Miami Has It All, Even Russian Meat / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Some of the Russian foods, toys and perfumes for sale at Marky’s in North Miami (Photo: El Nuevo Herald)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 18 May 2017—A neighbor of mine in Arroyo Naranjo recently had to ask an old friend of his who lives Miami to help him obtain some amitriptyline. A psychiatrist had recommended this medication for my neighbor’s wife to treat a nervous condition that would worsen without it.

This drug, among many others on a very long list, has been off the shelves of Havana pharmacies for months. The official excuse, aside from usual ones such as “the criminal blockade [U.S. embargo],” is that the cash-strapped Cuban state has been unable to square its debts with foreign pharmaceutical companies. continue reading

For the very astute customs officials at Cuban airports, ever on the hunt for drug trafficking and other illegal activities, it is a headache to conduct their painstaking inspections of the troves of medicines and vitamins that are brought in by travelers from the U.S.

Thus, it is no surprise that in Havana at this time, it is easier to find Tylenol than aspirin, and Centrum or Kirkland brand vitamins than the yellow multivitamin powder produced by the state, which some prefer not to use because it “whets their appetite too much.”

Cubans on the Island are evermore dependent on the remittances and packages they receive from their relatives and friends abroad, primarily those in the U.S., whom the regime demonized for decades, called traitors, and tried to cut their emotional ties to Cuba.

Many Cubans depend on the emigres and exiles not only for medicine, sustenance and clothing, and the monthly recharging of their mobile phones. They also request and obtain from them the most varied and sundry goods: from santería necklaces and white garments for the iyabó to school uniforms, and even parts for Russian-made automobiles.

That’s right. You heard it. In various Miami establishments one can find parts for Soviet-era automobile makes such as Lada and Mokvich, and for Ural and Berjomina motorcycles. In today’s Russia it is probably difficult to find these parts, they may not even be produced anymore, but in Miami, I know not how, there is an abundance of them. And obviously they are aimed at Cuba, where Russian cars compete for longevity with the Fords and Chevrolets more than 60 years old that are still circulating.

But do not be surprised by the availability of Russian products in Miami (let us hope this is not a plot by Czar Putin and his intelligence service). When I visited that city last year, I spotted on the shelves of a well-stocked bodega (it being so Cuban I hesitate to call it a supermarket), located on Southwest 27th Avenue near Coconut Grove, nothing less than Russian canned meat. Those very same cans that we would refuse back in the day, the ones we said contained bear flesh or god-knows what other greasy Siberian beast, and that today, after so many years of enforced vegetarianism, cause our mouths to water as though they were the most exquisite delicacy. It appears that in Miami, while hunger is not their motivation, there are Cubans who are nostalgic for Russian canned meat, because I doubt very seriously that the only customers for this product would be the wealthy Russians who reside in Hallandale and Sunny Isles.

In Hialeah, which is like a piece of Cuba transplanted to South Florida (but without the ration books and the CDR) it probably is not very difficult to find those damned cans of Russian meat.

Also there, and in any other part of Miami, one can hear reggaeton and watch the pigswill of Cuban TV. And don’t be surprised if the generation of Bolek and Lolek manage to get their hands on those cartoons they had to watch as children in Cuba, when Pluto, Porky Pig and Donald Duck were considered agents of the imperialist ideological penetration.

Those who cannot resign themselves to watery coffee and bland cigarettes—if they wish to smoke (to the horror of the nonsmokers, always such scolds) stronger cigarettes than American Spirit and the Wranglers sold by the Indians in Kendall—can find in Hialeah, and not too expensive, cigarettes directly from Cuba: H. Upmann, Populares and even the unsmokeable Criollos and Titanes, a.k.a. “chestbusters.”

It seems to be true what I heard from a Cuban American who, as a sort of savior-magus bearing gifts, was visiting his impoverished relatives in Mantilla: “You can find everything in Miami, anything, whatever it is.”

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Castro Conquers Miami With Cannon Blasts / Luis Cino Alvarez

cubanet square logoCubanet, 4 April 2017, Havana, Luis Cino Álvarez — A friend was telling me, horrified, that last Friday at the Hard Rock Café in Hollywood Beach, Florida, Cuban reggaetoneros [musicians who perform the musical genre of Reggaeton]–from the Island and from ‘over there’, no way to tell anymore what with all the going and coming–put on a show. The lineup consisted of El Chacal, El Taiger (spelled just that way, not “Tiger”), Diván, Chocolate, Harrison, and Descemer Bueno (the only one of them whom I would classify as a musician).

This Cubatón (Cuban-style reggaeton, guachineo included) spectacle was aptly titled The Cannon Blast, as it was an explosion of “Made in Cuba” vulgarity and bad taste.  And there will be other such events, many more, in Florida. continue reading

To my friend it was all a joke (or a nightmare): The crème de la crème of the reggaetonero set–who would have to include also Yakarta, Baby Lores, Misha, Insurrecto, the detestable Osmany García, and Gente de Zona–profanely performing their low-class crudities, with their sinister appearance and annoying taca-taca beat, on a stage that has recently featured artists such as Don Henley, War, America, ZZ Top and Daryl Hall and John Oates.

No need to be surprised. This particular cannon blast and those yet to come are part of the none-too-slow colonization by the Castro regime of Miami and indeed all of South Florida.  They want to turn it into a type of Hong Kong, to exploit and emotionally blackmail it with nostalgia for fatherland and family. Not satisfied with maintaining their failed regime at the expense of remittances from emigrés and exiles, the Castroites also–in an effort to stir up problems, debase the milieu, and collect even more dollars–send over infiltrators from the G-2, scam artists, provocateurs, short-fused jokers, propagandizing academics, know-nothing cameleons del tíbiri tábara (from the back of beyond and staying out of trouble),TV shows, and…reggaetoneros.

For the record, it’s not that the head honchos of the regime are aware of the damage they do with the reggaetoneros, thus employing them in a macabre plan to penetrate the exile community and turn Miami into one big Hialeah, full of homeboys and every day becoming more like Marianao or Arroyo Naranjo. Save for the minister Abel Prieto, he of such exquisite taste, the top bosses don’t seem to mind the proliferation of reggaeton. On the contrary, their children and grandchildren, as lacking in good taste and class as their parents and grandparents, go crazy to the beat and enjoy it to the max.

Pertaining to music, the bosses export what they have. This is what there is.

My friend would ask himself what became of Cuban music. Little of worth is left in a country that produced Ernesto Lecuona, Sindo Garay, Rita Montaner, Celia Cruz, Benny Moré, and, post-catastrophe, Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Chucho Valdés, Polo Montañéz and Juan Formell. Regarding the few good musicians and singers who remain on the Ilsand, the big guns–with their shopkeeper mentality and proverbial bad taste, and their (anti)artistic promoters–believe it not worthwhile to send them to Miami because they wouldn’t sell enough tickets and, worse, might even get away and defect. It’s better that they remain home, making do as best they can (even though they are rarely featured on radio and TV), making music for “the most cultured people on the planet”–even though these people only want to tie one on and hear reggaeton.

Reggaeton is the perfect soundtrack to accompany the breakdown of a dictatorial system that has lasted too long and which, if not finally dissolving, is coagulating.

