An Absurd Unionization / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 21 November 2015 — The official media is continually promoting the need for self-employed workers to affiliate themselves with the unions of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC). No matter how much they repeat the calls for it, achieving it seems to be a difficult task.

The principal reason could be that the CTC forms a part of the government organizations, which make up the fabric of unconditional support for the Party, which directs and controls them, even naming their leaders in various instances.

In reality, the CTC doesn’t really represent Cuban workers, most of them working for the state, and much less can it claim to represent the self-employed as well. The CTC, for more than half a century, has defended first and foremost the interests of the Party and of the Government, and the problems of the workers only when they do not contradict those of the former. Continue reading

The Story of the Wage Increases / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 6 November 2015 — Currently the minimum wage in Cuba is 225 Cuban pesos a month, which is the equivalent of about $10 US. In 1958 it was 85 pesos, equivalent to $85 US. If we compare both minimum wages, the current wage has dropped 75 dollars relative to 1985. The equivalent of 85 dollars is 2,040 current pesos, so Cubans, as a minimum wage, receive 1,815 pesos less (2,040-225=1,815) than before.

But the problem doesn’t end there: what we can buy today with the Cuban peso is infinitely less than what we could buy before. Let’s look at some examples: a can of condensed milk cost 20 centavos then; today it costs 29 pesos. A loaf of bread that cost 10 centavos, today is 10 pesos. A pound of pork was 18 centavos then, today it is 40 pesos. A pair of shoes was 8 pesos, today it is no less than 400. A pair of pants then was 7 pesos, and today 300. The list could go on forever. Continue reading

Reimbursement is Important / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 23 October 2015 — In Cuba, unlike other countries, public services are totally centralized by the State through its different companies: electricity, gas, telephone, water and sewer, municipal and other.

Being part of the same thing, these entities are considered untouchable, and they do things and undo them at their own whim, without considering the effect on citizens and businesses, State as well as private. Thus, they connect and disconnect the electricity according to their interests. The same thing happens with the gas service, telephones and drinking water. Continue reading

The Remake / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 28 October 2015 — The Cuban authorities applaud the “victory” obtained in the vote for the lifting of the blockade-embargo at the United Nations. It’s actually their twenty-fourth Pyrrhic victory since 1992, when they lost the substantial Soviet economic subsidies, and began to be bothered by the blockade-embargo, which they previously didn’t care about and treated as a joke.

These 24 Pyrrhic victories have not advanced one iota the cause of ending the blockade-embargo because the resolution that was approved is not binding, that is, there is no mandatory compliance; the countries vote according to their current interests, so a vote in favor of ending it does not affect its relations with the United States, and a vote in favor of keeping it would affect their relations with the Cuban government. It’s all nothing more than sheer political opportunism, without much real significance. Continue reading

Something Has to be Done / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 16 October 2015 — Some governments declare that they are fighting and defeating the fundamentalists of the so-called Islamic State, but the facts seem to negate their words: The fundamentalists are expanding their territory, expelling the inhabitants, committing horrendous crimes, destroying architectural, religious and artistic jewels, which form part of humanity’s heritage, raping and enslaving women, girls and boys, and committing many more atrocities in an interminable orgy of blood and terror, in the supposed name of religion. Continue reading

A Dubious Decision / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 10 October 2015 — At a time when many Cuban youths, adults, and even elderly are choosing to  emigrate, it is noteworthy that a Cuban who has lived in Canada for a decade, with a wife and young child, posted on Facebook his decision to return to Cuba. Maybe he has been influenced by the ongoing process of improving relations between Cuba and the United States, or even the recent visit of Pope Francis. Hope springs eternal, but in this case, all that glitters is not gold. Cuba, a decade later, continues frozen in time.

The profound economic, political, social, and moral crisis persists, compounded by a climate of corruption and violence; wages continue at the poverty level, failing to  meet the minimum needs of citizens; prices of necessities are rising geometrically; the health system is fine for foreign tourists, and for exporting professionals to other countries, but is poor within the island, with deteriorated hospitals, lack of hygiene, a shortage of experienced doctors and nurses, and insufficient drugs; education is of low quality, carried out in inadequate teaching facilities, lacking maintenance and materials; and citizens lack the most basic rights, being subjected from cradle to grave with the most absurd ideological bombardment.

Everyone is free to decide what to do with his or her life, but when a wife and child are involved, you also have to think about them. To exchange Canadian security, development, and democracy for Cuban insecurity, poverty, and totalitarianism, is a very dubious decision.

