Rebeca Monzo, 29 August 2016 — In this city, incorrectly named Maravilla (Wonder), because in reality it is a nightmare, any ordinary person’s life is like that of María la O. You get dressed, eat, sell your car, tidy the house, wait an hour for a bus, or walk … and so on and so on.
I have some friends who, having got to a certain age, and having realised they don’t have enough money to improve their quality of life, have found themselves obliged to sell the family car, which they could hardly afford to run and used only for urgent trips, due to the high cost of gas in convertible currency (CUC), and the cost of parts and tyres.
Many retired professionals who were in senior positions in companies and organisations, and who sacrificed a lot to buy a Russian-made Lada car, have also found it necessary to sell it in order to be able to afford to do up a room in their house, rent it out to strangers, and so be able to live on this modest income, because their miserable pensions in Cuban pesos (CUP) hardly allow them to buy food. Now they worship María la O — you either walk, or you don’t go anywhere.
Rebeca Monzo, 4 August 2016 — Private transport has been making a comeback in our country. With an enormous stable of almendrones (old American cars), it has been steadily growing over the last thirty years due in essence to the deteriorating and ever diminishing state-run public transport system.
During all these years of totalitarian dictatorship, the number of buses in every province of the country has been decreasing due to poor maintenance and a shortage of spare parts, not to mention bad roads. continue reading
Additionally, given their extremely low wages, many transport workers and public-sector employees have turned to fixing and restoring American automobiles from the 1940s and 1950s, as they previously did with Soviet-built Ladas, as a means of providing economic support their families. Even many medical professionals ferry passengers around in their old cars in their spare time because the salaries they receive barely cover the costs of their most basic needs.
So why this new persecution of self-employed taxi drivers if they are the ones who are finally alleviating the critical transportation problem, one the state has not been able to resolve in fifty-seven years? After all, no one is putting a gun to their customer’s heads and forcing them to pay the going rate.
If the government — instead of spending so much money on political propagandizing and overseas proselytizing — had invested those resources on improving public transport, bringing down fuel and gasoline costs and lowering the exorbitant prices for spare parts, these taxi drivers would have been able to reduce their fares. It all comes down to supply and demand. So why not put an end to all this harassment by addressing the cause and not the symptoms of this social disaster?
Rebeca Monzo, 26 July 2016 — As random comments from ordinary citizens on the streets suggest, we are going through a new Special Period, though the government repeatedly denies it in media statements, calling it “a difficult situation from which we will recover.”
For confirmation, one need only observe the bus stops crowded with people anxiously waiting for the next vehicle to take them to their jobs, the hospital or the beach. The lack of fuel and spare parts are the main causes of these “bottlenecks.” For this reason, many people feel forced to turn to boteros, or private taxis. Though expensive, they are a solution to the problems of urban mass transit, for which the government is responsible. continue reading
Another situation impacting us — apart from the unbearable heat and famous Sahara dust storms — is the shortage of consumer goods and lack of air conditioning in so-called hard currency stores.
In some of thee facilities, especially the smaller ones, the lack of air conditioning is leading to longer lines and greater dissatisfaction in the population.
The employees of these businesses, who work for eight hours a day in sweltering conditions, have to limit access to two people at a time in order to be able to wait on them. Once inside, customers run into another big hurdle: no shopping bags. This drags out the shopping process, causing discomfort and protests from those waiting their turns.
Given these circumstances, one would think that there ought to be some compensation in the form of reduced prices due to the lack of customary amenities such as air conditioning and bags in which to carry purchases home, factors which would logically affect the value of an item. Then there are the difficulties associated with the sometimes raucous reggaeton background music, a telephone customer being left on hold or, in the case of city buses, the drivers’ choice of music in vehicles overflowing with a disgruntled and sweaty public.
Rebeca Monzo, 15 July 2016 — This summer is one of the hottest since 1880, according to commentators on the radio.
