They Criticize Corruption and Traffic in Diamonds / Juan Juan Almeida

From the same instant in which General Raul Castro was enthroned as President, he hasn’t stopped warning that “The battle against crime and corruption has no room for doubt.” On many occasions he has been seen at the podium exhorting publicly the members of his cabinet to maintain an “implacable” conduct against the mentioned scourge.

It’s difficult to convince that popular body that for lack of confidence, without realizing it, passed from alarming sloth to heartless hibernation.

In order to execute his crusade and give veracity to his words, in the year 2009 he created the Controller General of the Republic of Cuba, an organ that until today has carried out audits on all the State institutions and brought before tribunals those accused of economic crimes and corruption, a good number of functionaries, employees and directors of state enterprises, an ex-minister and an ex-vice minister of the food industry, foreign businessmen, an ex-son-in-law of the above-mentioned General President and family members who, confused, wealthy or followers of a lucrative ideology, one day swore loyalty to the revolutionary process.

For some citizens, the General represents a Caribbean Grim Reaper with a collapsible neck, who, with an olive-green cowl and a scythe in his hand will put an end to the kleptocracy. “The struggle against corruption” is an epic banner that the First Secretary of the Communist Party decided to raise, and to hoist it more, he named as gonfalonieri his son the Colonel, a middle-aged man who is a specialist in judging everything and an expert in looking after personal objectives.

Certainly, the law is the only form of giving an effective and round answer to the problem of corruption; but sadly, the publicized content is one more myth, which isn’t precisely destined to eradicate the matter from the Cuban horizon, but rather will concentrate the country’s resources and total power of the State in the hands of the most corrupt, most restricted, most faithful, and even most compromised group belonging to the Castro Espin clan.

Why didn’t the General say anything when the Cuban government was discovered attempting to transport military materiel through the Panama Canal hidden under tons of sugar in a North Korean ship?

If this isn’t muddy, then there’s the possibility that before the unpolluted island ruler, neither was it corruption that a group of “cooperating Cubans” engaged in bringing in contraband diamonds from Ghana and Namibia to Havana, stones that later were sent by air to a beautiful port city in northeast Belgium, Amberes, casually known as the world center of diamond trafficking and commerce. How could that happen without the approval of the State that sees everything, like Big Brother?

I also recall very well that some years ago, in 1989, a group of high military officers were punished for similar acts. And look here, curiously, these trafficking specialists, whom the Cuban government feigns not to know, are all ex-military man and civil workers of the army that works for ANTEX S.A., an anonymous society of Cuban capital located on the African continent, with offices in Angola, whose initials mean strangely (and excuse me for the use and intentional abuse of these adverbs) the name of General ANTonio Enrique (Lusón) EXportations. A Raulista convert who not only is corrupt but also basks in it.

Translated by Regina Anavy

15 August 2013

Blood for Export /Juan Juan Almeida

I was born in the bosom of power, a world of abundant lies. I was reared and educated among the corrupt who, even as they pretended to be simple guardians of virtue, in certain private circles often forgot to guard their terrible secrets and told horrific stories with tremendous ease. This is how I heard in detail about those sentenced to death and their physical condition as they faced the firing squad. They described men who were drowsy, sweaty, weak, whose breathing was irregular and whose color was corpse-like.

At the time I did not realize and even questioned how much the terror, the trauma, the effects and consequences of the perverse path that the dark mechanism they call “revolution” can have on an individual or group. While it was logical to think that having the nerves to confront death could lead to a collective symptomology, my obtuse non-conformity compelled me to find an explanation. Asking questions, I discovered an explanation that was both simple and terrifying. Before being executed — as though that were not enough — the condemned had their blood extracted.

I know this is hard to believe. Therefore, I would like to add that there are confirmed accounts and important testimony on Archivo Cuba, the website of an organization which, for reasons unrelated to financial gain, has carried out a serious investigation on the subject and tried to document the deaths and disappearances of men — guilty or not — whose biographies remain inconclusive; men whose broken lives once had owners; men who even today await the trial that will vindicate them.

My motive for writing this is not to lodge an accusation, though clearly that is what this is. It is somewhat more. It is to alert readers, scholars, jurists and investigators to a nebulous, little-discussed  subject that remains shrouded in secrecy. And I am not referring to some clumsy foible but to evidence of criminal actions. Unless a document exists that shows the condemned agreed to these procedures, this constitutes a crime against humanity according to the International Criminal Court’s Rome Statute.

Fidel Castro publicly acknowledged these actions when, in a long-winded speech on February 6, 1961, he said — and I quote — “Don’t think that just because counter-revolutionaries die in disgrace before a firing squad they are not of use to the Cuban revolution. The blood of these traitors is extracted before execution in order to save the lives of the many militiamen ready to die for the Fatherland.”

But wait, there is more. All Cubans know that to be admitted to a hospital on the island — whether it be for a simple check-up or a surgical procedure — or to even see a doctor or staff member, one is required to show proof of having donated blood. Only then may the patient make use of the benefits of free hospital care in Cuba. In most cases this blood is turned into a commodity to be sold overseas without the knowledge or consent of the donors.

The story is as real as the missiles hidden in containers of sugar. Just a few days ago, before the conclusion of an official visit by President José Mujica to the largest country in the Caribbean, the newspaper El País de Uruguay reported that the leading export in 2012 from Cuba to the honorable Oriental Republic of Uruguay was human blood, the kind with a Cuban surname.

