The First Anniversary of a Truncated Hope / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 26 November 2015 — Some days from now it will be the first anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, but the great expectations awoken by the desired event seem to have fallen into uncertainty and stagnation.

The vast majority of Cubans believed they saw on this event the potential for great improvements in every sense, but disappointment soon invaded all of us on seeing that the island’s government had not taken a single measure to indicate good faith and the desire to realize the changes so greatly longed for.

The fact that they authorized travel for all Cubans and have streamlined the paperwork is nothing new, nor is the authorization to buy and sell homes and cars. These are not government handouts, but simply a restoring of citizens’ rights usurped 56 years ago by the regime itself. Continue reading

Is There a Cuban Style? / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 13 November 2015 — As I see it, it would be incorrect to claim there is a Cuban style. During the last fifty years Cuban men and women on the island have been dressing any way they can with whatever was sent to them by overseas relatives, by repurposing old clothes or, in recent years, with contributions by those who had the opportunity to travel and brought back clothing of low-quality for resale. Until now, the only major points of reference on which Cubans could rely for their so-called fashion sense have been popular video clips and TV soap operas, most of them Brazilian. Continue reading

The Stampede Continues / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 20 November 2015  — One year after initiating conversations to reestablish relations with the U.S., the Cuban Government continues its immobile posture, without taking a step forward.

The raised expectations, with which the immense majority of the Cuban population gave itself illusions, have stagnated, and the stampede of Cubans, most of them young, continues making news in all the foreign newspapers.

A new Mariel Boatlift, but this time by land, is happening. So far this year, the alarming number of national emigrants by different routes and countries, with Miami the final destination, has risen to 43,169, surpassing the massive emigration of 1994. Continue reading

If You Don’t Want to Be Embargoed, Don’t Ship / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 9 November 2015 — While preparing for my departure from Miami, a friend suggested I ship part of my luggage by sea to lighten my load and the custom duties. To do this, we turned to an agency advertised on local TV.

The staff at the company, Tu Envío a Cuba (Your Shipment to Cuba) was very attentive and professional, which made us feel this was a reliable alternative. They assured us the packages would arrive in Cuba within twenty-three days or less, which further encouraged me to choose this option. What was never mentioned was how the process would play out once the shipment arrived in the country. Continue reading

Two Lies and One Meddle / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 5 October 2015 — Cuba’s government continues imposing three conditions to continuing the restoration and normalization of relations with the U.S.: the return of “illegally occupied” Guantanamo; the lifting of the blockade; and the end of Radio and TV Marti. These are two lies and one impertinence that could even be considered meddling.

First, it is good to clarify that Guantanamo Bay has never been illegally occupied by the United States, but that it is the product of an agreement between governments, signed in 1903 and ratified in 1934. The misnamed “blockade” is nothing more than an embargo, which has been weakening since the Carter days and that the Obama administration has further eased in recent years in Cuba’s favor, except for some portions of it such as those relating to bank loans. As for the requirement that Radio and TV Marti disappear, it is a broadcast station (like many others that exist in different countries, including our own) whose disappearance or continuation depends solely on internal decisions of the U.S. government.

These silly demands seem more like roadblocks imposed by the island regime to buy time so they don’t have to answer to the Cuban citizenry and the world for the absurd measures and the imposition of laws and decrees that plunged Cuba into a complete political and economic disaster, which the current president also participated in is responsible for.

It would be healthy to courageously confront our own successes and failures, to turn that page once and for all and not continue blaming others, to be able to advance the restoration and normalization of relations, which would greatly benefit the country and its citizens, preventing the stampede of escaping Cuban young people.

Translated by Tomás A.

In Danger of Collapse / Rebeca Monzo

Photos of the ceiling in the main hallway and the roof parapets.

At 885 41st Street between Avenue 26 and Conill B in Nuevo Vedado there is a beautiful six-story building with some seventeen family apartment units dating from the late 1950s that by some miracle is still standing. The building is currently in a state of disrepair despite repeated appeals to local authorities made at various times by its most concerned residents. Up till now the only action taken has been a sloppy paint job to its facade, hallways and common areas. All of this has, of course, been brought to the full attention of the local governmental representative, who seems to lack the ability to find a solution to this problem. Continue reading

Salvia: Its Properties / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 12 July 2015 — This plant is native to the Mediterranean region. Its name comes from the Latin term, “salvare,” which means to cure. In English it is known by the name of “sage.” Despite having multiple uses, it is famous mostly has a culinary herb. It has also been utilized for thousands of years as a medicine.

It is an aromatic plant belonging to the labiate family (lamiaceae). These plants grow in bushes measuring some 30-40 cm in height, and they are cultivated in fields, orchards or gardens. It’s leaves are of a velvety grayish-green, with attractive flowers that are colored in lilac, purple or green. It requires rich soil, good drainage, and sunlight. Continue reading

There’s No Going Back / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 12 August 2015 — I am one of those people who believe the opening created by the US government and the entrenched Castro regime, no matter how insignificant it might at first appear, cannot help but widen until it brings down the great ideological wall erected by island’s totalitarian regime over the past fifty-six years.

The restoration of relations with the government of the United States, which will be officially inaugurated on August 14, has brought a ray of hope to the long-suffering and suppressed Cuban people.

I can fully understand those who feel truly hurt and reject this opening, not only because their property was taken from them, but also because they were separated from their families, forcing them into unwanted exile. But I also understand that the great majority of the Cuban population has grown old or died waiting for change.

Though it may be hard to believe, a segment of the population which remained on the island has recently begun to express its dissatisfaction in subtle and peaceful ways. People now challenge the government through the use of American symbols, displaying the stars and stripes on their clothes, accessories, cars and privately owned work vehicles.

Though they might well be carted off by the police if they said publicly what they were thinking privately, the vast majority of the population silently welcomes this first contact with our neighboring country, which has long been spoken of with reproach in sick and hateful propaganda campaigns

I feel that for us — the dissidents and free thinkers who have put a face to protest on the island —  the way these meetings between the two governments have been conducted are a disappointment. However, I understand that they an important first step and that there will be no turning back.

The Umbilical Cord / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 25 July 2015 — The majority of Cuban emigrants, those of the last three decades, seem to leave with the remains of their umbilical cords hanging from their bodies.

They barely arrive, be it as wet foots or dry, by raft or by plane, and just start settling in, but that they start asking their families who stayed on the island for medicines, Vita Nova tomato sauce, dry wine and other silly things. They don’t seem to realize they’ve arrived in another country, which they themselves chose to start a new life, and they try to continue depending on their families and friends with scant resources, those they left behind. Continue reading

The Customer as Criminal / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 27 July 2015 — One of the most annoying problems in our country, as far as services and treatment of the public is concerned, is the humiliation to which we are subjected on a daily basis. This is especially true for women. We are required to leave our handbags, with all our personal belongings inside, in bins set aside for this purpose at the entrances of every store and commercial establishment, even though many of them have no security. This has led to instances of theft, for which the victims receive no compensation. Continue reading

Goodbye Pepe / Rebeca Monzo

Don’t say you didn’t hear me!

Don’t say you didn’t see me!

Here I am!

Tamal-ize yourself!

The sight of this sexagenarian pushing his cart through this lovely neighborhood so full of hills — from Calzada de Boyeros to 23rd Street, his head covered with a big balsa hat to protect himself from the harshness of our scorching sun — aroused my admiration.

On one occasion I noticed he was particularly happy and asked him why. With a smile on his face he replied, “My tamales have finally gone international!”

“A Cuban from Miami bought fifty tamales from me (one for each star in the American flag) to freeze and take back with him,” he explained.

“You are going to be famous, Pepe, though you are already the best in Nuevo Vedado,” I said.

’I am the only one in Nuevo Vedado,” he replied.

Early Saturday I found out through a neighbor that Pepe had just died of a heart attack.

Never more will we hear his cheerful cries. He was a fixture of one of those urban street scenes so evocative of a bygone era, which fills both those of us from here and those of us from there with nostalgia

Rebeca Monzo, 13 July 2015

Pray to God But Don’t Stop Rowing / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 7 July 2015 — The conversations and approaches plagued by enormous pauses with “our neighbor across the street” continue. As far as all Cubans, or rather the people, know this started on a very significant date on our religious calendar, December 17 of last year, Saint Lazarus Day, but I believe, and I don’t think I’m mistaken, in reality it began long before.

The Cuban government has not been at all moderate in its internal language for us and its acolytes, nor in the exaggerated requests for compensation from the United States government, in exchange for practically nothing in return. And who, if not the island’s government itself, is going to compensate the people of Cuba for those 56 years of expropriations, interventions, occupations of buildings, the deterioration of the country and family separations, without even counting the number of dead lying in the depths of the Florida Straits for trying to escape the island in precarious craft, during almost five decades of a prohibition on emigration by safe means?

While the government decided to turn the page on certain questions, and leave off using some of the aggressive language against the United States in the media, slowness will continue to mark the official path, without considering that the truth is huge and in a hurry, it is the Cuban people who have endured hardships, scarcities of every kind and beatings, like those that continue to fall on the peaceful Cuban opposition, the most recent example of these practices being last Sunday when Antonio Rodiles headed alone and quietly to Santa Rita Church in Miramar to join with the Ladies in White and to offer them his moral support.

The Allure of the Forbidden / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 27 June 2015 — Strolling through the streets of Havana, it is odd to see the profusion of American symbols on clothing, flags, decals, handbags and other items.

While walking in the vicinity of Yara cinema in Vedado recently, I happened to notice with some amazement a cart selling slushies. Such carts are not allowed to park for more than a minute. They must be in constant motion or risk getting a fine, a stupid rule since it requires customers to run along behind the vendor. At any rate, this same cart was sporting two American flags of considerable size on both its front sides. Too bad I did not have a camera to capture the image. Continue reading