The Enigmatic Closing Of Plaza Carlos III Causes Discomfort

Plaza Carlos III Shopping Center, Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 March 2017 – It is almost noon on Sunday and a young couple, with their two young children in their arms, stops frustrated in front of the closed gate of the Plaza Carlos III Shopping Center. For a moment they are confused, they consult the clock and immediately become inquisitive towards several people who arrived earlier and who, like them, have stopped in front of the lattice. Some wait patiently in the entryway from very early, “in case they open later,” but in vain.

The scene has been repeated every day since Friday, March 24, the day when the commercial center, the largest and most popular of its kind in Cuba, was closed. Dozens of regular customers from various provinces in the interior have traveled to the capital just to stumble across a small and laconic sign on the security gate, which warns the obvious and offers no useful information: continue reading

DEAR CUSTOMER

THE PLAZA CARLOS III SHOPPING CENTER

IT WILL BE KEPT CLOSED UNTIL NEW ADVISORY

Apologize for the annoyances that we may occasion

GENERAL MANAGEMENT

Of course, without official information, the surprise closure of Plaza Carlos III has raised a lot of speculation, especially in the neighborhoods surrounding the enclave, in the heart of downtown Havana, being one of the pioneer shops of the “opening” to foreign currency transactions in Cuba, since the so-called decriminalization of the dollar, back in the 90’s of the last century. Since its opening as a foreign exchange market Carlos III has undergone several renovations in different stages, but never before have the sales to the public been completely discontinued.

Would-be customers mill around outside the shopping center (14ymedio)

Rumors are circulating that relate this unusual closure to the recent fires that have occurred in other establishments that operate in foreign currency in the municipality. “The management denounced to the fire department headquarters the bad state of the fire-fighting media, because it does not want the same thing to happen to them [as in the last ones], so they are renovating the whole system,” say some residents of the neighborhood who, according to what they say, received that information from some of the shopping center’s employees and officials. There are those who say that “the firemen came and found that there were flaws in the fire protection system.”

These days, however, no metal or metal bars covering the two entrances of the Plaza have been seen to deploy personnel or vehicles specializing in fire-fighting technology, nor have any workers been seen to be reinstalling or maintaining the electrical networks or other similar tasks.

The most visible interior hassle has been the employees of the place, occupied in general cleaning of the floors and windows, who have been reluctant to give explanations to those who are not satisfied with the simple poster and inquire about the date of reopening. “Until further notice,” they repeat, as automatons, those who deign to respond.

Other neighbors speak of a “general audit” that “becomes very complicated” due to the large number of shopping mall departments and the size and complexity of their stores. This conjecture is reinforced, on the one hand, by the experience of decades of cyclical (and futile) raids against mismanagement, administrative corruption, misappropriation, embezzlement, smuggling, black marketing and all other illegalities to be found in a socioeconomic system characterized by growing demand, insufficient supply and the poor management of the state monopoly on the economy. The regularity of which does not escape any establishment where a high amount of state resources moves.

The only information that is offered to those who come to the doors of the mall is a brief communication. (14ymedio)

On the other hand, the surprise and unannounced closing – with all the losses it entails in a shopping center that bills thousands of pesos in both national currencies – is a sign of the intervention of the highest ranking government auditors to detect irregularities on the spot without giving transgressors time to hide traces of their misdeeds.

If the alleged audit is, in fact, underway, it would be a demonstration of the nullity of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and their failure to prevent illegalities in the neighborhood. For several months the constant and strong police presence around the outer areas of the commercial center have conferred a deplorable image of a besieged square, while the “inside” thieves, those who are part of the staff, looked after their own interests.

There is every indication, for the moment, that it does not seem to have fallen prey to that closure epidemic that has recently affected several establishments of the capital that trade in hard currencies.

Last Sunday some trucks continued unloading merchandise in the Plaza Carlos III warehouses, which augurs that on an imprecise but possibly soon date, the mall will be reopened to the public. There is every indication, for the moment, that it does not seem to have fallen prey to that closure epidemic that has recently affected several establishments of the capital that trade in hard currencies.

Affected sites include the hardware stores at 5th, 42nd and La Puntilla, in the Playa municipality Playa; the Yumurí and Sylvain de Zanja and Belascoaín stores in Centro Habana; the Pan American TRD on 9th Street, in the Casino Deportivo neighborhood of the Cerro municipality; and numerous sale kiosks spread around different points of the city, just to mention some cases.