8 August 2013

Louis Vuitton in a Little Shop in Havana / Juan Juan Almeida

It’s been so long, I hardly remember when it was that I first heard the phrase “Social Division of Labor” as a concept. This describes the emergence and separation of different types of work in the same society.

A phenomenon that — according to the enlightened — helped to raise productivity, create private property and a society of classes. Masters and slaves, masters and servants, employers and employees.

All this happened naturally. Work originally began divided by sex or by age group. Then came the distance between farmers and herders, and later that of those who, without producing basic inputs, set out to build necessary things, indispensable tools and useful services. Then, to close that big business cycle, capable of linking producers and consumers, traders and/or merchants appeared.

Over the years, this same division separated the sectors of the economy (industry, construction, agriculture, transportation….) and production sectors such as light industry, machine building, metallurgy, horticulture, etc.

It seems to be a lie; but in today’s Cuba, the division of labor has been, little by little, responding to the same sequence so often repeated both in history. Election, inheritance, necessity, chance, permissibility, circumstances and fashion.

It is impossible to forget that for a long period of time, anyone who had a car, including myself, dreamed of being taxi drivers. Doctors, engineers, artists, lawyers, undertakers, officials, military, police or ambulance drivers. All, because get to a place where we can say, “I am private taxi driver,” was similar to shouting “I’m Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte.”

Of course, things have changed and today, at least one’s dreams, the new Cuban aspiration is to buy cheap merchandise, set up shop and go on almost aristocratic national selling spree.

Houses, halls, corridors, rooms, garages, with a little imagination any space is transformed into a great commercial center.

Centro Habana, for example, is now more like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul; too much merchandise for too few buyers.

In the former Monte Street there’s not a single bit of it that is uninhabited, counters everywhere (they call them showrooms), where you can buy cheap clothes (or brand knock-offs), toothpaste, tubing used, latte, or industrial talc.

Usually these places are supplied by the almost noble act of several battalions of children who dedicate themselves to stealing; state employees who cheerfully take up the art of official theft,  criminals who attack tourists, foreigners traveling to Cuba in plan to lower their costs, hundreds or thousands of Cubans who today form the new Spanish Legion; and let’s not forget hundreds of exiles that for politics (commercial) decided to emigrate and today remember the song “You have to get to school on time.”

Of course, every rule has its exception, there are also gentlemen entrepreneurs who subtly, like temptation, and soft as danzón, hit the target in Havana. On one side of the corner where Avenues and 41st and 42nd converge, in the municipality of Playa, there is more than stores, bridging the huge differences, a tendon stretched to Sarria-Sant Gervasi, the most chic neighborhood or district of Barcelona.

This unique little shop that to the eyes looks somewhat clumsy, hides Roberto Cavalli, Jimmy Shoo, Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, and all the famous brands, as synonymous with exquisite taste and studied distinction, occupy high positions in the hit parade of national ready-to-wear.

And to find the truth, you have to increase creativity.

5 July 2013

Monument to My Father / Juan Juan Almeida

“No one surrenders here.”

With tremendous size and a weight of 15 tons, in Antonio Maceo Plaza in Santiago de Cuba, on the size wall of the Heredia Theater, this Tuesday the lights were turned on to inaugurate a steel frame that recreates the image of my father, Commander Juan Almeida Bosque. I think so much vanity generates ridicule, not respect.

It seemed shameful, like common thieves reuniting in the complicity of the night, for the event to be presided over by Commander Ramiro Valdés (member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Cuba and the Vice President of the Council of States and Ministers), Lázaro Expósito (member of the Central Committee and First Secretary of the PCC in the province), local leaders and a small number of obedient family members who were selected not for love of the deceased but for their closeness to the office of General Raúl Castro.

Long before this inauguration, friends and the not-so-friendly, some to inform and others to annoy, sent videos me and photos via e-mail or social networks, of how it was being constructed and what this work of art would be.

I would like to thank each and every one of the people who worked on it, masons, builders, and those who kept me informed throughout the duration of the assembly. The painter, sculptor and designer Enrique Avila Gonzalez, author of this giant poster. I also thank the members of the musical groups invited, especially the magnificent interpretation of my father’s music by the young concert band from Santiago’s Esteban Salas Conservatory. Also the management of the theater for the piece of wall.

I know very well every stone of the Heredia theater, an important cultural center I watched be built and open its doors. On one occasion, cast in a team performing shows and with a little help, I managed, on the boards of Heredia, to realize an old dream, to be part of a tribute to my father. Music was his bliss, and what made him happy.

My father loved with devotion the great Oriente, Santiago de Cuba was his passion, and by association the Heredia theater was part of his avocation. Notwithstanding that I have always had a certain apprehension about the act, such as imposing an image on a people, without knowing in advance whether they agree or not. What I liked as a child is one thing, and it’s a very different thing not to respect the opinions of local residents. I can safely bet that nobody was consulted.

Some time ago I realized that everything in the world is relative, which for me is honor, for others it may be offensive. With some friends I share the indescribable rarity of having as a father a human who, rightly or wrongly, the government transformed into myth. It is difficult to accept, especially when the object to idealize, or hate, is simply someone you love.

