An Unfortunate Article / Fernando Dámaso

Juventud Rebelde masthead from earlier years

Fernando Damaso, 26 March 2017 — In a mis-timed article, a journalist from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), a self-proclaimed Cuban youth, visits Hiroshima and unleashes her personal feeling about the events of 6 August 1945. She says she “is pained,” that “August in Hiroshima is forever” and shocked that a survivor, after the passage of 71 years, bears no grudge, and that “in Japan forgiveness is long-overdue subject.”

Then, instead of understanding that forgiveness is a sign of wisdom, she speaks about “the fiery blood of Cubans,” and says “it is hard to understand it.” continue reading

She’s right: We Cubans lack the wisdom necessary to forgive, and what’s more, to ask for forgiveness. To forgive and to ask for forgiveness are pending subjects here, despite the fact that our mambises — the original freedom fighters of a previous century — at the end of a real war, knew how to forgive.

These last 58 years are filled with bad examples. In Cuba hatred has overcome love, even though Jose Marti made it very clear that love builds and hatred destroys. The problem is that the example of Marti is used according to political convenience: one part of his thinking is manipulated and published and the other is hidden.

The journalist, to ride the wave, goes even further and addresses the visit and words of President Obama, when he was here. She says, “But that a victim of the Holocaust leans on his words to talk about the most painful moment?  That’s more than I can stand.”

Despite everything, I understand it: if she were not spiteful, filled with hatred and a practitioner of intolerance, it would be very difficult for her to write for Juventud Rebelde.

It is striking that “at this stage of the game,” when it is already lost and it will end very soon, instead of drawing useful conclusions from her visit, she shows herself to be so dogmatic. These are times to forgive and not to accumulate rancor and historical hatreds that, as can be seen, contribute absolutely nothing: Cuba is an example.

You have to know how to “turn the page” and not get stuck in the past. Japan demonstrates this with its spectacular development without losing its national dignity. It would be wise to learn from them.

 Translated by Laura

It Appears He Is Right / Fernando Dámaso


Fernando Damaso, 17 March 2017 — According to his brother [Raul Castro], later endorsed by the docile National Assembly of People’s Power, the “historic leader” [Fidel Castro] ordered that there would be no public establishment, street, avenue, park or building named after him, nor any monuments erected to him.

At first glance it seems a gesture of humility and modesty at the end of his life after a lifelong display of a overwhelming ego. However, there was no order with regards to the media, perhaps betting he would stay alive in them.

At least that is what emerges from the monumental and interminable media campaign about his figure and thinking, initiated before his death and continuing “in crescendo” to the present. Spectacles of all type, conferences, festivals, dances, songs, documentaries, expositions, and every kind of thing in that sphere, dedicated to him, offer reliable proof.

Should there be any doubt, the Book Fair, which is now touring the provinces, has surpassed all signs of servility with a sick personality cult; colloquia, conversations, workshops, expositions and much more, all in his honor and, in addition, the presentation by different Cuban publishers of 24 titles by him and about him, including three comic books about his life. No world personality, including Cervantes and Shakespeare, has had so many books on the stands of the fair, in addition to the official presentations each and every one of which is filled with the usual words of praise.

A close friend told me, “We are ruled by a dead man.” It appears he is right!

Very Little Unites Us / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 9 March 2017 — The Electric Union (UNE), the Cuban State Electric Company, plans blackouts for repairs, maintenance and tree pruning that affect its aerial networks. Generally, the extend from 8:00 in the morning to 5:00 in the afternoon, directly affecting citizens in their homes, and the production of state and private services.

The extended times planned, generally don’t correspond to the work done; it’s common to see some workers working and the rest wasting time, sitting around in the streets and sidewalks, paying homage to unproductivity or, as a foreign friend ingeniously told me one day, “Those who don’t work, are most of them, and they honor those who do work, which are the few.” continue reading

Sometimes the repairs, due to their poor quality, have to be repeated. On my block, one entire day, they spent time replacing the wires and, a month later, came back and did it all again. I questioned the brigade chief about it, and answered that the previous ones weren’t adequate. A similar situation is frequently repeated. It seems that UNE legalizes the unproductivity and the irresponsibility.

