The Day They Shot Ochoa

A screen shot of General Arnaldo Ochoa at the televised trial where he was sentenced to death by firing squad. (CC)

14ymedio, Marta Requeiro, Miami, 15 July 2017 — July 13, 1989, began with a morning of radiant sun, however since that day, the fear of injustice and a terrible coldness stole from me that peak of inner tranquility that I might have had and for a long time now has crushed me.

I did not hear the shots, nor screams, much less the smothered moans, but somewhere in Havana they escaped through the orifices caused by the bullets, or perhaps through their half opened mouths as they collapsed the souls of the four Cubans who had been executed.

The maximum penalty for a crime that could have been paid for with prison. For me, an injustice in the midst of the 20th century in a country that talked about justice. continue reading

The neighborhood, and I dare say the people, began their day like any other. I remember that I cared for my children as usual, taking one to school and their other to daycare.

Those of us who knew what was going to happen stood watch in the silence of the morning, that began to feel dense and irritating when we though about what happened without being able to speak openly of the conflict that, we felt, had been brought to an exaggerated end.

Four soldiers betrayed Fidel Castro’s revolution, sufficient for such a sentence. That was the biggest of the reasons, and so it remains.

Just after nine o’clock in the morning the radio reported that General Arnaldo Ochoa, Colonel Antonio de la Guardia, Major Amado Padron, and Captain Jorge Martinez had been shot dead in a military compound, a unit of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

From that moment I had the lucidity to understand that the four faces that had been waiting for us during the long sessions of the televised trial had ceased to exist. It was not even a mitigating factor that Ochoa, the man who won the Ethiopian war against Somalia and risked his life on so many occasions for Cuba, would be no more.

Fidel Castro in the company of General Arnaldo Ochoa. (CC)

We were told that they had all carried out operations during the last year and a half in which they transferred tons of cocaine produced in Medellín to the United States, and through their ties with Pablo Escobar they had plans to carry out new and more ambitious shipments. Hence, what would have been a matter to be resolved within the tight circle of the armed forces became a matter of maximum betrayal of the country.

Fidel Castro tried with that decision to launder his own image and that of the Revolution, while at the same time reinforcing his authority and the discipline of the armed forces at a time when Soviet perestroika had isolated Cuba from the rest of the socialist countries.

Knowing the rebellious personality the main soldier executed, Ochoa and the subsequent dismissal of those in high positions of the government administration, some came to think that the Ochoa case was in fact an aborted military coup.

And I ask myself: how many did the Revolution betray afterwards? How many crimes did they commit and of what scale which, although we suspect, have not seen the light of day and will not be known until the regime falls.

Today it is 28 years. The bodies were never seen.

Rice Without Pebbles For The Tourists

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marta Requeiro, Miami, 13 April 2017 — I still have a clear memory of the Cuban TV show Cocina a minuto, every Sunday before noon. It disappeared, of course, when it was no longer possible to make the recipes with what the people had at their disposal in the refrigerator or the pantry and and what they were still given – although with a few more alternatives than now – on the ration book.

It was ridiculous that they would broadcast it on television and we would see the host and chef, Nitza Villapol, preparing some exquisite dessert with a can of condensed milk and twelve eggs, when Cubans were only given five eggs per person per month. At home we would say, “But what planet is this woman living on?” Surely this is what provoked the cancelling of the show. continue reading

In June the Varadero International Gourmet Festival will be held, with the participation of ten countries.

The magazine Caribbeannewsdigital.com affirms that it will focus on the search for excellence in tourist services, and will celebrate two of Havana’s most famous establishments, the 200-year-old the Floridita restaurant and the 75th anniversary of La Bodeguita del Medio. This is because Washington and Havana enjoy excellent relations at the moment.

Innovations in culinary techniques and vegan recipes will surely grace the tables; but ordinary Cubans, once again, will not know this

Innovations in culinary techniques and vegan recipes, which are trending around the world, will surely grace the tables; but ordinary Cubans, once again, will not know this.

Dinner table conversations will be enlivened with quality cocktails prepared with the real Cuban rum, which enjoys international prestige, none of those rotgut brands that Cubans drink like Chispa Del Tren (Train Spark) or Hueso De Tigre (Tiger Bone). Fine Habano cigars, chocolates and coffee – real coffee, not the one Cubans get that is half crushed peas – will also be part of the feast, enjoyed and appreciated by the experts.

According to data from the Department of Commerce, collected by the United States-Cuba Economic and Trade Council, the island bought a considerable amount of rice (about 700 tons) in February, something that hadn’t happened for nine years.

We already know who is going to taste that exquisite rice and how many dishes will be made with it. It is for tourists, who can enjoy rice pudding or rice with chicken. Instead, the people will continue to eat the rice filled with pebbles and rubbish that you have to spend hours picking out before you cook it.

Luxury and Excess in Socialist Cuba / 14ymedio, Marta Requeiro

Photograph from February 13, 2017, during a wedding organized by the private company “Aires de Fiesta” in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marta Requeiro, Miami, 26 February 2017 – I don’t know how my mother managed always to know a little more about my friends and their customs, and even those of the neighbors, because her limited time did not allow her to gossip; but she continually warned me that things are not always as they appear.

That is how I ended up having a lover who was to her liking. I confess that he was attractive, but we had frequent differences when we talked about topics of daily life that ended up opening a breach in the relationship.

Contrary to what the Island’s Government always suggested, without being apparent except to the most rebellious or those with the “clinical eye,” the beginning of the abysmal separation that today exists between the two known population groups, the governing elite with all of its coterie, and the people, was immediately conceived. continue reading

I realized soon after beginning the relationship with him that there were people who projected an image of humility but, behind closed doors, had covered all the basic necessities that for common mortals – like me – were impossible. And more so, they came to be luxuries.

There was a segment of the population that accessed a life unknown to the majority of Cubans.

I later learned, thanks to that relationship, that there was a segment of the population that accessed a life unknown to the majority of Cubans. Ordinary Cubans who served once a month on the guard duty for the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), more than anything in order not to be robbed in the night by their own neighbors and despoiled of what they had achieved with their own effort. Ordinary Cubans who marched to the Plaza Jose Marti on dates commemorating some important revolutionary event in order to sing hymns and feed their faith in the process of change (a change that still has not arrived), and who subsisted on what they would acquire through the ration booklet and who always carried the empty bag that was indispensable when leaving the house so as not to be surprised and unprepared for the arrival at the warehouse of some product among those that were distributed only sporadically and that, hopefully, would be something good.

Many families had only the ration book to count on to provide them with petty rations, which, even if they were well managed and “cultivated,” did not even allow them, at least once a day, to bring to the table a serving of decent food.

Even so, the markets and warehouses of that time were not as poorly supplied as now, and that little ration booklet meant something.

I saw for the first time live – and in full color – a domestic service team. Until then I had only seen it in foreign films.

Already by the ‘80’s the economic impoverishment, forecast only to get worse, was obvious, today inhuman for the ordinary Cuban, who is always the most affected.

As young as one was, one could tell. In most cases what was missing was enough courage to publicly say it and in a form of protest, as happens today with the internal dissidence that, in spite of the vexations that those who dare to raise a voice are subjected to, there are more who join them in order to protest their discontent.

It happened one day that a friend invited my lover to a house in Vedado that belonged to one of his cousins who would turn fifteen. My mother, knowing that I would go with him – after already having investigated his background and knowing that he was from a good family – and making him promise that we would be back early – granted me permission.

I had time to prepare my best clothes to go in accord with the occasion since he advised me several days ahead that I had to go elegant.

The day and time came and we climbed into the car of his friend who, accompanied by his girlfriend, would carry us to the party that would take place in Vedado.

We went up 23rd Street and, now well into the trip, the driver took a turn I could not say where; but there was a time when I did not exactly know our location. I was not at all familiar with that place where the car travelled.

The neighborhood that emerged before my eyes was at a glance far from my neighborhood and what was familiar to me until then. It was composed of beautiful houses with immense gardens that extended from the sidewalk to the entrances, some with tall bars of black balusters. The car kept going until it came to an immense wooden gate in a fortified wall that extended for almost the whole block.

That opulence and excess were inconceivable for what was proclaimed from the other side of the wall

We got out, and the uninhibited driver went forward to press the doorbell, which turned out to be an intercom. It was strange for me to look around and see majestic houses, well-cared for, painted, to hear silence and await a response from that artifact attached to the concrete; in my neighborhood it sufficed to yell from the sidewalk the name of the person sought for him to come out, and in the air you could always hear the mixed sound of different rhythms and someone or other calling vociferously highlighted by dogs barking in the distance.

Finally we heard a voice come from the apparatus asking “who is it” and with a simple “I,” said by the driver, the handle of the solid wooden door was magically activated so we would enter invading the immense barricade that impeded access and visibility from the streets to the dwelling.

Passing the threshold, I marveled at the beauty of the immediate area. If they spoke to me then I swear I do not remember it. I felt like and must have had the same expression as Alice in Wonderland.

Some hundred guests had already arrived, all dressed elegantly. My boyfriend, while we were there, asked me several times if I was alright. Surely my unusual quietness was making my surprise evident.

I saw for the first time live – and in full color – a domestic service team. Until then I had only seen it in foreign films. It was composed of about half a dozen women dressed in green guayabera dresses and white lace-up tennis shoes.

Golf course of one of the Melia hotels in Cuba. (EFE)

I saw there for the first time Pringles Potato Chips, and beer acquired without the well-known scavenging for the five boxes on the ration book only allocated if you were getting married or turning fifteen, and in cans. I tasted – with a grimace – the Spanish brandy Terry Malla Dorada. I felt strange before this conglomeration displaying the bourgeois behavior criticized by the Government.

The two smorgasbord tables in the middle of the immense room with a marble floor never emptied. Trays with all kinds of snacks and sandwiches were brought by the waitresses.

Outside, next to the entryway, was the bar attended by two young men with white guayaberas who asked what we wanted to drink or what we desired, including glasses for the beer.

How was there a capitalist form of existence inside Cuban territory, supposedly socialist and egalitarian?

Later the rueda de cubana dance was unleashed to the furor of the music of the Van Van hits and it reminded me how beaten up Cuba was.

I felt like leaving, I had nothing in common with the others there, nothing was familiar and known to me except my companion and the music; then I suggested that he invent an excuse and that we leave. That opulence and excess were inconceivable for what was proclaimed from the other side of the wall, although the reason was a fifteen-year-old’s party.

I asked the friend to get us out of there and take us to the nearest bus stop. He agreed after trying to persuade us, without success, and wanting to know the reason for our sudden departure.

Outside I felt relief, and I breathed comfortably. I commented on it with my fiancé, and he told me what little he knew of the mysterious family of his friend, whom he believed was from State Security or a bodyguard for someone important.

I met some people who lived in secret opulence supporting Castro-ism, which stayed in power with a public image as protector of the underdogs

How was that way of life kept in silence, how was it not criticized on television, and where did it come from and how was that luxury and excess that was not just a festive event paid for? How was there a capitalist form of existence inside Cuban territory, supposedly socialist and egalitarian?

Back then it was undercover; today we know how it is and that the behavior of the ruling leadership far from surprising us proves the existence of two social classes or poles that they themselves do not want to recognize as so disparate: The experts in training and subjugating so that the Cuban people do what they say and not what they do, and the people themselves.

We have learned about the excess expenses for recreation and tourism of one of Fidel’s sons and the carryings-on of Raul’s grandson/bodyguard.

The international press and Cuban dissidence have unveiled those two faces of those who for almost six decades have had control and power on the largest of the Antilles.

It is true, looks deceive!

I met some people who lived in secret opulence supporting Castro-ism, which stayed in power with a public image as protector of the underdogs. It’s not that I don’t like the good life but that condition is given in Cuba only to those who speak of equality without practicing it.

Opulence and abundance should belong to those who earn it, inherit it or work for it, not to those who steal it. Submission is not dignified, even less for so long a time. Let’s hope that once and for all the Cuban people open their eyes and reclaim the rights that have been denied them.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel