappropriately, as a decorative object in shops, farmers markets, public offices, companies and vehicles. Also included in this group are political leaders, entrepreneurs and business executives who use it at any number of events and activities, no matter how insignificant, at which the flag’s size is in direct proportion to the magnitude of the failures they want to cover up. continue reading

“Jingoistic opportunists,” mainly musicians and athletes, use it to varying degrees in unoriginal and inartistic clothing designs.

I believe that, when the flag is used (in whole or in part) in everyday objects such as clothing, towels, bedsheets, curtains and upholstery, it should display some artistic quality and originality.

Examples of good design can be found in multiple utilitarian objects which feature various elements of the American and British flags. These are popular throughout the world, including in this country.

Rather than attacks or insults to a patriotic symbol, citizens view these examples, which they have known since infancy, with affection, not as inaccessible objects to be placed on an altar.

To celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the republic, Cubans have followed the yearly tradition of wearing the colors of the flag, and even the flag itself, on May 20 as a healthy sign of patriotic pride, with the blessing of all the country’s war veterans.

Instead of debating the flag’s use or non-use on everyday items, it would be better to educate citizens from an early age on its proper use while not allowing it to be used indiscriminately in bodegas, farmers markets, business settings or street demonstrations.

If a flag is made of cloth, it should not be left outside, exposed to sun, wind and rain to the point of disintegration. If it is applied to some other backing (paper, cardboard, poster board), it should not be left in streets, plazas and sidewalks to be mindlessly trampled on, like trash, by passers-by.

For those who do not remember or do not know, during the Republican era the flag could only remain outdoors from dawn, when it was hoisted, to dusk, when it was taken down, correctly folded into a triangular shape with the star on top, and kept in a designated place until the following morning, when the process was repeated.

When it became worn out, it was incinerated. The same held true for flags printed on paper products. All this was taught in school, and was common knowledge and required practice.

Furthermore, printing images, landscapes, text and signatures of any kind on flags was prohibited. In other words, its use was subject to regulations, which were respected and adhered to by officials and citizens alike. There were also established standards governing where it was to placed and when it was to be displayed alongside other flags.

Today, almost of this has been lost, along with many other things. Government officials and citizens alike are ignorant of these practices. I believe rescuing them is more important than wasting time squabbling over whether the flag should be used on everyday objects.

Requiem for Havana / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 19 March 2019 — That Havana is falling apart stopped being news a long time ago. The institutional abandonment, the widespread apathy and irresponsibility, during the six decades that the city has been affected by the “tornado” that hit down in January 1959, have totally destroyed it.

In November will be Havana’s 500th anniversary of its foundation and, for this reason, the authorities have foreseen to beautify it a little, that is, to give it some rouge, so that it looks a little better and is somewhat more presentable, at least for the foreign guests who will surely attend the celebration.

As usual, this involves many more words than actions and, everywhere, the date is announced with the slogan “For Havana the Greatest.”

However, the work that is being done, except in a few cases, is quite sloppy, of low quality and over it by those responsible. Examples of bad work can be seen on Línea Calle in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood, full of cuts that hinder vehicular and pedestrian traffic, which has been going on for months and, most of the time, without anyone working on it.

Meanwhile, in Nuevo Vedado’s Acapulco Park they have demolished some of its areas, rebuilt and demolished then again, thanks to the bad quality of the work undertaken, also for months. If this is the case in these two examples, I think that very little can be done for the celebration.

We all know that, a situation that represents the deterioration accumulated over decades can not be solved in a few months, but, at least, what is done should be done with quality.

The Man of the White Suit / Fernando Damaso

Batista lunching with his wife in the Presidential Palace, 8 months before fleeing Cuba. (Wikicommons)

Fernando Dámaso, 28 February 2019 — As a result of the Constituent Assembly and the elaboration and implementation of a new Constitution of the Republic, in an electoral process characterized by legality and tranquility, Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar became the sixth president, a man who had left the army with the rank of colonel (in February 1942, the new Organic Law of the Army grants him the rank of general retroactively), and fused into this same person the two antagonistic currents during the seven prior years, with losses for both sides and for the Republic: the military and the civilian.