While the waiting lasts and the questions accumulate without answers, the more optimistic habaneros have begun to rub their hands in the intangible expectation that the next reopening of the popular Plaza Carlos III will be accompanied with a renewed merchandise, and that at least in the first days of resumed sales the usually depressed shelves of the different departments will offer a greater quantity and variety of products.

Hope is the last thing you lose.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Cuban Regime Survives by Fear / Iván García

Black berets with dogs patrolling the center of Havana. Taken from the Red Cubana de Comunicadores Comunitarios.

Iván García, 21 March 2017 — In the slum of Lawton, south of Havana, the need for housing has converted an old collective residence with narrow passageways into a bunkhouse. With dividers made from cardboard or bricks recovered from demolished buildings, “apartments” have appeared where a dozen families reside, living on the razor’s edge.

Among the blasting Reggaeton music and illegal businesses, cane alcohol, stolen the night before from a state distillery, is sold and later used in the preparation of home-made rum; or clothing with pirated labels, bought in bulk from stalls in Colón, a stone’s throw from the Panama Canal. A while back, when cattle were slaughtered in the Lawton or Virgen del Camino slaughterhouses, you could get beef at the wholesale price.

These overpopulated townships in the capital are cradles of prostitution, drugs and illegal gambling. Lawton, like no other neighborhood in Havana, is the “model” for marginalization and crime. People live from robbing state institutions, selling junk or whatever falls from a truck. continue reading

But don’t talk to them about political reforms, ask them to endorse a dissident party or protest about the brutal beatings that the political police give a few blocks away to the Ladies in White, who every Sunday speak about political prisoners and democracy in Cuba.

Let’s call him Miguel, a guy who earns money selling marijuana, psychotropic substances or cambolo, a lethal mix of cocaine with a small dose of bicarbonate. He’s been in prison almost a third of his life. He had plans to emigrate to the United States but interrupted them after Obama’s repeal of the “wet foot-dry foot” policy.

Miguel has few topics of conversation. Women, sports, under-the-table businesses. His life is a fixed portrait: alcohol, sex and “flying,” with reddened eyes from smoking marijuana.

When you ask his opinion about the dissident movement and the continued repression against the Ladies in White, he coughs slightly, scratches his chin, and says: “Man, get off that channel. Those women are crazy. This government of sons of bitches that we have, you aren’t going to bring it down with marches or speeches. If they don’t grab a gun, the security forces will always kick them down. They’re brave, but it’s not going to change this shitty country.”

Most of the neighbors in the converted bunkhouse think the same way. They’re capable of jumping the fence of a State factory to rob two gallons of alcohol, but don’t talk to them about politics, human rights or freedom of expression.

Mi amor, who wants to get into trouble? The police have gone nuts with the businesses and prostitution. But when you go down the path of human rights, you’re in trouble for life,” comments Denia, a matron.

She prefers to speak about her business. From a black bag she brings out her Huawei telephone and shows several photos of half-nude girls while chanting out the price. “Look how much money. Over there, whoever wants can beat them up,” says Denia, referring to the Ladies in White.

Generally, with a few exceptions, the citizens of the Republic of Cuba have become immune or prefer to opt for amnesia when the subjects of dissidence, freedom and democracy are brought up.

“There are several reasons. Pathological fear, which certainly infuses authoritarian societies like the Cuban one. You must add to that the fact that the Government media has known very well how to sell the story of an opposition that is minimal, divided and corrupt, interested only in American dollars,” affirms Carlos, a sociologist.

Also, the dissidence is operating on an uneven playing field. It doesn’t have hours of radio or television coverage to spread its political programs. The repression has obligated hundreds of political opponents to leave the country. And State Security has infiltrated moles in almost all the dissident groups.

“The special services efficiently short-circuit the relation of the neighbors of the barrio and the people who support the dissidence. How do you overcome that abyss? By expanding bridges to the interior of the Island. I believe the opposition is more focused on political crusades toward the exterior. The other is to amplify what the majority of Cubans want to hear: There isn’t food; to buy a change of clothing costs a three months’ salary; the terrible transport service; the water shortage….There is a long list of subjects the dissidents can exploit,” says Enrique.