Vulgarity, bad taste and social alienation were imposed on Cuba. And this is reflected in the music that is broadcast the most. Reggaeton, the apotheosis of low class and degradation, came about at just the right time in the right place. It is the perfect music for the national chaos.

How was Miami to ward off reggaeton, what with so many recently-arrived homeboys who the only things they left behind were their ration books?

If, in the final analysis, we are all Cubans, whether here or there, we bear a common karma, and we must share our misfortune: portion it out, and see if we can reduce it.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

The Taliban Has Returned / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Hassan Pérez Casabona

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, 15 March 2017 – At the beginning of the last decade, when Fidel Castro would call a “march of the fighting people” for any reason whatsoever and the multitudes who seemed to have arrived from Pyongyang would chant slogans and wave little paper flags, prominent for his impetuous verbiage was a young man called Hassan Perez Casabona.

Gesticulating like a dervish, with a crew cut, camouflage trousers, and huge Russian military boots that seemed suitable for kicking any dissenters, Hassan Perez, who at that time was the second secretary of the Union of Young Communists (UJC), was the most Taliban of the Taliban of the so-called Battle of Ideas, Fidel Castro’s personal version of Mao’s cultural revolution. In this “battle,” young men like the bellicose Hassan, indoctrinated to the core and supposedly immune to the corruption, were called to play the role of the Red Guards. continue reading

Hassan Perez, who improvised his leftist militant teques* of the barricade with the ease of a Candido Fabré, seemed to have no brake. Nothing contained his quarrelsome and intolerant eloquence. When in 2002, in the Aula Magna of the University of Havana, the former American president Jimmy Carter referred to the Varela Project, quickly and aggressively Hassan Pérez requested the floor to refute him, in the presence of the Maximum Leader, who observed him pleased, although ready to stop his jackal if he let his passion run away with him.

With the retirement of Fidel Castro in July 2006, the Battle of Ideas was fading away, and the Taliban, who with their supra-institutional nonsense represented a nuisance to the succession and the Raul regime reformers, were removed from the scene.

In 2008, in an extraordinary meeting, the National Communist Youth Bureau agreed to work with Hassan Pérez and send him as a professor to a university of the Revolutionary Armed Forces. Although they acknowledged his work as a youth leader, first in the Federation of Middle School Students (FEEM) and later with the University Student Federation (FEU) and Communist Youth, this was interpreted as a setback. Especially given that, shortly before, at the Fifth Congress of the UJC, he had not been elect, as expected, first secretary of the organization.

From that point Hassan Perez lectured in full military uniform – which must have been to his liking, in view of his fondness for military attire – as a lieutenant, in the classrooms of the Military Technical Institute (ITM) teaching history classes.

For almost eleven years there was no mention of Hassan Perez. He only saw himself on TV, dressed in uniform and in his delegate’s chair, during a meeting of the National Assembly of People’s Power, where he voted unanimously in favor of everything that was put before him.

But now, the entrenchment of immobile orthodoxy is generating a neo-Stalinist reflux that has once again brought Hassan Perez to the fore. He is now an assistant professor at the Center for Hemispheric Studies and the United States at the University of Havana and his extensive and bizarre articles appear in the official press.

It seems that Castro’s monks do not have too many better options to choose from if they have had to dust off and get to grips with the annoying Hassan Perez. In short, if it is a question of becoming intolerant and frightening in the discourse toward the sheep who want to go astray, the boy does the job well. And in the years that he spent in professorial penance he is assumed to have overcome the immaturity that he was previously reproached for.

*Translator’s note: (Source: Conflict and Change in Cuba, Baloyra and Morris) “El teque is Cuban slang for the unrefrained barrage of official rhetoric that emanates from the state. I is the old, the formal, the staid, that which has become meaningless through repetition. El Teque is the officialese, the discourse of a revolution that is no longer revolutionary.”

Too Young for the Party and Too Old for the Communist Youth / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Harold Cárdenas (dw.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 9 February 2017 — Try as I might—to avoid being a bore and accused of holding a grudge against the boy—I cannot leave Harold Cárdenas, the ineffable blogger at La Joven Cuba, in peace, I just can’t. And the fault is his own, because the narrative he makes out of his adventures defending his beloved Castro regime, and his loyal candor, strikes one as a kind of masochism worse than that of Anastasia Steele, the yielding girl in Fifty Shades of Grey.

In a post on 19 January, Harold Cardenas complained of the terrible limbo, for a communist, in which he finds himself (not to mention that it would be the envy of many militants who accepted the red card because they had no other option): Harold, being past the requisite age, was removed from the Union of Young Communists (UJC), but he is not accepted into the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) because, they explain, he is still too young. continue reading

His situation reminds me of a 1976 song by the British rock band Jethro Tull (which Harold probably doesn’t know, because of his age, and because I can’t imagine him listening to any music other than that of Silvio, Buena Fe and Calle 13). The song tells the story of the disconsolate and hairy motorcyclist and failed suicide, Ray, who was “too old to rock and roll, too young to die.”

Harold Cárdenas rightly intuits, given the entrenchment recently being displayed by the regime, that he has been given the boot—or the bat, as his contemporaries say—from both organizations because of his publications “in other media.” And so he knocks himself out with explanations, challenges his punishers to find one counterrevolutionary line in his writings, “but without taking a line or a post out of its context—conducting a serious search through the totality of the content.”

As if these guys needed to go to so much trouble to suspect someone and consider him an enemy!

The blogger, with his foolish sincerity and wild innocence (Ay, Julio Iglesias!) has annoyed the stony big shots and their subordinate “hard-core” little shots—always so unsympathetic towards those who, even while remaining within the Revolution, dare to think with their own heads and give too many opinions. This is why they consider him undisciplined, hypercritical, and irresponsible, why they don’t want him in the UJC nor the PCC.

Overall, he came out all right, because in other times, not too long ago, who knows what the punishment might have been…

Harold Cárdenas, with his faith intact through it all, assures us that he does not have a single complaint about the Party, although, as he says, it hurts him “how some dogmatists detract from the collective intelligence of the organization.”

As far as Harold is concerned, his punishers do not answer to an official policy, but rather are dogmatic extremists who think themselves more leftist than Stalin. He warns: “We must take care not to confuse sectarian procedures with State or Party politics, even if they try to disguise themselves as such. The individuals who apply them, although they might try to justify their actions as being taken in the name of the Revolution or some institution, are doing it for themselves. They are trying to preserve the status quo of the known, motivated by fear, ignorance or other interests.”

Harold Cárdenas, who seems to believe himself the reincarnation of Julio Antonio Mella (who, by the way, seems to have been assassinated by order of his comrades and not the dictator Machado, due to his Trotskyite connections) believes that what is happening is a “tactical struggle among revolutionary sectors” of which he has been a victim. But he does not despair. With the patience of a red Job, having been warned that “it is very difficult to fight for a better society outside of the movement that must lead the construction,” Cárdenas says that he will join the Party when he will not have to “subordinate the political struggle to a vertical discipline… when they give me a way, there will be a will.”

