Agro, Another Efficiency That Doesn’t Arrive / Miriam Celaya


Notice of price cuts

My produce stand, located at the corner of Árbol Seco and Maloja in Central Havana, had a very promising sign a few days ago. It read as follows:

“Informing the population”
From the production results and the availability of agricultural products, price reductions were approved on all MAE small stands in the capital from September 3rd, 2010.

For the uninitiated, MAE means State Agricultural Market.

Following that, the sign enumerated significant per-pound price drops in plantains, cassava and sweet potato, as can be seen in the photo. However, as I approached the counter, I noticed that the establishment had only small, half-bruised avocados and some dregs of sweet potatoes. In response to my question, some customers there informed me that those would be the prices “when they had the produce”. Bottom line, there were none of the “discounted” items, although, days earlier and for several weeks, I know for a fact that there was an abundance of those three vegetables.

I’ve been to the little stand several times since then, without success. The news programs have reported the fabulous banana harvest, a large part of which is rotting in the fields for lack of transportation to take them to retail sites. The image of the food rotting on the ground contrasts against empty markets. More of the same. On the other hand, compared to the significant production of vegetables, there is a serious shortage of other popular high-demand products such as garlic, onion, pepper, fresh vegetables and pork, which demonstrates the continuing ineffectiveness of the structures and the inability to meet the needs of the population, among numerous other causes, because the scant official measures that stimulated agricultural production did not foresee the insufficiency of state transportation to make goods at point of sale effective.

For several days, plantains flooded the city. (Photo: Orlando Luis)

Week-end agricultural fairs are just a palliative to half-cover the popular demand, and are not stable in their offerings: just like they may offer a significant amount of products of acceptable quality for sale one week, they may offer significantly reduced varieties of produce of lesser quality the following week. In all cases, human crowds are inevitable.

Fear, on the part of the authorities, of private sector development in any of its variants, causes gaps in the markets and frustration of producers at the wasted effort. Excessive control is also a major obstacle that sabotages the natural flow between producers, the market, and consumers. It is not enough, then, to “change” an occasional piece of gear. The economy, exhausted, requires profound and effective changes. The government must release Cubans’ productive potential and their ability to work for themselves if it is really interested in reversing the crisis. Already they, the owners of power, have amassed their gains and it is known that they have put their sights on more lucrative and larger enterprises. How long will they hinder the progress of domestic business?

Translated by Norma Whiting

September 21, 2010

Anti-Unionism: Another Revolutionary Feat / Miriam Celaya

Salvador Valdés Mesa, Secretario General of the CTC

On Monday, September 13th, in an unusual statement issued by the Cuban Workers Organization (the CTC), it was announced that half a million Cubans will lose their jobs in the coming months. The amazing thing is not the wave of layoffs in itself, (for a while, it has been rumored that about one million in total will lose their state jobs), but that the announcement, instead of being made by the employer, was assumed specifically by the organization which, by virtue of its name, calls to defend workers’ rights; such an organization which stands, in addition, for moderating to “maintain the systematic monitoring of the development of this process” (of layoffs). This is the paradigm of anti-unionism.

That is how it was made explicit that we will have 500,000 more unemployed by the end of March, some of whom are expected to swell the ranks of the so-called self-employed who will feed, by way of their taxes and leonine locks, the insatiable state coffers.

Without a doubt, this blogger would be guilt of false naiveté if she had ever believed that “the union”, as it is commonly called in every workplace, represented the interests of Cuban workers. Anyone who has ever been occupationally linked to a state job knows that the union is a pulley over the administrative machinery of the State. It is subordinate to it and to the nucleus of the single party at each center. As for me, I cannot remember once in my 23 years of official employment that the union, its members or its leaders ever supported me in any of the conflicts that I had to settle with different administrative levels, or in numerous complaints I had to file during my turbulent working life. I don’t remember “the union” ever forgetting to put out its hand… each payday. The financial collector of the CTC was present alongside the paymaster, to ensure the collection of union dues before the anemic wages would slip through the fingers of the “unionized”.

Another feature of Cuban trade union membership is automatic enrollment when entering the workforce, as with the CDR – an organization in which every Cuban is included as soon as he turns 16 – or with the FMC*, to which each girl “enters” at that same age. You start to work somewhere, and the mere fact of being part of the work force turns you into a member, per se, of the organization. No one asks if you want to unionize, no one explains your rights or the labor successes of the organization in favor of its members. You are limited to compling with its work plan, paying your fees, performing your “labor guard” and attending meetings and performing “voluntary” or “productive” jobs (they are not the same, but both are equally unproductive). That, and an enormous feeling of helplessness, are common attributes that the union imparts to Cuban workers today.

From the very beginning of its commandeering of power, the Castro regime has been responsible for destroying each autonomous organization in Cuba. More than half a century of union struggles that became popular in the nineteenth century and brought significant benefits during the era of the Republic were cleverly monopolized by the revolutionary government, beginning in 1959. The legendary Sierra Maestra commander knew all too well what great power autonomous civic organizations safeguarded. The Cuban labor movement, dazzled with the populism of the revolution’s first steps and with the charisma of its leader, gave up its strength and its independence in the presence of the olive-green caste, and soon it evolved into the servile mass it is today. There are no more traces of union leaders of the stature of Jesús Menéndez or Aracelio Iglesias, just to mention two of the best known, or a union like that of the port workers or the employees of the electric companies of the 50’s.

But, in spite of all that, not even in my moments of extreme fantasizing would I have thought that it would be the Cuban Workers’ Union – the country’s only union – that would consent to make the appalling announcement of a record unemployment rate. I never heard of any country – not even those where “wild capitalism” prevails – in which the organization that protects the workers is the one announcing and controlling layoffs. If any of my readers knows of a case, please enlighten me.

Finally, the facade covering the arrangement is cracking. It is exposing, naked and publicly, the perfect plot between the CTC and the sole employer, the State Party Government, counter to the detriment to workers. Interestingly, we had true unionism while capitalism lasted. Tropical socialism did nothing but crush organized labor. At the present time, when the past structures of “socialism” are blurring, in Cuba we are going back to capitalism, though such confessions have not yet been made public. With its return, workers, without rights or awareness of their own strength, are confined to the most difficult place while the government safeguards us, in another of its usual gestures of infinite sacrifice: it is appropriating the “maleficent capitalist tools” for its own use.

*Federation of Cuban Women

Translated by: Norma Whiting

September 17, 2010

The Dying Bay / Miriam Celaya

The desolate bay

Ever since Sebastián de Ocampo circumnavigated Cuba, between 1508 and 1509, the seduction of the then blue and clear waters of Havana Bay began. He named it Puerto Carenas* because he stopped here to repair some damage to his ship and to renew his fresh water reserves. Two small rivers flow into this bay. Ocampo did not know it then, but he had discovered, this early in the conquest, what would be the key port of Spanish trade with its American colonies. Anyway, the indigenous name prevailed, and the twins, the city and the bay, went on to share the same name: Havana. With its magnificent natural conditions, its narrow entrance channel, its three wide inlets, the width of its space and depth of its waters, Havana Bay is, even to date, ideal as a port and, consequently, an excellent geographical point, both as a destination for passenger ships and for maritime commerce. Almost from the beginning, and for numerous other reasons, the bay was the heart of the city, the center that inspired life and encouraged the economy. The city owes much of its history to its bay and she –for her part- jealously treasures the remains of ancient facts and legends in the mysteries of her dark cradle.

