Shortages and Shady Dealings / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Housing in Havana.

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, 1 November 2017, El Cerro, Havana. Some new phenomena are taking place, products of the state’s poor management and shortsightedness.

Dwellings are being repossessed by people who are buying them legally or illegally.

I occupy an apartment with three bedrooms, one bath, a living/dining room, a balcony, and a rear terrace. It should now be the property of my brother, now that my mother, the original owner–thinking of her very advanced age–transferred the title to her youngest son. continue reading

In this apartment live three people. Not long ago there were five of us. But my aunt and my father died when they were well into their 90s. Presumably, the next in line would be my mother, who is now past 80, and after her my brother, and then I, who am 60.

During the process of changing the deed and drawing up the new and complicated property contract now required by the government, we decided to assign ownership to the youngest son.

We were left speechless and disconcerted when the notary asked us who would be the next heir after we were all gone. My mother chose to name a granddaughter who does not live with us and is four years of age.

In the apartment next door lives an octogenarian lady who was recently widowed.

She is diabetic. Already there is a distant relative who has arrived on the scene and started to occasionally look after the little old lady–and who will surely inherit the property when she dies, for I have seen notaries coming and going over there.

Residential units are ending up in younger hands–legally or through many semi-legal tricks.

There are houses in good condition that remain empty and closed up because their inhabitants are away in other countries, probably trying to get settled somewhere. If it doesn’t work out, they’ll return. If it does, well, one or another of the owners will return to sell the house at a good price.

No longer does the government take over houses left behind by those who leave the country, as was the case until some years ago. Cubans may now continue to hold the title to their properties if they return for at least a few days within the first two years of living abroad.

Those who do not sell their houses leave them in the care of relatives who rent them out to foreign tourists and forward the fees to the owners residing in other countries.

In the upcoming 2020 census, or likely before then, the ration book will lose half of its consumer base for reasons of non-residency in Cuba.

The housing shortage is not lessening, however, despite the high emigration rate and many deaths, due to the government’s chronic apathy towards seriously investing in this sector, and not allowing others to do so.

The scarcity of medicines is worsening: even aspirin is hard to find. Many medicines end up on the black market.

Last week my brother found himself having to stand in line–in the sun, from 9 in the morning to almost 4 in the afternoon–at a drugstore just to obtain the medications, such as insulin, that my mother needs for her diabetes and blood pressure, as well as cotton, alcohol and syringes.

The aged neighbor lady cannot even think of going to the drugstore that is one km away, let alone stand in line. There are no couriers. She will simply die one day soon and the family doctor will come and declare her dead of old age, and that will be that. Her case will never be studied nor will be of interest to the authorities to determine whether she might have survived a few more years with better care and medications.

ETECSA, the state-owned telecommunications monopoly, with its painfully slow and inefficient processes, is facilitating another lucrative and illegal business opportunity: it has to do with sales of the new “Nauta Hogar” [Home Nauta] contracts. Following more than a year of providing these newfangled internet connections–initially in Old Havana only–ETECSA has approved a little more than 2,000 agreements for a population of nearly 12 million. The service is excessively slow and exorbitantly expensive for local income levels, but ownership can be transferred with no questions asked. Those blessed with these benefits are simply selling them right now at 1000 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly 1,000 USD). They’re on sale now on Revolico (Cuba’s “Craiglist”).

Similarly, the ownership of landlines are priced at that level on the informal market, for this system is maintained very cheaply, but for years now there has been no increase in the number of telephones distributed among the urban population, being that no new contracts are offered anymore.

Fidel Castro used to argue that mobile phones were a bourgeois luxury. Raul Castro authorized their generalized sale in 2008. Less than ten years later, more than half of the population utilizes this service, despite how extremely expensive it is.

How will the ancient rulers ever develop this country if a primary requirement of modern enterprise, be it state- or privately-owned, is efficient communication and data gathering–which Cuba is slow to adopt as official policy? An open Internet would be very harmful to what remains of Castroism. Imagine that this article could appear on the first page of the official Communist Party newspaper Granma, and that everyone, without censorship, could read works like it.

eduardom57@nauta.cu

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Poor Memory? / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Cover of “God Does Not Enter My Office”

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, El Cerro, Havana, 6 November 2017 — I’ve just finished reading an eBook (which has never been published in Cuba) written by someone who was detained in Cuba’s infamous “Military Units to Aid Production” [known by their acronym in Spanish as UMAP], who endured all of the bloody sordidness of those grim Nazi-Castroite concentration camps. The book is a testament of those days written by Alberto I. González Muñoz in 1994-95, titled God Does Not Enter My Office. It was first published by Baptist Publishing in 2003 and has been updated periodically up to its seventh edition, in 2015, of which we speak here.

The author alleges in the introduction that he does not want this material to be interpreted as an indictment of the Castros’ regime. However, one need only read it to be outraged at the many atrocities and injustices that they committed, causing grave damages to Cuban society up to the present day. continue reading

The book recalls testimonies written about Nazi extermination camps, even though there were no crematoria or gas chambers in the UMAP.

The UMAP were intended to effect, through forced labor, an obligatory change in religious persons, homosexuals, and all who were considered hindrances to the Revolution. The UMAP were in operation, to the horror of many, for more than two years–between 1965 and 1967–in remote locations in Camagüey.

In the pages of this book can be found the names of various religious persons who were sent there, subjected to humiliations, officially classified as social blights because of their beliefs, mistreated, and made to labor 16 or more hours daily cutting sugar cane.

It amazes me that personages such as Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, so careful of and complaisant towards the regime as he is–and who a few years ago ordered the forced removal of peaceful protesters from a Havana church–was among the Catholics who endured kicks to the backside and pushing and shoving for the mere reason of being religious.

There is also the case of the Rev. Raúl Suárez, who is seen often in the company of government officials, a gracious host to the delegations from the Pastors for Peace, and who has founded an authorized emporium on 100 and 51st Streets, in Marianao.

Raúl Suárez was in the UMAP–sleeping at night, alongside many other religious persons, on a hard dirt floor, later in hammocks, and after a few months in beat-up bunks–rising at 4:30am, still exhausted from the previous day’s labor, only to be dragged to the work camp, where they would remain sometimes past midnight, cutting and hauling sugar cane by hand.

Could it be they have a poor memory, or is it rather that they fear losing all that they have gained?