Translated by Tomás A.

An Unconvincing Achievement / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 30 September 2015 — In the face of failure of many countries to achieve the 2015 economic and social objectives established by the UN in 2000, the Cuban government has unleashed its current campaign, presenting itself as an example of a success, “despite the criminal blockade.”

First things first: it is not the same to achieve the objectives in a country of ten million people, that it is in the one of forty, a hundred, three hundred million and more, because in those the needs and costs to resolve them are vastly superior. In addition, and something that is not said, is that at the end of the decade of the fifties of the previous century, Cuba presented indicators in the economy, healthcare, education, social security and many others much higher than those of countries in Latin American, Asia and Africa, and in some areas higher than some European countries. Just check the statistics. Continue reading

Again With the Blockade! / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 22 September 2015 — The hackneyed topic of the blockade or embargo continues to be among the priorities that the Cuban government demands that the United States of America resolve, the objective being to assure stable and mutually advantageous relations.

However, there is a matter that the American government should solve unilaterally, without trying to achieve any type of accord with the Cuban one, being that it was imposed on the latter. The argument turns out to be rather puerile, if one takes into account that when it came time to revoke the Platt Amendment (also imposed unilaterally by the American government), many conversations and accords  were mediated between both parties. In politics, to dialogue and reach agreements is a common practice, as seen throughout history. Pigheadedness has never led to anything positive. Continue reading

Only Half the Story / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 11 September 2015 — A few days ago the Cuban Ministry of Public Health published an extensive article under the headline “Health Services to Our People Are Guaranteed and Improving.” But it only told about half the story, ignoring everything else.

The article mentions the participation of the Cuban Medical Brigade in the fight against ebola, the different types of assistance offered to other countries suffering from natural disasters, the number of doctors per capita, the fact that 50,000 health care workers — half of whom are doctors — are involved in medical missions overseas, that more than 10,700 foreign students train in our schools, and other such statistics. The country’s commitment to internationalism was also stressed. Continue reading

A Hustler Close To Me / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 29 August 2015 — In my distant childhood in the El Moro neighborhood of Mantilla, currently a part of the Arroyo Naranjo municipality, I had the good fortune to know and live with a character that left deep traces on me. Manolo “The Pole,” as everyone called him, was the son of Syrians or Lebanese who had emigrated to Cuba. His real name, if I remember correctly, was Manuel Sahinz Anhus.

One day he appeared at my house, because of his relationship with Carmen, the daughter of Sara “The Galician,” with whom my mother and I shared — like a single family — the large house on Rodriguez Street. Manolo was dark complexioned and over six feet tall. When I met him he was practicing boxing, participating  in Saturday fights in covered space where a ring was installed, on Route 4, near the Juventud campus, Professor Nilo’s college, where I studied in elementary school. He almost always won, which earned him some pesos, from the bets. Continue reading

Watching an Odd Commemoration / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 3 September 2015 — Yesterday, September 2, China commemorated for the first time seventy years its “victory over fascism” with a huge military parade. The celebration was broadcast live on Cuban television. If we kept in mind what actually happened, we might more accurately describe it as “resistance to Japanese occupation.”

The nationalist army under Chiang Kai-shek as well as armed detachments of Mao Zedong, which later formed the basis of the Red Army, were defeated, decimated and forced to take refuge in the mountains. Japan occupied China, deploying an army of one million troops and establishing a repressive regime for 14 years, one which killed millions of Chinese citizens. It did not end until the Japanese surrendered to the United States and its allies on September 2, 1945.

Let’s review the facts. Continue reading

Beyond the Flag / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 16 August 2105 — After hearing and reading the speech by the US Secretary of State during the flag-raising ceremony on 14 August at the site of his embassy in Cuba, and the statements by him and the Cuban Foreign Minister at the subsequent press conference, I think it necessary to clarify some things.

The Secretary of State used, at all times, a conciliatory manner of speech, cautious and respectful, focusing on the present and the future, without forgetting the past, but without allowing it to dictate the course of events.

The Cuban Foreign Minister, on the other hand, repeated some of the absurd and already-routine demands, adding now a populist twist, with the objective of gaining supporters: “…we consider it necessary to make progress on the matter of compensations to the Cuban people, to Cuban citizens, for the human and economic damages….” Continue reading

Two Accursed Words / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 30 July 2015 — Prohibition and prosecution are two words widely used by Cuban authorities since their accession to power an amazing fifty-six years ago.