If they had to compensate those affected for all the affects generated by these “planned blackouts,” I’m convinced that they would be much more careful and productive.

Perhaps they should take account of the experience of the former and antiquated Cuban Electricity Company which, with much less sophisticated resources, undertook all these works without affecting the consumers and with little impact.

The difference is that the previous company was an efficient capitalist monopoly and UNE is an inefficient socialist monopoly.

A City Invaded / Fernando Dámaso

Sign: Prohibited to throw garbage here

Fernando Damaso, 26 February 2017 — The lack of hygiene has taken over the city: poorly maintained and filthy streets and sidewalks, garbage everywhere, nauseating streams of sewage, grimy floors and walls in state establishments, widespread environmental contamination, and even dead animals rotting in squares and courtyards, in full sun under the laziness of passersby and the authorities.

Today’s Havana has no resemblance to the Havana of the Republic: it has lost all the cleanliness and hygiene that characterized it, the pride of the people of Havana and the admiration of those who visited it. continue reading

The authorities can blame numerous factors, but the key one has been their inability to organize and operate an effective cleaning system. Faced with chaos and prolonged inefficiency, social discipline was lost and today everyone contributes, with their citizen irresponsibility, to make the so-called “capital of all Cubans” dirtier, which is not the case in other cities and towns in the country, where the sense of belonging to the place where you were born has not been lost.

Unfortunately for Havana, the majority of those born here, the original Havanans, abandoned it, and their place was occupied by emigrants from other provinces, without any affectionate bond with it, becoming a city invaded, with all the evils that such a situation entails. In Havana they did and do what in their places of origin they did not nor would they dare to do.

The Havana of “dudes,” “bros,” “homies,” “uncles and aunties,” “chicks,” “moms,” “pals,” and others in that vein, is not my city.

 Translated by Jim

Two Dates in the Second Month / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 14 February 2017 — February, for Cubans of the so-called third age, presents two important dates: The Day of Lovers (the 14th), and the Grito de Baire (Cry of Baire — the 24th).

On the first, re-baptized as the Day of Love years ago, gifts were exchanged only between lovers, with the prevailing image being hearts pierced by Cupid’s arrows. Today it has a more general character, and I believe it has lost much of its original identity.

In a recent spot on national television about its celebration, first a couple of lovers appeared, and then an elderly couple, followed by a pregnant woman with a man rubbing her belly, and in the end, dragged by the hair, an image of Che and Fidel. I accept this “romantic broth,” but reject the final image as absurd and manipulative. continue reading

The 24th, harking back to events of 1895, was a patriotic remembrance with an abundance of Cuban flags and official commemorations in schools, rendering homage to the beginning of the War of Independence organized by Jose Marti and other illustrious patriots.

This day, over time, has lost its importance, while other less important ones have replaced it and are now celebrated with overwhelming propaganda. It seems like the so-called “new patriots” are considered superior to the founding fathers of the Cuban nation, which is disrespectful and totally false.

This process of historical dismantling has been carried out with the younger generations, which have been and are manipulated in the interest of satisfying overflowing egos and above all, and ironically, “in the interest of the Fatherland.”

It is essential to look critically at our historical calendar, from which events and figures that totally expendable and lacking the merits to remain on it should be removed, but to accomplish this courage and dignity are required, something that some of our historians and social communicators lack.

Manipulation and Manipulators / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 5 February 2017 — To say that the history of Cuba has been manipulated over the last 58 years is nothing original. Subjected to “ideological accommodation,” with the objective of using it for the narrow interests of the established power, important people and events have been ignored or misrepresented, and others that are insignificant have been elevated to much greater importance. Also they have elevated, much more than warranted, the thinking and actions of some questionable figures, for the sole intention of holding onto power way too long, to the extreme of comparing them advantageously with truly important national figures. continue reading

The most mistreated and manipulated has been Jose Marti, who has been credited with events he was never responsible for and even named a “great disciple,” sometimes considered greater than he was. In addition, they have assigned him, in his historic journey, an annoying and undesirable traveling companion, resulting in concentrating “his thinking, the disposition of Cespedes, the machete of Maceo, the delivery of Agramonte and the force of Gomez,” something unheard of and never before seen in Cuba, not even in the darkest days of Machado, when he was considered “the eminent one” and the unbridled praise of his sycophants abounded.