Nothing justifies the barbarity that was the UMAP. Crimes against humanity are never defensible. There will come a time when we will be in a position to hold the perpetrators accountable. We do not forget.

eduardom57@nauta.cu

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Compañero Who Looks After Me

Angel Santiesteban, 16 October 2017 — Another title of this book could be A Cuban History of Fear. The fear of living (and, above all, of writing) surrounded by an army of police, undercover agents, collaborators and simple snitches in charge of rounding up the misguided souls of Cubans, be they writers or not. But “this book is not a monument to grievance,” insists the anthologist. What is intended is “to collect a small amount of Cuban contributions to a genre already proclaimed by Kafka from the first pages of his unfinished novel, The Trial. The first chapter of the novel, which announces in the first sentence that K. “without having done anything bad, was detained one morning.” A genre that Orwell would continue in 1984, with the addition of hope: “You are a difficult case. But don’t lose hope. Everybody is saved sooner or later. In the end, we will kill you.” A recompilation that stretches from the time of almost artisanal vigilance up to that virtual panoptic that is Facebook. And beyond.

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Cuban ‘Big Brother’ Seen by 57 Writers

About 90 people showed up at the bookstore Altamira Books for the presentation of the book ‘El compañero que me atiende.’ (14ymedio)

The book ‘The Compañero Who Watches Me’ was presented last Thursday in Coral Gables (Florida) and reflects its authors’ preoccupation with the omnipresence of surveillance in Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 3 November 2017 — Writing a book can be like an exorcism, especially when trying to leave behind ghosts of the past. This is the case with publisher Hypermedia’s new book, El compañero que me atiende (The Compañero Who Watches Me), a compilation of fictional stories by 57 authors, collected by Enrique del Risco, about the omnipresence of surveillance in Cuban life. Something that marked the national literary output.

“This book is not a memorial of grievances, nor is it a book about repression. In the Cuban case, on the list of those aggrieved by a regime that is close to finishing its sixth decade, writers score rather low compared to other parts of society,” clarified compiler Del Risco. continue reading

The book, almost 500 pages long, was presented Thursday in the bookstore Altamira Books, a very welcoming place in the city of Coral Gables (Florida); the store’s purpose is to “foster knowledge and use of the Spanish language,” according to its owners.

Del Risco, the renowned Cuban poet and narrator Legna Rodriguez Iglesias, Abel Fernandez Larrea, Jose M. Fernandez and Luis Felipe Roja, journalist for Radio Marti, presented the book to almost a hundred people among whom were some of the best Cuban writers in exile.

“This book began as an idea and was written thanks to the enthusiastic response of the authors who are in Cuba and in the diaspora. We have stories by 57 writers who are not only in the United States but in different parts of Latin America, Canada and Europe,” explained Del Risco.

El compañero que me atiende collects for the first time passages by authors who speak of the surveillance work of the Cuban state and how this influences the Island’s literature. Del Risco told 14ymedio that the response exceeded his expectations. “We have writers of all ages. Censorship and surveillance is a national phenomenon that has happened at all social levels and is a common denominator in the whole revolutionary process,” he said.

“The book also helps those writers and artists who have been censored and surveilled feel part of a society that suffers that as a whole. It is not just something that belongs to intellectuals but workers, women, students, everyone has been a part of and victim of this phenomenon,” explains Del Risco.

Among the authors who live on the Island is the writer – recently released from jail – Angel Santiesteban, who presents his story The Men of Richelieu, part of an unpublished book entitled Zone of Silence.

Also from Cuba came stories by the actress and writer Mariela Brito, Raul Aguiar, Atilio Caballero, Ernesto Santana, Jorge Angel Perez, and Jorge Espinosa, among others.

‘El compañero que me atiende’ will be for sale on Amazon and in some Florida bookstores. (14ymedio)

The central idea of the anthology is to give voice to writers so that they can describe the surveillance atmosphere created by the totalitarian state as a consequence of the political system installed in Cuba after the 1959 Revolution.

Writer Jose M. Fernandez, who emigrated to the Dominican Republic in 1998, recalled that in his writings he had proposed the thesis that the Cuban political system, in spite of having declared itself atheistic, “was organized as a profoundly religious structure around a dogma.”

“It had its Christ and its martyrs, and the compañero who watched us was the ghost,” explains Fernandez.

Writing his story, removed from the politics but addressing the lurking danger of being heard in a country in which each person seems to be an ear of the state, “freed” him.

“I realized that it was like a salvation because the trauma accompanied me throughout my life. It was not caused by the censorship itself but because those who were my friends, my companions and those with whom I had to finish five long years of university lent themselves and caused it to happen,” says Fernandez who has had a prolific career in the Dominican Republic.

According to the author, although a good part of his story is fiction, there are some events that did occur in the city of his birth, Santiago de Cuba. On sharing his story with a friend, the response she gave surprised him: “As always happens in Cuba, the reality surpasses the fiction,” she told him.

Fernandez has planned to send a sample of the book “to the companion who attends him” with this dedication: “You fucked me over, but I immortalized you.”

Legna Rodriguez, for her part, said that a good number of Cubans do not realize how powerful the surveillance they are subjected to. “It is not felt or seen, but it becomes a sickness, an amorality, a cancer,” said the writer.

Luis Felipe Rojas remembered the long interrogations to which he was subjected by the authorities because of the passages that he published on his blog Crossing the Barbed Wire.

“I always thought that I should write about this, that I could fictionalize it, but it wasn’t until I left Cuba that all that flowed. Inside it would have been impossible,” said the communicator.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Travel and Immigration Reforms Will Bring More Hard Currency to Cuba / Iván García

Photo taken from Martí Noticias

Ivan Garcia, 2 November 2017 — Twice a week, Mayté, a bank employee, usually talks with and sees her daughter through an internet app that she uses from a park in western Havana. The travel and immigration rules that the Cuba authorities will begin to apply as of 1 January 2018, still won’t allow professionals like Mayté’s daughter, who abandoned her posting in a foreign countries, to visit Cuba.

“The new measures don’t repeal the rules that prevent doctors and professionals who abandon their missions abroad to return before eight years have passed. Right now, everything is the same. They [the regime] have an urgent need to find money, so they are implementing these new travel and immigration reforms,” says Mayté, after talking with her daughter in Miami through the IMO app. continue reading

An immigration official, who requested anonymity, said that “there will be gradual changes in travel and immigration regulations, both for Cubans living in the country, and Cubans living abroad.”

Martí News wanted to know if future reforms would cancel the prohibition that prevents professionals, categorized as deserters, from traveling to Cuba before they have been away eight years, and when the extensive blacklist prohibiting opponents of the regime living abroad from visiting their homeland would be eliminated.

“The policy that after two years certain rights are lost will change in the short term,” says the official, referring to the current policy that requires Cubans who remain out of the country for more than 24 months to get special permission to return.

