Also Problems Post Mortem / Rebeca Monzo

Comandante Manuel Fajardo Hospital in Havana

Comandante Manuel Fajardo Hospital in Havana

Rebeca Monzo, 1 February 2016 — As if there weren’t enough problems surviving in this country, even after death you continue to confront problems, only they fall on the friends and family members of the deceased. Hence, that old and well-known phrase, “The dead to the hole and the living to the chicken [i.e. dinner table]” no longer applies.

This is a country with an aging population, and as a consequence, deaths are frequent. Recently there have been several deaths in the area when I live, some of which I can comment on as a witness. The saddest of all was a great friend from my childhood who, given her personal characteristics and physical condition, her death was unthinkable.

This friend appeared to be having a stroke so she was immediately admitted to the hospital closest to her home, El Fajardo. She was put in intensive care where she spent several days on an artificial respirator. When she died on January 26th, complicating the original diagnosis was a bacterial infection she acquired after she was admitted. Continue reading

El Nino and the Old Man / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, Havana, 23 January 2016 — Here on my planet Cuba, the lack of products in the food markets, the shortages in the stores selling in the badly named “national currency,” as well as in the stores called “Hard Currency Collection Stores, the collapse of the buildings in poor conditions and without maintenance for so many years, the clogging of sewers and drains, the piles of trash not collected on time and its being washed away by the downpours, with the resulting flooding, the salaries and pensions that barely stretch to cover the most precarious needs of the individual, are all disasters blamed on imperialism and now, more recently, the El Niño phenomenon.

It is true that this weather phenomenon has brought grave consequences to many countries, where there are poor people living in precarious housing. But it is no less true that in cities like Havana, where the urban design and architectures are still sources of admiration for much of the developed world, all these consequences we are suffering today, are not only due to the antics of “The Little Boy,” but to the bad administration and indifference of the Old Man.

While the decadent old system continues on without taking the essential measures to better maintain the streets, sewers and housing, there is a National Assembly of People’s Power that can’t do anything and a government on the island that continues on entrenched in its obsolete ideas, without fostering the essential political, economic and social changes. As long as this continues the Cuban people will continue to suffer the ravages and consequences of these two phenomena: climate and governance.

New Year’s Eve Fatalities / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 29 December 2015 — We are now almost at the end 2015 and outside one can detect a distinctive feeling of sadness. People wander the streets, going from poorly stocked farmers markets to stores in their daily search for food. If they cross your path and you wish them a “Merry Christmas,” not only do they not return the greeting, they look at you stunned, as though you were an extra-terrestrial.

Very few hard currency stores are decorated with lights or Christmas trees. The others — the ones that price goods in the misnamed Cuban peso, a currency that is almost worthless but the one in which salaries and pensions are paid — do not even carry normal every-day light bulbs. Their shelves are either unabashedly empty or are filled with the same product. Their display windows are broken and grime covers the floors and glass.

There is no media coverage of traditional celebrations, only stories about the latest anniversary of the triumph of a revolution, which from the beginning was already showing signs of what it would ultimately become: a complete failure.

Never has the Cuban family been so divided and dispersed as it is now. Christmas Eve passed without notice. The streets were as deserted and dark as usual, and there were none of those enticing aromas of yesteryear wafting from neighborhood kitchens that gave hints of a pleasant meal to come.

If this is the socialism the government says it wants to “perfect,” may God help us!

A Year Later and Almost Nothing / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 18 December 2015 — Yesterday, December 17, marked the one-year anniversary of the resumption of diplomatic relations between the United States of America and the Republic of Cuba.

In my earlier post I noted that, when this event occurred, it unleashed many feelings, ranging from joy to apprehension. It quickly became obvious that there were two emotions in particular that Cubans were experiencing quite keenly. On the one hand, there was great hope at the prospect of major changes so long desired by the vast majority of Cubans both inside and outside the country. On the other hand, there was the fear that the Cuban Adjustment Act, presumably now irrelevant, would be repealed. Continue reading

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