The founding fathers of the nation were always respected by the government of the day, and were never politicized, as happens now. It could be due to the lack of real values in the current figures.

It seems that some historians, in their eagerness to enjoy some of the few crumbs offered by power, have lost respect and have forgotten that, in the end, “History will not absolve them, either.”*

*Translator’s note: A reference to Fidel Castro’s statement “Go ahead, condemn me, history will absolve me” which he is said to have declared at his trial for the attack on the Moncada Barracks, an event which is considered the start of the revolution, although it failed and Fidel Castro was imprisoned for his part in it.

With Feet on the Ground / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 5 January 2017 — In the face of the new scenario created by the death of the “historic leader,” many representatives from the fragmented Cuban dissidence see a chance that the authorities, looking at a very complicated situation, will invite them to dialog, in search of a exit concept.

I am not optimistic about this, because for it to happen the dissidence must, first, create a unity it does not possess, achieve recognition and credibility among the citizenry, and present a comprehensible, concrete and viable project, that attracts majorities, all of which needs time.

Right now, the Cuban dissidence is better known outside the country than within it, because some of its members have dedicated themselves to “political tourism,” rather than work among the people, trying to attract adherents to their cause. This reality, in addition to the fragmentation already mentioned, makes it such that the authorities don’t need them to realize economic, political and social changes.

Rather than seek a currently impossible dialog, the first task should be to achieve unity in everything shared, and set aside what separates them, dedicating themselves to working with the citizens to make themselves known and gain credibility, and for be part of a project of national solutions, that involves everyone without distinctions, including the authorities.

The problems of Cuba are so immense and complex that they need everyone working together, without exceptions, to resolve them.

Starting with the ability of Cubans to set aside fifty-seven years of dogma and confrontations, and putting their feet on the ground, abandoning the absurd idea that someone from outside will come to resolve things, and that success or failure will depend on him.

Translated by TFW

January Notes / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 26 January 2017 — While the Cuban authorities exhaust the citizens by talking about the past and the future, they are worried about the absurd present, which they want to leave as quickly as possible.

Against it conspires the totalitarian regime in the country, and the old age of the majority of its main leaders, clinging to power as if it were a divine gift with an eternal character.

Nearly 58 years of demented experiments and failures, under the banner of a “Biran-style*” tropical socialism, have permeated the personality of Cubans, making them docile and fanatic, applauding those who oppress them and thanking to those responsible for their misfortunes. continue reading

It is an unfortunate situation that, when these times are past, it will take time to be overcome. Sometimes it even seems to strike a national cowardice, which limits any action to change it.

Its main manifestation is widespread pessimism, the reacting to tensions through flight, alcoholism, drug addiction, personal violence, antisocial attitudes and disrespect. All this directly attacks the health of society, making it an easy prey to extremisms and dogmatisms of all kinds.

The lack of the components of a civil society, outside the officialdom, such as independent social and political organizations, free unions and legislative and judicial powers, independent of the executive, makes the situation more complex.

*Translator’s note: The Castro brothers were born in the town of Biran in Eastern Cuba.

A Complicated Year / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 15 January 2017 — The year 2017 begins. A year that promises to be complicated and definitive for Cubans. The country, with a 0.9% drop in GDP, is stuck in a prolonged economic, political, social crisis, and the general-president, if he complies with his word to leave the presidency on 24 February 2018, has barely thirteen months and a few days to undertake reforms, that will pull the country out of the same stagnation, accentuated by the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, and the appearance of the “historic leader.” That one, deceased on 25 November 2016, has left him as an inheritance a nation full of accumulated problems. continue reading

His actions, since his brother’s illness and under his shadow, have consisted principally of eliminating absurd prohibitions and applying some shallow reforms, without any depth, that will not assure the survival of the country nor its citizens, who have been failed.

The problems accumulated under the rug have abounded. In the economy: there is a need to authorize professionals to work for themselves, to raise salaries to increase production, to resolve the entanglement of the two currencies, and to draft a new investment law that will really act as a stimulus.

In the social sphere: tackle the problem of lack of housing and the deterioration of the existing housing stock, improve public transportation and other services, and eradicate the unhealthy conditions, the galloping social indiscipline and the generalized corruption.

In the political: listen to other opinions in the analysis and solution and existing problems, and intelligently manage the relations with the new government of the United States.

Daunting tasks, no doubt, that need hours of work, of cold and objective evaluation and brave decisions. 2017 cannot be a year of more of the same.

If It’s About Abuses… / Fernando Dámaso

Fidel Castro once devoted a significant part of a 5 hour and 45 minute speech talking to Cuban women about rice cookers and pressure cookers.

Fernando Damaso, 25 December 2016 — Some official journalists, who seem to be following orders from on high, have taken against the self-employed and their prices, which they consider too high for the ordinary citizen.

Of course no one has written a single line or even a word about the prices in the state sector, which are much higher than those charged by the self-employed.

It is no secret to anyone that the Ministry of Finances and Prices fixes prices, two, three, four and many more times above the cost of the products, usually of low quality, which are produced or imported and sold in the network of State stores. continue reading

The case of Haier refrigerators, which are purchased at rock bottom prices in China, due to their obsolete and discontinued technology, are sold to Cubans at elevated prices (and in addition you can only get one if you trade in a working refrigerator for which you are not given a single cent), constitutes the palpable demonstration of a shameless scam.

The Haiers, without spare parts and without any ability to repair them, break down and languish in houses whose inhabitants haven’t even finished paying for them.

DVD equipment, TVs, air conditioners, rice cookers, “Queen” pots, electric cookers, exploding coffee pots and other poor quality articles at high prices, are added to the long list of official robberies. The same thing happens with dozens of plastic items, which the state buys at ridiculous prices and sells as if they were made out of gold, silver or porcelain.

With regards to these outrages, which affect and bleed the pockets of ordinary Cubans, official journalists remain silent and complicit and, if questioned, repeat that healthcare and education are free, something completely false, because both services are paid for by every Cuban, with what they don’t receive for their labor in their miserable wages.

This reality is very difficult to hide. If anyone has any doubts, make a tour of the hard currency stores and — why not? — also those that sell in Cuban pesos, where a single screw costs three pesos, one brush eighty, a gallon of emulsified paint 85 to 120, and enamel paint 280, and so on.

Distinguished journalists, here are the abuses to the pockets of all citizens and not just ordinary ones.

After the Mourning, the Grief / Fernando Dámaso

Havana Cuba After Fidel.

Fernando Damaso, 14 December 2016 — It seems that, the nine days of national mourning having ended, it is now extended into interminable grief, imposed by the official media, trying to sanctify the image of the deceased with a virtual eternity. It gives the strange sensation that his spirit continues to govern the country, and that he is the one dictating orders and regulations.

Violating the most elemental limits of reason, the idea has arisen of including his ideas in the curriculum of every university major this coming year, taking into account the “genius” of his content that, ironically, led the country to misery and has made it one of the worst economies in the world.

Documentaries, books, poems, articles, photographs, paintings and songs beset Cuba’s citizens day and night, repeated many times, causing rejection rather than acceptance, and everything related to him has quickly become part of  the island’s “choteo,” an unending stream of bitter humor. You just have to walk our streets with an attentive ear.

Excesses always bring bad results and are paid for dearly. This is something the Cuban authorities should know, after so many years of exercising power.

Little War Games / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 29 November 2016 — In October, Hurricane Matthew struck the eastern side of the Island, creating destruction and desolation in Maisí, Baracoa, and other communities of the territory, from which their inhabitants–given the precariousness under which they were already living–will take years to recover. This is especially so being that much of what is reconstructed today is of a temporary character, due to the lack of durability and resistance to natural phenomena of the materials utilized.

The national economy continues to be in crisis, and the lack of supplies can be seen in the empty shelves of the freely-convertible currency (CUC) stores, in the service stations bereft of gasoline, and in the pharmacies that don’t stock basic medications. Other essential services also show their deterioration and affect the Cuban people. continue reading

Against all logic, from the 16th through 18th of this month, the authorities carried out the Bastion 2016 Strategic Exercise, which practically paralyzed the country for those three days. As if this were not enough, they added two “Days of Defense,” the 19th and 20th, with the goal of perfecting the country’s preparedness to confront a supposed enemy, under the concept of “War of All the People.”

In the conclusions published in the official press, the solution to wartime problems was declared “successful” by the ministries in charge (the same ones who are incapable of resolving the problems of peacetime) as were the exercises carried out with the mobilized population (infantry exercises, arming and disarming of weapons, shooting, grenade launching, disguise and others). In addition, there were assurances that “Cuba’s invulnerability to military aggression” had been confirmed.

In today’s world, with the level of arms development and technological advances in all spheres, no country can consider itself invulnerable, including the major powers. It is absurd to declare this with respect to a small and poor country such as Cuba, equipped with obsolete and recycled weaponry.

Now the practice runs were underway for a great military parade, in the style of those from the Cold War era, on 2 December, for the 60th anniversary of the Landing of the Granma and in honor of the “historic leader’s” 90th birthday–which has been moved to 2 January 2017, due to his death on the evening of 25 November and the activities surrounding his funeral.

It is true that all of these events, except the (albeit expected) demise, was long planned. But prior to Hurricane Matthew and the results of the United States elections. they could have been reconsidered.

It is no secret to anyone that these happenings required resources of all types and exacted great physical and economic costs. The questions by many citizens were: Why, instead of being squandered, were these means not applied to relieve–in the shortest time possible and with greater quality–the problems in the communities affected by the hurricane?

The explanations provided by the authorities–including the one about the exclusion of Guantánamo, a poor province with few resources, from these activities–satisfied very few. In the context of the improvement of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, do they not insert unnecessary noise?

Could it be that with these little war games, there was an attempt to “cohere” to the regime the ever-less “cohered” Cuban people?

Could it be a pathetic attempt to “play an old hand” for the benefit of the next tenant of the White House?

Given the recent events, much should change.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Flag "Bearers" / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 12 September 2016 — In light of the proliferation among Cubans of garments adorned with elements of the United States flag and, to a lesser degree, the flag of England, some “defenders” of the national identity and of patriotic symbols have proposed making the Cuban flag more visible, as “many Cuban flags.”

Being that the natives of this Island tend to outdo ourselves and we forget that there is a happy medium, some sportswear items have appeared (awfully designed for the Río de Janeiro Olympics)–shirts, shorts, caps, purses, tote bags, and even aprons–bearing elements of the national standard or, simply, reproducing it without any creativity. continue reading

Now, following the beat of these pioneers, other “purists” have raised their voices, demanding a prohibition against the use of the flag on items of clothing, because it is unnecessary to import “bad customs” from other countries. In the first place, to categorize the habits of others as “bad” or “good” seems a bit petulant: they are customs and should be respected, even if not imitated.

Besides, why this late defense of patriotic symbols, when in fact, officially speaking, they have been quite disrespected? Examples abound: utilizing the flag during any political activity, no matter how trivial; leaving it suspended eternally in closed-off areas, even exposed to the elements; printing it on paper and, later, allowing it to be strewn on the floor like so much trash, trampled on by passers-by; hanging it up in state-run establishments as a curtain on doorways and windows to block the sun; printing images of historic and not so historic figures on it; and, as if all this weren’t enough, having the Historic Leader write his signature on it with a felt-tip pen during a public act on the staircase of the University of Havana.

Let us not even mention the national coat of arms, for it has been obviated and forgotten, having not been present, as was customary before 1959, in government buildings, but rather, in observance of a blatant personality cult, substituted by photos of living personages.

All of this racket is due to some “dogmatics” who, from an “idiotological” point of view, want to confront a foreign custom that has been taken up in our country.

I think there are real problems that are more important to confront, unless this is one more entertainment designed to lull Cubans with cheap patriotism.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Future, Bring it On! / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 5 November 2016 — A feature of the Cuban authorities, since taking power in January 1959, has been wasting time planning for the distant future rather than focusing on solving the present and the near future. Perhaps it is because, from the outset, they decided to rule forever.

These plans, at first, focused on specific services or productions: solving the housing problem, meeting the demand for rice (draining the Zapata Swamp), producing peanut oil (Valley of Viñales), reducing imports of industrial products , finding and extracting oil, raising sugar production (the Ten Million Ton Harvest), the dairy plan, the livestock plan and others. Most, as is known, ended in dismal failures. continue reading

With the incorportation into the “socialist camp” appeared the famous “Five Year Plans,” where everything was planned year by year, and they even arrived at the famous “Strategy 2000,” in the late seventies, which was to be a set of twenty-year plans, divided into five-year periods.

At that time there was no talk of the blockade (embargo), other than as a reason for mockery (“a sieve”  the currently nonagenarian leader said once) because the Soviets were responsible for supporting the country with huge economic and other aid.

For the breaches and failures, which were a constant, hurricanes, heavy rains, droughts and other natural phenomena, the irresponsibility and inability of the authorities were never blamed. Occasionally appearing as causes, real or fictitious, were epidemics and plagues, which were charged to the near-at-hand “imperialist enemy”

With the disappearance of the “socialist camp,” the “Strategy 2000” and the five-year plans collapsed, the so-called “Special Period” was established and the hand of the blockade (embargo) began to be ascribed full responsibility for all the misfortunes, an attitude that still remains, despite the improvement of relations between Cuba and the United States.

As a result of the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, among other theoretical issues, the Cuban authorities once again turned their backs on the problems of the present (the absolute housing shortage, widespread lack of productivity, roads in poor condition, poor services of all kinds, wages of misery, layoffs of workers in the state sector, social indiscipline, rampant corruption, theft, street violence, etc.), and they spend their time, and many of their political and economic “cadres”, planning how Cuba will be in 2030.

In addition to trying to force new generations to execute their wishes after they physically disappear, they opt to continue bamboozling everyone with the old and failed formula of a “bright socialist future,” a future that, in fifty-eight years of mismanagement, inefficiency and voluntarism they have never been able to realize, and one that is ever more distant and unattainable.

The Absurd Ten Percent / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 9 October 2016 — in any restaurant and some cafes in Havana, be they state-run or private, “10% is added for services,” according to a little notice in Spanish and English in fine print on the menu. That is, the prices of the menu items are false, because the final cost is 10% more than what they say. This monster, widespread, is a real epidemic.

Why does that exist here, when it isn’t present in any other country and is a source of wonder and concern for us and for those who visit us.

During the Republic it never existed. If you were satisfied with the offerings and satisfied with the service, you voluntarily left a tip, as a bonus to the person who served you and sometimes, even for the cook This is the current practice throughout the world. continue reading

The monstrosity arose after 1959, when the “intelligent” and preoccupied Minister of Internal Trade by the name of Luzardo, understood that the tip was on offense to the food worker who received it, because under socialism it was his duty to provide good service to his “brother workers,” without any type of compensation above his salary, and decided to abolish it.

In the face of the protests of food service workers, because at that time they received more in tips than in fixed salary, like Solomon they established a 10% obligatory charge on top of th food, which was shared equally by everyone in the establishment. The result could not have been worse: poor quality food, and worse service, turning customers into ill-treated users.

The state monster, with the reappearance of private establishments, mechanically transferred the patter to them and today it is widespread, with the aggravating circumstances that, the server, who brings the bill, already loaded with its 10% tip, smilingly waits for his or her own tip.

So far, very few state administrators and private business owners have had the courage to eliminate it, preferring to maintain this absurd and unjust source of extra earnings and an expense to their customer’s wallets.

I, at least, when I go to a restaurant or cafe where it is applied, do not leave an additional tip, because I think they are already charging me, independent of the food and service, although they look at me strangely and consider me stingy. To one, the other!