And one, faced with such resigned masochism, does not know whether to pity Harold in his wait for the blessed little red card, or give him up as incorrigible, and let him continue to self-flagellate. May Lenin Be With Him!

Author’s email: luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

My Friend Marquito Will Repatriate to Cuba / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

repatriado

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 31 October 2016 — My friend Marquito who has lived in Miami for fifteen years, has decided, as soon as he retires, to return to Cuba to live.

When he told me his plans, on the next to last day of my stay in Miami, after several whiskies and beers as we sat on the patio of a mutual friend in Miami Springs, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I thought it was a joke. Or pure drunkenness. But no. The man is serious. He has it all worked out. And is even trying to convince some of his friends to imitate him.

He said his American Dream isn’t going like he dreamed: that he is always financially burdened, that he can’t make it with the costs and the taxes, that he worked too much in jobs he didn’t like and that were below his professional abilities, which kills nostalgia, and he doesn’t want to end up in an asylum… continue reading

He explains that in Cuba, with the new circumstances created by the restoration of relations with the United States, he will get much more out of the 700-odd dollars he’ll receive from his pension when he retires at 65 (he’s almost 60). He calculates that in Havana, at his mother’s house in El Vedado, he will be able to live much better that he does today in Miami, where that money will barely pay the rent for the studio, a bedroom with a bathroom and kitchen, where he has lived in Hialeah since his divorce.

In vain I tried to convince him that this is nonsense, that “something,” which for me continues to be “this,” has not changed as much as he thinks, that I can’t imagine that after so many years he could readapt and resign himself to living without freedom after having known it.

He says, “It doesn’t matter, with money you can slip by, you’re indifferent. And when I’m really bored, when I need to oxygenate myself, now I can come and go, get a ticket and spend a few days vacation in Miami…”

He says he has met several Cubans who have returned to the country and haven’t repented it. When I tell him it’s really fucked to give the dictatorship arguments to say that most of those who leave Cuba go for economic reasons and not political ones, and that I am beginning to understand Cuban-American politicians I disagree with, like Senator Marco Rubio and the representative Carlos Curbelo, when they complain that some Cubans are blatantly abusing the laws of the United States, and especially the pockets of the American taxpayers, Marquito interrupts me and tells me not to get all heavy with the “freaking politics” and he asks me if I wouldn’t be happy if we got together “there,” like we used to, and talk and listen to music from the ‘70s. Now that he has reassembled his vinyl collection he’s bring it to Cuba and we’ll listen to it with much better quality that when we used to listen on those horrible Russian turntables.

I can already imagine the bitter and endless litany of lamentations and complaints about “this” that Marquito would repeat in these meetings of castaways. The same ones as fifteen years ago, before he left. When he thought he was being suffocated and that the world as we knew it, would crush him. Has he already forgotten that time?

Marquito joked and in the face of my dismay sang, closer to Charlie Garcia Carlos Gardel, the one about “return, with a withered face …” and “feeling that is a breath of life …” And then he got philosophical, and said: “It’s like closing a circle. Completing a cycle. That’s what it’s about…”

I still do not believe he was serious. I prefer to think it was a joke.

About the Author: Luis Cino Alvarez (b. Havana, 1956).

Zero Victims in Cuba, at What Price? / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Baracoa after Matthew (Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP)
Baracoa after Matthew (Photo: Ramon Espinosa/AP)

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 13 October 2016 – Several reporters from international press agencies, in particular the AFP, have recently highlighted the fact that in Cuba, in contrast with neighboring countries like Haiti, Hurricane Matthew caused no loss of life in spite of its extensive property damage.

The journalists credit the preventive work, mainly evacuation, that the Civil Defense carries out as soon as a storm approaches Cuban shores. And they are right: the Civil Defense is one of the few Cuban state institutions that really functions effectively.

But the admiring journalists overlook the fact that the Civil Defense works with an advantage: that which is conceded by social control and the “command and control” methods of a totalitarian regime. When evacuation is ordered, the people have no choice but to carry their rags and three or four pieces of junk, get on the trucks and buses and evacuate. If they refuse, they are evacuated by force or taken prisoner. continue reading

In a country where the citizen is free, the master of his actions, there is always some stubborn person who refuses to take refuge or prefers to stay to take care of his belongings, his animals, etc. Or he simply stays home because he wants to. But not in Cuba. If he doesn’t go one way or another, they take him. To a shelter or a jail cell if he acts the fool.

And Cubans, resignedly, let themselves be driven to the shelters, no matter the overcrowding, filth, and head and pubic lice: the roof there will not fall on top of them, as probably would happen in their miserable and dilapidated dwellings, and they are guaranteed food, even if it is bread with canned Venezuelan sardines, which the army keeps in its warehouses for emergencies. And as if there were not enough, Kcho will come, with an artist brigade that includes clowns and reggaeton players, to bring them a little entertainment…

If not for these forced evacuations there would have been deaths and injuries in Cuba as in the other countries. Or more: let’s remember that most dwellings in Cuba are in a deplorable state. Especially in the poor eastern region, which usually is one of the most affected by hurricanes. (Fortunately it has been years since a cyclone passed through Havana where with so much ruined housing and buildings – much of which remains upright only through miraculous static – the catastrophe would be unimaginable.)

Without detracting from the merits of the Civil Defense leaders: most of the generals of the armed forces, the older ones, in spite of playing so much with tanks and AK-47s, have not forgotten their rural origins, their highland times, when before the arrival of a cyclone, they would put their cattle and chickens in a safe place. We now are their animals, on their bosses’ farm, the size of an archipelago.

Too bad they are not more effective in the recovery effort. Or in guaranteeing, after the evacuation ends and the people return to the ruins that their houses have become, the most basic things: food and water. And not to mention the materials for repairing the dwellings, though the state says that it will bear 50% of the costs.

General Raul Castro at once assured the people of devastated Baracoa – the AFP should have referred to how happy they are with the Chief’s visit – that “the Revolution will never leave us” but warned them that reconstruction will take time.

They already know, without haste but without pause*. So they can join the long line of victims from prior hurricanes…

About the Author: Luis Cino Alvarez (b. Havana, 1956).

*Translator’s note: A catchphrase from a Raul Castro speech to the Communist Party Congress of 2016, often repeated in official discourse, and even more often mocked. Excerpt from speech: “The course is already plotted. We will continue at a steady pace, without haste, but without pause, bearing in mind that the pace will depend on the consensus that we can build within our society and the organizational capacity we reach to make the necessary changes without precipitation, much less improvisations that only lead us to failure.” 

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

 

A Disappointing And Unfair Report / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

cpj_logo-354x354Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, 30 September 2016 — The most recent report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on the state of journalism in Cuba is, more than disappointing, worrisome. It is not that its authors are uninformed about the Cuban reality. Rather, they have manipulated the information at their disposal so as to emphasize—at the expense of traditional independent journalism, whose presence is concealed—that journalism which is done on the Island more or less outside of state control. However, the sector to which they devote so much attention is not really quite so outside of that domination as the authors seem to wholeheartedly believe; either they are too naïve or too optimistic about the situation of journalists who work under the conditions of a dictatorship.

This report reinforces a tendency which could be seen emerging in recent months: that of obscuring and making obsolete the journalism that is most critical of the regime so as to present the pro-government bloggers and journalists who work in foreign outlets or alternative media of recent vintage—On Cuba, Periodismo de Barrio, El Estornudo, El Toque, Progreso Semanal, La Joven Cuba—as the new protagonists of a free journalism on the Island. continue reading

And I was calling this worrisome because this type of analyses, arising from who knows where, which try to make the case that Cuba is changing by giant steps in rhythm with the Raulist reforms, turn into a type of “trending topics,” become viral, and are later unstoppable.

The report obviates the fact that the independent journalism that has obtained in Cuba since the first half of the 1990s, and which ever since then has had to endure repression pure and simple, and which brought to light the prohibitions, and enabled the very existence of those alternative media whose collaborators are set on clarifying that they are not dissidents, complaining about the scoldings and warnings they receive, as if they were wayward sheep, from government bigwigs.

Regarding journalism which is critical of the regime, the report makes sole* reference to 14ymedio, but praises its middle-of-the-road tone. Lacking this tone, Primavera Digital, for example, is ignored, even though it continues to come out every Thursday on the internet despite the fact that it has not received a single cent of financing for more than two years. By the way, when 14ymedio started, Primavera Digital had already been around for more than six years—a fact that does not prevent the repeated assertion, mantra-like, that 14ymedio “was the first independent news outlet in Cuba.”

It is laudable that these young communicators from the alternative media have appeared, speaking of a Cuba more like the real one than what is portrayed by the official media. There are excellent ones, such as Elaine Díaz, or the team at El Estornudo with its literary journalism—and even Harold Cárdenas, why not? Despite his pretensions of “saving the Revolution” and making himself out to be more socialist than Marx and Engels combined. But when speaking of quality in the field of the independents, I have to say that it is the dissidents who have for many years now been incomparably plying their trade—journalists such as Miriam Celaya, Tania Díaz Castro, Iván García, Ernesto Pérez Chang, Juan González Febles, Víctor Manuel Domínguez, Jorge Olivera, among others.

More than unfair, the angle the CPJ report takes in characterizing TV and Radio Martí as “mostly irrelevant” is insulting. It would be interesting to know, keeping in mind the powerful interference of their signal and the blockage of their web site in Cuba, how TV and Radio Martí might increase their audience and have greater relevance compared to, let us say, Granma or Radio Rebelde. However, even this would not be enough for the CPJ, which lumps the official press with Radio and TV Martí insofar as they both “have become echo chambers for ideologues at both extremes of the political spectrum. As they are currently structured, neither is capable of providing the type of transformative journalism that could help to achieve the changes longed-for by the majority of Cubans.”

Bearing in mind that this section of the report was written by Ernesto Londoño, a journalist who when it comes to Cuba sees only what he wants to see and make seen (remember those editorials in The New York Times that heralded 17D?*), I believe I understand the changes to which he is referring. The problem is that these are not exactly the changes that are desired by the majority of Cubans, who desperately aspire to others of much greater significance.

Neither is it just for the report to not acknowledge the relevance of such outlets as CubaNet—not that it is blocked in Cuba occasionally, but rather that it was occasionally not blocked for almost a year. Since a few weeks ago it has begun being blocked again (as has Diario de Cuba), several of its journalists have been arrested, and the political police have confiscated their equipment. It would be interesting to know which formula CubaNet could employ to be in Havana the same way that On Cuba is. I say this because both outlets are based in the United States and the journalists who contribute to them are Cubans who live on the Island.

The CPJ’s concern for Cuban journalists is all well and good, but it should be for all, equally—the official and semi-official ones (it is often hard to tell them apart), and those who are lately turning the screws even more—but also for the independents, those truly critical ones, those who do not remain on the surface or who try to hide the fact that they definitively have gotten out from the “innards” of the Revolution: those who, in the CPJ’s report, have been diminished, or simply ignored.

About the Author

Luis Cino Álvarez (Havana, 1956) is a journalist in Cuba currently visiting the United States. Cino has worked as a professor of English, in construction, and in agriculture. He entered the field of independent journalism in 1998. Between 2002 and Spring 2003, Cino was a member of the reporting team at De Cuba magazine. He is assistant director of the online magazine, Primavera Digital [Digital Spring], and is a regular contributor to CubaNet since 2003. A resident of Arroyo Naranjo, Cino dreams of being able to make a living from writing fiction. He is passionate about good books, the sea, jazz and blues.

See also: Committee to Protect Journalists Invites Journalists inCuba to “Cross the Red Lines”

**Translator’s note: As Americans say “9-11” instead of September 11, 2001, Cubans say “17D” instead of 17 December 2014, the day Barack Obama and Raul Castro jointly announced the restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Soldiers in Business: Bad Deal / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Soldiers in the economy: A bad deal (photo EFE)
Soldiers in the economy: A bad deal (photo EFE)

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 30 May 2016 – The survival of the Castro regime increasingly appears to be in the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). And not only because of the generals who run some of the most important ministries but also because of the general-businessmen of the Enterprise Administration Group (GAESA).

GAESA, whose managing director is Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, father of one of Raul Castro’s grandsons, invoices more than a billion dollars a year. It has sugar plants, the TRDs (Hard Currency Collection Stores), Caribe and Gaviota, which impose abusive taxes on commodity prices, the Almacenes Universales SA, farms, mills, telecommunications and computer industry, trade zones, etc. And if that were not enough, having most of the hotel and marina capacity, it governs tourism, one of the country’s main sources of foreign income. continue reading

Some things borrowed from capitalism have functioned successfully in FAR’s enterprises.

At the beginning of 1985, after the shipwreck of the Economic Planning and Management System copied from the Soviet model, FAR implemented the Business Improvement System on a trial basis in the company “Ernesto Guevara,” in Manicaragua, Villa Clara, the largest facility of the Military Industries Union.

The experiment was supervised by General Casas Regueiro, who kept General Raul Castro, then FAR Minister, regularly informed about the matter.

Two years later, the experiment was extended to the military industries throughout the country.

The Business Improvement System (SPE), which Raul Castro called “the most profound and transcendent change to the economy,” copied capitalist forms of organization and administration: corporations, joint stock companies, management contracts and partnerships with foreign companies.

SPE permitted the Cuban army to ride out the worst years of the Special Period. If it was not introduced on a national level it was for fear of its consequences, which would have been worse than those of shock therapy.

In 1994, Fidel Castro, pressured by the deteriorating situation, agreed that a group of businesses from the Basic Industry Ministry would enter the SPE on an experimental basis. Later 100 more businesses were incorporated.

In 1997, the Fifth Congress of the Communist Party adopted the SPE as an economic strategy. After Raul’s succession, the extension of business improvement to the entire Cuban economy was conceived as a long-term strategy for preserving the status quo.

At the end of the last decade, when more than 400 businesses that implemented SPE were the most efficient in the country in terms of costs and results, it seemed that the Cuban economy was beginning to move to general application of that system. But it was a too-artificial model to extrapolate it to the rest of the national economy. To begin with, the unaffordable and disastrous enterprise system in Cuban pesos was not compatible with business improvement in dollars.

With SPE, the military men played the economy to advantage. Their businesses bore fruit in a greenhouse environment. They did not have to face labor or capital competition, they had unlimited access to state resources and benefitted from disciplined labor accustomed to obeying orders. Production factors, prices and marketing were at their disposal. Investments were provided by foreign businessmen prepared for unscrupulous deals in exchange for a minimum participation in the businesses.

Although they have had relatively modest success, there is not much to learn from the FAR businesses. And that is because a nation is not governed as if it were an armored division.* War is one thing, and managing a country’s economy efficiently is something else, although both things use bellicose language interchangeably.

FAR, dragging its old slogans and obsolete Soviet weapons, also reflects the system’s wear and tear and the distortions of current Cuban society.

Military men crammed into businesses can become problematic in the not-too-long term. Distanced from the interests of the people, they contribute to the system’s continuity. But they will always be stalked by temptation. Contact with foreign capitalists foments greed and corruption. This has been happening for some years.

When they feel their privileges and properties granted by the proprietary state threatened, their loyalty to the bosses or their successors will be put to the test. We will see what will happen then.

About the Author: Luis Cino Alvarez

*Translator’s note: An allusion to Cuba’s hero of independence José Martí’s words to General Maximo Gomez during the independence struggle: “A nation is not founded, General, as a military camp is commanded.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Twenty Independent Communicators to Consult in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas

ndependent Journalism. Illustration from "Another Waves" website
Independent Journalism. From “Another Waves”

Luis Felipe Rojas, 1 February 2016 — This list is not intended to be a “Top Ten,” as is so common on internet publications. The list of names that follows carries the history of the men and women who believe in words and images as a tool of liberation.

The independent journalists that appear below do their work in Cuba under the microscope of the apparatus of repression that we know as State Security.

Most of them suffer arbitrary arrests, they have spent long years in prison, they are violently detained, vilified and — paradoxically — are non-persons in government media. In the case of Jorge Olivera Castillo, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison in the “2003 Black Spring,” but he continues, unrepentant, to do alternative journalism. continue reading

Another of those on the list is the blogger Yoani Sanchez who, among numerous international awards, holds the 2008 Ortega y Gasset Prize, given annual by the Spanish newspaper El Pais. Confirming her commitment to the journalism in which she believes, she founded the digital newspaper 14ymedio and 2014.

These are “ordinary” rank-and-file reporters, who get up each morning looking for news and accompany the victims of state bureaucracy — a way of doing journalism that has already gone on for three decades in the country, under the derision that arises from within the regime’s prisons.

I wanted to include here those who have specialized in the genre of opinion, thus helping to clarify what goes on within the country, but also preserving the sharp wit that has been missing for years in the journalism published on the island. The blame for this drought in opinion pieces is due to the jaws that are greased every morning in the offices of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Good health for free and uncensored journalism!

Here is the list:

Regina CoyulaBlog “La Mala Letra”. BBC Mundo. La Habana.

Iván García. Diario de Cuba. Martinoticias. Diario Las Américas. La Habana.

Augusto C. San MartínCubanet. La Habana.

Serafín Morán. Cubanet. La Habana.

Ricardo Sánchez T. Cubanet. Bayamo, Granma.

Miriam Celaya14yMedio. La Habana.

Alejandro Tur V. IWP. Cienfuegos.

Juan G. Febles. Dtor Semanario Primavera Digital. La Habana.

Yoani Sánchez. Directora Diario 14yMedio. La Habana.

Iván Hernández Carrillo. Twittero. @ivanlibre Matanzas.

Yuri Valle.  Reportero audiovisual. La Habana.

Jorge Olivera Castillo.   Columnista opinión. Cubanet. La Habana.

Luz Escobar. 14yMedio. La Habana.

Luis Cino A. PD. Cubanet. La Habana.

Roberto de J. Guerra P. Dtor Agenc. Hablemos Press. La Habana.

Ernesto Pérez ChangCubanet. La Habana.

María Matienzo. Diario de Cuba. La Habana.

Bernardo Arévalo P. ICLEP. Aguada de Pasajeros. Cienfuegos.

Roberto Quiñonez H. Cubanet. Guantánamo.

Alberto M. Castelló. Cubanet. Puerto Padre. Las Tunas.

A Hero To Justify The Cuban Failure / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

What in abundance are those who distort and manipulate the ideology of José Martí (Reuters)
What we have in abundance are those who distort and manipulate the ideology of José Martí (Reuters)

We continue on without wanting to admit that if our “wine is sour,” even if “the wine is our own,” it is no more than that: sour wine.*

Cubanet, Luis Cino Álvarez, Havana, 28 January 2016 — Today marks the 163rd anniversary of the birth of our national hero, José Martí. It is the time to repeat by rote the two or three of his sayings that all of us Cubans learned since grade school. It is but a short time before we again commemorate his death on May 19. Those two remembrances comprise most of the veneration of Martí that was instilled in us from childhood. What a shame! continue reading

We have the myth, but the counsels and teachings of Martí have served us precious little. Rather, from the era of independence [from Spain] up to today, we have systematically devoted ourselves to incurring everything against which he warned us. We have done as the Israelites in the Old Testament, who continually disobeyed Jehovah and were punished for it. Although we are not even remotely like the Hebrews, our people, too, have received their due punishment. And what awaits us, still…

Whatever became of all that which was quoted so often but has never come to pass, of the republic and the nation “for all, and for the good of all”?

We Cubans have exploited, with no compunction, the legend of Martí. Few peoples enjoy the privilege of having a poet as their national hero. But poets and their worldviews are not easy to comprehend. We never understood Martí well, and we have idealized and inflated him into the politician that he was not and never wanted to be.

Upon preparing for the War of Independence, Martí fulfilled his principal historic role. There was little else by then that he could do. His death at Dos Ríos, on 19 May 1895, confronting a Spanish patrol, was almost a suicide mission. It provided him the out that that he could not find before such great obstinacy and lack of understanding among the principle leaders of the Mambíses.

But the official story, that which was taught before [the 1959 Revolution], and which is badly taught today, refuses to acknowledge the conflicts that existed among the leaders of the independence movement…

Would Martí, after independence had been won, been able to work with those who were intending to lead the Republic as if it were a military camp**, and instill in them his civic and democratic vision?

Very few Cubans have read Martí deeply. What we have an abundance of are those who distort and manipulate his ideology. Thus, they have created a multi-purpose Martí, useful and convenient for all.

The greatest plagiarist, Fidel Castro, made of Martí the intellectual author of the attack on the Moncada barracks, his guide for the construction of a socialist society, and mentor to his pathological confrontation with the United States. To justify his single-party dictatorship, Fidel cited the case of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, overlooking the fact that it was created solely to organize the War of Independence, and not to perpetuate the rule of any political caudillo.

The legend of Martí contributed to the construction of a meta-history, a teleology of the nation’s destiny, which has done us more harm than good. Rather than redeem us, it bequeathed to us, among other things, a bad conscience and the fate of national misfortune.

Writing from exile, Martí idealized a Cuba in which he lived barely 20 years of his life. But the Cuba he invented surely would have been much better than the real one, if we Cubans had been able to make it come true—if not exactly as Martí envisioned it, at least close to it. But we were not able. And we continue not being able.

They beat us over the head so much with the pure heroes and the bronze statues that they ended up boring us. As a result of this boredom, today many Cubans, especially the young, associate Martí with the Castro regime’s harangue, and they reject him outright.

We Cubans should be ashamed of all the ignorance of and distortion of Martí. But it is easier to feel sorry for ourselves. So we continue to quote his sayings—even if they are out of context, or we do not understand them well, or we interpret them according to our whim and convenience—to justify our failure as a nation.

Thus attached to Martí, we continue not wanting to admit that if the wine is sour, for all that it is our wine, is no more than that: sour wine. Or even worse: vinegar. Which stings so much in our wounds…

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translator’s Notes:

*A reference to a quotation of Jose Martí well-known to Cubans, “Nuestro vino es agrio, pero es nuestro vino” – Our wine may be sour, but it is our own wine.

** A reference to another oft-remembered phrase from José Martí (though not one commonly invoked by Fidel or Raul Castro): “Un pueblo no se funda, General, como se manda un campamento” — A people is not founded, General, the way one commands a military camp. Martí wrote this in a 20 October 1884 letter to General Maximo Gomez, in which he resigned from the revolutionary movement.

About the Author

Luis Cino Álvarez (Havana, 1956) has worked as a professor of English, in construction, and in agriculture. He entered independent journalism in 1998. Between 2002 and Spring 2003, Cino was a member of the reporting team at De Cuba magazine. He is assistant director of the online magazine, Primavera Digital [Digital Spring], and is a regular contributor to CubaNet since 2003. A resident of Arroyo Naranjo, Cino dreams of being able to make a living from writing fiction. He is passionate about good books, the sea, jazz and blues.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Forgive the Castro Regime? Never! / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

raulfidel322013-300x218Cubanet, Luis Cino Álvarez, Havana, 11 January 2016 — I am a resentful person. I have to admit that, at least in this regard, the officials from State Security are correct, they who have condemned me as such during multiple, more or less menacing, interrogations throughout the past almost-20 years.

I am full of resentment against that calamitous abomination that some people still call “the Revolution.” And how can I not be? I would have to be a masochist, or emulate Mother Teresa of Calcutta, to love the perpetrators of the system that has crushed my life for as long as I can remember.

I would have to be exceedingly hypocritical to say that I am willing to reconcile with and forgive those who have never, in the slightest way—arrogant as they are—asked for forgiveness.

I am not a man given to hatreds and vengeances, but I cannot abide duplicity and hypocrisy. So leave me to my resentment which, in the reasonable doses in which I dole it out, will do no more harm than it already has; on the contrary, it helps me to keep going and not give up. continue reading

I cannot forgive those who thought themselves infallible, with a monopoly on the country, keepers of the keys to Paradise, with the right to decree the collective, obligatory happiness of the masses—all at the price of turning us into cogs in a machine, with no freedoms nor hope, yoked to the wagon of a mistaken history.

I cannot help but begrudge those who caused our individual dreams and aspirations—grand or simple, but valid and legitimate as any others—to be indefinitely deferred, annulled in the name of the Revolution, the Homeland and Socialism: all of which, according to what they said, were of a piece, despite the fact that the words did not rhyme, and we knew they could not rhyme.

I cannot be at peace with those who, in keeping with catchphrases that invariably posited death as the alternative, divided our families and pulverized our values, turning us into impoverished, vulgar riffraff, cynical and suspicious, perennially wandering in the desert…

My love for my neighbor (why deny it) is insufficient to be lavished upon those who fucked up my life: those teachers who, applying punishments prescribed by Comrade Makarenko, pretended to be forging The New Man; the sergeants in the compulsory military service; the psychiatrist-prison guards; the jailers at police precincts; the snitches who compiled exhaustive reports on me; all those who were wont to expel me from anyplace because of ideological divergences; the agents of the political police who “tend” to me, that is, who watch me even while I sleep…

Of no use have been the many times that they have tried to convince me that all the bad things that happened were not the Revolution’s fault—no, Man, of course not, they happened because of those extremists of which Lenin spoke—opportunists, as he called them—and all kinds of other shit. As if such as these were not the ideal subjects of a system like this!

Do not tell me anymore that those terrible events were errors—because in those “errors” have our lives been lost, and there is no getting them back…

I do not resign myself to having been one more rat in the Castros’ laboratory. The damages have been irreversible, and I do not believe that at this point they can be compensated.

Therefore, all we have left is the memory of what was and what could not be, because they prevented it, by force.

The poet José Mario—one of those who suffered the severities of the UMAP*—was right when he said that that those explanations of how “things were not as bad as they really were, it was a matter of errors committed by some extremists,” are worse than forgetting.Do not expect me to slobber. I am one of those who do not forget. I cannot, nor do I want to. For this reason, I am a resentful person. And proud of it.

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

cino.thumbnailAbout the Author: Luis Cino Álvarez (Havana, 1956) has worked as a professor of English, in construction, and in agriculture. He entered the field of independent journalism in 1998. Between 2002 and the spring of 2003, Cino was a member of the reporting team at De Cuba magazine. He is assistant director of the online magazine, Primavera Digital [Digital Spring], and is a regular contributor to CubaNet since 2003. A resident of Arroyo Naranjo, Cino dreams of being able to make a living from writing fiction. He is passionate about good books, the sea, jazz and blues.

Polarized Cuban Miami / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

117-cuba121814-versailles-ADD-300x208Cubant, Luis Cina Alvarez, Havana, 25 December 2015 — A year since 17D*, Cuban Miami grows ever more polarized. And it’s not only between those who favor dialogue with the Cuban regime and those who are staunchly opposed to the Castro regime –although at the end of the road, everything has to do, in one way or another, with that dichotomy.

There are those who love Obama (the few) and those who detest him, who deny his part in lifting the US out of the recession, who categorically assert that Obamacare is crap, who accuse the president of being pro-Muslim and a leftist, of being too soft in foreign policy (especially regarding the Castro regime), of endangering the country’s security in the face of jihadism, of exacerbating racial tensions, etc. continue reading

There are those who declare that they will vote for the Democrats — that is, for Hillary Clinton, but never for Bernie Sanders — and who say they are Republicans for life, who fervently prefer Marco Rubio (a sign posted in Coral Gables proclaims that Florida is his) –or Ted Cruz — but if neither of these wins the Republican nomination, they are willing to vote for Donald Trump, all his outrageousness and clownish behavior notwithstanding.

There are the early arrivals, not only the ones who got there in the ’60s, but also via the Mariel Boatlift in 1980, and those who arrived after the Rafter Crisis of 1994; those in Hialeah and the Southwest, and those in Coral Gables, Kendall or Coconut Grove; those who buy groceries at Publix or Sedano’s; those who speak English and those who don’t make even a minimal effort to garble it; those who favor lifting of the embargo and those who advocate for its continuance; those who defend or oppose the Cuban Adjustment Act; those who support and sympathize with the dissidents and those who don’t trust them and want nothing to do with them; those who oppose sending of remittances to Cuba and those who are not willing to let their families live in misery; those who protest the appearances by Cuban artists in Miami, even Los Van Van, and those who groove to reggaeton and guachineo as though they were still back home in Mantilla or San Miguel del Padrón.

During my stay in Miami, I listened to many discussions for and against the US government rescuing the thousands of Cubans stuck at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. Many are sensitized to the hardships that their compatriots are facing, while others say that among those who seek to reach American soil, besides there surely being G-2 infiltrators, the majority are lumpen, lowlifes, people who never lifted a finger against the regime and, meek as they were, turned into lions when it came time to claim their rights — both those that were due and not due to them — the moment they set foot on foreign ground.

In Miami some Cubans take pride in being exiles, while others say — as the Castro regime likes for them to say — that they are economic and not political migrants, as from any other country in the region. Very few of them will be honest enough to admit that they “don’t want to get mixed-up in politics” so that the activation of their passport won’t be denied and they’ll be able to travel to Cuba to visit their relatives. For there are those who can go for a year without seeing their loved ones, and those who say that “as long as that system remains unchanged, they will not even be roped-in to returning.”

What all of these Cubans have in common, whether they acknowledge it or not, is that they are pining away for their country and all that is familiar to them–the good, the not so great, and even the bad. And it is precisely this nostalgia that unites them while at the same time divides them. And what can be done about this, so passionate are we Cubans.

luicino2012@gmail.com

*Translator’s note: Just as Americans say “9-11” instead of September 11, 2001, Cubans say “17D” instead of 17 December 2014, the day Barack Obama and Raul Castro jointly announced the restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Blessing and Not the Miracle / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

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Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 19 September 2015 – Out of respect for His Holiness, so as not to bring up an unpleasant topic, or whatever — I would prefer not to have to say that — contrary to reports by certain foreign media, I have not sensed hope nor much enthusiasm among my compatriots regarding the visit by Pope Francis. Rather, what I’ve heard are jokes, some quite irreverent, about the potatoes that are not in the markets [jokes based on the fact that in Spanish “papa” means both “pope” and “potato”], and many comments ranging from skeptical to cynical.

And do not speak to me of multitudinous masses; we had them, too, when John Paul II and Benedict XVI came. There is no talk of how we Cubans are mainly Catholics (after our own fashion, but we are). Even, and above all, practitioners of Santería, almost all of whom were baptized and who pray the Our Father and the Hail Mary, and at least three or four times per year—on the feast days of the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, St. Barbara, St. Lazarus, and the Virgin of Las Mercedes—go to church, despite the displeasure of some priests at what they consider to be “pagan superstitions.” continue reading

We do not take lightly the papal blessing, but neither do we expect miracles. Nor is there any reason to demand from the Pope who lives in Rome* what we Cubans have not been able to do ourselves: change the circumstances of our country for the better.

We have been unable to do so, among other reasons, because the dictatorship—which called itself Marxist-Leninist, materialist and atheist—for decades kept us distant from God, the one who could cure our fear and give us courage.

Beyond praying for us and blessing us, which is no small thing, what more can the Pope do (Oh, Violeta Parra!*), whose doves are being slaughtered* everywhere in this world that is ever more selfish and pragmatic

It was known that the regime would manipulate the papal visit to reflect the glory on itself. Also, that the nation’s Catholic hierarchy, in return for spaces in the very earthly neo-Castro kingdom, will continue slobbering over and pandering to the regime, without defining what, exactly, its intentions are. Although there now remain few doubts that it will be satisfied with obtaining a construction permit to build some church, organize workshops for the self-employed, continue publishing its magazine, have some of its confiscated properties returned, and be given air time on television now and then.

Neither the three papal visits, nor the wind blowing at full blast in favor of relations between the Cuban state and the Catholic Church, will make up for all the times we could not pray in our churches, the children we were unable to baptize, and the Christmases that went uncelebrated. But there is no need for drama. We will pretend as best we can to forgive past wrongs, and we will remain as Catholic (after our own fashion) as ever. Amen.

Luis Cino Alvarez: luicino2012@gmail.com

Translator’s Notes:

*Reference to Chilean folk singer Violeta Parra and her song, ¿Que dirá el Santo Padre?, which includes a refrain that can be translated as, “What will the Holy Father say / who lives in Rome / and whose dove is being slaughtered.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Women Before Their Time / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

jovenes

On May 17, on the Sunday television program Passage to the Unknown, the journalist and host Reinaldo Taladrid, and guest psychologist Patricia Ares, addressed the issue of gender training received unconsciously by many girls. Training them, from very early days, to be future frivolous objects of erotic pleasure.

The phenomenon of the eroticism of childhood, although it happens worldwide for various reasons, has reached alarming proportions in Cuba.

For some years, it has become common for many parents to dress their daughters as if they were harlots in miniature. To demonstrate how precocious they are, in whatever party there may be, they are encouraged to wiggle, and to shake their rear ends – which still haven’t developed – more than all the rest. The more lasciviously the better, shaking to the most obscene reggaton. continue reading

Not to mention the expensive photos and videos of girls’ quinceañeras – their fifteenth birthdays – in which they change into several outfits rented for the occasion, little girls portrayed nearly naked, wrapped in towels or the briefest thongs, with eyes rolled back and tongues hanging out, in poses that are more suitable for porn stars than quinceañeras.

Taladrid and Dr. Ares, worried about the way in which many parents are violating the developmental stages of their daughters, commented on the increased “adultization” of childhood and the “infantilization” of adulthood. Both blame the problem of macho sexism that afflicts us on the harmful influences of our capitalist consumer society, globalization, Barbie dolls, reggaeton, indiscriminate cultural consumption, the “weekly packet,” and video-clips of Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Shakira.

The journalist and psychologist also may have spoken not only of sexy clothes – practically those of harlots – the suggestive dances in the parties at home and also at school celebrations, almost always encouraged by the teachers themselves; but also how many mothers and fathers encourage their daughters and sons to ask family and friends living abroad for gifts of every kind, and money, a lot of money, when they come to visit Cuba.

What matters less to these parents is the development of values in their children. Spirituality, values, not behaving so as to be able to buy things in the hard currency stores. Who doesn’t regret it when they see their offspring turned into female and male prostitutes.

There are too many Cuban parents, who in the midst of the national disaster, are turning their girls and boys into adults before their time. What is even more serious, are those who turn into the worst class of adults: materialists, hedonists, self-serving,cynical, amoral. They shall inherit our kingdom of lies and wreckage. Amen.

 

When I got to Varadero* / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

varadero-cuba21
cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 30 March 2015 — Despite the fact that on the three occasions I ever visited Varadero my experiences were not particularly pleasant, that beach – which today for the majority of Cubans is almost as inaccessible as Waikiki – occupies a special place in my nostalgia.

The first time I was at Varadero was in November, 1970, during the Festival of the Song. I was 14 years old. I went with two friends who were more or less my age, fleeing our homes and playing hooky from school, chasing after the Spanish pop groups Los Bravos (without Mike Kennedy), Los Angeles and Los Mustangs. They weren’t really our top favorites (at the time when we had still not resigned ourselves to the break-up of The Beatles, we were crazy for Led Zeppelin, Chicago, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Santana) but in the ideologically pure Cuba of the period, one could not aspire to something greater. Plus, we wanted the performances by those Spanish groups – despite how abysmally bad they sounded – to be our own version of Woodstock.