I perceive that around 80 percent of the population has important common ground with the local opposition. The timid economic openings and repeals of absurd regulations were always claimed by the dissidence, from greater autonomy for private work, foreign travel or being tourists in their own country.

According to some dissidents, many neighbors approach them to say hello and delve into the motives for their detentions after a brutal verbal lynching or a beating. But there aren’t enough.

Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, the leader of the Alianza Democrática Oriental (Eastern Democratic Alliance) and director of Palenque Visión (Palenque Vision), felt frustrated when street protests demanding rights for everybody were taking place, and people were only watching from the curb of a sidewalk.

“One night I was in the hospital’s emergency room, since my son had a high fever, and I initiated a protest because of the poor medical attention. Several patients were in the same situation. But no one raised their voice when the patrols arrived and the political police detained me by force. That night I realized that I had to change my method to reach ordinary Cubans. Perhaps the independent press is a more effective way,” Lobaina told me several months ago in Guantánamo.

Although independent journalists reflect that other Cuba that the autocracy pretends to ignore, their notes, reports or complaints have a limited reach because of the lack of Internet service and the precariousness of their daily lives.

For the majority of citizens, democracy, human rights and freedom of expression are not synonymous with a plate of food, but with repression. How to awaken a Cuban from indifference is a good question for a debate.

Translated by Regina Anavy

An Unfortunate Article / Fernando Dámaso

Juventud Rebelde masthead from earlier years

Fernando Damaso, 26 March 2017 — In a mis-timed article, a journalist from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), a self-proclaimed Cuban youth, visits Hiroshima and unleashes her personal feeling about the events of 6 August 1945. She says she “is pained,” that “August in Hiroshima is forever” and shocked that a survivor, after the passage of 71 years, bears no grudge, and that “in Japan forgiveness is long-overdue subject.”

Then, instead of understanding that forgiveness is a sign of wisdom, she speaks about “the fiery blood of Cubans,” and says “it is hard to understand it.” continue reading

She’s right: We Cubans lack the wisdom necessary to forgive, and what’s more, to ask for forgiveness. To forgive and to ask for forgiveness are pending subjects here, despite the fact that our mambises — the original freedom fighters of a previous century — at the end of a real war, knew how to forgive.

These last 58 years are filled with bad examples. In Cuba hatred has overcome love, even though Jose Marti made it very clear that love builds and hatred destroys. The problem is that the example of Marti is used according to political convenience: one part of his thinking is manipulated and published and the other is hidden.

The journalist, to ride the wave, goes even further and addresses the visit and words of President Obama, when he was here. She says, “But that a victim of the Holocaust leans on his words to talk about the most painful moment?  That’s more than I can stand.”

Despite everything, I understand it: if she were not spiteful, filled with hatred and a practitioner of intolerance, it would be very difficult for her to write for Juventud Rebelde.

It is striking that “at this stage of the game,” when it is already lost and it will end very soon, instead of drawing useful conclusions from her visit, she shows herself to be so dogmatic. These are times to forgive and not to accumulate rancor and historical hatreds that, as can be seen, contribute absolutely nothing: Cuba is an example.

You have to know how to “turn the page” and not get stuck in the past. Japan demonstrates this with its spectacular development without losing its national dignity. It would be wise to learn from them.

 Translated by Laura

“On A Daily Basis I Prepare Around Fifty Lunches” / Cubanet

Source: Cubanet

cubanet square logoAy mi’jo, I would die of shame if I told you the things I’ve had to do, to earn a living (…) Fortunately, the best thing about working on my own is that even though beginnings are hard and there are always difficulties, I have managed to find my business (…)

Since I’m from Bauta [municipality about 25 miles southwest of Havana] I have to get up early almost every day, from Monday to Saturday, to be in Havana from 7 to 8 AM at a friend’s house who rents me her kitchen in Cerro. Then I have until noon to cook the food I’ll sell, and I have to make it well (…)

On a daily basis I prepare around fifty lunches. I put them in the containers I have, and around noon I go and sell them at a taxi stop by Parque de la Fraternidad.

Afterwards, I’ll go back to my friend’s house and prepare for the next day, buying anything I might need, or defrosting and seasoning meat. In the afternoon, I’m off to Bauta once again (…)

It’s been like that for five years (…) I’ve always been a dreamer, with many hopes and aspirations, but now at my age I try to not expect much from the future. Better to have it surprise me.

Translated by Leidy Johana Gonzalez and Brenda Rivera

“What I Want Most Is To Get Back To Volleyball” / Cubanet

Source: Cubanet

cubanet square logoI was a volleyball player in the last golden era of the sport in Cuba. I played alongside the best in the world: Marshal, Dennis, Pimienta, Diago, Iosvany Hernández. I played on the national team in the 1999 Tournament of the Americas in the United States, and in 2000 I almost went to Sydney, but right after that, during the best moment of my career, the team changed coaches and volleyball practically finished for me. They never called me again for the team and I decided to retire from the sport (…)

Since then, I’ve tried a thousand times to get back in.  I started training young boys, and I was even on a sports mission to Portugal, but I couldn’t maintain myself financially with that, and I had no choice but to start working as a security guard in various nightclubs, like so many others. (…)

What I want most is to get back to volleyball, at least to train and prepare the youth, but the way things are now, I believe I’m just going to have to keep maintaining law and order in the Havana nights.

Translated by Jorge Vásquez, Aliaksandra Rabtsava, Vanessa Parra Henao

Task for Alejandro Castro: Protecting Cuba’s Disabled / Juan Juan Almeida

Raul Castro’s son Alejandro Castro Espín.

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 March 2017 — On March 17 of this year, a group of NGO (non-governmental organization) representatives from Latin America and the Caribbean celebrated in Havana Cuba’s political agenda in support of people with disabilities of every kind.  The next day, for the twentieth time, Cuban institutions honored the legacy of Terry Fox by encouraging people to join in the traditional marathon.  It is interesting that, although the Cuban State and constitution guarantee the right to free education without discrimination, there are neither an educational policy nor laws designed to protect people with different abilities.

According to official figures, approximately 3% of the Cuban population lives with some limitation that keeps them from participating in the labor market, and as a result, they cannot access the funds to confront the many obstacles they face in life. continue reading

The present legislation regarding this issue is very clear, but not all people with limitations possesses “special protection” status. In order to prove need, a disabled person needs to be in a situation of vulnerability or of economic dependence.

There is a logical explanation: having a deficiency is not synonymous with being vulnerable.  There are many types of disabilities: physical, mental, motor, and even sensory, and not all necessarily make a person incapable of work. However, in the particular circumstances of the island of Cuba, this justification is very unjust. There is nobody legally responsible for determining or regulating, according to whatever conditions are established, exactly when a disabled person is considered deserving of being included in, or excluded from, “special protection.”  As a result, this right is being denied to all people with hinderances.

Furthermore, we should not forget that any individual receiving subsidies from social security for labor disability continues to be economically dependent.  Simply getting a pension should not disqualify one from “special protection” status. It is not a mathematical equation, but rather question of applying formulas to the present reality in order to be efficient and achieve the greatest social benefit.  What products or services are available to a person who receives 150 Cuban pesos a month (about $6 US)?

I suffer from a disease that, without the right treatment, makes it impossible for me to do certain things.  I speak from the knowledge of personal experience:  I know that Cuban associations for the physical-motor disabled, and for the visually or hearing impaired, such as ACLIFIM. ANSI, and ANSOC, work for the equal rights of people with handicaps, for recognition of their dignity, autonomy and social and community integration.  This, however, is pure publicity, because as long as the Government does not push for a real legal policy designed to stop us seeing disability as disease, they will not begin to tackle this controversial issue from a more inclusive and less discriminatory social perspective.

Perhaps, as Mariela Castro did for the LGBTI community, her brother Alejandro Castro Espín, known for having a visual impairment, should lead a campaign for the respect of equality and the rights of people with disabilities.  But, of course, the masses of handicapped, with shameful frequency, fail to be a priority for a “great leader” who has been held up as champion of human rights.

Translated by Claire Huttlinger

“There’s No Place To Skate So You Have To Adapt” / Cubanet

Source: Cubanet

cubanet square logoThere’s hardly anyplace left to skate. You can walk around here and the only thing you can find are parks, which are really useless and sometimes we bother people. Old people scold us. I have friends that practice in the middle of the street because the ramps and installations that once existed are in ruins and no one bothers to fix them.

I’m not a professional; those who are more involved with skateboarding skate around Prado. I skate more often in Paseo. I do it as a pastime or as a hobby, like they say in English. Sometimes before coming out I watch extreme sport videos. There are even kids who win competitions with incredible technique.

I don’t know if there are competitions here in Havana. I don’t think so. It’s difficult because there’s no place to skate so you have to adapt. My favorite athlete is Tony Hawk, one of the toughest skaters I have seen. But personally I’ve never dreamed of skating seriously, I mean professionally.

I am in 10th grade and there is not much entertainment here, or anywhere else. While other kids my age are listening to reggaeton or, I don’t know, wasting time talking nonsense and telling lies, I grab my skateboard and spend a few hours in the afternoon riding it.

Translated by Cynthia Vasquez Bermeo, Josselyn Lopez, Natalia Pardo

“And Then You Hear People Say That Racism Doesn’t Exist In Cuba” / Cubanet

Source: Cubanet

cubanet square logoI literally just saw a police officer ask a couple of kids for their identification and I’m pretty sure he did it because they were black. That’s just the life they were dealt. I have almost never seen the same happen to white kids. It’s as if whites are invisible to the police.

And then you hear people say that racism doesn’t exist in Cuba. And the funny thing is that it could’ve been those same whites that just finished robbing a house around here because whites also steal. I walk a lot around the neighborhood of Vedado, so I see many things.

Because of the color of my skin and my mean look, I get stopped all the time by the cops. I don’t want any problems. People look at me and think that I’m a tough guy but really, I don’t like fights or drama.

My thing is, I just like walking around town from time to time, finding small little jobs here and there to make money. Some days I sell fish and on other days I sell cans of paint.

I’m not really committed to anything right now but I have to find my way. I live alone but regardless I have to take care of myself. And on the weekends, I like to drink a little, like anybody would.

Definitely not beer though, because it’s more expensive. Besides, I’m more of a ‘rum’ type of guy, even though I advise people not to drink it. Rum is the reason why so many people are messed up in this country. I have a friend who went blind because he drank whatever he could get his hands on. I think he ended up drinking wood alcohol.

Translated by Oliver Inca, Patricio Pazmino, Marta Reyes

“San Lazaro Has Been My Savior” / Cubanet

Source: Cubanet

cubanet square logoSan Lázaro has been my savior. I’ve been through some very hard times and only when I placed my faith in San Lázaro was I able to find my way. Many people don’t understand why I do this. I left school in ninth grade, quite early, to work and help my mom. She earned very little money. How was she going to raise my ailing brother and me, if the money was never enough, not even for food?

They always called us ‘poorly dressed’, and to top it off we lived in a house cramped with people. (…) Since 2007 I’ve been making my pilgrimage. I remember the first time, I did the whole trip in somersaults. My brother went with me. I swear that one was the most exhausting trip. I passed through many villages, but I was told that was how it was supposed to be, I had to prove my faith. And I did.

Once I got to El Rincón they took pictures of me, movies… I felt that San Lázaro was with me. It was my first time at the Santuario del Rincón [the church dedicated to San Lázaro in the village of El Rincón to the south of Havna], and when I came in the door it was something amazing. Seeing the photographers and the people shouting, giving me water, it felt good. (…)

Today I’m alone, my brother feels better. I start my trajectory in November and I go around the streets of Havana collecting alms. Everyone stops, even the children. I see fear in their little faces, but one day they will understand.

Translated by: Beverly James, Aliya Kreisberg, Aracelys Pichardo-Bonilla

Censored at the Camaguey Festival, Rapper ‘Rapshela’ Denounces “Fear of Liberty” / 14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

Cuban rapper Rashel Cervantes, “Rapshela,” could not appear at the Trakean2 Festival because of not receiving authorization to reside abroad (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camaguey, 22 March 2017 – Hip Hop has become that redoubt of rebellion that other musical genres, like rock and roll, used to embody. The Trakean2 Fesitval, which ended Monday in Camaguey, gave voice to performers who sing as if they were shooting truths at the public, but censorship against Cuban rapper Rashel Cervantes – known as Rapshela – who lives in Spain, overshadowed the event.

Also missing were rappers who sing their lyrics in marginal neighborhoods where the genre enjoys the greatest vitality. But that is what was decided by the Brothers Saiz Association, who organized the ninth edition of the event with 40 participating rappers, including MCs (Masters of Ceremony), breakdancers and graffiti artists. Cockfights, the improvised verbal confrontations between musicians, were the moments most appreciated by the public.

Rapshela could not appear before the public in spite of having travelled to the Island for the occasion. Problems with her cultural visa and reproof by the organizers prevented it. continue reading

After spending her own money for the plane ticket from Barcelona, where she lives, Rapshela ran into the cancellation of the presumed institutional promise to pay for her travel from Havana to Camaguey. She managed to arrive nevertheless, but the obstacles had not ended: as a resident abroad she did not receive authorization to appear in time.

Festival Trakean2, which ended Monday in Camaguey, gave voice to rap, hip hop and other urban genre singers. (14ymedio)

“As soon as I arrived I went to the AHS, and the organizer [Eliecer Velazquez] told me that I could not sing because I was living abroad,” she tells this daily. Nor was the artist included in the lodging and food options that other guests enjoyed. A situation that she regrets “after four months of speaking” with the event promoters.

In a gesture of solidarity, Los Compinches, a group from Pinar del Rio, invited Rapshela to accompany them to the stage. But when the artist began to sing, the Festival organizers ordered the microphone sound lowered. A little later the spectacle came to an end.

The event generated an intense debate when other musicians and the public clamored for her to be permitted to sing, but the organizers proved inflexible. Although they declined to give their version of what happened, Eliecer Velazquez justified himself to the artist, arguing that it was the first time that he had organized a festival, and he did not know “that there was so much paperwork to do.” The promoter explained to the singer that she sought the cultural visa too late and that is why they did not grant it.

Among the attendees, many considered it absurd that a Cuban had to wait for a cultural visa to appear in the city where she was born, so they saw what happened as censorship masked in bureaucratic delays.

The organization also had disagreements with some lyrics by the group Los Compinches, in which marijuana consumption is promoted and Cuba’s economic situation is criticized.

Before the microphones went mute, the spectators had shown great enthusiasm and repeated choruses like Don’t step on the herb, smoke it. A second song increased nervousness of the authorities when the singer explained that the video clip that accompanied the lyrics had been censored.

Joaquin Corbillon Perez, member of the group, does not explain what they did wrong although he argues that the Brothers Saiz Association is not responsible for the situation. “The guilty ones are much higher and are the ones who prohibit it,” he said.

The AHS director from Pinar del Rio, Denis Perez Acanda, also a member of Los Compinches, defended the lyrics of his song and characterized as an “act of repression” the fact that the organizers did not let Rapshela sing.

For Rapshela the problems that she suffered transcend the music scene. “The Cuban people are censored,” she says. In her opinion “rap is a weapon for expression” and “a window to liberty, but here they are scared of liberty.”

The organizer of the Havana female rap festival and manager of the Somos Mucho Más (We Are Much More) project, Yamay Mejias Hernandez, known as La Fina (The Fine One), showed her solidarity with Rapshela because “she is Cuban, Camagueyan, and has never performed in her land. What she wanted was to introduce herself and for her people to hear her.”

Mejias Hernandez, also a feminist activist, told 14ymedio about the festival’s other problems. “It needs a little more organization, maybe more coordination in the places where they hold the concerts at night.” She thinks that Cristo Park, a site intended to offer concerts, did not meet the requirements for nighttime performances.

“There have to be more theoretical events like discussions, meetings, book readings,” adds Mejias Hernandez. “They need more female presence because at this event only two female rappers appeared.” The singer asserts that throughout the Island there are many females who are connected to the genre.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

“Now That ‘El Supremo’ Is Gone, I’ll Be The King Of Havana” / Cubanet

Source: Cubanet

cubanet square logoYou’re lucky to be witnessing the debut of one of the major go-getters in the bicitaxi business. Old Havana is crammed with ‘yumas’ [foreigners]. You see them on the streets, getting crazy, desperate to move from one place to another, looking and always asking. (…) And here’s Pancho, ready to be of service to those who need it. (…) I’ll admit I still have to fix up my “ship”, paint it, add cushions, lights, music. I’ll even have to dress better; I know the competition will back-stab you with those little details. (…)

Even though it’s my first week, I can already see that a lot of people are trying to get into the bicitaxi trade. You’re in constant contact with foreigners who are the ones with big bucks. (...) Since networking is everything, I’ve already partnered with some hotel owners, so I can play that card. If I happen to pick someone up who doesn’t have a place to stay, I’ll drive them to one of my contacts and afterwards I’ll collect my commission.  (…)

I have a lot of advantages, but I’m just getting started. I know the neighborhood. I know five languages, at least enough to communicate the basics. Besides, now that “El Supremo” is gone, I’ll be the king of Havana. As the saying goes: I’ve got my charm going for me, asere! I have the key!

Translated by Camila Fernandez, Kendra Gil, Jingqi He

"Fatal attraction" Magali Alabau’s Riddles / Luis Felipe Rojas

The poet Magali Alabau signs copies of her book “Fatal Attraction” (“Amor Fatal”) in La Esquina de las Palabras Lounge, Coral Gables, Miami.

Luis Felipe Rojas, 14 March 2017 — A poet writes to unpick puzzles, to sell and buy other questions.  The Cuban poet Magali Alabau came to Miami this Friday 10th March to give a reading from her book “Fatal Attraction” (Betania, 2016). She did it in La Esquina de las Palabras Lounge, which was founded and run by the poet Joaquín Gálvez in Café Demetrio in Coral Gables.

Alabau, a stage actress, who didn’t decide to write until she hit 40, has a voice which slides words around to tell a story which is forgotten here in the north, which all of us in exile are seeking – everyone in exile is seeking. Her sense of direction as she weighs every step becomes a necessity. “Poetry is the foundation through the word, and in the word”, states Heidegger when he embraces the poetry of Hölderlin, and it is precisely in that tone of voice that Magali Alabau has proposed to construct and name her domain, nomatter how small … or resonant … or large it seems to us. There is no other foundation which is not a word.

“This foreign body / which is, during the day, / only involuntary movements, prayer which starts / and doesn’t finish.” continue reading

What is praiseworthy in a poet who lowers her head to give herself to others, to not look back, and to follow those voices which will call to her all her life? Nothing, we can reply, if we understand the ancient profession rebuilt time and time again on the graves of other voices, of other authors.

The mistakes of friendship, the errors of custom, pseudo love, and violence, flow through this book like a flood. In Magali’s voice we encounter accidents and not human characteristics. It is a text without makeup, for which we should be thankful. “I can hear you behind me / harping on about supposed predictions. / I laugh at you, yes, I laugh”, she says to death.

Alabau lives in New York and is the author of a dozen books of poems, with a special mention for “Hermanas”, which won the Poesía Latina Prize in 1992; “Electra, Clitemnestra” (Ed. El Maitén, Chile, 1986) and  “Hemos llegado a Ilión” (Betania,, 19922), among others.

Translated by GH

“My Father Washed His Hands Of Me And My Mom Did The Best She Could” / Cubanet

Source: Cubanet

cubanet square logoI studied at a Camilito [one of the Camilo Cienfuegos Military Academies]. But for financial reasons, I had to drop out and start working. My father washed his hands of me and my mom did the best she could. When I used to go out on the weekends, I would come home with no shoes. It was very hard.

I started working as a bicycle taxi driver approximately four years ago. My work hours are around 7AM to 5PM, and I pay 3 CUC [equivalent to $3.00 U.S.] a day for the bicycle rental. Clients call me or look for me because I have a reputation for being trustworthy and honest. Thanks to them I always have work.

What I’d really like is the restaurant business, to be a bartender or something like that. I’ve always wanted to better myself professionally, but if I were attending night school I couldn’t work past 1pm. That wouldn’t allow me to earn enough money to accomplish the goals I’ve set. If I continue down this path, ten years from now, I’m not going to be much good to anyone unless my quality of life changes for the better.

I have thought about leaving Cuba. I love my country, but there is so much that needs to be changed and no one knows where to start. My dream is to have my own business. I’m willing to make sacrifices. But I don’t want to do it for no reason.

Translated by Mayra Condo, Karlina Cordero, Stephanie Desouza

“My Dream Was to Become a Cameraman” / Cubanet

Angel Martinez. Source: Cubanet

cubanet square logoMy name is Ángel Martínez and my dream was to become a cameraman. I always thought about photography. Just like you, my friends made fun of me, but I was stubborn and I started to work as a television assistant in 1954. I got to know the best of the culture of that time. At work, I was the first one in and the last one out. That’s how I climbed up the ladder till I earned the title of cameraman (…)

Many years later in the middle of the Special Period [the early 1990s], they retired me. They explained that they were concerned about me making a mistake behind the cameras, and that I was of retirement age. They gave me this bicycle, which helps me get around and sell my goods [on the bike are paper cones filled with peanuts]. It’s not a lot of money but it’s some. At least enough to pay taxes and keep a little over 260 pesos, which is my pension. They convinced me, but I swear that even now that the equipment is more modern, as long as I’m mentally fit, I will keep on dreaming.

Translated by Maite Arias, Tamara Belmeni and Jorge Caceres

Obama’s Unquestionable Imprint / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Obama gave a historic speech at the Gran Teatro in Havana during his visit to Cuba (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 March 2017 — Putting aside the passions of supporters and detractors of the policies drawn up by President Barack Obama for Cuba, there is no doubt that, for better or worse, it set indelible before and after benchmarks in the lives of the Cuban people.

The first benchmark was the reestablishment of relations after half a century of confrontation, which – although it did not even come close to the high expectations of Cubans – did manage to expose the Cuban dictatorship to the scrutiny of international public opinion, thus demonstrating that the regime is the true obstacle to the wellbeing and happiness of Cubans. continue reading

Consequently, although Cubans are no freer, after two years of rapprochement with the former “imperialist enemy,” the Castro regime has run out of arguments to justify the absence of economic, political and social rights, and thus has lost credibility in the International forums and in political circles, where it is being openly questioned.

Just a few days before leaving the White House, Obama took another decisive step by repealing the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, giving up immigration privileges for Cubans in the US, and thereby crushing the hopes of an large number of Cubans who aspired to enjoy the rights and prosperity in that destination, that they can only dream about now, and are unable to demand in their own country.

Thus, in two years, these two Cuban exceptions which seemed eternal, suddenly disappeared: an old dictatorship, long tolerated by the international community when it was considered the “small, heroic and defenseless victim resisting the onslaught of the strongest of world powers,” and the people – equally victimized, persecuted, helpless and subjugated by the dictatorship enthroned in power – who were forced to emigrate, deserving the consubstantial privilege, above that of any other immigrants, to live quietly in the territory of the United States, no longer setting foot in Cuba.

Thus, in the future, the Castro regime can be considered as what it really is: a prosaic dictatorship without heroic attire, while those Cubans who flee it without making the slightest effort to face it, will not be described as “politically persecuted,” but as any other run of the mill immigrants, such as those throughout the world who aspire to enjoy the wellbeing and opportunities that residing in the most developed country on the planet offers. No more, no less.

That is to say, though Barack Obama did not improve or worsen the Cuban crisis, we, nevertheless, must thank him for putting things in their right perspective, whether we like it or not. But it may be that some, or perhaps too many, find it much more comfortable to steer the direct burden of the current state of affairs in Cuba – including increases in repression – while others (more astute) here and there toss their hair and tear their patriotic garments against the “betrayal” of the former leader, generally with the untenable intention of making a political career or of continuing to thrive in the Cuban calamity.

These are the “hard hand” theorists who will attempt to use it as a trump card to overthrow the Castro dictatorship, this time with the hypothetical support of the new US President, as if that strategy had not proved ineffective during the previous 50 years.

The sad paradox is that, judging from the present reality, the Castro way of government – like other known dictatorships – will not “fall,” defeated by the indignant people, fed up with poverty and oppression. Neither will it be crushed by the tenacious struggle of the opposition or the pressures of some foreign government. Most likely, instead of falling, the Castro regime will gently slide down of its own accord into another advantageous form of existence in a different socioeconomic setting.

For, while not a few Cuban groups from both shores wear themselves out and gloat over mutual reproaches and useless lamentations, the olive green mafia continues behind the scenes, distributing the pie, quietly accommodating itself in the best positions and palming its cards under our clueless noses, to continue to enjoy the benefits and the privileges of power when the last remnants of the shabby backdrop of “socialism, Castro style,” which is all that barely remains of the glorious revolutionary project, will finally fall.

To the surprise of the army of disinherited survivors of the communist experiment, the progeny of the historical generation and their accompanying generals could emerge, transmuted into tycoons and entrepreneurs, thus consummating the cycle of the swindle that begun in 1959. This is, so far, the most likely scenario.

Perhaps by then 60 years of totalitarianism would have elapsed, and eleven presidents will have passed through the White House, but until today, only one of them, Barack Obama, will have influenced, in such a defining way, in the political future of Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting