Festival of Classic Latin American Cinema / Rebeca Monzo

It’s common knowledge that  our country is celebrating a so-called Festival of New Latin American Film although nothing about it seems new.  On my end, I was not able to see any screenings in person because I am caring for my husband who is recovering from recent surgery and is home-bound.

Obstacles notwithstanding, movies were brought to my home for viewing*. I felt somewhat out-of-sorts because I had no say on the days or exact showtimes, let alone movie choice.  Unwittingly, I got two flicks: “Strange Factors” and “Unwanted Visitors.

The first movie was the worst: Very crude and unoriginal. I had the first one projected on the landing of the staircase which leads to my apartment. The other was surprising but predictable because from my balcony I could see the actors’ wardrobe and wheels: Plaid shirts and a Suzuki motorbike**.

Both movies had police state settings although the second movie was filmed in our living room.  Clean and respectful language was obvious, especially in the latter of the two films.  Both films shared a common goal: To communicate that I should not try to exercise the right of free assembly and association, particularly on December 10-11, International Human Rights Day, rights granted to us under the UN Charter to which our country is a signer.

From these surprising displays of power, one thing we’d like to make clear to everyone: We are human beings who love and cherish freedom. As such, we will continue to exercise our rights yet remain respectful and consistent spectators, never forgetting this old cinema with its grotesque, crude and outdated films.  This we’ll do until the moment the big screen spells The End.

Translator’s notes:
*Rebeca is being sarcastic in this article; the two “films” were in fact two visits — from her ’neighbors’ and the police — warning her not to participate in activities on December 10, Human Rights Day. (See link to a similar post by Regina Coyula.)
** That is the “uniform” and “vehicle” of the police in plain clothes.

Translated by: JCD

9 December 2013

The Worst Tribute / Rebeca Monzo

While President Raul Castro pays homage to the late Nelson Mandela with a speech on unity, tolerance and reconciliation, acts of repression throughout the width and breadth of Cuba speak otherwise.

Antonio Rodiles’ house, headquarters of SATS, has been literally under siege since the night of December 9, Human Rights Day, by State Security, which is preventing access to it. As though that were not enough, today they mobilized neighbors and Young Pioneers from neighboring schools to liven things up with shouts, music and political slogans. They have surrounded the property with the goal of intimidating and sowing confusion so that, in the midst of this confusion, they can arrest anyone trying to approach the building.

While many have not been able get there, others have found various ways to circumvent the cordon and attend a function celebrating a day much feared by Cuban authorities. But undoubtedly the most shameful thing about all of this is their having used schoolchildren for political ends, probably without the knowledge of their respective parents, an action with should warrant the attention of UNICEF. I believe that today’s actions have been possibly the worst tribute paid to Human Rights Day or to the late African leader.

11 December 2013

A Tour through My Neighborhood / Rebeca Monzo





My neighborhood, Nuevo Vedado, was one of the last to be developed in the 1950s. It promised to be among the most modern and beautiful, with well-designed two and three-story single-family homes and large rental properties. Along with these beautiful residences were some more modest ones as well as others which displayed an outpouring of good taste and architectural distinction, designed by architects such as Porro, Cristófol, Miguel Gutierrez and Frank Martínez to name but a few. It also boasted the magnificent Acapulco park as well as wide sidewalks, streets and avenues.

On 26th Avenue and Kohly Avenue there were some lovely planting areas filled with pink and white oleander. The beautiful Acapulco cinema, one of the most comfortable in the city, screened the latest foreign films every week.

Today, during a brief tour from the 26th and 41st to 26th and 17th in search of hair dye, which unfortunately I did not find in any of the area’s understocked stores, the images I observed left me only with worry and sadness.

6 December 2013

NONcommunal Solutions / Rebeca Monzo

“Communals” is the People’s Power Company charged with garbage collection, among other tasks.

Behind the “12 Floors,” as they call the building in the block formed by Tulipán, Loma, Colón and 39th streets in Nuevo Vedado, the solution to trash collection for this gigantic apartment block, as well as for the adjoining houses, has been to place an enormous dumpster there to collect the garbage. This huge container is left uncovered, exposed to wind, rain rodents and insects. The space all around it is fulled with empty plastic bags, paper, cans and every kind of object, which the residents themselves throw there, on finding the container overflowing. This is without taking into account the stinking sewage that leaks from the sewer pipes coming out of the building itself, which leads to the subsequent contamination, which makes it almost impossible to walk by the place.

According to what some residents told me, it can take a week or more for the crane that is supposed to lift the container to come by to collect it, not to mention that in doing so, it is carried across the city to its destination, contaminating everything along its long journey. They also tell me that the garbage trucks don’t have the necessary equipment to collect what is outside the containers, so they leave this trail of filth which is gradually blown all over the pavement by the wind.

With this in the environment there is no point in going any further to invade the privacy of the residents, but the famous health brigades try to force their way into people’s apartments without any prior notice, fining those who have a bowl of water, not to mention that the fumigators, who use that annoying burning oil, tell you to close and leave your house on the pretext of eradicating the mosquito that causes dengue fever, an illness than has become endemic due to the unhealthy conditions prevailing in the city.

2 December 2013

A Hospital Under Repair / Rebeca Monzo

In “my planet” when a hospital goes under repair, it stops being a health center and it becomes a construction zone.  It has been approximately three years that the Hospital Docente Gral. Calixto Garcia has been under repair.  Some of the hospital’s pavilions have already been restored, but the work has been very slow and there are also many uncontrollable diversions of resources.  So much so that when they finish the last pavilion, they should start all over again with the first pavilions.

I have a friend who after negotiating and waiting, was finally admitted to the hospital.  He told me that when he arrived at his room with his assigned bed number, they told him that the bed was already occupied. Fortunately, the doctor that had attended him was still with him and explained that was not possible, that the bed had been reserved in advance.  They then apologized and the health workers themselves explained that the men with the stretchers were too tired to take the other patient to another floor so they decided to put the patient in that bed.

Last night, visiting my friend, he told me that he found out that when the hospital director was inspecting the floor above hours before the ceremony, there were very surprised when they checked the bathrooms to realize that the plumbing had disappeared.

During the investigations, they confirmed that their own employees, who had participated in the remodeling, had stolen the plumbing.  They stole the water faucets, the flushing systems, as well as other pieces of plumbing which they tied to a rope and dropped down through the back windows of the building, where an accomplice picked them up and took them away.

However, this was not the only incident that had occurred in his first day of hospitalization.  He told me that after settling in his bed, the nurses passed by to ask those who accompanies him and some patients who were in a condition to do so to come out to the entrance because the new director was going to visit and they needed to clean the room. After, my friend, looking into this with one of the employees, was told that “cleanings” were only done on very special occasions like that day, because they were paid a pittance and they didn’t even have adequate tools to clean, so “they didn’t stress about” hygiene.

Translated by Lourdes Talavera, Boston College Cuban American Student Association (CASA)

18 November 2013

More About Gonzalez Coro Hospital / Rebeca Monzo

1-1384189416_cable-de-la-habitacic3b3n-al-bac3b1p-copy2-1384189416_ventana-bac3b1o3-1384189417_poceta-con-tupicic3b3n4-1384189417_pantry5-1384189418_lavamanos-con-salidero6-1384189419_inodoro-y-cesto-papeles7-1384189420_espejp-y-lc3a1mparaFinally Patricia is a grandmother. Her daughter was admitted a few days ago to Gonzalez Coro Hospital, formerly the Sacred Heart Clinic, in Vedado, Havana, because her baby was born underweight, something very common lately.

She took some photos that helped me to offer this testimony with regards to the comfort and hygiene of this hospital.

Another of the surprises awaiting the new mother were the disputes between other patients, due to the theft of cigarettes. She doesn’t smoke, but she had to breathe the smoke from cigarettes shared between the mothers and the health care workers who cared for them.

11 November 2013

Never Backwards, Not Even to Gain Momentum / Rebeca Monzo

Once again this phrase, so often repeated for more than five decades now, came to my mind when I found out about another step backward, instigated by those who handed down this maxim like a precept at the dawn of the 1960s.

We now have another great setback, this time well into the 21st century and within the framework of the famous “Raul reforms.” Privately-run, home-based 3D cinemas have been closed and self-employed vendors of imported clothing have been given a deadline of December 31 to cease operations. All this has generated a lot of discontent, but that’s as far as it goes. All those affected are trying to figure out how to sell off part of their inventory and recuperate some of their sizable investments. This is especially true of 3D cinemas, which imported equipment and furniture, for the most part from Panama. Everyone is “racking his brains” but no one is going to confront the state, as it knows all too well.

It seems poor nutrition over many decades has adversely affected that part of people’s brains having to do with memory. They do not recall “Operation Bird on a Wire,” when craftspeople in Cathedral Square — from whom everyone bought, including government officials, because of the quality, originality and variety of the goods these artisans produced — were persecuted. Many ended up in prison while others went into exile in search of freedom and new opportunities. And so overnight a little marketplace — one that gave life to the city, supplied goods unavailable in state stores and provided a livelihood for many — simply vanished.

Later on, in the 1990s, came a new offensive — “Operation Potted Plant*” — that abolished the Free Farmers’ Market, which at the time was alleviating the problem of significant food shortages but whose suppliers the government accused of “illegal profiteering.” Many of these suppliers were arrested and had their assets confiscated, just as had happened years earlier to the artisans.

Let us also not forget that other great crusade at the end of the 1990s against the first paladares — home-based private restaurants which were limited to twelve seats — of which only the strongest or most “fortunate” were able to survive.

So we can see, the lack of memory of our citizens, or the desperate attempts to come out of the economic stagnation, has been what has made some take risks now and again, those “optimist” people who finally do not realize that is hard to “play capitalism”, inside a dictatorial regime with more than half of century installed in power.

Therefore, and so there are no mistakes, the government undertakes these types of “operations” cyclically so nobody forgets “who’s in charge”.  Only in a future free and democratic country, is where security will exist for those who want to start their own business.  Then, and only then, is when the private initiatives will flourish.  Perhaps in a future not too far off, we’ll give another connotation to that sadly known phrase of:  “never backwards, not even to gain momentum”, because evidently no one will want to repeat those mistakes.

*Translator’s note: In Cuban slang the term maceta, or potted plant, refers to someone with newly acquired wealth.

6 November 2013

Thankful / Rebeca Monzo

Yesterday, November 1, in the afternoon hours, once again we crossedthe now familiar threshold at Estado de SATS.  In this opportunity, I was the guest of honor, with an exposition of my art in patchwork titled “Women,” dedicated to a gender I belong to and of which I feel proud of, because each day we manage, despite the shortages and inconveniences, to integrate ourselves more into society, sharing and competing side by side, fair and square with many men, without neglecting those tasks that, as mothers, wives and daughters, ancestrally, were “assigned” to us.

I was moved by the beautiful opening words about my trajectory, spoken by my good friend Regina Coyula, but even more was the satisfaction of my friends’ presence, that despite of having work and professional relationships with the only employer of our country, had the courage of ignoring the operation orchestrated by State Security, now so habitual, and came closer, for the first time to this emblematic and “stigmatized” place.

I noticed and missed the presence of some friends that I thought would be there, above all women, the gender to which this exposition was dedicated; some were sick and some had last minute incidents, which sadly must have pleased the “comrades that were taking care of us.”  However, the exposition met its objective, and we showed once more that Estado de SATS is an inclusive place, where arts and thoughts converge, and where the common denominator is the aspiration that Cuba be again a free and democratic country, with all and for the well being of all, as our Apostle Jose Marti would have wished.

My most sincere gratitude to Estado de SATS, the organizers of this beautiful event and to all that came to provide me their support.

Translated by LYD

5 November 2013

Snow White and the Seven Little People of Short Stature / Rebeca Monzo

Photo Orlando Luis Pardo

Last night, once again enjoying the Spanish silent film Snow White, directed by Pablo Berger and masterfully played by Maribel Verdú, winner of several Goya Awards, an article published on Friday 25 of this in the newspaper Granma came to mind, where the journalist Castaño Salazar, suggested with great seriousness that is time to stop using “dwarf” to refer to people who have osteochondrodysplasia, the disease that shortens the extremities and spine, and to call them “people of short stature.”

I find this a very good idea and I totally agree, it is not healthy to use terms that mark differences, when this is done with a sense of separatism, derogatorily or in jest, whether it is about race, stature, disability or simply ideology. The human being is one, whatever their physique or way of thinking, what counts is what is inside of him, his moral, civic, ethical and intellectual values .

Those who now ask us and engage a crusade to get us to remove the term “dwarf” from our vocabulary the term, as valid as “giant,” both present in the Spanish language without any pejorative connotation, but simply to name a person of short or tall stature, are the same ones who for years have considered the word “tolerance” to be dangerous, and who even today continue to use, in a disparaging what, the word “dissident.”

They are the ones who created the UMAP (Military Units to Aid Production) network, within which they concentrated all the people then considered “different,” and also forbade us to listen to the songs of the Beatles or the glories or our own singers such as Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot, who are still prohibited in our media today, considering them ideologically harmful.

Now if we apply the absurd proposal, then any mother or grandmother reading the story of Snow White to their children or grandchildren would be forced to change the title and text to refer to the “dwarfs” as “little people of short stature,” or Gulliver would not be in the country of the dwarfs, but of the “achondroplasia,” and even to read our Apostle Jose Marti, we would have to change the text , when he says in his beautiful poem dedicated his son: “For a dwarf prince this party is held…”

Gentlemen, let us be more sensible and not fall back on extremism and devote our efforts, energies and work to improving the lives of our citizens, leaving these idiomatic subtleties to our academic language specialists and the United Nations who have the money and personnel to devote time to these issues.

27 October 2013

Restoration of a Memory / Rebeca Monzo

The grand colossus, a distinctive symbol of the city, remained sleeping, down on its luck. For decades dust and grime covered all of its enormous, solid structure. One day it suddenly woke up; its long-awaited moment had arrived.

Construction began during the Machado administration on one of the highest points in the city — on land where the city’s first botanical gardens originally sat — based on plans drawn up by the architect Eugenio Raynieri Piedra. Three years later, at its opening on May 20, 1929, the great neo-classical building became home to the Senate and House of Representatives and later one of the capital’s most distinctive landmarks. The period from the early decades of the 20th century until the 1950s is considered its most glorious era.

After 1959 this beautiful structure was subjected to extreme and unfortunate alterations, pillages and disastrous adaptations which gradually transformed it into the forlorn spectre we see today. Bats now shelter in its beautiful colonial chambers and fecal refuse is there to be admired on the walls of the emblematic building.

Of the many well-known stories that captured the popular imagination was the theft in 1946 of the 25-carat diamond that marked Kilometer Zero of the Central Highway. It is said to have reappeared a year later in the office of then-president Ramón Grau San Martín. It was re-installed in its original location and surrounded by an eight-pointed star crafted from Italian marble of different hues.

In 1973 the diamond was replaced with a replica. It now sits in the vaults of the National Bank of Cuba. Another restoration involves a recently discovered site that was created to honor the Unknown Mambisa Warrior. It is located directly below the cupola and the feet of its great gold-plated bronze statue, which measures seventeen feet tall and symbolizes the Republic. It is believed to be the third tallest indoor statue in the world.

The city’s official historian, Eusebio Leal, has indicated that fortunately there is no evidence of structural damage to the building. But when it comes to building’s internal systems, there are in fact many problems. At this point in time restoration of the great cupola is well underway. Work has also begun on the  patios and garden areas, which were designed by the famous French landscape architect Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier, who also designed much of Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. Similarly, the two statues flanking the grand stairway — those of a man and a woman — are being cleaned and polished. These sculptures, as well as the one symbolizing the Republic, are the work of the famous Italian sculptor Ángelo Zanelli.

Soon the Hall of Lost Steps will be returned to its former glory. The final touches are being given to all its fittings, furnishings, curtains as well as to other valuable objects such as its lamps, some of which were made by Saunier Duval Frisquet in Paris, while others were gold-plated and fitted with glass at the Societé Anonime Bague. Their value is incalculable.

All the minute details of the restoration are being carried out by specialists who work for the city’s Office of the Historian as well as by freelance artists working in collaboration with the office. The latter are currently at work restoring the bronze bas-reliefs panels adorning the Capitolio’s large main doorways.

Once restoration work has been completed, the Parliament will return to its former home. In addition to its governmental role, the doors of the Capitolio will remain open to the public, who will have access to spaces such as the Hall of Lost Steps and the library, whose walls are paneled with rare hardwoods similar to those found in the Vatican library. As Dr. Eusebio Leal might well say, “this is the restoration of a memory.”

23 October 2013