In addition to the punishing sun and the invasion of dust from the Sahara, in a country with almost no air conditioning, even the few hard currency stores and government offices don’t have AC and they have orders not to install it in order to save electricity, due to the terrible problems happening in the country with the supply of oil from Venezuela. continue reading
The few buses that are circulating on our streets are hugely overcrowded and “fly past” the official stops, where sweaty and disgruntled people accumulate, and where waiting an hour or more has become normal.
It is true that there is an extensive program of government-run summer recreation for kids, young people and adults, in museums and government facilities, and that all of them, indeed, are linked by government mandate to the 90th birthday of the ancient leader.
The streets are filthy, filled with potholes and sewage, the recreation facilities and movie theaters don’t have air conditioning, there is a great shortage in the supply of soft drinks, mineral water, beer, ice cream and other “goodies” in the misnamed national currency (the Cuban pesos or CUP), since most of these products, when you can find them, are sold in hard currency (Cuban convertible peso, or CUC), making them even more difficult for the majority of the population to access.
Staying home in front of the television with a fan at your side, drinking boiled water every now and then, is the other option, as long as you can watch movies and TV shows obtained on the private market [i.e. the “weekly packet“] because at least these are not “contaminated” with the repetitive and constant celebration of the 90th birthday of the “Cimarrón Mayor,” as a cultural leader recently called Fidel Castro on TV, trying perhaps to flatter him, without properly assessing the meaning of the adjective: the cimarrones were escaped slaves who abandoned their plantations and were always fleeing to hide in the mountains.
Rebeca Monzo, 24 June 2016 — This is not about the lottery or a charade. On the contrary, it’s about an absurd and unfortunate violent and viral “cult of personality” attack.
I remember in the early sixties when some government kiss-up had the idea of coming out with a postage stamp with the face of Fidel the guerrilla on it, and almost immediately, in a gesture I now consider meant to play well in the media, he was ordered to withdraw it. continue reading
But with the passing of time photos of the “maximum leader” appeared in public offices, workplaces, factories and schools. The media wrapped everything around his figure and the leader was turning a blind eye because apparently he was pleased by it. His ego was growing and growing.
Since January of this year, not a single day of the calendar has passed in which the printed press, radio and TV have failed to refer to the 90th birthday of the “eternal leader.”
Just to cite a few examples. At the National Council of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (CTC), in a country where there are so many and diverse labor problems that affect workers, the CTC considered one of the most important tasks of the labor union movement to to pay homage of the indisputable leader of the Revolution on his 90th birthday.
In another example, forestry workers celebrated the day set aside for them by planting ninety cedars as a sign of respect for Fidel’s “ideas and legacy.”
Even the “renewed” La Rampa Fair, in its 17th edition, will be dedicated to the leader’s 90th birthday.
This is happening in all the cultural, political and labor spheres in our country, because the top leadership demands and prioritizing all this “North Korean Style” tribute, to this 90th birthday that will be celebrated this August 13th.
Rebeca Monzo, 30 May 2016 — On my planet, Cuba, dengue fever has been brought on by unsanitary conditions, which in turn were brought on by the revolution. Neglect and abandonment have caused the Aedes aegypti mosquito to proliferate from buildings abandoned due to collapse, from leaks in water mains, from uncollected piles of trash, and from plastic bottles and cans accumulating in roofless houses and open spaces in the city.
Now the public relations campaign to eradicate the mosquito has almost become a joke. The government blames citizens, attacking the symptoms rather than the causes.
– In the Cimex currency exchange office on Santa Catalina between Parraga and Poey streets in the Tenth of October district, three larvae and two adults (in a plastic water bottle).
– In the Camilo Cienfuegos workplace, an Inder branch, on First between 8th and 10th streets in the Plaza de la Revolucion district, three adults (in bathroom walls and the building entrance) eliminated.
– In the Comunales office in the Santiago-Rincon people’s council at 194th between 407th and 409th in the Boyeros district, one adult captured in flight.
Please carefully read the notice above, published in the weekly Tribuna, and tell me honestly if this is serious or a joke that “got out of hand.”
Rebeca Monzo, 16 May 2016 — During the recent meeting of the National Council of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), archaic terms and concepts were were complacently dusted off in response to the reappearance in public of the Revolution’s aged leader.
In an evocation of old ghosts, the meeting took place in the exact same location where fifty-five years earlier his comments to intellectuals unleashed the great witch hunt that laid the groundwork for our highly ideological political culture. continue reading
During this meeting, the members of the Permanent Commission on Culture, Tourism and Public Spaces released a statement declaring, “Cuban writers and artists have reacted with surprise, disbelief and outrage at images of the reception for passengers on the cruiseship Adonia, which docked at the Havana port terminal early this month. Girls dressed in swimsuits that replicated the national emblem, imitating one of our traditional dances with their movements and providing a deplorable spectacle to those visiting Cuba for the first time.”
In light of the possibility of ideological contamination resulting from the reestablishment of relations between our country and the United States, the critic Rolando Perez Betancourt offered an alternative, suggesting that we not “succumb to fear of the vampire but rather avail ourselves of a silver bullet to kill it.”
It seems Betancourt has forgotten that those who first desecrated our national emblem were in fact the country’s leaders. The man at the forefront of the Revolution accepted an invitation to sign a Cuban flag presented to him by the head of the Union of Young Communists at the time on the main staircase of the University of Havana.
For some time now it has also been common to see flags adorned with a portrait of Che printed on them. Or to see groups of them hanging, without rhyme or reason, in shops and offices, or in the oversized windows of some state-owned enterprises, used like curtains to keep the sun out. Others fray and fade on the facades of government buildings without anyone ever thinking to remove and protect them.
Corraling a U.S. flag with a hundred ours, as this critic proposed, ignores our reality. Perhaps he is unaware that our tricolor flag (made in China) can only be purchased at hard-currency stores with CUCs, to which only a very lucky few have access.
Rebeca Monzo, 2 May 2016 — The owner of the media owns the country as well: This phrase is corroborated daily here in our “captive island.” We must make an extraordinary effort to follow radio and television newscasts, and to try to interpret the other side of the news. It is really an insult to the intelligence, the repetitive crass way of manipulating information they exercise.
Of course, a large part of the population stay away from it “not to complicate their life” but the saddest thing is that, when faced with cameras and microphones of reporters on the streets, fear paralyzes them and unscrupulously, they lie to “caress the official ears” and stay out of trouble. Unfortunately this is a comfortable attitude, lacking of civility and within their inner circles, usually express themselves critically against the regime. continue reading
Every year on May 1st, meek like frightened lambs, they will act like professional simulators, smiling when facing the cameras, showing off a false joy and support for the regime and its “eternal leader,” an attitude that will change drastically when at the end of the parade, back at home, they meet with an empty refrigerator and begin to rummage through their meager pockets, looking for some coins in CUC (hard currency) to buy a bag of milk powder in the “black market” to ensure a glass of milk for next morning, for their children (if they are still in Cuba) or for their elderly parents , aware that the present is slipping through their hands, in a country WITH NO FUTURE.
Rebeca Monzo, 28 April 2016 — The First of May is supposed to be a day for the workers to demand better working conditions, and in our country, after the first of January 1959 it was converted into a “spontaneous” gathering of the masses to support the regime and not to make labor demands, all very much in the style of the extinct socialist countries.
This year, triggered by the huge welcome the Cuban people gave the visit of United States President Barack Obama, the Castro regime propaganda has reached extremes never before seen. The reappearance, on the public stage, of the now nearly forgotten leader of the Cuban Revolution, has intensified the veneration in the media of a person who already seems on the path to extinction. continue reading
There is now an exaggerated and constant cult of personality, linking to all kinds of cultural, sporting and political events with the upcoming 90th birthday of a character whom, in their heart of hearts, most citizens totally reject. But the fear used in our country as a dominant weapon prevents spontaneous and public demonstrations against him and ensures that, like the tame sheep of a deteriorating herd, acceded to the decision to impose an administrative tax to cover the participation percentage imposed in their respective workplaces, to make up a figure of 6.3 million citizens (out of a population of 11 million), who will show their support in different squares in the country, for a regime in a complete state of decay.
This is nothing more than the North Korean version of a Caribbean parade, appropriate for any witches’ coven.
Rebeca Monzo, 24 April 2016 — I have a friend who, as soon as she heard about the announced price cuts, ran out the day before to the hard currency stores to buy things, thinking she might store some of the items about to go on sale before the stores run out of them. A big mistake, a repeat of the sixties, that never worked.
On the other hand, someone being interviewed on State television (the only TV that exists in our country), told the cameras that he felt as if he had gotten a wage increase. Does this man, perhaps, receive his wages in hard currency, Cuban convertible pesos (CUC)? continue reading
Here wages, like pensions, are paid out in Cuban pesos (CUP) and are barely enough to survive. This poor man seems to have the idea that the majority of the products lowered their prices by some 50 or 40 centavos in CUCs, along with some few products sold in CUPs, which are insignificant because they sell them to the population at inflated prices and, in addition, it takes 24 Cuban pesos (CUP) to equal one Cuban convertible peso (CUC).
In my view this has been nothing more than a distraction to try to overshadow the disenchantment people are feeling after the 7th Party Congress, where the few naive who still had hope lost it when the “phantom of the opera” (Fidel Castro) reappeared, and said “Here, I am the boss.” This insignificant reduction in prices could also be a little trap, to cheer up the “sheep” who are going to march in the big parade on May Day.
Gentlemen, everything remains the same or worse, and the clearest evidence of this is the continuous and uninterrupted exodus of Cubans to other countries, hoping to use them as a bridge to get to the destination that is everyone’s ultimate dream: The United States.
Rebeca Monzo, 16 April 2016 — The government of Cuba classifies the Bay of Pigs as “the first defeat of imperialism in America”; this is a fallacy. The Bay of Pigs (or Playa Girón as it is called in Cuba), was merely a confrontation between Cubans that never should have happened.
A friend, who was married to one of the pilots who fought at the Bay of Pigs, told me that the father of her children, after a few years, disenchanted and irritated by the political situation that our country was being subjected to, decided to resign his post and leave for the United States, establishing himself in Miami. There he was reunited with former compañeros who had also deserted, and they begin meeting with and continue reading
sharing friendly exchanges with some of those other pilots against whom they had fought years earlier, but above all Cubans, feeling their hearts beating for the same homeland, forgetting the differences that had separated them.
One night, at one of the now common dinners where they exchanged experiences, they were all seated at the same table, sharing rich Island food, the pilot of my tory excused himself to go to the bathroom. Moments later, a loud noise was heard, which made the host run to the bathroom and he found his friend there, lying on the floor. Solicitously, he held him in his arms, just moments before he died.
Many years of confrontations, disagreements, misunderstandings and smear campaigns orchestrated by the regime on the island had to pass, so that finally two Cubans who never should have been converted into enemies, were forever united in an embrace.
Rebeca Monzo, 24 March 2016 — No sooner had Air Force One taken off for Buenos Aires from Jose Marti International Airport in Havana with President Barack Obama, his family and entourage onboard than Cuban media began broadcasting distorted commentary by a twisted and pretentious Roundtable, which tried to undermine the excellent speech Obama had given at the Alicia Alonso Gran Teatro.
Terrified by the impact of the president’s words, which even in a specially chosen auditorium generated unauthorized applause, the local press began calling into question the spot-on and convincing arguments Obama put forth, especially those dealing with civil society. Among other trivialities, they claimed the president of the United States should have apologized to the people of Cuba for the victims of Barbados.*
Perhaps it is the Cuban government which should be apologizing to its own people for the religious and ideological persecutions we have suffered for decades. Or for the concentration camps run by the Military Units to Aid Production. Or for the victims of the sinking of the “March 13” tugboat in which three adolescents were shot and killed for trying to commandeer a launchboat without hurting anyone. Or for the thousands and thousands of people who have perished trying to cross the Florida Straits in rickety rafts, fleeing a regime responsible for unjust arrrests following the 2003 Black Spring and for weekly Sunday assaults on members of the Ladies in White.
Please, let’s turn the page, as President Obama asked Raul to do, and look towards the present and the future, not to the past. That is the only way to break out of the economic, political and social morass in which we have been stuck for more than half a century.
* Translator’s note: In 1976 a Cuban exile and former CIA agent planted a bomb aboard a civilian Cuban airliner, which blew up over Barbados, killing all seventy-three persons onboard.
Rebeca Monzo, 7 March 2016 — Many citizens complain about events such as these: President Obama’s visit, the Rolling Stones concert, the Chanel fashion show on the Paseo del Prado, international sporting events and others. They often take them as a show of support for the regime, and not as an opening that, despite the government’s intransigence, forces them to “open themselves to the world,” as Pope John Paul said, although against the opinions of many leaders, including Raul himself, who fear these openings because they know very well that they are cracks, which will widen more and more, and which will cause the absolute control they are accustomed to exercising over the population to slip from their hands. continue reading
The positive side of all this is, to my way of thinking, that they are forced to undertake restoration and maintenance work that has been ignored for five decades in favor of prioritizing political proselytizing and the export of ideology. All this will ultimately bring benefits to the people, and the increasing arrival of foreigners, despite the lack of infrastructure and sanitary problems of every kind that face the city in trying to receive them.
Ultimately, they have no alternative but to undertake public works to improve transport, hygiene and the sanitation of the whole city, which benefits not only the foreign visitors but the entire citizenry in one way or another, because they are alarmed by the “importation” of Zika to our island the fall of tourism and the chance for foreign investment. Thinking of the positive side of these events and not that they are not being realized in the way we as an incipient civil society aspire to, unrecognized by the regime.
This is something like the fight against dengue fever. If we try to liquidate the mosquito only by burning oil, as they have done until now, over almost forty years, we are only going to ensure that it becomes endemic.
Rebeca Monzo, 4 March 2016 — About a month ago, in order to change the direction of the Joaquin Albarran Clinical Surgical Hospital, located on 26th Avenue at Avenue of Independence (Boyeros), a Commission of the Ministry of Public Health, composed of 35 specialists in different areas of public health, undertook a thorough inspection of this institution.
The results, of course, were as expected, for years, by the patients coming to this hospital: rooms with ceilings and woodwork in a total state of disrepair, filthy floors, walls and toilets, leaks in the bathrooms and an absence of hardware, buckets and containers with stored water and other disgraces. continue reading
Of the six elevators in the hospital, usually only one is working, and it takes the sick and surgical patients up and the dead and garbage down, carrying food, patients and visitors.
The balustrades and handrails on the stairs can be scraped with a knife and a centimeter of grime can be dug out, incrusted by time and lack of hygiene. One more piece of evidence that doctors and staff called attention to was, on asking them to wash their hands as was common, they then applied a spray that was found to be full of bacteria.
I was told all this by a surgeon who worked for years in this institution, whose name I withhold so as not to cause him problems. He also told me that the hospital lacks pulmonologists and has barely enough anesthesiologists.
As a result of this exhaustive inspection, the departments of nephrology and psychiatry were closed due to their great state of unhealthiness and deterioration.
A friend, who recently had to use this hospital for emergency surgery, told me she had to climb the stairs, with great effort given her severe pain, because the only elevator usually working was broken that day. She added that, when she came out of surgery a doctor seeing her exclaimed, “Wow! The patients are now using the stairs!”