“Also the prohibition of professionals who defected from different missions,” he adds, “and a provision that allows doctors who once decided to leave, to return to the country is in force. But the issue of belligerent Cubans who seek to change our political system is different. That remains a matter of national security. Although for humanitarian situations they have authorized their entry into the country. The State is interested in maintaining a fluid relationship with its emigrants. And all possible openings will be made in that sense,” the official explained.

“Then in the near future will Cuban emigrants be able to hold public jobs?” I ask him.

“Right now I don’t know. But I repeat, the government wants better relations with the emigrants, especially with anyone who is non-confrontational,” he responds.

Eduardo, an economist, says that the new measures “are aimed at capturing as much fresh currency as possible. In the middle of the current economic recession, which has all the signs of becoming a deep crisis due to the 40 percent decrease in oil imports from Venezuela, and with Russia and China apparently unwilling to get involved in the unproductive local economy, as happened in past decades, there is no doubt that the government needs to open new ways to raise more dollars and euros. Family remittances, retail trade in convertible pesos and tourism for Cubans settled in other countries, is a business that moves millions. With these travel measures, and others that could come, such as facilitating the creation of small and medium businesses run by Cubans living abroad, the economic situation could take a favorable turn. As long as they do it in an impartial, independent and reliable legal framework.”

Carlos, a sociologist, doubts that these travel and immigration regulations are the first of a later set of economic reforms focused on private entrepreneurs or stimulating future business with Cuban emigrés.

“I don’t believe it. Those provisions are to improve the flow of liquidity in the state coffers. Until proven otherwise, the regime has always watched with concern the authorization of busineses by Cubans who, among other reasons, left because they disagreed with the socialist system. The current Investment Law does not prohibit Cubans living in other nations from doing business in Cuba, but in practice the state does not open the door for them. In times of uncertainty, with a worsening economic crisis and the backtracking in relations with the United States, the rapprochement with the exile would help to move the country forward. But there is a caste of conservatives within the government who do not approve of this approach. Look at the handbrake they put on people working for themselves. The objective of these travel and immigration reforms is purely financial,” the sociologist explains.

Luisa, the mother of a Havana baseball player who plays in the minor leagues in the United States, believes that “the government should repeal all the laws that prevent Cuban players, doctors and other professionals who stayed during a mission or sporting event from traveling back to Cuba. Bad, good or regular, they are Cuban and they have families here. If they could come freely, and not wait for eight years to pass, if they could open businesses and in the case of the players, compete for the national team, that would contribute to maintaining better relations with an emigration has been vilified. They have branded those who left as scum, traitors, worms.”

Yasmany, the father of two children living in Miami, says that with the recently announced measures “the government is not doing any favors to the Cuban emigrants. It is a right that is contemplated in international laws. If they approve it now, it’s simply because they need money.”

Gloria, a lawyer, states that “it is a legal aberration that Cubans have to get a special stamp on their passport in order to travel to their own country. All that is absurd. The convenient thing would be that they can come and go without legal obstacles on the part of the state. Also that they can establish businesses in their homeland, occupy political positions or live one season abroad and another on the island. In recent years, the government has made progress in the area of travel and immigration, but it is opening spaces little by little.”

Many people consulted agree that, in the same way that Havana is the capital of all Cubans, Cuba is the home of all Cubans, wherever they live and however they think. And no one should have the right to regulate their freedom to travel or to settle in their native city when they can or want to.

But the regime has another point of view. That is why it governs the island as if it were its property.

Translated by Jim

A Summoning to General Elections / Somos+

Somos+, Havana, 27 October 2017 — By the present lines, I, Dr. Carlos Raúl Macías López, Institutional Secretary of the Political Movement Somos+, by virtue of Article I of the Electoral Regulations, and by the expressed mandate of the National Council, headed by the current President Engineer Eliécer Avila: summon all members of our organization to participate in the first general elections for the honorable duty of President.

Election Timeline for 2017:

  • 10th of November: Presentation of the Electoral Commission.
  • 13th of November: The preparations and means to register and enroll Candidates will be announced.
  • 20th of November: Deadline for Candidates to register and enroll.
  • 21st of November until the 5th of December: Publication and debate of the messages of the candidates.
  • 8th of December: The Electoral Commission communicates to its participating members (eligible to vote) the methods, protocols and technical details to achieve suffrage directly and secretly.
  • 10th of December: National and International Suffrage, in accordance with the methodology that the Commission will define.
  • 10th of December: Announcement of Results and Celebration!

continue reading

It is important to remind all of our members the immense responsibility and privilege that it means for us to be a part of this process, that it strengthens and honors us for its exceptional and neccessary course, for our Homeland “Patria” and our Time.

At the same time, we must not forget the obstacles of all sizes that we will be facing to achieve with success what we are hoping and longing for.

The stability that we have had in a general sense during these past four years, is today more necessary than ever in order to guarantee the subsistence of our project and to be part of the light and good example that our nation needs to reconstruct itself.

We recommend that everyone read the Electoral Regulations carefully, and be in constant contact with the Commission, once it be presented, in order to clear up any doubts or report any anomalies in the process.

We will continue offering information as necessary.

Dr. Carlos Raúl Macías

Institutional Secretary

Political Movement Somos+

Translated by: Ylena Zamora-Vargas

Clothing Store Clandestina Makes the Leap to Online Sales of its Designs

In spite of the difficulties of connecting to the web in Cuba, the business founded in 2015 by Idania Del Rio and Leire Fernandez has opted to distribute its products on the internet. (14ymedio)

The store gained international popularity after President Barack Obama’s visit to the Island in March 2016, when the leader ordered a t-shirt for his daughters.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 27 October 2017 – Clandestina, the clothing store that markets its own brand, this June became the first store of its kind on the Island to sell its products through the internet. Its creators emphasize the international character of their business, with clothing designed in Havana, sewn in Nicaragua and finished in South Carolina (U.S.).

In spite of the difficulties of connecting to the web in Cuba, the business founded in 2015 by Idania Del Rio and Leire Fernandez has opted to distribute its products on the internet. “We have barely had any internet this past week,” they say on their website. continue reading

Currently the store operates under the domain clandestina.co, but after November they will be able to move it to the better known “.com” which until now it has not been available.

Clandestina earned international popularity after President Barack Obama’s visit to the Island in March of 2016 when the leader mentioned the business in a televised interview and asked where he could find a t-shirt of that brand for his daughters.

All the products that will be sold on the web by by the small business are exclusive designs of the studio and can be acquired for 28 dollars.