For me, personally, this show provokes indignation, more from knowing that Raúl Castro collaborated in the death of my father with malice aforethought, ruthless deception which to my relief I discovered before he died. So if now the señor General, on going to sleep, feels one more ghost and wants to release one more piece of his questionable past, I tell him that my family, more than a sculptural relief, deserves to hear him ask forgiveness.  Me, no, I want to see him before a judge, to see him condemned.

30 July 2013

Sugar with Weapons and Hidden Truths

I wasn’t there, but then they told me and later I read that on July 11 the Panamanian authorities stopped a North Korean freighter sailing through the Caribbean to the Panama Canal. Bear with me, but I think that with that name (Chong Chon Gang) would have stopped anyone; knowing that today the infamous and raggedy boat had sailed from Cuba and its final destination, written on its “Road Map” (or the log of the sailing, according to the former inspectors of the whereabouts of the 32) was nowhere democratic and, much less popular, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The cargo found set off a huge diplomatic dust-up; and this, in turn, a genuine media orgy that flared up when a little more than 24 hours after the Panamanian announcement, the Cuban Foreign Ministry (MINREX) issued an official statement that tried to minimize the central fact using the hackneyed ploy of playing with the details, while North Korea maintained a kind of “silence” on the matter in which 35 of its citizens were detained at sea.

That Havana would hide its arsenal under tons of sugar, and they were sending them to Pyongyang to repair them there, is logically credible but leaves questions.

It’s normal that over some determined period of time, planes, radar systems, anti-aircraft missiles or some other military or civic equipment, requires repair or heavy-duty maintenance. But, in this particular case, and seeing as this equipment was made in Russia, the question would be, why didn’t they send them to Russia if — according to what I understand — Cuba and Moscow maintain and even nourish a fluid communication at the highest levels.

To save money. That could be an answer that too many seems likely and offers a certain credibility. It is known that Kim Jong-Un accepts barter and that, as a common practice, North Korea repairs and modernizes this type of equipment in exchange for Cuba’s sugar or Myanmar’s rice. However, we can’t forget that at the moment when the unsayable Chong Chon Gang was stopped, the military park in questions (the two missile complexes Volga and Pechora, the new missiles in parts and pieces, the two MIG-21 Bis planes and the 15 engines for this type of airplane — made in the middle of the last century — traveled hidden under 10,000 tons of sugar.

Some people, looking to be argumentative, allege that all these military goods were very well camouflaged because of the two United Nations Security Council resolutions that prohibit its member states from transferring to, supplying, and servicing arms for Pyongyang. I’m sorry to rain on their parade and that absurd justification; but if the Island’s government (respectful like so much cackling about its commitments to peace, disarmament and respect for international law) would like to send its deadly toys to North Korean to be repaired there and then to be returned, all they have do to is to apply for the required permission from the commission that oversees that sanction in the Security Council.

All of which leads me to think that among those sacks of sugar, more than weapons, hidden truths were traveling, that were neither going to North Korea nor even thinking about coming back.

26 July 2013

Everything Ready for Fidel Castro’s Funeral / Juan Juan Almeida

A group of Cuban-American congressional representatives has formally requested that Washington deny a visa to Fidel Castro’s heir, Antonio Castro Soto del Valle. Rather than being concerned about the son’s entry to the United States, the island’s government seems more focused on his father’s exit from this world.

Yes, the father’s farewell. The former Commander-in-Chief’s curious fascination with death and funerary trappings has reached such a level of outrageousness that some time ago he ordered the creation of a special commission (obviously headed by himself) to organize and supervise the perfect execution of what will be his funeral.

Though only in the planning stage, this adiós is already enough to satisfy the voracious appetite of even Francois Rabelais’ fictional giant, Pantagruel. Communism’s dying superstar loves to compartmentalize. As a security measure the various parties involved have not yet been allowed to meet to design what the deceased-to-be foresees as a ceremony replete with the solemnity and precision of a Swiss watch.

The key military component seems more than ready. The same goes for the twenty-one gun salute, the eulogies, the mournful ceremony, and the band fully outfitted with conductor and musicians, some of whom will be dressed in black while others will be in military fatigues.

Of course, as in any other official parade, popular participation will be obligatory and massive. On this occasion, however, there is sure to be a formidable contingent of mimes serving as portrait bearers, mourners and weepers who, between sobs, will be sure to spontaneously chant the characteristic slogans we must not forget. These include: Cuba yes, Yankees no; Long live Fidel; Fatherland or death; Socialism or death; The ten million will…* no, sorry, probably not that one.

To avoid surprises and keep the machine well-oiled, the Ministry of the Interior, the Revolutionary Armed Forces and the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution regularly review two chapters of a plan whose titles share a certain association with combat missions: “Actions to Safeguard the Physical Integrity of the Nation” and “Preserving Order.”

The author of Reflections has expended so much energy on this mega madness — one we hope will be his last — that Saturday, July 13 and today, Monday, July 14 he attempted to immortalize the spot once used as his speaking platform by closing the entrances to the José Martí Memorial in the Plaza of the Revolution to the public to carry out a pair of rehearsals for the Pharaonic entombment. This was done in spite of the fact that children’s activities had previously been scheduled to take place there the entire summer. In addition to reviewing details for the ill-fated ceremony, the not-yet-deceased sought to analyze, select and personally authorize the various pieces of film footage on his life and work to be broadcast on Cuban television during the period of national mourning.