From the first months they prohibited political parties and organizations, free speech and the free press, the exercise of trades and professions outside state control, and the public practice of religion. They banned private education and health services, privately owned companies and businesses, and everything that would hinder the totalitarian regime they were establishing. To achieve this, they persecuted  everything that emerged contrary to it.

As for prohibition, they banned: free exit from the country; private trips abroad; access by Cubans to hotels, shops, and other facilities set aside for foreigners; possessing foreign currency; buying and selling houses and cars; fishing from a fixed platform; the sale by farmers on the free market of agricultural products; and even the sale of creations by artists, who should always be creating “within the Revolution.”

The victims of this prohibitive megalomania number in the millions, and the damage to the country in the billions, much more than can be blamed on the American blockade (embargo). Those who have lived under these daily absurdities can vouch for that.

As for persecution, they have persecuted all, under the “totalitarian principle” that “everything that is not properly authorized, is prohibited.” To do this they have created vast agencies of persecution. They persecute the political dissident the same as the commercial intermediary, the street peddler the same as the owner of a duly established restaurant or cafeteria. The problem is to persecute, in order to maintain the terror that induces subjugation. It is not the result of a random act.

Even today, after eliminating some absurd prohibitions, they have increased persecutions. It could not be otherwise: it is the only way to keep a failed economic, political, and social system in place for a while longer.

Another Circus Act / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 23 July 2015 — Cuban authorities surrounded the flag-raising ceremony at the Cuban Embassy in Washington with a circus act of clowns, magicians, and jugglers, part of a large delegation that traveled to the city to participate in the affair. They were joined by Americans friendly to the government, “patriotic” Cuban emigrants, and Latin American “brethren” invited for the occasion. As expected, there was no lack of jingoistic gibberish incorporating the words “victory,” “independence,” “freedom,” “sovereignty,” and others that for years have comprised the rhetorical arsenal of the authorities of the island.

The Cuban Foreign Minister’s speech, as gray as he is, could not have been more repetitive and lacking in originality and freshness. As usual, he was stuck in the past, repeating the same old story, exalting the role of the Cuban historical leaders in the action and minimizing that of the President of the United States, who was actually the leading figure.

Moreover, he repeated the same intolerant approaches about a possible political opening and respect for different opinions. You would have to be deluded to expect anything different.

Despite the restoration of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies, it will be very difficult for the Cuban authorities to abandon their totalitarian concepts that, at least in politics, though not in the economy, have yielded them a few results. They will continue clinging to them until the end of their days, simply because they don’t know anything else.

The show was colored with a performance of the “national painter,” portraying the red and black flag of the July 26th Movement across from the White House. That’s their way of achieving fame, because if they stop talking, you would need an interpreter to understand it. There were also some musical numbers, dances, and abundant slogans.

Virtual Changes / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 20 July 2015 — The subject of cooperatives in Cuba offers much to talk about. In the first place, it would be interesting to know who had the absurd idea of dividing them into two types: agricultural and non-agricultural.

Owing to this linguistic aberration, a cooperative that is engaged in the repair, scrubbing and lubrication of vehicles is designated non-agricultural, the same as one that makes plastic articles using recycled raw material. The qualifier of “non-agricultural” should precede these peoples’ names as a divine punishment.

But furthermore, the self-employed grouped in these cooperatives, the same as the farmers who make up the agricultural ones, are not independent, but rather find themselves under the control of bureaucratic governmental organizations and institutions, the same that during countless years have been incapable of resolving the problems of production and services, such as the ministries of Agriculture, Transport, Construction, Interior Commerce and others, which now are responsible for the creation, regulation, functioning and auditing of the cooperatives. These inefficient ministries refuse to downsize or to disappear, inventing new mechanisms in order to subsist, now at the cost of the farmers and the self-employed.

Or is it that, in reality, the proclaimed changes are nothing more than simple governmental adjustments, in order to continue exercising power over every facet of society, maintaining an iron control, now without having to answer directly for production and services, tasks that they have transferred to the shoulders of the farmers and the self-employed.

So, the lands that are turned over to the peasants “in usufruct” and the premises that are leased to the self-employed continue to belong to these ministries, which, unsuccessful at performing their principal jobs, now also have the jobs of real estate agents.

From all these economic spawns, as logic dictates, you can’t expect much.

Translated by Regina Anavy