The virtual store’s offerings includes six t-shirt designs, among which are some with the phrase “99% Cuban Design,” a slogan that defines Clandestina. Other more controversial designs show the face of an adolescent Ernesto Guevara labeled within the “revolutionary” category.

The virtual store offers six t-shirt designs, among which are some with the phrase “99% Cuban Design,” a slogan that defines Clandestina. (14ymedio)

With the new website, the small space located in the heart of Old Havana stands out among the private businesses that are using new technologies in order to promote their products on the Island.

So far, the presence of individuals on the web for business purposes has been limited to the vacation rental sector, as is the case with those who rent rooms in their homes to tourists through platforms like Airbnb or their own digital pages.

Some musicians, like the Singer Haydee Milanes, also have managed to sell their records on iTunes, and several app developers have placed their products in Google and Apple stores, but almost always with the help of some friend who lives abroad and can collect customers’ payments.

In Clandestina’s case, the fact that Fernandez has Spanish citizenship has permitted her to register the business in the United States in her name, and this opens “more opportunities for business.” Her idea is that “all the creation and art is done here and then produced in the U.S.”

The site sells products for delivery in the United States, Canada and Mexico, but its managers aspire also to hire a supplier in Europe to lower the cost of transporting merchandise to the Old Continent.

Clandestina intends to play with the image of international icons like Ernesto Guevara, from whom it has designed a youthful version. “It is a young Che . . . still a boy. He hasn’t done anything bad, he has not done anything,” says Fernandez, who nevertheless acknowledges being “tired of seeing Che on every street in Havana.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Where is Cuban Culture? / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 21 October 2017 — The mass media in our country boast a lot about Cuban culture. And it’s that which is our biggest weakness right now.

Starting on January 1st, 1959, when they started to prioritise politics and pass new decrees and laws, which steadily grew more distant from our famous 1940 Constitution, which was never re-established, our moral, social and civic concepts began to weaken. This was when the family, in a state of disintegration, and schools, faced with loss of professionals who had up to then imparted education, were their most important bastions. continue reading

Yesterday afternoon, in a TV Cubana programme, Palco Indiscreto, the journalist who runs it, astonished me by courageously raising this very delicate topic on an official channel on the occasion of Cuban Culture Day. He said that we received lots of education, but we lacked an overall culture, in spite of our great musicians, dancers and artists in general.

That’s true, because culture includes formal education, good manners, respect for others, knowing how to talk and behave, qualities which unfortunately we are losing, including university graduates, whose language and manners leave much to be desired.

We have lost our respect for other people, respect for third-party property, respect for our familiy elders, or what’s left of them. As well as respect for keeping to schedule, adhering to accepted commitments, for keeping the city clean and tidy, the love of nature, including neglect of animals, trees and gardens, being careless about dress when going out into the street, good manners, health, how to greet people properly and to make an apology.

What with these great losses, which the educational institutions and society in general have not worried themselves about maintaining or rescuing, how can we pretend to be proud of being a cultured country?

Hopefully, one day we will be able to genuinely proudly celebrate October 20th, the Day of Cuban Culture.

Translated by GH

Dissidence Museum in Havana Pays Homage to Poet Juan Carlos Flores

The artist Amaury Pacheco performed an artistic action in homage to the poet Juan Carlos Flores who committed suicide last year. (Dissidence Museum)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 October 2017 – Damas Street in Old Havana awoke Friday to the terrifying image of a man hanging from a balcony. After their fright passed, the residents realized that it was an artistic installation by Amaury Pacheco in homage to the poet Juan Carlos Flores.

The body that hung from a rope opened the exhibition Another Poet Commits Suicide, organized by the Dissidence Museum and the group Omni Zona Franca, in order to remember Flores and reflect on the “tradition of suicide that exists in Cuban culture,” as its organizers explain. continue reading

“Some time ago Luis Manuel Otero and Yanelys Nunez [managers of the museum] told me that they wanted pay homage to Flores but we did not encounter the moment and, now, the opportunity presented itself,” explained Pacheco to 14ymedio, minutes before the afternoon’s poetry recital.

Flores, born in 1962, committed suicide in the middle of last year at his house in the Alamar neighborhood after having struggled for several years with depression and psychiatric problems. Among his best known books are Group Portrait, Different Ways of Digging a Tunnel and The Kickback.

Pacheco, who belongs to the Omni Zona Franca Project to which Flores had close ties from its inception, added personal objects belonging to the poet to the exhibition. “I brought his manuscripts, clothes, the rope with which he committed suicide, and some of his other belongings to exhibit,” he explained.

The exhibit includes personal objects of the poet Juan Carlos Flores and the rope with which he committed suicide. (14ymedio)

“There were 20 years of friendship, and he embodied the poet his whole life, both in his imagination and in the social space,” emphasizes Pacheco, who believe that Flores’ verses “strongly touch on Cuban social reality.”

Yanelys Nunez, responsible together with artist Luis Manuel Otero for the Dissidence Museum, said that the title of the event is inspired by a text by Rafael Rojas about the death of Flores, an end that requires reflection about the incidence of suicide among Cuban artists.

Nunez recalled, before a dozen attendees, the end of Raul Hernandez Novas, Angel Escobar and “others who died in exile” like Guillermo Rosales and Carlos Victoria. To the list can be added also the writer Reinaldo Arenas and the painter Belkis Ayon.

Readings by poets Ariel Manzano, Cinecio, Osmel Almaguer, Irina Pino and Antonio Herrada began at six sharp in the small room, plus narrator Veronica Vega shared some remarks about the beginning of Omni Zona Franca in Alamar.

Poet Juan Carlos Flores was remembered with a poetry reading this Friday. (14ymedio)

Between coffee candies, cigarettes, water, rum and speeches, verses were read loudly in order to overcome the natural bustle of the Belen neighborhood.

For these artists, the homage to Flores is also “a way to rescue those poets important to Cuban history” but whom “the government or institutions render invisible,” Nunez notes.

The artist and curator thinks that these omissions are due to “cultural- or power-level intrigues.” Thus the exhibit Another Artist Commits Suicide permits retaking “those dark areas in Cuban culture.”

The poetry day this Friday, which began with the disquieting performance by Pacheco, closed with a hip hop concert headed by David D’ Omni and other guests. This Sunday the homage to Juan Carlos Flores will conclude with verses and questions, just as did his own life.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Sonic Attack in Havana. A Script Worthy of Hollywood? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 3 October 2017 — You could see the present diplomatic crisis between Cuba and the United States as just one more stage in the long running saga, but the present duel is nevertheless different from the others,  having arisen in the difficult context of the arrival of an administration in the White House which has never concealed its intention of radically changing its predecessor’s legacy in relation to the dictatorship.

In the course of the succession of North American presidents since 1959, there has never been such a marked divergence of intentions between two successive occupants in relation to the government of the island. If we dismiss the barely hinted at approaches by Kennedy just before he was assassinated, not even the contrast between Jimmy Carter’s suggested detente and Ronald Reagan’s reinstated hard line is comparable in its violence with the post-Obama about-turn. continue reading

For that reason the present diplomatic crisis provoked by the suspected acoustic attack against American diplomats in the Havana embassy has its own particular flavour. In fact it is the first one of such importance which has occurred since Trump’s arrival, and, worryingly, has greater long term implications than the foreign policy changes announced last June.

But what really hits you in the face is that the US has flat out suspended the issue of visas and is withdrawing three out of every five diplomats based in Havana under the pretext of such an inconsistent and unbelievable accusation. Biassed accusations from the North American side and minimal comment from the Cuban have characterised this story for months, and today most of us have no proper idea of what happened.

We are talking about supposed sonic attacks (??) which ended up causing psychological and auditory damage to 21 embassy officials, according to the Americans, who have not directly accused the Cuban government but have strongly hinted at it publicly. Havana has, of course, replied that it knows nothing, but is ready to collaborate in any way to clarify the situation.

But, at the end of the day, who could be behind these supposed attacks? Who could want a total diplomatic breakdown? This needs a cool logical analysis because behind the answer to these question is the face of a conspirator.

The American version has various strange aspects. According to this, the attacks occurred in different hotels in Havana, as well as in the embassy. But to claim that, with a sniper’s accuracy, they only affected the eardrums and brains of diplomatic officials, and to be able to commit this damage over such a long period of time without it being picked up by the counter-espionage resources attached to the embassy, is pretty inconsistent.

There haven’t even been any reports of collateral injury in any of these locations affecting Cuban employees, or those of any other countries — if there are any — working in the embassy, or other workers, neighbours, or non-American tourists potentially exposed by chance to the attack. This is something, at least, very strange; it sounds too bizarre.

But even so, and if we grant for the moment that the attacks happened, we still haven’t defined who ordered them. And I say that because the notion of carrying out the aggression off their own bat in the context of a false news operation will always be a possibility in a geopolitical U-turn, especially when we are dealing with the United States.

We cannot forget the sinking of the battleship Maine — the US pretext for barging into the Spanish-Cuban war — or the attack which was permitted in Pearl Harbour, which was used as the pretext for entering into the Second World War, when all the Japanese Admiralty communications intercepted in real time allowed them to fully anticipate the attack. Don’t even talk about the 9/11 disasters with the dozens of examples of outrageous evidence accusing the George W. Bush administration of, at least, open complicity — all with the objective of Middle Eastern influence. There are dozens of other examples.

Therefore it is worth analysing the posture struck by both parties in regard to the resumption and maintenance of diplomatic relations, as well as the convenience, or not, for either side, of the refreezing of the thaw.

Looking at the North American side, one can see a crude manoeuvre to justify the reduction to the minimum possible the work of the recently unveiled embassy in Havana, without going for a total rupture: a kind of being incommunicado, or Cold War Diplomacy, as you might say.

Above all, Trump has never disguised his dislike of immigration, and, with these measures, he can guarantee the interruption, for now, of the granting of thousands of visas for Cubans, at the same time as, undoubtedly advised by the hard-line Florida lobby, depriving the dictatorship of its main escape valve.

What would Trump gain? As well as cutting off the flow of thousands of potential immigrants assisted by the Cuban Adjustment Act, he will have worked out that in very little time the internal pressures will become unmanageable for a second Castro who needs some peaceful pastureland to feed the  millions in his flock, without shocking them.

Looking at the Cuban side, it could be a stupid hard line move by the Plaza of the Revolucion but a practical one, in order to revert to the icy tone of the Cold War instead of carrying on towards a thaw. In spite of everything, the motto remains “be unscrupulous” and nothing will get in the way of its desire to make sure the puppet stays in its place, because they know that only by keeping the domino immobilised can they control the reins of a people who are every day more impatient.

What would  Raúl Castro and his people gain from this? Keeping control. At the end of the day, they know that Trump is serious when he says that he gives nothing for nothing, the know that they are dealing with an inflexible negotiator, and there is no way they are going to go along with the proposed formula: doing business with the Cubans, but without much to do with Castro’s military conglomerate. In other words, nothing for the tyrant. It’s a question of take it or leave it – period. Nothing like Obama’s weak little gestures which gave no additional freedom to Liberio [ed. note: a kind of  traditional Cuban “good ol’ boy”, and, by extension, the Cuban people].

This waste-of-space is not interested in too many opening moves, which he has demonstrated often enough. But what is clear is that money sent back by emigrants — with the Cuban Americans without doubt sending a substantial percentage — is one of the main sources of foreign exchange right now — estimated at about $3.5 billion in total — for which, if we are talking about motives, every move which affects the flow of emigrants works against the inflow of money, or, what comes to the same thing, less money to put in his personal piggy banks. That wouldn’t seem to be the intention of Ali Baba and his 40 generals.

In this autumn thriller, the compass’s moving finger points accusingly toward the magnetic north. While that is happening Donald Trump will go on making his demands and Raúl Castro, as always, will bet on his hostages.

Translated by GH

Revolutionary Desecration

Going forward, the remains of Céspedes and Grajales will be next to those of Fidel Castro and José Martí (Christian Pirkl – Eigenes Werk/Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 October 2017 — In a simple note consisting only of four paragraphs, the official Cuban press reported yesterday a fact as unexpected as it was unusual: this Tuesday, coinciding with the 149th anniversary of the beginning of the War of Independence, “the political act and military ceremony of the burial of the remains of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Mariana Grajales” will take place in the cemetery Santa Ifigenia, in Santiago de Cuba.

As if it were not sufficiently offensive to the memory of José Martí – who devoted his life to, and met his death in pursuit of the dream of a republic of free Cubans – the imposition, in the vicinity of the beautiful funerary monument that honors his memory, of a horrible mortuary rock that contains the remains of the autocrat that destroyed the brief republican mirage and cut off all civil liberties, now the Cuban authorities have granted themselves the right to dispose of the mortal remains of other heroes of the nation, as if this were their particular legacy, and not the whole nation’s spiritual heritage. continue reading

146 years ago, eight medical students were executed for an alleged crime against the tomb of a Spanish journalist in colonial Cuba

And they obviously do it with the implicit intention of expanding the cult to the Deceased in Chief, his majesty, Castro I, equating him to the founding fathers of the Cuban nation, if not subordinating the founding fathers around him.