What remains unclear is the proximity of the guests to the coffin. Every time there is a new rehearsal, he changes the arrangement — crowned heads, heads of state and heads of government — breaking all the rules of protocol, making adjustments based solely on the way that, according to the prophet, each will behave.

The gentleman designated to carry out the plan noted in a jocular and somewhat theatrical way that so much of the decision-making has been concentrated in the hands of the soon-to-be deceased himself that it was hindering his ability to respond to changes which — due to paranoia, superstition, belief or bi-polar disorder — have evolved from embalming to burial to that Olympian bonfire, cremation.

*Translator’s note: The Harvest of Ten Million was a failed 1970 campaign which marshalled all the island’s resources in an effort to produce ten million tons of sugar.

19 July 2013

Raul Prepares His Retirement / Juan Juan Almeida

We are living in a world where, dangerously, what’s important for the work of many is just to show results. Perhaps for that reason, for nostalgia, convenience, desire, hope, belief, deception or passion; we make the mistake of looking to Havana and distorting the reality, imagining the Cuban government as a bankrupt controlling consortium.

Sorry, but much to my regret, impartially, things don’t appear the same. The government was reorganized, continuing to take well-aimed steps toward their new legitimacy, and the ruling elite gathers strength obscuring people who have proven to be loyal and capable of obeying every order, including confessing to homicides not committed.

So things go. Last May, by presidential decision, the first secretaries of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) in the provinces of Matanzas and Artemisa were relieved of their posts, curiously both provinces located in the west of the country. Then, as recently as last week, the same changes were made against the party bosses in Guantánamo and Holguín, located in the south and north.

It’s reasonable to think that because the circus elite is aging and with the intent to make their mark on eternity, they seek certain changes to show a much more heterogeneous composition of the deputies who have the opportunity to approach with a much more integrated focus the search for solutions to the current problems in different sectors of our national life.

I think not, and I feel disillusioned, their only goal is to reconquer spaces, regions and areas. The General, corresponding to his background, applies military strategy. It was no accident that the National Defense Commission of the Cuban Parliament (led by its president Brigadier General Juan Rafael Ruiz Pérez) in session this July 5, ordered the participants to immediately execute a new set of measures to strengthen and expand the power, already excessive, possessed by State Security and the National Police. It’s the same as imposing citizen peace at the stroke of a major, the whip and the barracks.

And to round it off, the recently concluded seventh plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba, trumpeted the appointment of 11 new members, while removing from its ranks leaders who, although it seemed new to many, had already been removed from office in September 2012.

It’s worth noting the case of Misael Enamorado who, being “enamored,” had his head in the clouds and not recognizing the laws of gravity instead of falling, rose, taking on new functions putting him closer to the euro, the dollar and the sun.

Different but at the same time similar, he succeeds the former president of the National Assembly, Dr. Ricardo Alarcón; who instead of being awarded a well-earned place as an air traffic controller, is reassigned as adviser to the President to deal with — in what appears to be a parallel government — everything concerning relations between Cuba and the United States.

I don’t know about you, but to me all this, more than any commentary coming from the other side, forces me to think that the Commander-in-Chief is paving the way he announced last February, in a very hurried way, to allow him to exercise his “right” to retire from the Government, completely monopolize power, and dictate the decisions of the State from behind the scenes.

15 July 2013

From La Finca, the Spy Asks for More / Juan Juan Almeida

Rene Gonzalez, a member of the "Cuban Five" or "Five Heroes" now back in Cuba. From
Rene Gonzalez, a member of the “Cuban Five” aka the “Five Heroes” now back in Cuba. From

News on Mondays tends to be unflattering, and that is why, instead of writing a story, I would rather share a gossip, which if it doesn’t get you informed will entertain you. So I risk it.

You may surely remember the spell of that magician who at the Pioneer parties, amid the heat of a bonfire, before reaching into his hat, from which he then would pull out a small replica of the national insignia, would cross himself and say: “What until now was a handkerchief is turned into a flag.”

Well, it turns out that a few days ago–while Havana continues to face its unfortunate struggle of worn out prostitutes, criminals with decorum, the intellectualized poor, deranged leaders, entrepreneurs who have managed to triumph selling stolen little mirrors, and leftists who defend worn out images under the uproar of Chivas Regals–a friend called me to tell me in a conspiratorial tone that René González Sehewert, the well-known ex-convict, member of the gang “The Wasps 5 or 4,” had the indiscretion to express his discomfort, because in his view, he has not been treated in Cuba as he deserves.

What to believe? -I wonder- It is true that, from habitually lying, someone who practices espionage develops a constant conflict with the word loyalty; but it is also true that on December 29, 2001, Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power granted, in a special session, the honorary title of Hero of the Republic of Cuba to Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González.

I listened to the story, and so my friend told me that super-wasp René González, in an act of utter incoherence, because of his known legal status, wrote to General Raúl Castro who in response, instead of sending him to a psychiatrist, sent him an officer (nearsighted, shy and unpopular) as emissary from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a state body known for spending its time and money on Origami, in addition to press releases.

The whistleblower and the envoy, forgetting the old saying: “Anything you try to hide is always visible to others,” went out for dinner and ended up at La Finca (The Ranch), a super exclusive restaurant, located in the old Biltmore neighborhood, today Siboney in the Playa municipality.

As entrée, they ordered avocado cream; and the main course was grilled goose liver in a fig-raspberry sauce.

This gastronomic refuge, certainly very inordinate, does not include in its structure a menu with the prices; I owe you that one. But it is logical to believe that people with foreign–and so un-proletarian–tastes may get their ideals spoiled due to emotional problems.

That said, it seems that, somewhat saturated with the national situation, even the spy wants God to send a beam of light over the island, capable of breaking the spell of the old and monotone cycle: “Wake up, sleep, die”; or in its failure, it could reward the island getting it out of simplicity toward eccentric and palatial luxury. Is it possible that every spy ends up somewhat perturbed?

This is quite a fable, hard to digest, but somebody assured me that through this emissary, René asked the General about the possibility of a job in any of the Cuban embassies in Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela or Ecuador, countries to which he offered to travel incognito, armed with his principles and taking his questionable ethics as luggage.

After the dessert, but before the coffee, making a funny face and showing a very flattering look in his eyes, René alleged that just like astronauts and emergency doctors, “agents” also need decompression time.

I have not been able to confirm yet the veracity of this story, but it reminded me of something that was once written to satirize the manual of the now extinct KGB: “Spies and criminals share that cold principle of being able to sell their mothers just to get rewarded.”

Translated by Chabeli

29 June 2013

Forgiveness or Justice / Juan Juan Almeida

The Ladies in White under attack by State Security and their mob

The dictators and their henchmen, as a rule, are extravagant, autocratic, narcissistic, hypochondriac, provocative, enigmatic and disturbing individuals. Because of this, and more, anyone who grew up in any of the links in the chain of a dictatorial regime, shares a psychosocial trauma that is difficult to cure.

Government violence starts to weaken the welfare state with the constant exercise of its own virtuosity to impose terror and creates uncertainty under the umbrella of authority. This validates the power and leaves citizens without any real possibility of using an internal or external entity to defend their rights. It is called — according to some scholars – legal helplessness.

Scientifically it has been shown that this damage affects all people regardless of social class to which each individual belongs. And it affects not only the psychological and family level, but also damnifies cultural and educational development.

I do not believe in left nor right; but that all dictatorships possess as their only ideology the practice of supremacy, and imposition of their rule to the extent that society ends up adopting passivity, submission and resignation as a natural phenomenon.

Totalitarianism, with absolute certainty is sexist, the  rules legally and reigns over the woman by whatever means.

I think many know the repeated humiliation of Cuba’s Ladies in White. But there is so much more; for example, Cuba’s psychiatric hospitals are stuffed with very descriptive records of horrific sexual assault by the authority, which not confronted legally, damages not only the body memory of each female victim, but also the shock becomes irreparable, and is extended to the children.

Countless women who have been affected in their individuality, in their environment, in their family, social and ethical surroundings. Hate, in these cases (without referring to the many mothers who have lost children in the sea), is a sensible and even necessary emotion.

Compelling reason forces me to believe that in order to discuss the future of Cuba and its transition, we should first be self-sufficient and unburden ourselves of the disguise, and with it, the desire to please.

I don’t know about others, but to me, I respect the view of those who are anxious to figure out how to outline a common moral discourse that encourages citizen exaltation; it sounds naive, false, ridiculous and even childish tome to hear them speak of Forgiveness as if this were an elegant, civilized and pragmatic response to State violence.

I wonder how could Forgiveness, by itself — if it could — not be the starting point for another period of violence, or how this same absolution could achieve the reconciliation of a society that for years seen their children confronted like bands of enemies.

I have read, and lately I hear with reiterated frequency, several formulas and examples, but I only trust two old tools that have historically proven to be more reliable than revenge, and more effective than tolerance: The law and justice.

1 June 2013

Raul Castro’s Government: A Crime Against Public Health / Juan Juan Almeida #Cuba

AguaWithout being very skilled in medical matters, and with onlyslight knowledge, I read that cholera is a very infectious disease, sometimes serious, produced by bacteria of the genus Vibrio. Itmanifestsas an epidemic where deficient sanitary conditions, overcrowding,war and starvationexist. And, its high mortality because ofdehydration is due fundamentally to the delay of patients in going to hospitalor to the lack of access to health services.

It was a sickness eradicated on our island, and according to information extracted by the Medical Sciences Information Center of the Matanzas Province, before this reappearance, the last cholera patient in Cuba was Manuel Jimenez Fuentes, who died of this illness August 3, 1882, when the island was still a colony of Spain.

Nevertheless, the number of people afflicted with this gastrointestinal infection exceeds four figures; and a well-informed friend from theMinistry of Health assures me that the institution expects this epidemic to affect more than 15 thousand people across the national territory because already the illness hascrossed the borders of the eastern provinces; today cases are reported in Camaguey, Santa Clara, Matanzas, Havana and Pinar del Rio.

The health authorities are urgently developing measures and, it is believed, a system of epidemiological vigilance over acute diarrheal illnesses. The international doctors arrived from Haiti have experience in treating patients with this disease. But this is not a task onlyfor the Ministry of Health; it should also include each and every one of the areas of government. They are all responsible.

It is true that with the absence of cholera cases on the island for more than a century, they managed to maintain in the population a low perception of risk; aside from the terrible conditions of national unhealthiness.

The fault, the abundant rains and high temperatures. In Cuba it has always rained cats and dogs, and the heat is geographic; the true cause is the lack of cleanliness, the lack of social awareness, and the inaccessibility of the population to information and themeans of prevention and keeping good hygiene. The epidemics are inextricably linked to — among other factors — the consumption of poor quality water, contamination, and thecrowding of the population in slums that lack basic infrastructure.

What is unfortunate and brazen is that Raul Castro’s government opts again for silence, complicity and deceit.

Why manipulate opinion and lie? Why say that they are working on the creation of a vaccine capable of fighting the epidemic if the available vaccines against cholera in the world only offer partial protection, 50% or less, and for a limited period (from three to six months at the maximum)? That is exactly the reason why immunization is not recommended, because it offers a false sense of security to the people vaccinated and, also, to the health authorities.

The most effective prevention in the face of an epidemic is personal and collective hygiene. Even so, this government applies taxes to imported hygiene and cleaning products, which makes them scarce, and basically they can only be acquired with convertible currency. For me, that is profiting from the health of the country; and in the penal code those are wellestablished as CRIMES AGAINST THE PUBLIC HEALTH.

I remind the General; for he who does not know how to lead, resigning is an excellent option.

Translated by mlk

January 19 2013

Of Euphoria in the Streets and the Cuban Reality / Juan Juan Almeida #Cuba

This Monday, January 14, many news agencies paid special attention to the implementation of the anticipated migratory relaxation that eliminates restrictions for Cubans to take trips abroad.

And it was logical, although I doubt that “the exit prohibition” will stop being applied by the Cuban government as a control, sanction or coercive measure to those citizens whom I will not mention now because you are quite familiar; it is interesting to know that Cubans may (at least according to the law), travel abroad with only their passport and, if appropriate, the visa that the destination country may demand.

But look, let’s put everything where it goes, we must not confuse this euphoria in the streets with the Cuban reality. The Government, using this measure as an anti-depressant for desolate times, is returning to its owners what it should never have stolen from them: the basic right to emigrate and to travel abroad. It is not a change of policy, it is a Kafkaesque metamorphosis.

Charity is good business. It is true that this measure seems an act of generosity, but it is purely economic. We are only witnessing another usual uproar of marketing and deception, organized by the same people who spent years trafficking mercilessly in the illusion of the Cuban people.

Let’s look at a little history. A while back the low demand of passengers and the worse direction of the country caused a big impact on the operational costs of Cuban Aviation. The country’s air transport was completely broke. Cuba was without airplanes and had to sell its sky, its transoceanic and domestic routes.

It was then that foreign businesses (and exiled Cubans) helped resuscitate a dead man who did not want to close his eyes. The matrimonial well-being of these foreign companies lasted a short while with the olive-green monarchy, on feeling itself reanimated but very pressured by international companies, and intense and voracious in their ambitions, remembered that its “business” was not in the price of the letter of invitation, the white card or the exit permit, but in the juicy earnings that the sale of passages in a monopolistic regime could bring in.

The refrain says it well, “The rooster never remembers when it was a chicken.” It is because of that that today, with the obscene quantity of millions of dollars annually that come from Venezuela, Cuba restores its air park and stimulates, through “the approval of this migratory maneuver publicized as human decency,” an urgent flow of desperate travellers obliged to buy round-trip passage.

And, being poorly planned, maybe that is why last November they withdrew the travel permits of the Airline Brokers agencies, whose company operated seven weekly flights from airports in Miami and Fort Lauderdale to Havana and Cienfuegos; and of C&T Charters.

Does it seem a coincidence that, after thousands of Cubans have become nationalized Spaniards, Friday, December 7, the giant Iberia would announce the cancellation of its flights to Cuba because of poor passenger traffic heading to Spain?

No, it is all a question of money. I do not need to go to Africa to recognize these vultures who from the cross prefer the nails.

Translated by mlk

January 15 2013

Patient No. 1 in Object 20 of CIMEQ Hospital / Juan Juan Almeida #Cuba


Since the Venezuelan president remains admitted in Havana, conjecture about his health seems to revert against the most conservative sectors, and to undermine the credibility of the serious enterprises dedicated to communication.  It is no coincidence, it is a very well laid out plan; because as my grandmother used to say, “In a game of patience, you have to think like a man who acts, and act like a man who thinks; when your exits are exhausted, the best thing is a strategy.”

About President Hugo Chavez’s state of health, we believe that we know a lot, but we do not know everything.  It is pure and simple manipulation; from one side, we have this reduced group with access to the commander that ably has decided to dispense the truth in order to gain time and legislate; and from the other, those that, consciously or unconsciously speculate with the information.

The Cuban government is expert in managing secrecy in order to boost with it the media roar and profitable mystery that death and immortality always create.  Its bunker par excellence is the quasi-inaccessible, impenetrable and murky “Object 20,” nestled in the labyrinthine CIMEQ Hospital, built in the style of Stalinist gigantism.

With audacious engineering and appalling decoration, since 1986 Object 20 has been a temple to the Egyptian belief in life after death.  A construction attached to CIMEQ Hospital but with its own autonomy, built for the purpose of satisfying the ego and paranoia of power and security.  My experience with that place is stormy; therefore, in my personal opinion, it represents a threat more than a seduction.

Object 20 is a kind of sanctuary. When we enter through the basement, we go directly to a spa designed in accord with the ludicrous taste of whoever still longs for the nights of the erstwhile Communist Moscow. Thick walls, soundproofed and fortified by immense slabs of Jaimanita stone darken the Olympic-sized pool, which the sun never touches; on the side a darkened and unused gymnasium fitted out as an Italian fashion statement follows a musical therapy space, two steam rooms, a sauna, two pools for contrast baths, a jacuzzi, equipment for hydromassage, an area to soothe stress, and a well-stocked pantry. All this is watched by four guards who stay on alert, in front of closed circuit cameras.

Exiting through the rear one finds a squash court and a running track. As the spa is built with very high ceilings, this place has no first floor; on the second are situated the intermediate and intensive therapy rooms.  And on the third and last level, after a room for bodyguards, an infirmary and a pantry, there are five patient rooms from which and through a wide, one-way window (of high impact and German fabrication) that they always keep spotless, one can see a pretty countryside with yagruma trees.

The strategical fort turned into a center of international political relations can only be accessed by obtaining authorization from the office of General Raul Castro. And to top it off, when there is a High class or VIP patient, as is the case, neither doctors nor nurses, service personnel, bodyguards, telephone operators – absolutely no one is permitted contact with friends or relatives, let alone with the outside. The comments that come out, either the Cuban government releases them in order to control opinion, or they are scurrilous inventions.

Of one thing you can be sure, the Venezuelan president is the best attended patient on the planet, with products ranging even beyond the world of medicine and pharmacopoeia. A competent team works unceasingly for his improvement. They know that if the Bolivarian leader were to die in Havana, the cause of death would be questioned immediately, divisions within the ranks of ALBA would be created and the little reliability that remains in the Cuban health system would be destroyed.

Translated by mlk

January 14 2013

The General’s Speech – An Odd Catharsis / Juan Juan Almeida

The speech by General Raul Castro Ruz at the regular meeting of the National Assembly was opportunistic and authoritarian. To denationalize Cuban society, as a decision of the State, does not mean much, especially when political discourse doesn’t reflect the real need for a non-state sphere, or limit the unlimited powers of the Party and State. On the contrary, it mitigates and releases the State from an obstacle that consumes it.To pretend and gain time is an interplay to recover and strengthen the State. He made it very clear by saying “We are not abandoning, even for a moment, the unity of the majority of Cubans around the Party and the Revolution, that unity that has helped us get here and continue to move forward in building our Socialism.”

Why is Raul blaming the endemic corruption on Cuban leaders, and not putting his brother Fidel at the top the list? What is the meaning of the letter he read before the beginning of the long-awaited regular session of the assembly? It says, “You brought us freedom, gave us land and labor.” Manipulation is the word, a direct way to monopolize opinion. Conditioning the audience is the same as censoring it.

The parliamentary bacchanal only reports. There was no confrontation of ideas nor a free and plural debate. As always it was a poor simulation, a cathartic adulation among people who share the same ideological position, similar ethical principles, a single party and the same aspirations. What else could we expect?

Mr. President, no doubt you need to restore lost confidence to the people. The measures or maneuvers, however you call them, to reshape immigration policy, subsidize the sale of some building materials, make housing policy more flexible, authorize the purchase and transfer of cell phones, cars and houses,rearrange the sugarcane zones, sell agricultural products to tourist-industry complexes, and expand the area of land in usufruct serve only to give credit and acknowledge a young, new social class, so it will give you support and backing.

Talking about the future of Cuban socialism as something new, forgetting the present, creates a laughable disappointment. It crosses the line in its disrespect of the Cuban people.

The President-General, Machiavellian and hypocritical, made a show of a benevolence that he doesn’t profess and needs to represent. He announces as a commendable decision that he is pardoning over 2,900 prisoners. He says further that he took into account the announced visit to Cuba of Pope Benedict XVI, and the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the image of the Virgin of Charity del Cobre.

He should be ashamed; at the least he should be scolded. The release of those prisoners, among so many other interventions and pressures, national and international, is the essential result of the unequaled prowess of the LADIES IN WHITE. Raul Castro is too dishonest, and too insignificant for my taste.

Translated by Regina Anavy

December 28 2011

Silito Tabernilla, A General / Juan Juan Almeida

JJ: There are men who unwittingly become part of history. That is the case with General Tabernilla.

Where were you born?

ST: I was born in beautiful Guanabacoa, son. I lived there a year and a half, then we moved to La Cabaña where my father belonged. I kept living in Guanabacoa, I never left. My uncle Marcelo, my father’s brother lived there. There were three brothers: Francisco, Carlos and Marcelo.

JJ: When did you join the military?

ST: I told you that when I was a year old or so we moved to La Cabaña from Guanabacoa. From early childhood I lived among soldiers. I am a soldier by birth and by calling, but I officially entered military life in 1937, the same year my wife was born.

My brothers became pilots, but aviation didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t like taking a plane to go from here to there. If they gave me an order I’d do it, but I don’t like to fly. Even here, every time they invite me I say no ….

JJ: What do you remember about that last flight,when you left Cuba?

ST: Well, it was a long process. The American ambassador told Fulgencio Batista that he should leave Cuba and that the United States would not recognize the government of Rivero Agüero.

Batista accepted, but if he had acted like a President, people would have supported him, and the military also, although many soldiers were disgusted because every time they presented well-thought-out plans to finish off Fidel, Batista rejected them. It was unbelievable how he defended Fidel. Of course, Batista was not a soldier, neither by career nor mind-set.He was in the army as a sergeant stenographer.

On December 2, 1956,the telegram came about the landing of Fidel Castro and a group of around 100 men. We found out even before the landing, and we could have acted. By then I was head of the infantry division in the military town. At 11:00 I asked the CIM for Batista, and they informed me that he was eating at the home of Dr. Garcia Monte. I went there, and when I arrived they were playing canasta –the Admiral, Rivero Aguero, Garcia Monte, some others and Batista. He stared at me. I talked to him about the landing and our lack of reaction. He asked me for discretion, he said: “Silito, let’s talk about this later, I don’t want Martica (his wife) getting nervous.” After a while he got up and asked for a map. They brought him one from the Esso gas station. He opened it and immediately asked where the landing had been. He knew nothing about it. He proposed sending 40 men.It was totally crazy, but he believed he was invincible.

JJ: Invincible, like any dictator….

ST: Yes, invincible. Batista under-estimated Fidel Castro, or maybe he wanted to help him. With respect I suggested to him that he send 2,000 men to put a quick end to the incipient insurrection, but Batista answered: “Listen, Silito, you’re crazy, don’t you know that no one lives in the Sierra Maestra?”

Look, he had no idea about what it means to be a soldier. Then they sent a battalion under the command of Juan Gonzalez. In Alegria de Pio Captain Morelos Bravo had made contact with those we called “the rebels” in a sugarcane field that was on fire. I’ve never seen a cane field burning, it must be horrible.

JJ: And hot.

ST: Impressive. There were casualties on both sides. Our troops regrouped to organize the final offensive, but General Robaina arrived with instructions from the President and ordered a return to Havana. Leaving that situation in the hands of the rural guard was another tremendous insanity. Commander Juan Gonzalez was insubordinate and was punished for it. One can say that Fidel Castro arrived in the Sierra Maestra because Batista let him win. And there were many times that Batista spared Fidel’s life; all those decisions were taken in my office at Columbia, in the military town. Any effective action would have ended that war, but this one extended it, it finished nothing, and the troops were eager to stop and return. Batista had delusions of being democratic, pretending to be something he wasn’t, and because of that he was never photographed with any solider.

Then came the campaign of Herbert Matthews. First he interviewed Fidel Castro in the Sierra Maestra and then Batista in the palace. The publicity from that meeting, a little manipulated,had a significant effect, especially on the businessmen. General Cantillo was named chief of operations and prepared a perfect plan to kill Fidel, but the same problems that set Batista against his own military led him to conspire. That was a process which,in private, ended with the Americans taking part in the affair. On November 1958 Mr. Powell met with Batista. After that meeting Batista himself told me “Listen, Silito, when that guy called me, I wanted to give them a kick.” Things were getting complicated,the elections were approaching, and the Americans began to intervene openly in favor of Fidel Castro. This was something incredible that we could talk about for hours. They even took away our weapons, and we had to buy them in the Dominican Republic. When the American ambassador told Batista that he must leave Cuba and that they would not recognize the government of Rivero Agüero, Batista agreed.

I was in the military town, it was about 5:30 in the evening, calm, when my phone rang and it was Fulgencio Batista asking for Cantillo. I called the Air Force and they answered that Cantillo was flying from Santiago de Cuba and would land in Columbia in about an hour. I told Batista, and he said that when the plane landed, to order Cantillo to meet him at his house at 8:30 pm. It was Cantillo’s wedding anniversary, so they met at 10:30,not at 8:30 as previously ordered. When I got to Kuquine,there were several people. Cantillo arrived at 10:30, and they enclosed themselves in the office for 10 or 15 minutes.

When I returned to Columbia, I went with the order to deliver the division under my command to General Cantillo (he who has the division has control of Columbia). I had sent for the top officers. We did the transfer of power.Here I have it saved as a historical document of my immediate resignation. There Cantillo informs us that the president has decided to resign to avoid bloodshed. Some were happy thinking about the end of the war.Others were sad, envisioning perhaps that there would be a much longer and worse war.

I returned to the residence and Batista was eating. When he finished, he told the duty officer to let us come in. We generals entered, and Captain Martinez picked up the charts and the operations dispatches in the room. The planes were ready; our route was to fly to Daytona Beach. Batista’s fate would be decided during the flight itself. The last thing I remember about Cuba is that I got on a plane, and with the same gun I had when I rode into Columbia, I landed in Jacksonville.

JJ: And tell me, General, have you thought about returning?

ST: Yes, absolutely yes, I’ve thought about returning. It’s what every Cuban yearns for.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Concave and Convex / Juan Juan Almeida

The good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly are just points of view. The legal or illegal is something different altogether. I don’t believe in the truthfulness of any political discourse, at least not until someone begins by saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, what I’m about to say is false and manipulative.”

I’m all for theappearance of Pablo Milanes in the city of Miami. Look, that doesn’t make me an enemy of those who rightly protest the presence of the singer in the capital ofCuban exile.

For me, the controversial concert and the performance of a bulldozer breaking Pablo’s CDs are acts with the same cultural value. I like both; they inflame and fascinate me. Antagonistic positions always create diversity, and they generate freedoms. But it’s sad to see that even today, Cuba and Miami continue to show the sad pride of being fiefdoms dominated by the same dictator.

If there is anything that accompanies me since I started thinking, it has been my doubts. Free will is a gift for which you have to fight.

Translated by Regina Anavy

August 27 2011