But the police rained on our parade. We ended up in a police station that stank of shit and where from a poster on the wall the Commander in Chief [Fidel] stared at us, scowling. I don’t know if his angry expression was due to our insolent ideological diversionism, or because the 10 Million Ton Harvest failed, and he had to devote himself to turning the setback into a victory at the expense of Nixon, whose name at that time was invariably spelled with a swastika in the newspaper, Granma. continue reading

By throwing us in the pokey, they almost did us a favor, because outside it was as cold as Kamchatka. The bad part was when the officers started to talk about cutting our hair, and we heard one say, “These guys are gonna get scalped.” Luckily these were no more than idle threats. They let us go at the Cárdenas terminal with the warning, “Get the fuck out here right now, Punks.”

My second visit to Varadero was in the summer of 1979. I went with my wife. We arrived unexpectedly, with a few clothes in a backpack. At that time, Varadero was not only for foreign tourists. Even so, we had to spend the night between the “Park of the Thousand Box Offices” and the sands of the beach. When the police threw us out of the park, we went to the shore. We drank Coronilla brandy, made love among the casuarina trees, and later, despite the mosquitoes, fell asleep in the sand. We were awakened by the border patrol, with dogs and bayonets, who told us that we could not spend the night on the coast. We then returned to the park, sans police. At dawn we returned to the beach and, when the sun was out, got into the water to wake ourselves up.

We were only able to obtain lodging (very reasonably priced) in a little wooden “hotel,” the Miramar. As old and decrepit as it was, I suppose it no longer exists.

We had a great time: all day on the beach, and at night we would go dancing to the beat of The Bee Gees at the La Patana club. The only downside was the couple in the room next door. When they made love, they would screech as if being murdered. Their screams penetrated the wooden walls, as if inviting one to emulate them – or to switch partners, because with all that racket, it was as if we were all entangled together in the same bed. When we finally caught sight of them one morning at the hotel entrance, these sexual athletes turned out to be a little chubby peroxide blonde, and a skinny guy with a mustache, nearsighted glasses and the look of an official from the Central Planning Council.

The third and last time that I was in Varadero was in 1986, during an excursion on a “day for outstanding employees” that my wife won at the State company where she worked. We went with the oldest of our sons, who had not yet turned three years old. All went well, until we ran out of drinking water and, while searching for a faucet where we could fill several bottles, we lost the boy’s left shoe. This was a real tragedy because that pair of Chinese Gold Cup shoes had cost us a fortune at the Yumurí store.

Since that time, I have not returned to Varadero – a place at first reserved for foreign tourists and the privileged elite, and now on the way to becoming a global resort, without an identity, depersonalized, only for the rich. Or rather, what we Cubans in our indigence understand to be “rich.” I don’t want to feel discriminated against, humiliated, or to be expelled in a worse way than I was back in 1970 – keeping in mind that, in the logic of the security personnel who watch me, a dissident would be much more troublesome than a kid disguised as a hippie.

Varadero, in my mind, continues to be associated, in a certain way and in spite of everything, with happiness. I don’t want to ruin that image.

The first time I was at Varadero was in November, 1970, during the Festival of the Song. I was 14 years old. I went with two friends who were more or less my age, fleeing our homes and playing hooky from school, chasing after the Spanish pop groups Los Bravos (without Mike Kennedy), Los Angeles and Los Mustangs. They weren’t really our top favorites (at the time when we had still not resigned ourselves to the break-up of The Beatles, we were crazy for Led Zeppelin, Chicago, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Santana) but in the ideologically pure Cuba of the period, one could not aspire to something greater. Plus, we wanted the performances by those Spanish groups – despite how abysmally bad they sounded – to be our own version of Woodstock. .

But the police rained on our parade. We ended up in a police station that stank of shit and where from a poster on the wall the Commander in Chief [Fidel] stared at us, scowling. I don’t know if his angry expression was due to our insolent ideological diversionism, or because the 10 Million Ton Harvest failed, and he had to devote himself to turning the setback into a victory at the expense of Nixon, whose name at that time was invariably spelled with a swastika in the newspaper, Granma.

By throwing us in the pokey, they almost did us a favor, because outside it was as cold as Kamchatka. The bad part was when the officers started to talk about cutting our hair, and we heard one say, “These guys are going all the way.” Luckily these were no more than idle threats. They let us go at the Cárdenas terminal with the warning, “Get the fuck out here right now, Punks.”

My second visit to Varadero was in the summer of 1979. I went with my wife. We arrived unexpectedly, with a few clothes in a backpack. At that time, Varadero was not only for foreign tourists. Even so, we had to spend the night between the “Park of the Thousand Box Offices” and the sands of the beach. When the police threw us out of the park, we went to the shore. We drank Coronilla brandy, made love among the casuarina trees, and later, despite the mosquitoes, fell asleep in the sand. We were awakened by the border patrol, with dogs and bayonets, who told us that we could not spend the night on the coast. We then returned to the park, sans police. At dawn we returned to the beach and, when the sun was out, got into the water to wake ourselves up.

We were only able to obtain lodging (very reasonably priced) in a little wooden “hotel,” the Miramar. As old and decrepit as it was, I suppose it no longer exists.

We had a great time: all day on the beach, and at night we would go dancing to the beat of The Bee Gees at the La Patana club. The only downside was the couple in the room next door. When they made love, they would screech as if being murdered. Their screams penetrated the wooden walls, as if inviting one to emulate them – or to switch partners, because with all that racket, it was as if we were all entangled together in the same bed. When we finally caught sight of them one morning at the hotel entrance, these sexual athletes turned out to be a little chubby peroxide blonde, and a skinny guy with a mustache, nearsighted glasses and the look of an official from the Central Planning Council.

The third and last time that I was in Varadero was in 1986, during an excursion on a “day for outstanding employees” that my wife won at the State company where she worked. We went with the oldest of our sons, who had not yet turned three years old. All went well, until we ran out of drinking water and, while searching for a faucet where we could fill several bottles, we lost the boy’s left shoe. This was a real tragedy because that pair of Chinese Gold Cup shoes had cost us a fortune at the Yumurí store.

Since that time, I have not returned to Varadero – a place at first reserved for foreign tourists and the privileged elite, and now on the way to becoming a global resort, without an identity, depersonalized, only for the rich. Or rather, what we Cubans in our indigence understand to be “rich.” I don’t want to feel discriminated against, humiliated, or to be expelled in a worse way than I was back in 1970 – keeping in mind that, in the logic of the security personnel who watch me, a dissident would be much more troublesome than a kid disguised as a hippie.

Varadero, in my mind, continues to be associated, in a certain way and in spite of everything, with happiness. I don’t want to ruin that image.

Author’s Email Address: luicino2012@gmail.com

Translator’s Notes:
*The title of this piece is taken from a line in the song,
Conocí la paz, sung by legendary Cuban singer, Beny Moré. Varadero is a beach resort town in the province of Matanzas, Cuba.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison