Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 4 May 2015 – His shirt, once white and elegant, has turned yellow with age. He wears frayed pants and well-worn dress shoes, perhaps a size or two larger than ideal. Contrasting with his clothes, on his head he wears a black beret with an embroidered red star, and slung over his shoulder the tiniest bag emblazoned with the Cuban flag.
The old man reads today’s Granma newspaper in a loud voice alongside the line to buy bread. Excited, he maintains a grandiloquent tone more mocking than declarative, and pauses when he wants to impart gravity to a phrase. Adding some of his own details, such as news of past decades and great failures that have left their mark in his deceptive memory.
His voice fades at the end of an official announcement. Few are those who take their role so seriously. Among those who could not help but listen to him, some smile and gaze at him with expressions of complicity, others remain serious, absorbed in their own problems. Most don’t even pay attention to the nutcase. “Poor thing,” whispers a woman.
Then the old man, feeling that he’s done a favor to the public and after the oven beeps, offers plastic bags at one Cuban peso each to carry the hot bread. The line moved, and even the most worried faces come alive a little. The fantasy ended and the rhythm of the city hurries everyone, even the least sane.
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 1 May 2015 – They appear silently, without anyone taking notice, a little after dawn. They will not hide again until nightfall, when they return home or camp out in some corner of the city to count their profits. They used to be called “divers,” not without a certain disdain; now, the activity is gaining organization as well as workers. Without the collectors of raw materials, Havana would be an even dirtier city.
Jesus is one of them. Dragging a mountain of cardboard pieces on his cart, he goes to a buying house with the merchandise acquired today. For each kilo they pay one peso and 20 cents, but sometimes he gets other material – pieces of aluminum or bronze – and they pay him more. “It all depends on knowing how to search,” he says.
At Benjumeda and Retiro Streets in Central Havana is one of the warehouses where the collectors go to patiently wait their turn in line. Each one carries the merchandise however he can, whether in a street sweeper cart or a trailer hitched to a car, a luxury, this latter one, uncommon in the business. In Cuba, gathering rubbish is a job like any other, because it barely provides enough for survival. Continue reading “Making a Living From Trash / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez”
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 24 April 2015 – She didn’t have any luck. Like many, Estrella is one of those Cubans who faces the difficult task of feeding her children today without being very sure of what she will feed them tomorrow. Even still, hers is a family that is not classified as being in need of social assistance; thus, they will not receive any help from the State to buy the new induction stovetops that will go on sale “in a few days.”
This week it was announced that very soon everything will be ready to start the sale of this new kitchen equipment along with other items – a lidded pot, frying pan, pitcher and coffee pot – to the nearly 80,000 nuclear families who receive government assistance. The official media assures that, “the conditions have already been created in the stores of the special program network, belonging to the Ministry of Domestic Trade.” Continue reading “New Stoves and State Policies / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez”
In the polling place on the ground floor of the FOCSA building, the vote count placed the opposition candidate only 18 votes behind the candidate who won the nomination
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 20 April 2015 – At polling station number 2, located on the ground floor of FOCSA, the vote count ended near seven in the evening, and Hildebrando Chaviano, the opposition candidate, came in last place. So far, no news. But things change if the data are analyzed. Of the 448 valid ballots, Hidlebrando Chaviano received 105, only 18 fewer than the candidate finally nominated. A complete triumph for someone described by the official biography as “counterrevolutionary.” Also, 14 blank ballots and 25 cancelled ones were counted at this polling station.
“The population is not prepared, there is much ignorance and confusion created against us but even so, much has been achieved because never before has it come to a candidacy,” the lawyer explained to the EFE agency; he is a resident of the Havana neighborhood El Vedado where he ran and was elected by the residents of his zone. Continue reading “138 Votes for Chaviano / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez”
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, 19 April 2015 — “Who did you vote for?” an older woman was asked by her neighbors. “For Chaviano,” she said, on her way out of the polling station in the FOCSA building, just as a reporter from this newspaper was passing by. Maybe it was a coincidence, or maybe, after everything, the official myth that the Cuban opposition represents nobody fell today.
Someone, at least this woman who didn’t even notice who was listening to her, voted for “Pucho,” as Hildebrando Chaviano is affectionately called. The opposition candidate spoke with 14ymedio in the afternoon today, while resting a bit from the election hubbub in his 28th floor apartment, where he lives with his wife, Susana Mas, also a journalist.
It had been a marathon day. CNN, EFE, AFP and several other chains and news agencies had been interviewing him since the morning. One of them that has most impressed Chaviano is Cuban Television. “It was the first time I gave an interview,” he said. Although he didn’t recognize the reporter, and thought that a good part of his comments in front of the national cameras would be censored because of the content of his discourse, the candidate was somewhat surprised by the initiative. Continue reading “The media success of a regime opponent / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez”
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 30 March 2015 — The Surprised Pupil is a program whose first mistake is the name. With quite mediocre staging, presentation and content, really this television program has nothing surprising to see. But to hear, maybe some viewer or another was hoping that its most recent on-air output would tackle seriously a very thorny topic: censorship.
However, that viewer with high expectations was soon disappointed. Censorship is a problem that affects every Cuban producer today, but The Pupil did not worry about that. It was foreign censorship, that which nations supposedly suffer “under the dominion of big corporations,” that occupied the program.
There was even a segment dedicated to McCarthyism, that period of “repressive delirium” in the United States in which “great artists lived through times of accusations, interrogations, trials and torture,” said the program’s host. Not even hinted at were the anti-intellectual raids undertaken by the Cuban government, those whose spirit was defined by Fidel Castro in his phrase reminiscent of Mussolini: “Within the Revolution everything, outside the Revolution nothing.” Continue reading “The Censors Talk about Censorship / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez”
14ymedio, Víctor Ariel González, Mantilla (Havana), March 12 2015 – Fifteen minutes until class begins and the students that have been arriving converse under the shade of a tree. Once a week, Carlos Millares’ humble patio hosts a very peculiar meeting. It’s the headquarters of the Fundacion Sucesores, or the “Successors Foundation,” an academy created to train members of civil society in the use of tools for leadership.
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 24 February 2015 — The only thing Damian shares with Karl Marx may be the thick beard. In everything else, the Havana engineering student is quite different from the German philosopher who wrote Das Kapital. And the main contrast between them is found in their ways of thinking because for this young man who enjoys sporting the lumberjack style – the “lumberjack” fashion is spreading through the capital – the last thing he wants to talk about is class struggle, historical demands or communism. “Who is for that?” he asks.
To judge by his tone, it seems few. Instead, youngsters like Damian and his girlfriend, or the friends with whom they usually meet in places like the Bertold Brecht café theater or the Cuban Art Factory, prefer to talk about European football leagues while drinking beer paid for in hard currency. Things like the 10th Congress of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) appear nowhere in their conversations, despite the official propaganda that has been unleashed in an intense campaign about the event. According to the press permitted in Cuba, this “will be a congress that looks like Cuban youth.”
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 29 January 2015 — “In Vietnam, Yoani Sanchez would be in prison,” says Rafael Hernandez, editor of the magazine Temas (Topics), comparing the Cuban regime with the Vietnamese one. And he adds: “Check out how free this country is!” According to the official researcher, Cuban bloggers “are arrested and released, but they are not put in prison,” as occurs in the southeast Asian Continue reading ““Check out how free this country is!” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez”
14ymedio, VICTOR ARIEL GONZÁLEZ, Havana, 24 January 2015 — We didn’t have to wait too long for an answer. “Yes, we have an enemy” was the title of an opinion article published some days ago by Pinar del Río’s Guerrillero, perhaps in honor to the provincial newspaper’s bellicose name. In any case, this was how the spokesman of the only political party in Cuba’s westernmost province appraised the country’s rapprochement to the United States, which started on December 17: “when the enemy is in your home, he becomes even more dangerous.” Continue reading ““To remain entrenched” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez”
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 21 January 2015 – The opinions broadcast on Cuban Television spaces such as the National News or the Telesur channel show points in common, although there are also contradictions, with regards to the Havana visit of the Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs from the US Department of State, Roberta Jackson. There are “great expectations,” says the journalist Cristina Escobar; while the analyst Esteban Morales says, “We don’t have many illusions.”
However, everyone recognizes that the negotiations on Thursday will mark a “historic” event, because they will address the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. In short, the Interest Sections in Washington and Havana will be transformed into embassies.
As ancient buildings are crumbling, the vacant lots are transformed into parks that are always closed
14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzales, Havana, 9 January 2015 — A group of tourists stops at the entrance of the “ecological park” on Mercaderes Street, a few steps from the Havana Cathedral. The guide speaks to them about this vacant lot turned into a public space which would be nothing out of the ordinary except for being the only one of its kind that is kept open. Aside from the brief circuit designed for foreign visitors, the parks of Old Havana are always closed.
So functions the fiefdom of Eusebio Leal, Havana’s City Historian. As old buildings crumble, the now-vacant parcels are transformed into gardens to which are added benches, trash cans, shade trees and maybe even a fountain. But, along with all that, they also put a magnificent gate closed with chain and padlock. No one can enter these urban oases.
At the corner of Teniente Rey and Habana there existed until a few years ago a children’s park full of attractions that were never used. The attractions “were burned” in the sun, says a neighbor of the place who remembers the image of children asking why “their park” was closed.
Today, the slides now dismantled, the site remains inaccessible but at least seeks another function in the community. Talking about this is Justo Torres who brought from his native Isabel de Sagua an interest in gardening and urban agriculture. He works at Nelva Oasis, a small gardening business very nearby that coordinated the park’s management with the Historian’s Office – a kind of local government.
Very enthusiastically, Torres confesses to being full of ideas for this place: giving it a “social use,” practicing agro-ecology and vermiculture, among others. “It is a unique experiment,” he says and one that also aims to be economically sustainable. He trusts that, in time, authorities will continue supporting the initiative.
Nevertheless, the rest of the parks have not had the same luck and have no use beyond the visual . . . behind bars. The monument erected in honor of Cuban doctor Carlos J. Finlay at Cuba and Amargura cannot be seen up close. There is also the Las Carolinas park, administered by the modern dance company Retazos, and open only for its interest in “some workshop for children and teens,” according to a custodian.
The list goes on. At Sol and Oficios, next to the Office of Cultural Heritage, an enormous green space surrounds a fountain as dry as a desert, that is their park. And at Acosta and Damas they built a pretty reminder of the Jewish community that lived there, just for the pedestrians to pass by because of having nowhere to rest without jumping the gate.
One of the best examples of this closure of public spaces is the fountain at Plaza Vieja in the heart of Havana within the city walls. The uninformed find the bars that surround the water to be strange. They do not know that this area has so many problems with the supply of the liquid which has had neighbors bringing buckets and tanks to it. A spectacle that reflects the real Cuba, which is not seen on postcards.
Across from the Central Train Station – another decadent icon of the city – a park offers anything except an invitation to relax. Old steam locomotives rust behind bars next to benches that will never be used again either.
This situation forms part of a vicious cycle that is completed with vandalism. The primary idea is that the parks remain closed so that the neighbors – who are not foreigners, but seemingly “uncivilized” Cubans – do no damage to them, while the lack of contact and “entrance prohibited” could be making it difficult to create respect for the urban environment or a sense of belonging.
So Nercy Perez, who works at the previously mentioned garden at Teniente Rey and Havana, would like the area schools to integrate themselves more in the projects she and her colleagues promote. “If children learn from an early age to take care of things, then later it will be easier.” The woman is of the opinion that “people do not have the culture” of caring for things. Indeed, she had to interrupt the conversation to scold a student who passed by and just grabbed one of her plants.
Other neighbors complain about the lack of public spaces. “The children have nowhere to play. They have to be in the street. The old people have nowhere to sit,” criticizes Joaquin from El Cristo neighborhood. The plaza that carries this latter name has been closed by metal barriers for a long time. Its interior does not look anything like a place where generations of Havanans scampered.
Also closed to the public, the Plaza del Cristo faces one of the many interminable repairs that can be seen in Old Havana, between crumbling buildings and dirty streets. What is obvious, unfortunately for those who long for a pretty city, is that not so many tourists pass through here.
“The only option for children is to go to the Inflatable Toys Park,” complains Norma, mother of two little ones. She concludes: “Of course, since that does provide money [from entrance fees], they don’t close it.”
The legislation that has endorsed flagrant human rights violations seems to have its days numbered.
14ymedio, VICTOR ARIEL GONZALEZ, Havana, 30 December 2014 – Following the custom of seeing the speck in the eye of another, the “gag law” that in recent days has caused a waved of protests in Spain has been criticized by Cuba’s official Cuban. The Prensa Latina news agency recently cited a Spanish activist, opponent of the Popular Party’s legal project, who predicted that the edict “will repress rights like that of free assembly” as well as freedom of expression.
Nevertheless, the menacing “Law of Citizen Security” which has raised so much commotion in that European country has a counterpart on this Caribbean island. The “Law No. 88 for protection of national independence and the Cuban economy” has been, since its approval in February 1999, our own gag law, and its description is identical to that offered by the aforementioned activist and quoted by Prensa Latina: “A way of creating fear and exerting media pressure to criminalize protests.”
14ymedio, Havana, 30 december 2014 — Contacted by phone at her home, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, said that Tania Bruguera was under arrest at the Acosta Police Station in the Diez de Octubre municipality in Havana.
Reinaldo Escobar was released from the same station Tuesday night at 10:00 pm. Escobar affirmed that he saw Tania “wearing the gray uniform of a convict,” It is still unknown when Bruguera will be released.
The two police cars surrounding Yoani Sanchez’s building have been removed and the director of this digital daily is no longer under house arrest.
The 14ymedio reporter Victor Ariel Gonzalez is still being detained, in Guanabacoa. Still unknown are the whereabouts of the activists Antonio Rodiles, Ailer Gonzalez and Eliecer Avila, along with the photographer Claudio Fuentes and his partner, Eva Baquero.