Since the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, maritime traffic in Havana was already the most intense of the New World, and some of the largest galleons of the time were constructed in its shipyards. In the nineteenth century, it attained hectic commercial activity due to the Cuban sugar boom after the Haitian Revolution. Through the bay entered, over the centuries, tens of thousands of immigrants and an even greater number of African slaves; it was a widely open door through which poured many of the components that later scattered throughout the Island to lend flesh and spirit to the national culture.

Until the 1980’s, a period of false prosperity derived from the honeymoon with the defunct Soviet Union and of shady deals with the CMEA, Havana harbor was a veritable floating city for the large number of merchant ships that frequented its waters. Moored, anchored or flowing in and out, maritime traffic in the old bay imprinted on the city an atmosphere of movement that contrasts vividly with the spectral appearance it shows today. The bay is like a desert.

Towing crane next to the Santa Clara Pier

With its old docks, Machina and Santa Clara, in ruins, the floating dock empty and covered in rust, an old towing crane abandoned near the Santa Clara pier, sewage and waste-laden greasy water and the smell of pollution invading the space, the bay is a testament to the desecration of the historical memory of the city. She is a distinctive victim of the official apathy, but nobody seems to care. What difference does a little more or less crap in such a dirty city? Many young Havanans shrug their shoulders or look at me in disbelief when I tell them that the Havana Bay of my early childhood had blue water where you could find sea bass that were plentiful, flying fish and many seagulls. Not even my children believe it (“Are you sure, Mom, could it be that you are confusing your memories with your wishes?”) But grey-haired Havanans do know that what I am saying is true.

Dismantling of the jetties

These days, there is a rumor going around that at least part of the scarce maritime commercial activity has been relocating to the port of Mariel, and that a certain Brazilian company is financing the work that will result in a cruise ship terminal in the area of the old piers of the old city, in the so-called Casco Histórico. I don’t know how much truth there is in any of this, but I have seen some work being done in the demolition of the four piers adjacent to the Alameda de Paula and the old fire station, adjacent to the Regla launch pier.

I’m such an optimist that I want to believe that someday there will be changes that will benefit the bay, that -like before- will once again be a fountain of life and of well-being for the city and its inhabitants, that its waters will be clean and that, on a very special day I will invite my suspicious children to walk along the wall of the Malecón, as we so often did when I was still a young girl and they were two little kids. I dream about being able to show them then the quick flutter of the fins of the sea bass frolicking once again in the blue waters of my bay.

* From carenar: (to careen) to clean, caulk, or repair (a ship in this position).

Translator: Norma Whiting

September 14, 2010

Open Letter to a Confused Supporter / Miriam Celaya

Mr. Josep Calvet:

I have hesitated for some weeks to respond to comments that you have occasionally poured into our little forum, but recent events that will mark the fate of my country in a not-so-distant future, force me not only to answer, but also to do so publicly. My intention is, of course, to instigate debate while exposing how damaging the official propaganda has been and continues to be, and how much distortion it creates in the minds of people, including those living in the so-called society of information and democracy. I lay as a premise that, although I feel that your comments have not been disrespectful in their design, they have indeed been so in their content, as I will make clear in this letter.

A fellow countryman of yours paved the way for me when you made some statements, among them, the “subtle” difference that exists between solidarity with the people of Cuba or with its government. At this stage of the game, almost everyone knows that both positions –support for the dictatorial government of the Castro brothers or for the Cuban people- are mutually exclusive, but you obviously have not heard. And you could not find out in any way because, judging by your approach, you – in the best of cases – have been a victim of the media’s misrepresentation and manipulation that you attribute to others in your comments; the revolutionary eloquence has made you dizzy, as indicated by various symptoms: I see that your comments are profusely dotted with those ingredients that the official Cuban discourse has created and disseminated in what we might call the “Manual for collecting foreign solidarity”; its first chapter containing a main tenet: anyone who is not in agreement with the Cuban government is “without doubt or appeal” an enemy, spy, mercenary, etc., at the service of the U.S. government, ergo, he is being funded by that country’s Treasury Department. That’s why this ideal Manual abounds in acronyms used as menacing and demonic accents, such as USAID and USIS, which, by (and only by) the grace of the olive-green verbiage, become per se crime, trial and sentence. “They are funded by USAID,” “they connect to the Internet from the U.S. Interests Section,” are phrases that are used irresponsibly as you do in reference to anyone who questions the government, without considering that, because of the repetition of that chant, the supporters of the longest dictatorship in Latin America have caused the arbitrary imprisonment of many brave Cubans and has contributed to the suffering of tens of thousands of Cuban families.

And, believe me, I make an enormous effort to understand you, because it is difficult to believe so much cluelessness and such fierce indoctrination. If you even admit to not having understood many of the clarifications made in the post “A Pause,” where I explained how I connect to the Internet and the limitations we have in Cuba in order to maintain a blog while facing official harassment, how can you pretend that you do not succumb to the official propaganda machinery that has all the resources and all the power? Yet, I will not allow you to pin attributes that don’t fit me: I do not receive funding from anyone or any institution (my blog, far from being a source of income, is an expense to me), though I reserve the right to accept the personal help of friends who have occasionally offered it to me. I do not connect, nor have I ever connected from the USIS, not because I consider it sinful, but because I have not had the opportunity to do so. I do not consider it shameful to try to find in alternative sites the information and communication opportunities that the Island’s government denies me.

I understand that you do not have much knowledge about Cuban history beyond propaganda and text carefully edited by the regime. If you knew more about this country and its heroes, you would not commit such an offensive blunder as to state that this revolution is Martí-like. Be informed that José Martí was decidedly against socialism and the Marxist ideas, and that he made clear his rejection in an article entitled “La esclavitud moderna” (Modern Slavery), which was how he defined such a system. I suggest you find and carefully read this article which, by the way, the Cuban government has never released here, and which most of today’s Cubans are possibly unaware of. It so happens that you are also sadly mistaken even about this fact, when you contradict the pronouncements of the historic leader of the Cuban revolution himself, who has stated in more than one occasion that he has studied Marx since his youth, and that he read his works during his incarceration (a vacation, by the way) of a little more than a year, after rising up in arms and attacking a military barracks and causing the deaths of dozens of Cubans. For a lot less, other Cubans have faced the firing squad for the sake of “revolutionary justice.” The revolution has not really been, as you absurdly say, “a humiliation” for the U.S., but has reduced millions of Cubans to the humiliating condition of slaves.

Another glaring blunder: the Cuban people did not “rise in arms.” The guerrillas that fought the previous dictator, Fulgencio Batista (another big shot not worth talking about, but a mere amateur compared to Castro), consisted of only a few thousand Cubans, although it is true that the revolution, in its initial years in power, had resounding and massive popular support. The ICAP*, meanwhile, has not “existed for fifty years” as you claim, but was founded in the 1970’s as an institution created to support the government, not the people of Cuba. But don’t be embarrassed by a wrong date, which is not all that important, nor elementary. It is not surprising that someone who believes that an example of great altruism and solidarity is participating in a harvest of cooking bananas that will feed revolutionaries and dissidents alike is confused. That’s scarcely a symbolic gesture. I know that we Cubans have the widespread reputation for making light of things, but be informed that many of us cherish our freedom infinitely more than fried plantains.