Although he was a military caudillo, and had acted as such in previous years, exerting his influence in the rise and fall of several presidents, his personality also projected on the political plane. His rise to the presidency gave continuity to the Generals-Presidents of the Republic. Perhaps, because of this, he was able to easily defeat the military coup of the Chief of Police, General Jose Eleuterio Pedraza, at the beginning of his term. He exercised power from October 10, 1940 until October 10, 1944. continue reading

The main objective of his government, formed by the so-called Socialist Democratic Coalition, was to consolidate the state of peaceful coexistence that had been achieved during the Constitutional Convention, where parties, organizations and political and social groups of different stripes had managed to debate their proposals with civility and reached important results for the good of the Republic. In spite of this, from the beginning of his mandate, he had to face the opposition of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Authentic), his main opponents and losers of the elections.

Unlike prior presidential terms, which began in 1902, he set in motion the semi-parliamentary regime established by the 1940 Constitution, appointing as its Prime Minister Dr. Carlos Saladrigas, a relevant personality, who managed to establish and maintain correct relations between the Executive and the Legislative branches.

During his exercise of the presidency,  Batista created the National Development Commission, with the objective of coordinating and promoting the development of the country, set a gold standard for the issuance of monetary certificates and achieved important advances in labor policy, establishing the Sugar Workers Retirement plan.

In addition, he  approved the creation of the National Council of Education and Culture, which achieved good results in the improvement and development of these two important activities, turned over the Calixto García General Hospital and the Limones Central (a sugar mill) to the University of Havana, for their use as learning centers, built the National Archive building, as well as that of the Economic Society of Friends of the Country and established the Order “José María Heredia”, to reward Cuban and foreign personalities in the world of science, letters and the arts.

Upon entering Cuba into the Second World War, he called for national unity, the ABC Party, an ally until that point of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Authentic), responded favorably and came to collaborate with the government. In the context of the war, important measures were taken, with the aim of avoiding the scarcity of supplies and making the lives of citizens too expensive.

Although the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Authentic) continued in the opposition, it collaborated from the Congress with every act of national defense and with the belligerent attitude that Cuba had assumed. In response to this, the government appointed Engineer Carlos Hevia, an important figure of this party, as President of the ORPA, the Office of Regulating Prices and Supplies.

The President, during the years of his mandate, was able to summon and surround himself with people prepared to successfully carry out his government projects, allowing the country to live a stage of social tranquility and progress, experience that, unfortunately, has been forgotten by the others who suceeded him.

On June 1, 1944, general elections were held, including the candidacies of the Socialist Democratic Coalition, composed of Carlos Saladrigas-Ramón Zaydín, and the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Authentic) by Ramón Grau San Martín-Raúl de Cárdenas.

In an orderly process, honest and with all the guarantees, Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín obtained the victory, as the Republican Party of Dr. Guillermo Alonso Pujol joined his ranks, with the goal of, at the last minute, softening the excessive radicalism of some authentic leaders, among them, mainly, Dr. Eduardo R. Chibás, that affected the intention of voters. The transfer of powers was carried out in the most perfect democratic order.

Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar was the first President elected in democratic general elections, in accordance with the new Constitution of the Republic, after the fall of the government of General Gerardo Machado. His presidential term was characterized by the achievement of peaceful coexistence among Cubans, and the realization of important works, both material and social, which helped the country’s development after the impasse of seven years of political and economic instability. By restoring the democratic order, he created the base for its continuity.

The facts show that Batista was not the illiterate politician that they tried to make us believe, but someone intelligent who made good government during this presidential period. No monument or bust was erected that would honor him, although during his presidential termt the 4th of September flag fluttered next to the Cuban flag in the military camps and institutions.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

Between Heaven and Hell / Fernando Damaso

Damage from the tornado that struck parts of Havana earlier this year. (14ymedio)

Fernando Dámaso, 4 March 2019 —  As had been predetermined, the monstrosity of a constitution was ratified in a referendum last Sunday, February 24, in spite of the clumsy manipulation of polling data by the regime.

The reasons vary: government induced fear and an insane level of propaganda; political pressure exerted on workers, intellectuals, artists, athletes, professionals and students, who are elegible to vote, and and even on infants, who are not; all clamoring “I Vote Yes!”

Though no figures have been released, the amount of money and resources spent on the campaign must have far outstripped those of any presidential election held in the United States, which Cuban leaders and their front men never fail to criticize. In addition, the “Don’t Vote” and “Vote NO” campaigns, which left the opposition ridiculously divided, were suppressed. continue reading

With state monopoly of all media, including social networks, citizens were bombarded with constant sermonizing, leaving opponents with no legal public platforms to express themselves.

As of the 24th, Cuba has a new constitution, though it will require an additional twenty-four months for its articles to be formulated before it can be put into practice. Given the circumstances, it is likely to be the shortest-lived Constitution in the history of Cuba, surpassed only perhaps by the ephemeral Baraguá constitution, which lasted only a few days, during which time Antonio Maceo tried in vain to prolong a war that had already ended. It was an attempt to extend the life, at least on paper, of a failed revolution.

Shortly after Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín became President of the Republic in 1944, the island was hit by a devastating hurricane, which led the press to predict, “The new government threatens to be stormy.” And that’s was happened.

Since the current “designate” assumed the presidency, there has been a terrible airline crash in which there was only one survivor, intense rains and floods have washed away crops, homes, roads and bridges in central Cuba, and a tornado has destroyed parts of the already heavily damaged areas of Santos Suárez, Regla, Guanabacoa, and San Miguel near Havana. As if that were not enough, a meteorite has even broken up over Pinar del Río.

If we had a free press, it would predict that “the new government threatens to be disastrous.” On top of repeated economic failures, industrial decline, lack of investment and the deterioration of social services, we must now add the fall — sooner of later — of the Maduro regime in Venezuela, our main sponsor.

As a result, alarm bells have gone off and Cuban officials now spend hours flying around the world, looking for new partners who might be willing to “throw a rope,” as the local saying goes. But times have changed.

I doubt that Europe, which is having serious problems with some of its major member countries, is inclined to provide new credits knowing they might not be repaid. Russia is now capitalist, as are all the republics which made up the former Soviet Union.

Similarly, China and Vietnam have adopted market economies. In all of them, things cost money and nothing is free. If they extend credit, it must be repaid with corresponding interest. Even isolated North Korea, which has nothing to give, is in talks with the United States, its historic adversary.

In Latin America they have shut the door, with the exception of the indigenous Aymaran*, who spends his time ranting about the empire, blaming poultry consumption for causing homosexuality and worshiping the goddess Pachamama through dance.

Lacking resources, few can help their “brother president.” Mexico — a country immersed in serious problems on its northern and southern borders, as well as others such as drug trafficking, a violent crime wave, and longstanding, widespread corruption — does not have time to deal with its complicated Caribbean neighbor.

The little surrounding islands are of no use since, by necessity, they take more than they give. That leaves only Canada and the United States, and the former has always coordinated its policy in the region with the latter. In short, to escape the quagmire and save Cuba, dialogue with the latter is essential, but that does not necessarily mean also saving its government.

Dialogue, however, will require abandoning the brusque swagger, the childish arrogance, the antiquated dogmas, the rampant and cocky stupidity, and the outlandish demands. A dialogue requires two suitcases: a full one from which to give and an empty one in which to receive.

May God and the Orishas open our leaders’ eyes to the prevailing bleak reality so that they might think of Cuba and the Cubans, and set aside their addiction to absolute power. Otherwise, they will be consumed by the fire of Lucifer and Shangó.

 *Translator’s note: A reference to President Evo Morales of Bolivia.

Requiem for Havana / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 19 March 2019 — That Havana is falling to pieces is hardly news. The institutional neglect, apathy and general irresponsibility, which has affected the city, over the six decades since the “tornado” hit in January 1959, has totally destroyed it. November will be the 500th anniversary of its foundation and it is expected that the authorities will do it up a little, that’s to say, apply a bit of makeup, so that it looks a bit better and more presentable, at least for the foreigners who have been invited to attend the celebration.

As usual, there is more talk than action, and everywhere you look they are announcing the date with the slogan “Havana is the greatest”.

Nevertheless, what they are doing, with one or two exceptions, is slapdash, poor quality, with the worst productivity and even worse control. As an example of poor work, just look at  Calle Línea in El Vedado, with power cuts which hold up the traffic and pedestrians, and which has been going on for months, without anybody doing anything about it. And also Parque Acapulco in Nuevo Vedado, with bits demolished, rebuilt, and torn down again because of poor workmanship, and which has also been going on for months.  If that’s how it is in just two examples, it seems to me they won’t get much done in time for the celebration.

We all know that you can’t sort out a situation which has deteriorated over decades in a few months, but, at least whatever they do should be done properly.

Translated by GH

“Peter Pan” in the Air / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 19 February 2019 — Lately I’ve been hearing the phrase “the horrendous Operation Peter Pan” and I ask myself: Was it really horrendous?

“Operation Peter Pan” consisted of many parents sending their children to the United States through religious organizations, to avoid losing “parental authority,” which was a broadly-held concern among the members of the middle and upper classes in the year 1959.

It was a decision made within families and no one was forced to do so. In addition, nobody expected that the political process just started — the triumph of Fidel Castro’s Revolution — would last. Most people believed the separation would be temporary. continue reading

But it didn’t happen that way and many of the separations continued for years. Some children grew up and thrived in their new surroundings and others didn’t manage to do so, as is normal. Some, as the years passed, expressed their gratitude to the program, and others condemned it.

Did Cuban parents lose “parental authority” over their children or not?

Well, in reality, yes. They lost the right to educate them according to their wishes, principles and beliefs, be they secular or religious, in public or private schools. When all the schools in Cuba become public, that is, belonged to the State, it instituted atheism and the teaching of its ideology.

Cuban children were under duress, from their earliest childhood, to declare themselves “pioneers for communism” and, later, to swear “to be like Che,” as they repeated in their daily oaths during the morning assemblies at school. Although this extemporaneous militancy, with colored “neckerchiefs” and all, was said to be voluntary, in practice it became mandatory. Because any child who did not follow it, immediately suffered the induced repudiation of his or her classmates, creating the breeding ground for the “double standard” where I say one thing (what everyone wants to hear) and I think something else.

Also, in Cuba, young people were separated from their parents and the family environment for long periods of time in mobilizations, the Literacy Campaign, schools in the countryside, sent to study in what are now the  former socialist countries, compulsory military service and other forms.

Among the last was sending them to fight and die in other people’s wars, under the excuse of strengthening them physically and ideologically as men of socialism. There was also the constant exodus of family members, dismantling and vaporizing this important institution of the social fabric, and prohibiting their reunifications for years, under the absurd concept that “whomever left the country was a traitor and could never return.”

Remembering all these barbarities, in reality parents in Cuba lost “parental authority” over their children, without the need of any law to that effect.

I do not think that “Operation Peter Pan” was horrific: it was, simply, a response to a danger that was coming and that, unfortunately for many generations of Cubans, became real.

Current assessments may be different, even when they are colored by political and ideological interests, not always fair, nor worried about true human feelings.

Under Dogma and Stubbornness / Fernando Damaso

José Martí statue in Havana. (The Straights Times)

Fernando Dámaso,29 January 2019 — On Sunday, January 27th, Havana was affected by a strong tornado that caused considerable destruction, mainly in the October 10, Luyanó, San Miguel del Padrón and Regla neighborhoods.

It is striking that the “March of the Torches”, scheduled for that evening and then moved to the 28th, nonetheless was held instead of using the resources and the young people from the march to help the many victims who, as is habitual, despite speeches and promises of opportunity, will swell the lists of those who wait for solutions to similar phenomena, which extend for more than two decades without visible results. continue reading

Recall that, according to official data, on June 7, 2018 there were 1,703,926 homes in poor condition and, of them, 61,051 in total collapse. The current victims, as is logical, will be placed at the end of the list.

Dogma and stubbornness are some of the actions of the partisan and governmental authorities, who always prioritize “idiotology” rather than the most elementary reasoning.

As a result, they have molded the history of this country in their image and likeness and as a function of their political interests, always prioritized, in spite of natural catastrophes.

January 1st is “the day of the triumph of the experiment”, the 8th is “the entrance to Havana of the” supreme maker” (Fidel Castro) and the evening of the 27th “the march of the torches” in honor of the 28th, the birthday of José Martí.

In February, the 24th is the day of the “Grito de Baire” (Proclamation of Baire in 1895 that began the War of Cuban Independence), usually poorly remembered, although this year it has been linked to the spawn of a Constitutional referendum, as if it the two were related.

March is adorned with the “Assault on the Presidential Palace” on the 13th (1957), the bravest action of the whole insurrection, and with the “Protest of Baraguá” (rejection in 1878 of Treaty with Spain ending Ten Years’ War) on the 15th that, although it was a powerful event, was actually an act of stubbornness that did not lead to anything, because it was impossible to continue the war for independence.

April is Girón (Bay of Pigs) and the supposed “first defeat of imperialism in America”.

May begins with the “Day of the Workers”, on the 1st, where they happily parade without making demands, giving thanks for the crumbs given to them, forgetting that Martí died on the 19th and that the Republic was founded on the 20th.

June is for Maceo (2nd in command of Cuban War for Independence) and Ché, artificially joined on the 13th by their birthdays, although in totally different eras.

July is the month of the “supreme maker”, with the “Day of Kings” and the Carnival of Havana, moved absurdly to this month (traditionally it was held in February), and the Assault on the Moncada Barracks, which they unsuccessfully try to make more important than the Proclamation of Baire.

August 13th is the day of the birth of the “supreme maker” with displays of banners and music.

September is the month of the CDR (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), a government organization for monitoring and controlling its citizens.

November is for the medical students shot in the 19th century by Spanish forces and December is for the “Landing of Granma”, relegating Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, as inconsequential dates.

This imposed “shrine”, where not everything presented deserve honors, crushingly repeats itself annually, trying to dilute in time our true patriotic dates and commemorations, forgetting that history is not a blur and new account, but a chained continuity, where all the links are important.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

Pure Burlesque Theater / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso,24 January 2019 — Around the vote “Yes” campaign in the upcoming referendum, the government has unleashed demented propaganda, which tries to influence citizens to comply with their wishes. The absurdity reaches the point that, even when it is assumed that the vote “is individual and secret”, the “characters” interviewed and presented in the official media declare without equivocation and without the slightest shame that “they will vote Yes”, leaving aside these rights. In addition, the vote in the referendum, which should be Yes or No for the Constitution, has turned it into the vote “for the Homeland”, “for socialism”, “for the Revolution”, etc., changing its meaning completely.

We know that the referendum, like the Constitution approved “unanimously” by the National Assembly of People’s Power, constitutes a farce, one of the many that we have by now grown accustomed to, to keep us entertained and make us believe that the “system” is irrevocable and eternal, which constitutes sovereign nonsense negated by history, which shows that everything changes sooner or later. continue reading

This referendum replaces the carnival celebrations that were traditionally celebrated during February, which were moved to July by the work and grace of the “supreme maker” since disappeared [Fidel Castro], although the official media ridiculously pretends to keep him alive.

It seems 2019 will be lavish in the works of this theater of the burlesque, taking into account the string of laws that will have to be elaborated and approved, to apply what is already established in the Constitution.

Of course, in terms of economic development, of solutions to the problems that have piled up during six decades and in the improvement in the standard of living for the citizens, it will be even more disastrous than in 2018.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

One Single History / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 14 January 2019: Cuba’s history runs from 1492 to the present day, and men and women have contributed to it, for good or ill, throughout this period.

Because of that, I have never understood why they talk and write about science, art and sport, to name but three examples, as being pre-January 1st 1959, and post that date. This absurd and unnatural division, motivated purely by political considerations, splits up our national history into little compartments. As if the earlier people have nothing to do with present day people, and vice versa. continue reading

This phenomenon is most deeply rooted in sport and music, maybe because of their widespread appeal. So, in the first one, there are baseball players from before and after, and also boxers, volleyball players, swimmers, athletes, chess players, etc., as if all of them weren’t Cubans. The baseball players Orestes Miñoso, Conrado Marrero, Adrián Zabala and Willy Miranda are just as Cuban as José Antonio Huelga, Braudilio Vinent, Armando Capiró or Agustín Marquetti, to name but a few. Also Orlando “Duke” Hernández, José Ariel Contreras, Kendry Morales, Yasiel Puig and Aroldis Chapman as much as Alfredo Despaigne, Yurisbel Gracial, Frederich Cepeda and  Yordanis Samón. And, in the boxing ring, Kid Chocolate, Kid Gavilán and Puppy García as much as Teófilo Stevenson, Roberto Balado or Félix Savón.

If we look at music, we have a right old mongrel stew, composed of Brindis de Salas, García Caturla, Ernesto Lecuona, Gonzalo Roig, Rita Montaner, Martha Pérez, Esther Borja, Rosita Fornés, Meme Solís, Miriam Ramos, Pablo Milanés, Benny Moré, Pacho Alonso, Silvio Rodríguez, Beatriz Márquez, Maggie Carlés, Celia Cruz, Olga Guillot, Willy Chirino, David Calzado, Juan Formell, and others.

All of them play their part in forming the national identity, never mind where they come from, or their political and ideological points of view or belief, and nobody has the right or the power to deny them that.

Cuban history is one and indivisible.

Translated by GH

History A La Carte / Fernando Damaso

Busts of Martí and Maceo at the entrance of a state company on Calle Colón in Havana’s New Vedado district.

Fernando Damaso, 8 December 2018 — When the political leaders have lost their past, have no present and have no future, they take advantage of history, with the aim of legitimizing their actions, protected by the founding fathers. Then we hear absurd phrases such as, “We would have been like them yesterday and they today would have been like us,” very difficult to verify. In a lurch they place themselves next to Cuba’s heroes of old: Cespedes, Agramonte, Gomez, Maceo, Marti and others, though they lack any real merits for it

To do so, they use the “charlatans” (today called “laptoperos“) of the time, always abundant among historians, writers, journalists and intellectuals, who sell themselves to power for a few crumbs. Their work floods the official communication media and provokes repudiation between people with an ounce of common sense. continue reading

The practice of physically burying today’s dead next to yesterday’s illustrious leaders continues, with the idea that the “newcomers” will benefit from past glories. Allegorical songs appear, along with art works, dances, installations, books and other cultural products, signed out of submission and cowardice.

However, despite how they may represent themselves today, their future is condemned to oblivion.

Two Deadly Sins / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 28 December 2018 — In democratic systems, Constitutions are drafted by a Constituent Assembly, formed by the most prepared representatives on the subject,from the different political parties that participate in their elections, whose number depends on the votes obtained according to the projects presented. The election, as is to be expected, is made by citizens according to their political, economic and social criteria.

In the current constitutional reform project in Cuba, the preparation was in the hands of a 33-member Commission, chaired by the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba and made up of members of the pParty and of different State institutions, all committed to the socialist project and its implications, without any type of citizen participation in the choice of it.

This is the first deadly sin. continue reading

To try to present an impression of citizen participation, it was decided to submit the project, once approved in the first instance by the National Assembly of People’s Power, where the vote on everything is always unanimous, to the citizen consideration, through Assemblies, where everyone could give their personal opinion and this should be recorded in the corresponding minutes, but without submitting the proposal to a vote among the participants.

The trick is easy to detect: no matter how many citizens might agree or disagree with it, only one proposal was recorded since, once an opinion had been expressed, the repetition of it was not accepted.

This is the second deadly sin.

If the proposals had been put to vote and the number of votes for and against registered, a real indicator of the citizen opinion would have been obtained and not the figures of squalid percentages, made known by Señor Homero Acosta, in the session of the National Assembly where it was approved, also by the unanimous vote of the members.

This same gentleman pointed out that “This is the Constitution of the Revolution,” and he is absolutely right: it is the political testament of a phenomenon in extinction. Furthermore, it is not the Constitution of all Cubans, but that of the Communist Party, whose selective militancy does not exceed 0.7 percent of the eleven million Cubans living on the island and the almost three million Cubans residing abroad.

Although I do not question or stigmatize, as some representatives of the regime are already doing, the vote of every Cuban in the next referendum, on seeing violated many of the political, economic and social rights of citizens, with impositions and arbitrariness, my civic duty is to vote “NO.”