But the impunity of the olive-green cupola is as immense as its arrogance. Suffice it to remember that 146 years ago, eight medical students were executed for an alleged crime against the tomb of a Spanish journalist in colonial Cuba.

Such costly mobilization of funerary monuments – of Céspedes and of Mariana – is even more unfathomable in a country where material and financial deficiencies are ever more pressing, and where a very strong hurricane destroyed a significant part of the housing base of the most humble and insolvent Cubans. Only “so that, in the future, the Cuban people and foreign visitors can pay tribute in a more expeditious way, to both, the National Hero José Martí on one side and on the other, the Historical Leader of the Cuban Revolution, Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz…”

It seems that the mortal remains of the Father of our Nation, which were disturbed and publicly exposed in Santiago de Cuba by the Spanish colonial power in 1874, haven’t yet found their well-deserved rest.

The official greed in quest of dollars does not stop at anything. It’s here that the historical memory of the nation, this time using the bones of the most noteworthy deceased, is subordinated to the tourist industry.

But in their decision to mobilize official necrophilia in the service of the particular interests of the Government, it is not only ordinary Cubans that have been excluded. Manuel Hilario de Céspedes and García Menocal, Bishop of Matanzas and descendant of the Father of the Nation’s lineage, was not consulted about it. Neither were other important ecclesiastical authorities, such as Juan de Dios, Auxiliary Bishop of Havana and Secretary of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba.

Nothing is sacred to the Cuban autocracy: neither memories, nor the nation’s heroes, nor the symbols they pretend to honor, nor the heir children of the national history

Oscar Márquez, the chancellor of the Archdiocese of Santiago de Cuba, was not only not previously informed of the exhumation, but his office has yet to receive any requests to officiate in a Catholic ceremony honoring the remains of such distinguished, undeniably Catholic, Cubans, which demonstrates the rampant contempt of the military elite for all values, feelings and traditions of the nation.

However, the desecration of important tombs and the patriotic memory of the nation is an old practice for that autocracy. For example, in 1987, after the death of an old communist leader who became a faithful servant of the Castro regime, Blas Roca Calderío, his body was buried at Cacahual, of all places, very close to the mausoleum that holds the remains of General Antonio Maceo Grajales, one of the most important heroes of the Cuban wars of independence, in what constituted a sharp affront to all those who erected his mausoleum from public and private donations.

Nothing is sacred to the Cuban autocracy: neither the memories, nor the nation’s heroes, nor the symbols they pretend to honor, nor the children who are the inheritors of the national history. When, on October 10th this conspiracy is finally consummated, the Government will just have added one more injury against Cuba. However, the worst affront is not the desecration of power, but the acquiescent silence of those who should be the true guardians of the historical memory that gave birth to us as a people: Cubans.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Overdone Glorification / Fernando Dámaso

Bacunayagua Bridge, the tallest bridge in Cuba, was started in 1956 during Batista’s presidency, although it was not opened until 1959, by which time Batista had fled the country. (Photo; Tripadvisor)

Fernando Damaso, 6 October 2017 — It has become an everyday occurrence that, with every anniversary of some political, economic, social, medical, juridical, pedagogical, scientific, artistic, agricultural, industrial, ecological, military, etc. event, it is credited to the late Cuban historic leader.

It gives the impression that everything done in Cuba in the last 58 years has been due to “his original ideas and brilliant intelligence,” and no thanks to anybody else.  Everything points to his monopoly on good ideas, among many other things.

The fact is that, in totalitarian regimes, everything supposedly positive always is down to the current dictator, and everything negative to his subordinates, who are incapable of understanding him correctly. But, there are limits which cannot be crossed, without looking ridiculous and being mocked by the people, that’s to say, the locals taking the piss. continue reading

In the case of Cuba, it has not been like that, and everything said and written about it bears the unmistakable seal of fawning adulation, without the slightest inhibition on the part of the adulators.

Gerardo Machado was “The Illustrious One” in the thirties, and his works filled the media of his time, but his regime didn’t last any longer than eight years. And Fulgencio Batista was “The Man” in the fifties, and the same thing happened, but his government didn’t go on for more than seven years.

In spite of everything you can criticise about some of their actions, both of them left important achievements which can be admired, even today — the Central Highway, the National Capitol, enormous hospitals and educational institutions, roads, bridges, tunnels, avenues, streets, plazas, parks, aqueducts, drainage systems and other public works.

Nevertheless, today’s hero is the one most responsible for the country’s prolonged economic, political and social crisis, as a result of his repeated errors and failures. In truth, his legacy has been one of intolerance, destruction, poverty and misery, and very little worth remembering. It all needs to be “rescued,” that verb that is so fashionable in Cuba today.  

Health and education, his principal “successes,” which were already making progress year on year during the Republic, are being used as a shop window to the outside world, with the objective of political preaching to the gullible, in praise of a disastrous system which is not, and never will be prosperous, efficient or sustainable, let alone sovereign, independent and democratic.

With most Cubans more worried about survival than thinking about him, as we approach the first anniversary of his death, the authorities have chosen to use these occasions to start his premature glorification. They are trying to offer up an idyllic image of his character, to legitimise him in the eyes of history, a difficult enough task  in view of his mountain of blunders.

We know that those who have exercised power for long periods of time try to create myths. Then, subsequently, there has always been a process of taking them apart, to see them in the clear light of day. In this case, we have to get on with the second stage.

If it doesn’t happen, they will continue to manipulate history in the interests of spurious political interests and ideologies, far removed from reality, poisoning generations to come with falsehoods and lies.

Translated by GH

Interview with Julio Ferrer Tamayo, Independent Cuban Lawyer / Iván García

Julio Ferrer Tamayo, independent Cuban lawyer (Photo: Ivan Garcia)

Ivan Garcia,25 September 2017 — If you want to go to the house of the 58-year-old dissident lawyer, Julio Ferrer Tamayo, the busy Esquina de Tejas, which is ten minutes by car from central Havana, can do as a reference point. Four important city streets meet at the famous corner; Monte, Infanta, Calzadas de Cerro, and Diez de Octubre.

Walking through a dirty, broken-tiled entrance way, after going past San Joaquin and Romay, you get to a tiny house, whose door opens out to Monte Street, and that is where Ferrer lives. He receives me in black shorts and a blue sweater. His home is  hot, and has an upstairs addition which serves as a bedroom and bathroom. In the little living room is a sofa and two armchairs with ochre coloured covers. There is a music centre and an old television on a display cabinet.

After being in jail for eleven months for reasons I will explain in a minute, Julio Ferrer was freed on August 25th. He’s a free man. Or at least, in theory. Six days later, on Thursday morning, August 31st, he received some good news. “In a judgement, a tribunal determined that my wife should be declared innocent. I don’t think they will let her out quickly, but I hope that before the end of the year she will be able to be back home”, says Ferrer. continue reading

Since July 31st, 2012, five years and one month ago, the lawyer Marienys Pavó Oñate has been sleeping in a grey prisoner’s uniform in a women’s prison to the east of the capital. “The process rigged up by the legal system against her and me was cobbled together with false evidence. They set up a witch-hunt against me because in 2009 I joined some independent lawyers’ associations”, Ferrer told me in a slow and deliberate tone.

His disagreements with the government started long before that. A native of Santiago de Cuba, 937 km east of Havana, Julio was brought up by his parents with the maxim that your dignity is non-negotiable.

Like most Cubans, he applauded anyone who spoke about prosperity and sovereignty. But he always formed his own opinions. After he qualified as a lawyer, he saw at first hand the corrupt legal practices in Cuba.

He became one of the most respected judges and a well-regarded lawyer in a totalitarian regime, where the body of law which regulates a society is just words in the air.

“Until 1993 I was a judge in the Guanabacoa Municipal Tribunal. When I took up the appointment, there were dozens of cases filed away, and other irregularities which, with the help of the team working with me, I managed to bring up to date. I have always observed a cardinal principle: respect the rule of law — promote just decisions with guaranteed procedures, and ensure that the different institutions, be they the District Attorney or the law enforcement agencies, correctly document every accusation. But, very often, those in charge of administering justice fail to comply with this precept. There are diverse reasons for this non-compliance”, explains Ferrer, “from poor work, to the most dangerous case: falsifying evidence in order to convict an innocent person”.

He cites as an example “the case of someone  who was remanded in custody, and the Tribunal didn’t even have the documentation. This person should have been set free immediately. In order to justify this arbitrary application of the law, they constructed a false case, even including a fake entry in the register of decisions

In his opinion, “Tribunals in Cuba are not autonomous. The system of justice is driven by the whims of the government and the police authorities. There are subtle coercive mechanisms whereby a judge submits to the desires of the municipal or provincial party organisation or the police. In the La Tutelar festival, which, on August 15th, is celebrated in honour of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, the patron saint of Guanabacoa, the police referred to the Tribunal a truck full of people detained for supposed criminal activities, in the hope that we would make a speedy decision and throw them in jail. As the judge, seeing them violating criminal procedures, I set them free. For this, I was viewed with disapproval in the Ministry of the Interior, the Public Attorney’s office and the Communist Party”.

In Cuba, if you grant yourself autonomy, you pay a price. There is an invisible frontier, and nobody knows just how far you can go and how far is too far. And the lawyer Julio Ferrer crossed the line.

Ferrer recalls that “I had dossiers on people who were sanctioned and, because of various irregularities, were absolved and had to be given back their property. I remember the case of a bogus front company, managed by the Council of State, which openly flouted all the applicable legislation. An employee died because of an accident at work, and the Public Prosecutor accused an electrician as the supposedly guilty party. After studying all the documentation, I requested that the Director of the company and the Head of Human Resources appear before me as the accused, in order to clarify what happened. None other than José Luis Toledo Santander, who was then the Provincial Public Prosecutor and the Dean of the Law Faculty, and now heads up the Commision of Constitutional Affairs and National Assembly of Popular Power lawyers, came to my office to try to persuade me. When I wasn’t convinced, he simply voided the decision”.

Julio’s close friends told him about the animosity felt by the political and police authorities against him in the Guanabacoa Municipality of Havana. They had their eyes on him.

“Long before I became a dissident, I was identified as a ’problem’. They tried to buy me off in different ways but I stood my ground. Most of the judges and prosecutors who handled cases of interest to the state collaborate with State Security, and I never could accept that. In 1993 I decided to stop my activities as a judge and I started work as a lawyer in a collective law office. They never found me doing anything dirty. I was the first to arrive at work and the last to leave. I always kept up my studies, improving myself and keeping up-to-date. I specialised in criminal, administrative and military law. But I was a nuisance”, Ferrer confesses.

Then came the moment for scores to be settled. It happened in 2009 when he first joined the Cuban Legal Association, and then Cubalex, two organisations considered illegal by the government. That’s when the crusade began against the marriage of the two lawyers, Julio Ferrer Tamayo and Marienys Pavó Oñate. Cubalex, a  consultancy run by Laritza Diversant, was compulsorily dissolved by the State Security on September 23, 2016.

Anyone who disobeys Castroism knows that one of the special services’ favourite strategies to make an opponent cave in is to use their family. And Marienys, Ferrer’s wife, was the first victim. “They accused her of bribery and alleged falsification of the documents of her own house. Then later they sentenced her to nine years detention for fraud. And lastly, on a joint basis the sentence was fixed at seven years. It is all an invention. Her case cannot bear the most minimal legal analysis. What’s more, the prison governor has asked for different documentation from the tribunals and the response has been silence. My wife is a hostage. It’s a strategy to break me down”.

Julio himself has been accused by the government of various crimes. But in the end the authorities let him go free. “When, on September 23rd, they arbitrarily held me in the Cubalex offices, no-one, in five police units, wanted to take me, because of the obvious irregularities of the case. The whole process is a farce”, which is the word Ferrer uses to refer to the political police and the Cuban legal system.

Julio Ferrer completed eleven months of detention in Prison 1580, located in  San Miguel del Padrón, southeast of Havana. “Who pays for those judicial errors?” I ask him. There is in Cuba a norm for compensation after any arbitrary legal action. But it never happens, least of all with someone who is considered to be an enemy of the Revolution”, replies the independent lawyer, who still maintains his unequal dispute with the despotic state.

“I am going to present an action in the tribunals against chancellor Bruno Rodríguez for the falsehoods and calumnies presented against me in the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in Geneva” says Ferrer.

“Who gains from this lawsuit? Don’t you know that Cuba is an authentic dictatorship?” I ask him. “Having a knowledge of the relevant laws puts you at an advantage. Not even the government complies with its own legislation. In this peaceful confrontation, we are demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the system. The weapon which can give us victory is having better legal knowledge than the government functionaries”, he replies.

Night starts to fall in El Pilar, the working class district in El Cerro where the untiring dissident lawyer lives. In the background you can hear the racket from a room near his home and a reggaeton at full volume.

Julio Ferrer turns on his old television. He wants to watch the National Series baseball game. Then he phones Carla, his daughter, and they chat for a while. Some day in October or November he hopes that his wife will knock on the door.

In the medium term, the Ferrer-Pavó partners will probably emigrate to the United States as political refugees. They don’t see any other way out.  They have suffered brutal harassment by the government. And in Cuba you find yourself in no mans land.

Translated by GH

The Cuban Regime Begins Slapping Its Tail On Dissidents In Response To U.S. Decision / Mario Lleonart

Iván Hernández Carrillo

Mario Lleonart, 29 September 2017 — The regime is already starting to unleash its blind fury over the U.S. government’s decision in response to the dictatorship’s inescapable and treacherous complicity in the attack on its diplomats.

Iván Hernández Carrillo was visited this morning by a bailiff of the Municipal Tribunal of Colón, who delivered an official summons to an legal hearing on Tuesday 17 October.

The summons does not reveal the charge behind the proceedings, so Iván went to the tribunal offices, where they told him that he would be tried for nonpayment of a fine — an obvious excuse. continue reading

Iván is one of the dissidents who bear the special designation of having been among the former political prisoners of conscience, the Group of 75 during Cuba’s Black Spring of 2003, who still remains in Cuba. This makes him a symbol that the regime wants to utilize in what is likely the start of a predictable wave of repression, with a goal to fill its holding pens with hostages. This is a longstanding practice of a system that abducts its own citizens so as to provoke ransom negotiations.

It is clear that the regime was already exploring these options that it always has up its sinister sleeve. On Friday, 1 September, following a search of his residence, they had communicated to Iván that he would be charged with the crime of inciting delinquency.

For more information, contact:
Iván Hernández Carrillo at phone number: 52599366
Or via email at: ivanlibre2011@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

What if Hurricane María had gone through Cuba? / Iván García

Photo: By Yariel Valdés González in Caibarié, a fishing village to the north of Villa Clara province, which suffered greatly in the path of Irma. Taken by Periodismo de Barrio

Ivan Garcia, 22 September 2017 — In that bit of Havana between Calle Línea and Avenida del Malecón, people are still taking out mattresses, clothes, furniture, and other things damaged by the sea which was driven inland by the powerful Hurricane Irma two weeks ago, and leaving them to air in the sun.

In any park, house in multiple occupation, or corner in Vedado, with a network of buildings and grand old houses with designs ranging from Art Deco and Neo-Classical to reinforced concrete, built before Fidel Castro changed architecture into the clunky and the vulgar, their residents tell stories with typical Cuban exaggeration. continue reading

“I am telling you that when the water got into the garage in my building, the cars were floating. It felt as if someone was tapping on the wall of my room, and it was the cars, which were drifting about like crazy spinning tops,” I am assured by Ignacio a 76-year-old pensioner, standing in a queue to get a portion of yellow rice with hot dogs for 5 pesos (20 cents USD).

In various kiosks improvised by the state to help people affected by Irma’s blast, they sell packets of crackers for 25 pesos, tins of sardines for 28 pesos and guava sticks for 17.

“People with money don’t buy that food, because here we now have electric light and gas in the street. This kind of “grub” is for the poorest people, who, both before and after the hurricane, lived without a cent to their name. The government doesn’t begin to understand that families who have no money, and there are lots of them, cannot buy stuff, even if they sell it cheap. They should give this food away without charge. It’s not our fault we are poor,” says Luis Manuel, a man with calloused hands who collects empty drink and beer cans and then sells them as a raw material.

Not everyone living in El Vedado is upper crust, earning lots of money and being sent dollars from family on the other side of the Straits of Florida. Just like Miramar and other middle class districts in Havana before 1959, El Vedado has been marginalised, many houses are in danger of collapsing, and lots of elegant residences have been transformed into slum tenements with hundreds of families living in dodgy conditions.

The patio of the big old house where the poet Dulce María Loynaz lived, in 14th Street between Línea and  Calzada, has been converted into a plot with innumerable pigstys made of wood and panels thrown up in a hurry.

Round and about the US embassy, where the hurricane mercilessly attacked the building, there are clusters of residential areas and basements of buildings converted into apartments which have been flooded up to the ceiling by sea water.

Magda, a single mother with three children, who sells cleaning products, clothing and memory cards on the side, brought to Havana in suitcases by “mules,” believes she is dogged by misfortune.

“I don’t know why, but destiny is treating me cruelly. I fight to take care of my kids, I am an honest person, I don’t rob or blame anybody. I have bad luck, like I was born under a bad sign.  I have spent fifty years  trying to live the way God wants and trying to get out of being poor. And there’s no way.  And now the government comes down from the clouds with the news that it’s going to sell building materials at half price. They’re either fools or they’re playing the fool. Can’t they understand that people aren’t living badly because they’re masochists? It’s because the money we have coming in isn’t enough to live any better. For people like me, with the roof falling down around our heads, the only way to repair your house is if the state covers all the cost,” says an angry Magda.

Up and down the country there is a frank discussion concerning what kind of strategy there should be about building materials needed to deal with natural disasters. Some think there should be affordable insurance policies, others that designers and civil engineers should come up with houses which are more hurricane-resistant.

“It’s a viscious circle. Every year the government sells you panels and poor quality building materials, and the following year, when a new hurricane comes along, the wind destroys your roof or your house again. What do they make corrugated iron roofs for? You don’t need to be a genius to see that hurricanes always affect the poorest people. None of the houses in Siboney or Miramar, where the elegant people live, suffered any upheavals from Irma,” says Eulogio, who lives on a plot in El Vedado.

Two weeks after the Irma bombshell destroyed thousands of houses, schools, hotels, crops, poultry farms and state institutions in its path, the people living in the areas most affected are at breaking point.

A fisherman living in Isabela de Sagua, 331 kms east of the capital, who is passing through Havana, says “Hurricane Irma practically wiped my village off the map. 90% of the houses were partly damaged or completely destroyed. It will be years before we can recover from it. If Hurricane María had gone through Cuba, we would have needed Jesus to come here after it and pray for us.”

Fifty-eight years after Hurricane Fidel Castro established communism in the island, burying freedom of the press, opposition parties, and converting democracy into empty words, hurricanes are the enemy to be defeated. They affect Cuba, the Caribbean and the United States; the number one enemy of the Castro brothers. Each time they are stronger and more destructive. Human ingenuity, which was able to put a man on the moon, create the internet and eradicate fatal diseases, hasn’t found an effective way to reduce their damage.

As long as the olive-green autocracy goes on distributing panels and materials which are only good for repairing minor damage, and while they go on building fewer than eight thousand solid houses a year, the fury of the hurricanes will carry on devastating the towns in their path. And, as always, the people most affected will be the poor.

Translated by GH