On the other hand, let me inform you, Mr. Calvet, that your farm sacrifice does not impress me. Since the early age of 12 until I was 17, for six consecutive school years, I had to participate in agricultural tasks, separated from my family for 45 days each year, incorporated into that monstrosity of the revolution known as the Field Schools. I could not enumerate the number and variety of foods and vegetables I harvested, weeded, fertilized and even sowed, and none of it meant any improvement in my life. Contrary to what many believe, what we need here is Freedom, not foodstuffs. Not all Cubans have the brains of a pig.

As for your comment about the Ladies in White, whom you rudely described as “a crude imitation” of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, it is a heinous insult. As woman, mother and grandmother, I will not let you get away with such a transgression. Dictatorships, whether right or left, remain dictatorships. The Argentine Grandmothers you mention deserve all of mankind’s respect and consideration, but, in equal measure, the Ladies in White have given the world in general and Cuba in particular an unforgettable lesson in dignity. Know that their struggle is more valuable than that of the guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra, because they have confronted the longest dictatorship in this hemisphere in the midst of the city and openly, not hiding in the thicket, not chasing after privileges and power, but demanding the release of husbands, brothers and children captive of the system, not with weapons, but with flowers in their hands, with truths and rights, not killing other Cubans, but marching peacefully through the streets, confronting the fascist hordes organized and financed by the government to suppress and beat them, and chanting a word that should be sacred to all human beings: freedom.

The Ladies in White have the extraordinary merit of being the first civic movement in the history of this country that has achieved an unprecedented victory against the government by sheer force of their will and of the righteousness of their cause. They do not need to imitate anybody, because they are authentic. Today, the Cuban government itself belies you and leaves you exposed for all to see.

I would suggest you go to the Official Cuban Gazette website to find out about the new law that grants the state the right to sell the land it owns (it owns virtually all lands) to construction companies for tourism purposes (Law-Decree 273, Articles 221 and 222.1, published August 13th, 2010), with 99-year leases and also to make sales with rights in perpetuity. It states, explicitly, that the law was enacted “For the purpose of expanding and facilitating the process of foreign investment participation in international tourism.”.

What The Gazette does not state is that this Law-Decree was created expressly to legitimize investments that some American companies are anticipating, in order to build more than a dozen golf courses for the exclusive tourism of millionaires, which is not, in itself, necessarily something negative, only that we citizens are excluded and do not have the right to invest or acquire land to participate in development plans of any kind. That is, we cannot be capitalists, but the state capitalism that prevails in this country gives itself the right to sell the country off in pieces, as if it were a birthday cake, with Cubans not taking any part in the festivities.

I do not know if Mr. Calvet will also perceive the subtlety that preferential buyers who will enjoy the privileges of ownership are precisely the “imperialist enemy” that attacks us, blocks us and harasses us, the same one that — so-called “illegally” — occupies the naval base at Guantánamo. The truly peculiar thing is that, if the base exists today, it is by virtue of an amendment that granted a foreign government the privilege of owning Cuban territory, promoted on the dawn of the twentieth century by an American politician. This new one, which gives away our country to American entrepreneurs and has been designed and imposed on the Cubans by the government of Cuba itself, is the “Castro Amendment.” Contrast this law with one published before it in the same Gazette, giving peasants the land they work and produce with their own hands “in usufruct for a term of 10 years.” It is not necessary to be an astute individual to detect who the owners of power in Cuba are codling, plus let’s not mention the mysterious fate of the proceeds from such sales.

As you can see, Mr. Calvet, the Official Gazette itself is responsible for confirming what “we, mercenaries” are saying. As you may see, additionally, it is a brazen impertinence for you to try to indoctrinate me about the needs of the Cuban people. Unlike the olive-green royalty that you so passionately defend, the same one who so anxiously share in the spoils of the country, I am part of this people, deprived of rights and hopes. How can you have the audacity to point out to the Cuban people what we need and against whom we need to fight? You are definitely clueless: over a century has passed since 1898, my good man, though I suspect that date means absolutely nothing to you.

As I stated at the beginning, Mr. Calvet, your fellow countryman has taken the responsibility to respond with dignity to your twisted interventions in this space. He gives you the benefit of a doubt; I wish I could do the same, but I keep some reservations, because if you allow yourself the suspicion of considering independent bloggers as paid by the U.S. government, you might be giving me the right to assume you are a paid employee of the discredited and despotic Cuban government, which is in the business of buying the world’s solidarity while mortgaging the present and future of this Island and of Cubans. At any rate, I appreciate your participation in this blog, but you lack the moral authority to judge those who are not in love with this government. If you have any intention to participate in this debate again, be truly respectful: do yourself a favor and get informed about the Cuban reality, arm yourself with arguments, and, above all, save yourself the slogans.

Sincerely,
Miriam Celaya

* Cuban Institute for Friendship with the Peoples

Translator: Norma Whiting

September 9, 2010

Goodbye, Granny / Miriam Celaya

Since I am not always home when the news comes on, and taking into account that information is an integral and offshoot component of one’s opinion, a few years ago I negotiated with a kind neighbor for the possibility of getting a secret subscription to the newspaper Granma. For a long time she has been friends with man who brings her the newspaper each morning. Cuban readers probably know that a clandestine subscription consists in coordinating with one of those retired old men who, in order to round out their meager pensions, agree to hoard the newspapers as they arrive at the newsstands, after having arranged with the official salesperson –the intermediary, who reserves a fixed number of papers each day- so that, for the modest monthly fee of 30 pesos (regular currency, of course) you can get one or another pastoral letter of the communist party which, with a different name and printing, repeat more or less the same thing.

Thus, the benefit is mutual: the newsstand vendor gets a little extra money by offering the reseller a newspaper, whose selling price is 20 cents, at 40 or 50 cents; the reseller, who often has a significant number of regular customers, gets a steady and modest profit without having to walk up and down the streets, in the rain or under the sun yelling: “Granma, Granma!” as happens with other unfortunate resellers; while we, those who have “subscriptions” are guaranteed to get, on a daily basis, a few printed pages that serve several purposes: sometimes they are useful to try to guess what are the other elders are up to (the ones in olive green, who do not have to sell newspapers to survive), the paper occasionally turns into material basis for critical analysis, to measure with any degree of accuracy the magnitude of our national disaster, or it’s useful for wrapping fish waste and other domestic detritus. It is an amusing paradox that, in this corrupt insular unreality, even Granma lends itself to shady business; the official organ of the single party feeds the list of contraband goods, possibly with the highest rate of incidence of crime, considering that some of us can afford to spend on the purchase of a daily newspaper, on the other hand, few times a year do we allow ourselves the excess of buying beef.

But today I have finally decided to quit. I’m sorry for the nice old man who has kept to his promise of bringing me my new Granma, on time and for such a long time, without missing a single day, except Sundays, when Granma is not published and I get, instead, Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth). I’m sorry, in addition, because I will have to adjust my agenda and to try to watch at least some of the airing of the news broadcasts, but, definitively, in recent times, Granma (Granny) has completed its metamorphosis and has managed to absolutely become a newspaper without any news, a hard copy of disinformation and delusions. Each edition competes successfully for being worse than the previous one. Now, as if it weren’t enough for an anemic newspaper to fill large areas with the usual messianic delusions full of dark omens, they have started to publish, in several pages, three times a week, the pile of more than 800 editorial pages that (they say) Mr. F. wrote, although the first edition remains gathering dust, waiting for buyers in more than one bookstore in the city.

The “Granny”, frankly, might be of great interest to psychiatrists, mediums, gurus and other specialists, but not to me. I won’t allow such a burden of negative energy. Thus, I give up the “privileges” of my illegal subscription and close down my last link with the persistent miasma of the past: I personally shut down the Granma. Farewell forever, Granny!

Translated by: Norma Whiting

September 6, 2010

The Cuban Catholic Church and the Opposition: An Unnecessary Conflict / Miriam Celaya

Havana Cathedral

The dialogue between the government of General Raúl Castro and the top hierarchy of the Catholic Church continues to generate discussions between different opposition groups and the independent civil society sectors. It was expected that half a century of stagnation would bring, as its first consequence, the creaking of rusty hinges when trying to turn on any mechanism of this old obsolete machinery, as it also seems logical that, since it’s been going in reverse, now it’s really hard to move forward.

It is not easy to search and find consensus in a country orphaned of civility and freedoms for such a long time. Most Cubans today have never participated in genuine elections, we have not been activists in a real political party, we have no unofficial places for public debate, we have no free access to information and communications, nor have we enjoyed any the benefits of democracy, but the worst part of all of that is that we haven’t been free. Just like fearful and ignorant slaves, there are those who would not even know what they would make of their lives when the day comes when they have the freedom to fully put their lives in order. That is Cuba’s sad reality, inherited in great measure from 50 years of dictatorship, but also because of 400 years of history that show what costly results triviality and irresponsibility can have on a country.

The moment Cuba is living through has peculiar elements that mark a before and an after. Each analysis can take what it considers a landmark as a guideline, whether the accumulation of elements in the overall socioeconomic and political crisis, the struggle of dissent within the country, the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the hunger and thirst strike of Guillermo Fariñas, the sustained and courageous action of the Ladies in White, and the increased activity of alternative journalism in all its forms, among other factors, and others that may be unintentionally omitted here. This “before and after” could assume any of these factors, seemingly isolated, as a reference point; however, the pulley that has come to unite some pieces and has helped initiate the rotation of the mechanism has been the Catholic Church. That is a fact.

Just as circumstances present themselves -or how they are broached from all the factors that have had an influence on them- I think that now it is more realistic to weigh the indisputable: changes are taking place and the mediation of the Catholic Church is an important factor in this. Thus, far from taking note of idealistic solutions intended to satisfy the vanity of one or the other opposition leader or overestimating the importance of sectors of the emerging civil society (in which in my own activity as a blogger is included) and, at the same time, without denying the validity of all elements in their own performance, I prefer to take into consideration how positive the Church’s role in this process can be, and how much it could contribute

Some people criticize the mediation in the figure of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, alleging he has never supported the opposition, never visited the prisoners or delivered against the excesses of the dictatorship, which is not fully consistent with reality (let’s recall, for example, the famous pastoral letter “The Motherland Belongs to All”, a document that had great resonance in 1992). As for me, I am not –nor anything of the sort- a fan or even an admirer of His Eminence, but such disqualification could also be applied to the vast majority of the Cuban people, accustomed to fearfully look the other way in the presence of an act of civic courage or in the actions of repressive forces against defenseless citizens; the list of those who can attest to this experience would be endless, both inside and outside Cuba

On the other hand, those who disqualify the Church as a mediator today seem to forget how, throughout all these years, even though most Cubans applauded (we applauded) in the presence of speeches and stages, while religious belief was an unforgivable taboo, while the religious of any tendency were excluded and condemned, and while all of society galloped towards the loss of moral and human values, the Catholic Church was a bastion of solidarity among Cubans of sincere faith, a space for the conservation of the best values, a veritable hive where the work in support of families, Cuban culture, and in upholding its principles under very adverse conditions never stopped. The Cuban Catholic Church was a hotbed of resistance against the communist totalitarianism of this dictatorship from the very beginning, before any of the opposition parties we know today, and it was tolerant and inclusive, while in Cuban society intolerance and exclusion were being imposed.

Many parishes have been carrying the discourse of resistance that few dared to listen to, and much less to speak of, and they have established themselves as promoters of many areas of education, social and academic exchanges and of formation of values. The Catholic Church has been working quietly and patiently for the reconciliation of the Cuban people, while the regime -and others- have dedicated themselves to turn us one against the other. To deny this would be not only an injustice, but also a fallacy.

It is clear that the Church is not a perfect institution and that it does not represent all of us in everything, it has also committed errors and even injustices, but it has also offered its space as a refuge amid the storms. If not, let the Ladies in White, who go to the church of Santa Rita every Sunday say it, let the Cubans who have found the support, charity and solidarity they were missing say it, let the thousands who are gathering spontaneously in the Churches in Cuba to receive, in her pilgrimage throughout the Island, the Patron Saint of Cuba, Our Lady of El Cobre, able to gather, because of their unique status as Cubans, believers and non-believers in the simple avocation of their love for Cuba say it. What other institution in this country would be capable of that? I’m not a believer in the least, I am barely an agnostic, forged in the strictest atheism, who has overcome the denial and pretends to be fair. In addition, since I wish the best for Cuba and Cubans, I support anything that helps to break down the wall.

That’s why I ask those who now oppose the mediation of the Church (I speak of the institution, not its leaders) and who, in addition, accuse her of being “a traitor to the people,” “opportunistic” and other similar epithets, to mention the reasons and accusations to expose to public opinion objectively, who they consider to be the stakeholders they feel might be sufficiently consolidated in Cuba, with the prestige and permanence needed to represent a large portion of the Cuban population, what programs these actors are proposing for change and the phases for transition.

Let those who oppose the Catholic Church-Government dialogue state if they believe that the people can delegate, right now, with full knowledge of cause, in any of the opposition parties and independent civil society groups beyond the sympathy that our struggle for democracy might stir. But above all, let’s be realistic: the Cuban crisis is not going to be resolved in the short term, a transition is a long and complex process to which actors are incorporated as they gain influence and prestige in national public life. Rather than struggle for a position or a prize, it’s time to take advantage of venues that are opening up, and to support actions that promote positive changes in order to be able to enhance the discourse of the current opinion leaders and the emergence of new ones, the birth of new ideas, civic forces and of comprehensive proposals in which we all may participate (including those who, until now, have not participated). Let nobody think that it will be easy, but let’s not make it any more difficult.

Translator: Norma Whiting

August 31, 2010

Epilogue of the JJ Saga / Miriam Celaya

JJ during his hunger strike in which he lost over 40 pounds

This past August 24th, 2010, on his return from the Archdiocese of Havana, where he had been summoned, Juan Juan Almeida settled his hunger strike: his departure from Cuba was being discussed. He eventually left by way of Mexico on the afternoon of the following day (August 25th). This ends another one of the personal dramas that the absurd Cuban emigration procedures provoke, in which every Cuban must go through the odious and humiliating process of soliciting an exit permit from the authorities. This time, another Cuban who stands up for his rights just won over the opportunity to exercise them, I rejoice.

Due to the extent and complexity of the subject, I would like to put aside, until another occasion, the proposal for a debate on the fickle and secretive institution that answers to the name “Directorate of Emigration and Foreign Affairs”, where certain uniformed officers –who misleadingly appear humanoid- dictate whether or not to authorize the release from this country-prison any ill-fated person who has committed the unlucky mistake of having been born into it. If the insect in question (a category that I state while taking into account what the circumstances suggest and not meaning to offend any of my countrymen who, like myself, are subject to the same disgraceful tourniquet), that is, if a Cuban who asks permission has the additional aggravating circumstance of belonging to the black list previously composed from on high, names and inventory numbers (i.e., Identity papers) those highly toxic individuals who are absolutely banned from leaving the country, must say goodbye even to the simple idea that there is a world beyond the geographical boundaries of Cuba, and can only hope for a miracle … or make the miracle happen. We all know that.

For now, I will just refer to the comments that my post (Breaking the Stigma) from August 17th provoked and thank the readers who participated in it for their sincerity. At the suggestion of some readers, I have posted a picture of JJ during the strike, which I found on the Internet, you can appreciate the difference between the pictures when compared with the one I previously posted.

I think that you and I have found in that debate -which was colored by the most diverse criteria around, contrasting and even sharply polarized- how much hatred has been sown among us in these 50 years of dictatorship and how much there is still left to argue and cast out of our souls so we can find reconciliation, the necessary foundation for the Cuba who so many of us dream of.

I am also thankful that all points of views, whether in favor of solidarity with another Cuban, (not “somebody’s son”) as those who chose moral condemnation, helped me to hold on even with more conviction to the principle of harmony that eggs me on: every Cuban who peacefully defends his freedom and his rights against this regime may count on my respect, solidarity and sympathy, independent of his origin, creed and ideology. Nothing is going to make me seem like those who have sown intolerance and mistrust among us.

Nor is remaining in Cuba patriotism. In my case, I have never wanted to leave my country permanently -I assume it would be more convenient for those who have ruined my country to leave- but I have never felt that such a decision makes me a patriot nor a better or worse person than others. “Patriot” is a title that, besides, produces in me certain uneasiness: here and there are terms that have been widely manipulated. Maybe, in order to recoup the true meaning of the word, it would be interesting to also define some day what we are calling “Motherland.”

For now, I will avoid the peculiar word “patriot” while I take back having used the term “idiots” if its use brings unnecessary trouble. Pretend I never wrote it, however, I will leave it in the original post to have it remain a witness, lest some suspicious person suggest that I cheat or that I delete my mistakes so I can deny them. Just know that I defend my stumbles as much as my successes: they make me more human. I don’t write to please, but it is not my intent to offend anyone.

I congratulate Juan Juan right now for having achieved his goal (personal or otherwise) and I offer my best wishes to regain his health. In addition, to all my readers, including some that from time to time carry the suspicious aroma of a camouflaged troll: remain in the ring. Thank you.

Translator: Norma Whiting

August 27, 2010

My Donkey, My Donkey… / Miriam Celaya


May the influenza not win over us!
THE SOLUTION IS IN YOUR HANDS
A message from the Cuban Public Health at the service…

Photo: Orlando Luis

When I was young, there was a very popular children’s song that made reference to a sick donkey whose ills always had a solution. “My donkey, my donkey, has a headache: A doctor sends him a black cap…” we children sang in chorus, and the little tune went on, letting out in its stanzas each discomfort of the quadruped, until he would end up completely cured. I never thought I’d see the day when I would, sincerely and categorically, envy that donkey because, in spite of the difficult conditions that the Cuban reality imposes for our survival, everything is more or less “tolerable” until you find yourself forced to see a doctor. It is there that the true agony starts.

Recently, my mother had to go to the clinic (family doctor) because of her persistent discomfort in the throat. There, after waiting for her de rigueur turn, a physician as ancient as she, or older, prescribed an exudation –to be performed at the Emergency Hospital- to test for possible bacteria. As a precaution, the doctor prescribed Tetracycline tablets to her “to be taken after the exudation.” It is clear that the doctor knows the reality of the Cuban health system. The exudation could not be done because “there is no technician” at the hospital’s laboratory, nor do they know when there will be one, “go see if they want to perform it at the Hospital Calixto Garcia.” They did not want to, or they were not able to. Resigned, and without a diagnosis, my mother completed her “treatment” by taking her antibiotics: she was sick to her stomach and for several days, she still presented with discomfort in the throat. (My donkey, my donkey, has a sore throat; the doctor has put on him a white tie.)

But hers is just a minor case. When you go to a doctor’s office here, you discover horrifying cases. A lady I personally know went to a certain hospital with numbness in one arm and general malaise, including a headache, and, just like that, she was diagnosed with a stroke. Very alarmed, her family then went to another hospital, this time through a doctor friend of theirs, who was a friend of another doctor who had clout, etc. It was only then that, after rigorous tests, they arrived at the correct diagnosis: the old woman was incubating a virus, her immune system was compromised and –besides that- was rejecting the antihistamines she had been prescribed to treat her allergies, hence the numbness of the limbs. She improved within a few days.

I recently heard of an extreme case about a man, also very old, in the terminal phase of lung cancer who was not being given oxygen “as to not to create dependency.” He died within a few days, which was inevitable, only that he was in terrible agony. I’m not allowed to cite this source either, but it is a real life case from my own municipality (Centro Habana). This very humble old man and his family didn’t have any “godfather” to go to. I could write whole pages with enough examples of this sort to crash this website.

I know that many readers might also give examples of irresponsibility, poor attention, lack of resources and missed diagnoses that take place everywhere in the world, but here, they are becoming commonplace, and we don’t have the opportunity to make the slightest claim or to opt for “another service” because of the “egalitarian” and centralized character of the system. The truth is that, in Cuba, one can no longer be assured of receiving good medical care -except for few and honorable exceptions- if not with the corresponding “recommendation.” Almost always, if one sees a doctor through established channels, the doctors’ hands are tied and they cannot perform tests that are required for an exact diagnosis; in other instances they are able to diagnose, but it is possible that the medication needed is not found at the drug stores, or it is dispensed only in CUC, at prohibitive prices for the commonplace Cuban pocket. Because of so much confusion, many prefer not to see a doctor uselessly and try to “make do” with concoctions of traditional medicine and with prayers that aren’t always sufficiently effective, as may be understood. Such are our very expensive freebies.

In today’s Cuba, the total deterioration of the system rages most scandalously in hospitals, polyclinics, clinics and pharmacies. Added to the already inadequate resources -always attributed to the ubiquitous “embargo”- and the eternal lack of medications in national currency pharmacies, is the shortage of medical personnel or the questionable ability of some of those not yet “in mission” or “collaborators” (which is not the same) in some Venezuelan neighborhood, in any remote jungle, or in a lost valley in the Andes. The TV news and the official press abound with examples of the medical miracles Cubans manage through other lands. Apparently, when it comes to Cubans, any place is good to practice medicine and to find solutions to illness… Any place, except Cuba. (My donkey, my donkey, nothing ails my donkey. The doctor prescribes apple syrup. You don’t say! Apple?! Ha, ha!)

Translator: Norma Whiting

August 20, 2010

Breaking the Stigma / Miriam Celaya

JJ Almeida at graduation from the Blogger Academy

Just over 60 days ago Juan Juan Almeida started a hunger strike. His, in some ways, is the most solitary of strikes. It is true that many of us bloggers and his other friends have been aware of his condition and have followed the long-running saga of his pursuit of an exit permit to allow him to get treatment, not available in Cuba, for a severe health problem; it is also true that several digital sites have published his trials and tribulations (including his arrests) as he constantly pressures the authorities and demands his right to travel, to be reunited with his family, and to receive on-going treatment for his illness. But regardless, public opinion has not been sufficiently mobilized.

Reflecting on the crossroads where Juan Juan finds himself, I think of how difficult it is in his case and the stigmas he is burdened with at a time when he so greatly needs to rally support. First, because his fight, placed within the contours of a personal drama, lacks the heroic elements traditional solidarity demands; his dispute, according to some of the more ignorant, is not for Cuba and Cubans, but only to resolve a personal problem. Why don’t we just describe his drama as that of any Cuban, and therefore, of all Cubans. Second, because the most well-known and far-reaching of the international media pay attention to someone whose huge mustache or quantity of body-piercings earn them a Guinness record, but not to the tragedy of a lonely man who launches a desperate appeal to defend the right to freely leave and enter one’s own country. Third, the greatest stigma, is because JJ – as many of us call him – is the son of the Commander of the Revolution Juan Almeida Bosque, which brings with it a strong prejudice: being one “of them” and having enjoyed benefits and privileges that the most of us do not, he “deserves what happens to him.” A pattern repeated over and over when I’ve expressed JJ’s dilemma among friends, as if being born to someone in particular entails a curse, as if to each of us our parents were not always loved and lovable, or as if the coincidence of not belonging, as a birthright, to the anointed grants us some certificate of moral purity, without “the children of so-and-so” hanging over our heads.

For my part, I think it is precisely his origin that makes his struggle more difficult than mine. His rupture has been greater and the cost of his daring higher. From my vertical dissent I have not lost even one friend (in fact I have gained many new friends); I have had no ruptures nor family resentments, no one has separated me from my loved ones (neither living nor dead), nor have I suffered any rejection. This has not been true in his case.

I prefer to see JJ in another way: not as the privileged person that he’s not, but as another of my companions along the way. I choose to strip the name and pedigree from this man and see the human being who lacks the same rights we all lack on this Island – and as even some do who are outside of it – including the greatest right which is Freedom. This is a sick man who, thanks to his many friends who love him (but no thanks to the Revolution which, for some reason, detests him… and that makes him good in my eyes), has the chance to improve his health outside of Cuba; but the government prevents him from traveling and condemns him to die. This is a man prevented from being reunited with his wife and daughter for having committed the incredible sin of writing a book where he says what he knows, what he believes and what he thinks about certain topics that discomfort the warrior oligarchy, the master of all our fates. I choose to stand by this human being in whom I recognize so many gestures of solidarity toward others and toward us, the disobedient ones, with whom he has cast his lot.

Since August 10, 2010, Juan Juan Almeida has been hospitalized in Havana. His health has deteriorated and his body has been debilitated by the long fast. His demand to leave Cuba has ceased to be an individual claim; and although JJ himself has no pretensions of leadership or of carrying the flag, today he claims a right for all Cubans. We must not leave him to do it alone.

August 17, 2010

Translator’s note: JJ Almeida yesterday: Photos here.

A Caribbean Tunisia / Miriam Celaya

For a few moments, while looking in astonishment at my television screen, I assumed that some paramedics would show up and, straitjacket in hand, definitively remove the decrepit orator from the scene, as happened years ago with Habib Bourguiba in faraway Tunisia. It was Saturday, August 7, and I could not believe that Mr. F, in a public speech broadcast live and addressed to the full Cuban Parliament, unleashed the greatest avalanche of nonsense that has ever been spewed, with complete self-confidence and without a single one of those present daring even to cough. After half a century of an absurd and vivid unreality, I haven’t lost the ability to be amazed. I confess that, much to my regret, I felt badly, a kind of guilt by association simply from watching the magnified ridicule of others. I also imagined the discomfort of the most clearheaded of those spectators (deputies, they say) pretending to take seriously the embarrassing errors flowing from an already too deteriorated brain. But many of them were shameless enough to applaud, ask questions and even flatter the orator. It was the biggest farce I have ever seen. However, despite the exaggerated shows of submissive support (or perhaps because of them), never did F seem to me so lonely and helpless.

Only in the opening minutes did the loquacious octogenarian manage to refer to “the Soviets” (who “are working” to avoid the nuclear conflagration that is coming) and the “Soviet Union” (which currently has serious problems with forest fires), with a present conviction as if twenty long years had not passed since the total collapse of that socialist monstrosity known as the USSR. The blunders of the old man followed one after another with complete impunity. Thus, F included new scientific evidence such as “Evolution began about 4,000 years ago…” or “18,000 years ago there was only fire on Earth…” and even some otherwise sage advice, “We already know that the sun will go out one day…” My anxiety grew as time passed and I started to bite my fingernails, but no paramedics appeared with a rescuing straitjacket. This time, definitely, it was not only F who was the victim of his proverbial arrogance… it was obvious that some elements of the higher-ups had a particular interest in publicly exposing this speaker’s remains.

I couldn’t stand the pain and turned off my TV, convinced that this country is sick. Since then I’ve been overwhelmed by a strange feeling encompassing shame, helplessness and anger. For the first time I excuse (partly) F for what is happening now; he is nothing more than an old man who suffers from the mental incapacity to critically distinguish reality from his own delusions. Perhaps he no longer has the lucidity to pay for his numerous crimes. But that huge hall was packed with other culprits; there was the president of this country and the president of the parliament, there were the more than 300 deputies and guests of the occasion, a whole herd of rip-off artists who continue to thrive in the shadow of the benefits they receive for their symbolic jobs and for their merits as active participants in the collapse of Cuba, while society is increasingly submerged in the worst of its permanent crises. They are also responsible for what happens in the future.

What interests are in motion through this lamentable theater and what perverse strategy is capable of supporting a farce like that orchestrated on Saturday the 7th, even at the risk of provoking greater instability than that in which we already live? Only THEY know, but I suspect that today we have more reasons for alarm than for laughter. If the factions vying for power in Cuba are divided between a deceitful and slow reformer and a deranged druid with messianic manias, we’re in real trouble. In the meantime, this Island has neither helmsman nor leader. How much would I have given that Saturday morning so that we Cubans, who do not have a real parliament, would at least have had some paramedics as timely and efficient as those in Tunisia!

Luis Orlando Photography

August 12, 2010

A Pause / Miriam Celaya

For some time I have wanted to pause to respond to some doubts from readers of this blog, a practice I would like to maintain but that I cannot exercise with the frequency I would like, due to my limited access to the internet. I am going to explain to you, because my readers deserve it, my general procedure for loading a post, making links, reading commentaries or answering correspondence, as well as my “political censorship.” Various opinions that could be confusing have come up and I like to clarify things.

Some readers believe that the blocking of our pages is a myth. That’s all well and good but the sites Desde Cuba and Voces Cubanas, the oldest and largest platforms in the Island’s alternative blogosphere, respectively, are blocked from here by the government, so that it is not possible to access them from inside Cuba, except from a place that has direct access to the satellite, or by detouring through an anonymous proxy at a public internet site. I can access my site sporadically, when some friends and supporters offer me a time when the first option exists (direct link without passing through the Cuban filters), in which case I administer the page myself and try to load posts, revise the links, and respond to some messages; or the times when I would buy a card to connect from a public place (usually a hotel), when I might be able to read my page and the comments (through an anonymous proxy) but I can’t administer my blog. Whenever I go try to maximize the short time available, so I bring the already-edited articles on a flash memory and even some messages I have written to those who write me, and I also download the commentaries to read at leisure at home. This is a primitive process, which explains the slowness and the reason I can’t update my blog more often.

Another option that I make use of is to appeal to a guardian angel who helps me: a Cuban who lives abroad and has the password to my blog and my complete trust. She has been a real support since shortly after the start of this blog and offers me more chances to get on with the work when I only have to use my email account to send posts and photos. At times, she herself looks for photos from the internet. This irreplaceable friend also “patrols” the site to remove the coarse and vulgar insults which at times – as some of the long-standing readers will recall – came to greatly contaminate the site, such that I asked her to do it. I’ve never removed someone’s comment simply because they don’t agree with me or for having a different political point of view. I don’t exclude even those who defend the system. That doesn’t seem democratic to me, truthful, nor do I believe it is healthy to censor anyone who maintains a respectful attitude. That would be inconsistent with the spirit of pluralism that I defend. If anyone of them (or others) has complaints about what they believe is the intentional omission of their opinions, they need to know that I don’t have enough connection time to devote myself to establishing filters nor have I ever revealed the identity (nor will I) of the commentators; for me that is strictly a question of ethics. I will ask my friend and “Cyber-Godmother” to review those details when she can, because she also has to work for a living and the hours she spends on this blog are taken from time she could be resting or spending with her family. I ask you, then, for your understanding and patience.

Someone has criticized my lack of participation in the comments. This is a choice I made because, in my capacity as hostess, I prefer to give my opinions in the posts and leave space in the comments for the readers, without interfering in the debate, with the intention of not imposing my presence or abusing my privilege as the owner of the site. When I thought it opportune to emphasize a theme or refer to the comments (as in this case), I have chosen to post a separate text and explain my reasons, which is the way I have to speak with all of you at once, although at times for various reasons I have singled out some and sent direct messages to them via email.

Finally, those who believe that perhaps I have other occupations, not just attending to this blog, are correct. I have a precious family to take care of (my number one priority), I work as an independent tourist guide to make some money from time to time, I read and research many things and am writing a novel for teenagers, an old project that I hope to complete in a year or a year and a half and that is more complicated than I thought it would be. My rare presence on-line however, is due to my lack of access. I greatly enjoy the time that I share with my readers; I hope the day will come in which a connection from my home is more than a dream. Thank you for coming to find me, for demanding more from me, and for your patience.

A hug,

Eva-Miriam

August 6, 2010

Cuba: Two Governments? / Miriam Celaya

In all of the overflowing liturgical calendar of the Cuban Revolution, for half a century the 26th of July has been the quintessential date. More important even than January 1 (the day of the triumph of Castro’s rebels and the establishment of a revolution doomed to failure), the commemoration of the assault on the Moncada barracks, despite the numerous deaths it caused in 1952, became a national holiday that at the stroke of a pen subordinated the importance of any of the Island’s other historical events, one attempted coup d’état within another: violence against violence, the force of arms, the civil war. With the passage of time, the central commemorative event of the date also became a “political prize,” with the site of the largest celebration awarded to the provincial capital deemed to be the “winner” of “socialist emulation” based on what exactly no one knows, or remembers, but nor is anyone interested because — as is well-known — it is a designation that in reality responds to the short-term interests of a government and not the supposed merits or achievements of this ill-fated system.

This July 26, 2010, however, came with a marked difference, because this time it converged with a succession of events that altered the habitual monotony of the ritual. Santa Clara, the host city in which, as in the rest of the country, nothing is produced, was the scene, this time won not by the “sustained work and extraordinary economic and social achievements” of its population (as apathetic and hopeless as any other Cubans the length and breadth of the Island), but rather — paradoxically — by the prolonged hunger and thirst strike sustained by the dissident Guillermos Farina from his provincial hospital bed, to demand the release of the prisoners of the Black Spring. The formidable solidarity aroused by Farinas and the many comments circulating about the amazing accomplishment of this Cuban capable of sacrificing himself and putting his life at risk for the freedom of others, were sufficient grounds to bring an injection of official ideology to the city: The Central Event of the 26th was, therefore, a smokescreen to show that Santa Clara was not practically a kind of moral plaza besieged by the dissidence, but a bastion of faithful revolutionaries in the spirit of Moncada.

This 26th was marked by the beginning of the release of the political prisoners of conscience; by the sensationalist public reappearance of Mr. F., that jealous starlet coming to steal the scene and trying, with exaggerated blush, to make up for a lack of freshness; by the publication of a series of predictions about an imminent nuclear holocaust; by the stubborn silence of General Raul Castro, broken only recently by his brief closing remarks on August 1 to the latest session of the National Assembly; by the replacement of another minister, this time in public health. All this could signify the same incapacity to remain in the position of “throwing in the towel” in the middle of the ring in which he sees himself battling the fighting the major competition of the moment: the top leadership.

To make this anniversary even more different from others, the Cuban president remained enigmatically (or conveniently) silent at the event in Santa Clara: not only did he omit the usual speech in which he commonly makes statements and promises that are never fulfilled — perhaps avoiding having to comment on the release of the “despicable mercenaries in the service of the Empire,” or about the sudden emergence of a character who is officially no longer on the stage, or on a possible governmental contingency plan to deal with the consequences of the “nuclear war” that we’re facing — but he passed the ball to no less than Machado Ventura, celebrated for his attachment to the stagnation of the so-called hard-line communists and for his markedly dogmatic positions bearing the Stalinist stamp. It was, for many, like a bucket of cold water. Everyone was commenting: “That’s it?” “Who’s the winner here?” Or, as they said in the years of my youth, “We’ve been left at the altar.”

In short, this July 26 transpired as if there were two Cubas, or rather two governments in a single Cuba: one, phantasmagorical and hallucinatory, where an ancient specter announces the end of the world while placing offerings to the dead — who died at his own hand — and designating who will be saved from the coming holocaust (as happens, for example, with Pastors for Peace president Lucius Walker and his caravan); meanwhile another government, perhaps more mundane or closer to reality, negotiates secretly with Cuban and foreign institutions to free the prisoners, ignoring the ghostly apparitions of F and his supporting staff. In any event, this duality has only managed up to now to emphasize the impression of chaos. The presence of F interfering in the affairs of State which — if we stick to the letter of the law — should be the sole responsibility of the government and its institutions, is incoherent and harmful, now more than ever; it is, in fact, a complete aberration. Cuba urgently needs realistic definitions, not delusions, to address the most difficult situation in the last 50 years. The future of everyone depends on the intelligence and skill to address today’s issues, because we can clearly see that our real Holocaust is within us.

August 3, 2010

Economy Bankrupt and Prices Rising

A new rise in prices, not announced in the media, has been taking place silently, both in products that are purchased only in CUC as well as in others, sold in Cuban pesos. “Silently” in a manner of speaking, because at times the price increases are a scandalous 20% or more over the previous value. That is, to the common tactics of theft applied directly by the merchant to the consumer, which are primarily associated with violations of weight and price, to mention the most common, is added, once again, the “legal fine,” through which the State-cum-owner gives itself the right to arbitrarily alter, at will, the prices of some products it considers “superfluous” or that aren’t considered to be “basic necessities.”

It was, therefore, a surprise to “consumers” — I hate this buzzword that tries to disguise its real meaning: “the consumed” — of various butcher shops in Havana when they discovered that these days a pound of processed cheese, frequently served in Cuban homes with spaghetti as a substitute for the inaccessible Parmesan, had gone up from 20 to 25 pesos, without any explanation beforehand, while some “specialized” butchers who sold visking ham at 30 pesos a pound have increased the price to 35 pesos. All this in a tropical county where only the price of a mango can fluctuate between 5 and 7 pesos in the farmers markets and a medium avocado in-season costs up to 15 pesos. Keep in mind that the average salary in Cuba is about 300 Cuban pesos, 12 CUC at the official exchange rate.

It’s in the hard currency stores, however, where there has been a major increase in prices, this time in unquestionably staple products such as oil, toilet paper and bath soap. Generally such “fines” happen just days apart and are often preceded by the sudden “disappearance” of the product in question for periods of time, just enough to create a modest shortage and increase demand. An example of this is the convenient ground turkey, one of the U.S. products added in recent years to the network of CUC shops, which enjoys great popularity due to its relatively modest price, the versatility with which it can be used in the meager Cuban kitchen, and its good quality. Of the three varieties of this product that have been marketed, the greatest demand is for the one that comes in a package of 400 grams costing, until recently, 1 CUC. After several days disappearance from the shops it has returned, this time for 1.35 CUC in stores such as Yumurí (formerly Casa de los Tres Kilos, at the central corner of Belascoaín and Reina), although in others the increase has been a more modest 1.20 CUC.

People wonder when the this dizzying monetary spiral will end, carried out by the State at the expense of people’s pockets in an economically ruined country, where wages are purely symbolic and where, in addition, an alarming wave of layoffs — which here has been re-baptized with the euphemism “rationalization of places” — has begun, one that will leave approximately one-in-five workers, a million people, “available.” No one can explain how products obtained through trade with a neighbor as close as the United States, can show up in the retail market with constantly rising prices, prices that are similar to those of products imported from China or Vietnam. It’s clear, however, that the desperation of a government lacking capital falls on the people’s nearly empty pockets and, in the medium term, helps to stimulate the black market, corruption and crime in Cuba. That is why, on this Island, our children understand contraband before they know the alphabet, because illegal trade is the only possible source of survival.

Legitimate Doubts

Photo: Luis Orlando

On this island where even the news circulates of contraband, we have been witnessing a kind of spiritual mass that has brought back to the public sphere the political specter of the ex-president, Mr. F. It is no coincidence that so many public appearances have taken place following the start of the release of the political prisoners of the Black Spring who are still in the regime’s prisons, and while Guillermo Fariñas was making news in the most prominent of the international media. We know that the arrogant vanity of F. could not bear to be so overwhelmingly displaced and, given that he hasn’t forgotten any of his old tricks, he decided to exploit the sensationalism of his image as a nomadic ghost and the eternal “Head of State” who puts aside his useless little brother to take the reins of power in his own “efficient” hands. But I suspect that there is something more that we don’t know behind these renewed histrionics; something sordid, twisted and definitely dark, so we will have to follow the signals in the same way naturalists detect the creatures of the forest by following their excreta. Particularly now that the classic incoherent babbling of his newspaper column, <em>Reflections</em>, has been turned into a free verse version of The Watchtower announcing to us Armageddon, specific dates included. Elderly patients have a tendency to project themselves.

But do not be alarmed, dear readers, this post is not a psychoanalysis of F., to whom my conscience already read the last rights, long ago. It is now only about some legal worries that go around and around in my head and confuse me… Being that I insist on being a citizen in a country where the Constitution is only damp paper, pissed on by those who created it.

So, then, I ask myself: if Mr. F. is no longer the president of Cuba, if he doesn’t occupy any office in the Council of State and only retains that of the First Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (in clear violation of the statutes of that organization, since it has not been ratified because the Congress at which it would need to be “voted on” is eight years behind schedule); I repeat, if he is not legally and officially anyone or anything in this country, by virtue of what authority does he have the right to order specialists to undertake economic research, specialists who, at least in theory, have their own projects to complete as part of their jobs at the institution that supports and pays them? What Latin American country has asked F. for an economic salvation plan, to be developed in just ten days, when it has been precisely this gentleman who has been the successful architect of the economic ruin of Cuba in the last 50 years? How is it possible that he might provide guidance to Cuban diplomatic officials abroad in the management of a war that has erupted only within his own imagination? Where is the Cuban president, who hasn’t said or done a thing, while the founding caudillo of this disaster wanders around trying unsuccessfully to sow terror in the minds of the nation’s people? (Here people are much more frightened of real hunger than of imaginary nuclear conflagrations.)

In short, if we were to be civilized and respect our own laws, following the discourse they’ve been stuffing us with, they should take legal action against this impostor who usurps the powers of our legitimate President, democratically ratified in that responsibility by the National Assembly of People’s Power in 2008. We must prosecute this saboteur who goes along creating instability in the institutions, alterations in the labor discipline of our workers (the National Aquarium does not work at night), and fostering a climate of panic among the people by announcing the end of the world for this coming August 8, just when working people should be enjoying a well deserved rest.

To comment on this post, please visit:
Miriam’s Blog: Sin Evasion / Without Evasion.

Mamerto

Photo: Orlando Luis

A teacher without much character, I won’t mention her name, who worked in one of the ten elementary schools I attended when my father’s career — he worked as an industrial mechanic — moved our family like circus tumblers all over Cuba, came up with a strategy to maintain calm and discipline among her most restless students. The method was not, indeed, very educational, but it was indisputably effective: with an old broom handle as the backbone, she (or someone) had constructed a rough doll something like a scarecrow. The head was skillfully made with an old paper-mâché ball onto which had been painted a mouth and eyes with watercolors, while an exaggeratedly long protuberance served as the nose in that frowning face. The whole was crowned with an abundance of rope hair, disheveled enough to give the doll a ferocious mien.

This scarecrow, named Mamerto, “lived” in the second grade’s classroom closet and, at least at the beginning of the school year, a single reference to him was enough to subdue the naughtiest of students. The veiled threat was that Mamerto, a really bad guy, was uncomfortable in the narrow closet, so if you misbehaved the punishment would be to take him home to live in your house and to sleep in your bed with you. In those innocent days, when children believed in magic and Santa Claus, no one wanted to be near the terrible presence of Mamerto, much less to share a pillow with him when it came time to sleep. Mamerto had one more curse: obstinate children who earned his antipathy didn’t pass the grade. Yes, in the early sixties we took our studies more seriously, perhaps because subjects, and even entire years were repeated, even in elementary school.

The truth is no one had ever gotten a really good look at Mamerto. All that was required in the lively classroom was for the teacher to invoke his name aloud while opening a chink in the closet door just wide enough to let his tangled hair spill out; the result was a deadly silence in the room with all eyes wide in alarmed expectation. This shared fear was contagious, but also a little incredulous. Deep down, almost all the children sensed that Mamerto was a fraud, particularly the most boisterous and reckless of us, so the teacher was careful never to fully display the bogeyman and always made sure the closet was locked when she left the classroom.

For some of us, however, myself included, the saga of Mamerto had a certain adrenaline-laced charm and inspired a good dose of curiosity. So it was no surprise that one day some of the boldest of my classmates — children have the innate wisdom to join forces in their difficult campaigns — managed to open the closet and discover the true essence of the inanimate and defenseless Mamerto; from that time on, the unfortunate doll became the focus of the antics of the children. He soon appeared propped against some desk in the classroom, leaning against the blackboard, or stripped of his pants, setting off a general hilarity where before there had been fear. Finally the doll became a bore to everyone and was forgotten in his corner of the closet, until one day he disappeared for good. The teacher tried to substitute a cardboard dog and even a stuffed rooster, but in vain. If the whole classroom had vanquished the fear of Mamerto, nothing minor by comparison could take his place.

Somehow, in recent days, certain images appearing in the official press and on TV have called to mind that almost forgotten lesson of Mamerto.

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Miriam’s Blog: Sin Evasion / Without Evasion