Kill, Already, If You Are Going to Kill / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Cuban State Security — that is, the Castroist assassins of the State — just as in Havana, have not ceased from monitoring and stigmatizing me for even one minute since I have been in the US.

It is the sole legacy of a dictatorship that from its inception disintegrated our nation in an irreversible manner.

But we Cubans are free. But we Cubans do not fear Evil. Castro has no more Cubans left. And now we are going to relaunch another country, another Cuba with no traces of Castroism, be it on the Island or in some other spot. There are plans. It is enough to merely awaken the political imagination, to break the bonds of our thinking that the dictatorship is the dictatorship.

And the page of Castroism will remain congealed as a sort of North Korea of the Caribbean, barbaric, abusive, unnecessary.

There will be another Havana, Brothers and Sisters.

Our children will be handsome, gorgeous and free. Never will they know the horror of so many generations destroyed by the person of Fidel and his blackmailed and salaried agents, as well as those already thirsting for lives that are whole, and the hopes of living them. Castroism is a criminal habit.

A Cuba will come that manifests permanent values: Good, Beauty, Truth, Kindness, Love — that which comes easily, which is common, which is natural.

If the assassins of visionaries do not permit me to arrive alive on that shore, there will be another Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo who will love all free Cuban men and women as much as I love them.

Castroism’s crimes are numbered.

Cubansummatum est!

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

14 November 2014

Not many negro or mestizo businessmen in Havana / Ivan Garcia

Cuba-Mar-2011-620x330Just as with most successful businesses in Cuba, the owners of Leyenda Habana, an elegant restaurant in El Cerro, surrounded by ranch houses, are white.

Two miles to the east of Leyenda Habana, in the poor and mostly black neighbourhood of San Leopoldo, the iconic private La Guarida restaurant, where US congressmen and the Queen of Spain have dined, also has a white proprietor. And, unless something has changed, the chef is black.

I invite you to visit glamorous bars like El Encuentro in Linea and L, Vedado: Shangrilá, in Playa, or El Slopy’s in Vibora Park, very near to La Palma; central crossroads in Arroyo Naranjo.

Apart from being comfortable and with efficient service, the common denominator is that the owners are white. Black people work in the kitchen, or, if they are very qualified, and look good, they dispense daiquiris and mojitos behind the bar.

The waitresses usually are white, young girls with beautiful faces and spectacular bodies. Could be pale-skinned mulattas who spend a fortune on straightening their hair to be similar to many white women.

The owners of rental properties with swimming pools or luxury apartments are also white. Or the owners of fleets of American cars and jeeps from the 40’s and 50’s, fitted with modern diesel engines, used as private taxis in Havana.

Ignacio, who has sun-tanned white skin, owns six automobiles and three Willys jeeps, made sixty years ago in the Detroit factories. Every day he turns over 600 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).

“Part of the money I invest in gasoline and in maintenance of the cars. I make juicy profits, but my business is in a judicial limbo as it is not something envisaged in the self-employment regulations. For the moment, the government lets us do it,” he indicated while he drinks a German beer.

When you ask him why it is that in the most successful private businesses, 90% of the owners are white, he replies: “Several reasons, ranging from subtle or open racism on the part of many business people, to economic reality, in that black Cubans are the ones with the lowest standard of living and receive fewer remittances from family abroad.”

Carlos, a sociologist, considers that not all of the blame for negroes and mestizos not occupying prominent positions in private businesses can be attributed to the Fidel Castro regime.

“This is a long-running story. When in 1886 they abolished slavery in Cuba, the negroes and mestizos started off at a disadvantage. They didn’t have property, knowledge or money to invest in businesses. They moved from being slaves to wage earners. They gained prestige and a better position in society by way of sport, music and manual trades.”

According to the sociologist, “The Revolution involved the negroes in the process, dressing them up in olive green and sending them to risk their lives in African wars. But in key positions in the economy, politics or audiovisual media, there was an obvious white supremacy.”

For Orestes, an economist, “We cannot overlook the detail that 80% of the Cubans who have done well in exile are whites. The first wave of emigrants to Florida were educated white people, nearly all business people with capital. And those who left without money, thanks to their knowledge and hard work, moved forward and triumphed in the US society.

And he adds that, in the subsequent waves in 1965, 1980 and 1994, there was a larger percentage of negroes and mestizos, but they were ill-prepared and they worked in poorly paid jobs in the  United States. “And because of that, they sent less money to their poor families in Cuba,” the economist explained.

The situation was capable of change. Now, dozens of sportsmen, mulattos and negroes, play abroad and some earn six figure salaries.

Although José Dariel Abreu, who plays for the Chicago White Sox and earns $68 million over seven years, in theory cannot invest one cent in Cuba, because of the embargo laws, one way or another, thousands of dollars get to his relations in the island and they are able to open small businesses in their provinces.

In spite of the fact that the majority of the owners of currently successful businesses in the capital are white, reggaeton singers, jazz players, musicians who commute between Cuba, the United States and Europe, have opened businesses or have provided finance for their family members.

The reggaeton performer Alexander, the write Leonardo Padura or the volleyball player Mireya Luis, among others, have opened bars, restaurants and private cafes with part of their earning in hard money.

But they are the few. Most of the negroes or mestizos who have permits to work for themselves, work twelve hours filling matchboxes, repairing shoes or open up a small shop in the the entrance to their house, with no grand pretensions, trying to earn 200 or 300 pesos a day.

Nearly always the competition from white people with bigger wallets gobble up the self-employed negroes or mulattos. Leonardo, a negro resident in La Vibora, in 2010 put up a jerry-built stall made of sheet metal painted ochre in the garden of his house.

“Things went well. Until in the corner, by the house, a relation of a general opened a modern, well-stocked cafeteria. From then on, my earnings have collapsed. I am thinking of closing,” he says. The owner and employees of the business competing with Leonardo are white.

Although in this case, the advantage didn’t lie in skin colour. Because in Cuba, if, apart from having money, you have a relative who has the medals of a general, that will open many doors. Including those which should remain shut.

Iván García

Translated by GH

13 September 2014

Miami in a graffito / Luis Felipe Rojas

We went to Miami’s Wynwood District today, a zone of street art, of abundant graffiti. Miami is also redeemed by these beauties and daubings, by this joy that is the festival of color mediated by no other rule than the imagination.

We walked today from one point to another in the district accopanied by the benevolence of a sun that heralds good times. I avoided taking pictures of the compositions and the depths already discussed in books — to gaze upon these lovely things and then press the shutter is to try one’s luck at Russian roulette.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Cultural Trick: “I’ll trade you a center fielder for an exiled essayist” / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo:  Luis Felipe Rojas

About the awarding of the Critic’s Prize (in Cuba) to the Cuban essayist Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria.  The scholar won it with a book published by Capiro Editions, from Santa Clara.

We have gone back 200 years, the epoch of the barter:

“I’ll trade you a central fielder for an exiled essayist,” said Mandamas.

“Let me think about it,” responded Queentrentodos…  Why don’t you take a salsa doctor? That way you’ll kill two birds with one stone: You send him to combat ebola and complete the artistic Assembly of the Cuban medical Brigade in Africa.

Translated by mlk.

24 September 2014

(Site manager’s note: This post was translated quite a while ago but somehow got stuck here as a ‘draft’ — sorry for the delay!)

What else can you expect from a TEDx in Havana? / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

TEDx event in Havana. (Víctor Ariel González)

TEDx event in Havana. (Víctor Ariel González)

14ymedio, Victor Ariel González, Havana, 18 November 2014 — I have spent several days trying to digest the mass of information coming out of the first TEDxHavana, where I was present as just another spectator. However, no matter how much I ruminate on it, I just can’t seem to swallow it. So before it gets too old, I must write this article, especially before its content becomes more toxic — because the more I consider the issue, the uglier I find it, and the worse I make it out to be.

To give the reader the opportunity to escape from this article early on, I will break the ice now with a phrase that sums up my general impression: the first TEDxHavana was, in essence, a fiasco. I don’t call it a disappointment, only because it is not surprising that in Cuba it is possible to distort the proper concept behind such an event. In the final analysis, more important and lasting things have been spoiled than the five hours of TEDx in the Covarrubias Hall of the National Theatre.

Paradoxically, if each presentation is considered separately, it can be said that there were more positive aspects to the event than negative ones. The diversity of topics discussed lent comprehensiveness to the program, although I still did not encounter Cubans there willing to say anything truly daring. On a personal note, I found interesting the presentations by Yudivián Almeida, X Alfonso and Natalia Bolívar, not to mention others that also shone, for the most part.

Nonetheless, there were various elements that detracted greatly from the proceedings. As the hours went by and it became evident that there would not be much more to the event, it was obvious that the plurality of discourse was limited to those differences that have been deemed acceptable by officialdom — nothing more. Thus, the first TEDxHavana failed to cross the frontiers of political censure.

Now, going on to the details, some of the talks were quite poor or made use of quite unfortunate phraseology. One example was when the architects Claudia Castillo and Orlando Inclán, in a presentation that they obviously had not rehearsed sufficiently, called the inhabitants of Havana an “elitist vanguard” because they get around in boteros — taxis — (“those incredible machines”), or that it is a “luxury” to look in the eyes of “he who brings the packet” instead of downloading movies from the Internet. In other words: “It’s so cool to be backward!”

I don’t call it a disappointment, only because it is not surprising that in Cuba it is possible to distort the proper concept behind such an event.

According to them, “all Cubans, when they hop aboard a botero, are aware that they are becoming a statistic.” The hushed derisive laughter emanating from the public seated behind me – who had their peak moment at the statement, “we invented ‘vintage’”– did not cease until those two inhabitants of a Havana that I don’t know, but that intrigues me, left the stage.

Eugene Jarecki added another bit of fantasy. The documentarian stated, in English, that Cubans are, above all, proud of their educational and healthcare systems, and very happy to live here. Of course, the more than half a million souls who in the past 20 years have emigrated to the US alone do not count. The same speaker said that he would not like to see how “savage capitalism” might arrive here and turn us into “just another Puerto Rico.” As he displayed postcards of Cuba such as those sold to tourists, Jarecki pretended to give me a tour of my own country.

Another North American suggested that there should be many, many independent film festivals; that “every individual should get a camera and produce a film” and show it “in his own cinema” or, simply, project it “onto the largest screen he can find.” This was Richard Peña, who obviously does not know that just very recently a government decree prohibited private video screens.

If anything tarnished the event, it was also its emcee, supposedly charged with threading together the various presentations and providing some dynamism to the endeavor. More than that, Amaury Pérez bestowed hugs and kisses upon almost everyone who arrived to give a talk. Few were able to escape his incontinent expressions of affection. As if that were not enough, we also had to endure his jokes in poor taste.

With all that occurred that Saturday afternoon, I was left with many unanswered questions because the organizers left no room in the program for voicing doubts. This was, above all, because neither CuCú Diamantes nor Andrés Levin wanted to pay any attention to me – first, to keep the matter under a “low profile” and second, because they wanted to have pictures taken. Frankly, I, too, would have ignored some nobody who might suddenly shout the question, “What would it take to be a presenter here next year?” – the beginner’s mistake of an amateur journalist.

The gathering served to market a sweetened image of Cuba, and its misery as a souvenir.

The gathering served to market a sweetened image of Cuba, and its misery as a souvenir; as a forum for some political campaign or other; and, according to Amaury Pérez, to demonstrate that “yes, there can be dialogue between Cubans and North Americans.” It turns out that some still need such demonstrations.

TEDx Havana was, among other things, an elite event orchestrated by show business denizens, as well as an opportunity to sell national beers as the “modest” price of 2 CUCs (which is 10% of the median monthly salary). Ingenious idea of the sponsors of this event! If at the next one these people give a talk titled “How to Cheat the Thirsty” I will applaud them until I burst.

The fact of a TEDx in Havana does not lack a certain transcendence, in spite of it all. An architecture student told me that she had not liked several presentations, but that it was “magical” to see the enormous sign with its red and white letters, the organization’s logo on an actual stage and not on a screen. Upon the conclusion of that inaugural gala of TED in Cuba, where a couple of extemporaneous versifiers improvised a rhyme for “our five heroes, prisoners of the Empire,” I ran into a friend who calls himself a “compulsive consumer of TED Talks” who confessed, visibly annoyed, that he “expected more from TED in Havana.”

May I be honest? I expected nothing more.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Shadow Market / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Vendors at a bus stop in Havana (14ymedio)]

Vendors at a bus stop in Havana (14ymedio)]

Street vendors are the last card in a clandestine business deck whose purpose is pure survival.

14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, Havana, 20 November 2014 — In the shadow of the doorways on Galleno Street in Havana, a young man shows several pairs of sunglasses that he has encased in a piece of polystyrene foam, popularly known as polyfoam. The improvised showcase is kept in a travel bag that can easily be moved. At his side, a girl announces in a low voice: “Colgate toothpaste, deodorant, cologne.”

Suddenly the young man grabs the polystyrene containing the spectacles, as if he were really dealing with a suitcase, and both walk away, their step and pulse accelerating. They disappear within a hallway. They wait. Fifteen minutes later they come out and place themselves again in a stretch of the same street. For the moment, they have managed to cheat the inspectors and the police.

They sell their wares clandestinely in order to survive. They risk being detained by the police, who confiscate their products and impose fines for “hoarding.” The fines can reach 3,000 pesos. Frequently they incur debts because they get the merchandise from a “wholesale” supplier to earn, at maximum, 1 to 3 CUC.

On many occasions it is the Cuban stewardesses or other workers or state officials with the privilege of going abroad and buying in any supermarket, together with the “mules,” each day more hounded, who manage to get through customs controls some batch of basic necessities. The street vendors are the last card in that business deck. “We live daily on what we manage to make. It is not enough to save. If you live for food you can’t buy clothes and if you live for clothes you can’t eat,” they contend.

She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and her identity card places her at some address in Ciego de Avila province. That is why she cannot get hired as a nurse in the capital: “I think that from Pinar del Rio to Guantanamo is Cuba. But as I was not born here (in Havana), I have no address here, I cannot work. I am illegal in my country.” But she does not complain: “The salaries are so low that I would have to leave my job as a nights-and-weekend nurse and sell in the street if I want to buy myself, for example, a pair of shoes.”

For his part, he has a tailor’s license and is authorized to sell homemade clothes. “The licenses mean nothing in this country. To sell ready-made clothes, they ask for a ton of papers to know where you bought the thread, the cloth and even the buttons. The government always wins and we do nothing but lose. They charge you taxes to sell what the licenses authorize but also they are charging you taxes for the prices that they fix for raw materials. That’s why we have to buy and sell on the black market,” he explains. The earnings for selling homemade ready-made clothes are minimal.

In January of this year the government prohibited the sale of imported clothes or any imported article. So that after paying for the tailor’s license and the familiar taxes, he comes out to sell eyeglasses, ready to run from the authorities. “I get these glasses at five CUC for two, sometimes three CUC. I did not steal them from anyone. And if the police come, they take them from me. They have already confiscated from me about three times.” In spite of the persecution, he has a powerful reason to continue going out to sell: “If I lie down to sleep, we die of hunger at home.”

Both youngsters report that there are days when they sell nothing. “The whole day on foot from 8:30 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon, running from here to there: if not the inspector, then the police, or the surveillance cameras.”

According to them, there are cameras installed on the corners. Thus they suffer the enormous disadvantage of not being able to see who is watching them. The girl indicates a column: “That wall covers the camera that is at the corner and that is why we stop here. We already have them figured, because if not they order to search for you because of the camera. For example, they order to search for the one who has the black blouse, which can be me.” In this atmosphere of tension and fear of being discovered, this subsistence economy unfolds.

The government harasses the mobile vendors while it woos the big companies of global capitalism. Cuba does not look attractive for those who undertake the economic path of mere survival. Not even legally. That’s why so many young people want to leave the island.

Translated by MLK

The Cuban “Sovereignty” Fable / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

The "Sovereignty" of Robinson Crusoe (CC)

The “Sovereignty” of Robinson Crusoe (CC)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havna, 11 November 2014– In recent weeks we have seen a lot of media hype on the subject of US embargo against the Cuban government and the implications for lifting it. The New York Times led the way, with several inflammatory anti-embargo editorials which resulted in immediate answers from numerous other digital venues, pointing to the dangers of the unconditional and unilateral withdrawal of the sanctions that would allow the Island’s regime new possibilities for extending and consolidating power after half a century of dictatorship.

Without a doubt, the issue of the embargo constitutes the Gordian knot that marks US-Cuba relations

Without a doubt, the issue of the embargo constitutes the Gordian knot that marks the Cuba-US relations, though with a clearly differentiating thread: If lifting the embargo is today an element of crucial strategic importance for the survival of the Cuban regime, it is not a priority for the US government, and it does not constitute a strategic point in that country’s foreign policy agenda.

This antecedent, by itself, explains that the negotiations about the relations between both governments should not develop on the principle of “same conditions” as Cuban officials and its troupe of organic intellectuals (candidly?) claim, since, while the survival of the Castro regime depends to great measure on the lifting of the US sanctions, in Washington, it is neither an element of strategic importance nor an economic or political priority.

In addition, it is ridiculous to suppose that the Cuban government — after hijacking the rights of the governed and excluding them of all legal benefit — making a show of an unspeakable cynicism, pretends to establish itself as defender of the “American people”, which has been deprived by their own government of the ability to travel to or to invest in Cuba as they wish, even if it is a well-known secret that the US is currently one of the major trading partners with Cuba, especially in foodstuffs, and that the presence of Americans is an everyday event in the main tourist destinations on the Island.

But above all, all this foreign policy debate debunks the main pillar on which the foundation of the whole structure of the Cuban revolution has been created: the unwavering defense of sovereignty.

The fallacy of Cuban “sovereignty”

In the 70s, Fidel Castro publicly mocked the embargo (“blockade” in the revolutionary jargon). By then, the much overhyped Cuban sovereignty omitted its humiliating subordination to the Soviet Union, legally endorsed in the [Cuban] Constitution and, under which, Cuba stood as a strategic base of the Russian communist empire in the Western Hemisphere, including in those relations of servitude the failed attempt to create a nuclear warhead base in the early days of the Castro era, the  existence of a Soviet spy base in Cuba, Soviet military troops on Cuban soil, building of a thermonuclear plant — which, fortunately, was never finished — sending Cuban troops to encourage and/or support armed conflicts in Latin America and Africa, among other commitments, whose scope and costs have not yet been disclosed.

As compensation, the Soviet Union supported the Cuban system through massive subsidies that allowed for the maintenance of the fabulous health and education programs on the Island, as well as other social benefits. By then, the so-called US “blockade” was reduced to teaching manuals and classroom indoctrination, or mentioned in some other official discourse, as long as it was appropriate to justify production inefficiencies or some shortage that the European communist bloc was unable to cover.

After the demise of the Soviet Union and of socialism in Eastern Europe, the regime managed, with relative success, an economic crisis without precedent in Cuba.

After the demise of the Soviet Union and of socialism in Eastern Europe, the regime managed, with relative success, an unprecedented economic crisis in Cuba, euphemistically known as the “Special Period”, thanks to two key factors: foreign investment from a group of adventurous entrepreneurs who believed that a virgin market and a system in ruins were sufficient conditions for bargaining advantageously  and the forced establishment of  opening enterprise in the form of small family business, two elements that had been demonized for decades, since the nationalization, in the early sixties, of foreign capital businesses, and seizing of small businesses later, during the so-called Revolutionary Offensive of 1968.

In the late 90’s, however, a new possibility for subsidies appeared on the scene, in the form of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez. His deeply populist and egotistical government assumed the maintenance of the Castro system based on the exploitation and ruthless squandering that country’s oil. At the same time, he sustained the Cuban sovereignty myth. This myth is the foundation of the revolutionary anti-imperialist tale (David vs. Goliath), played endlessly in this ignorant and superstitious region by a host of leftist opportunistic intellectuals that thrive in Latin America.

That explains how, after half of century of revolution, Cuba is still one of the most dependent countries in the Western world, and at the same time the “most sovereign” though, currently, it may be common knowledge, according to the very official acknowledgement. The final destiny of the Island depends on foreign capital investment.  It turns out that, in this nation, so very independent and sovereign, the olive–green oligarchs no longer mock the embargo, but they weep for its termination. It may be that their personal wealth, fruit of the plunder of the national treasury, is comfortably safe in foreign funds and vaults, but, without foreign investments, the days of their dynasty are counted.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, there have been about six US administrations (…) while Cuba continues with the same system.  

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall there have been about six US administrations, three presidents have ruled in post-communist Russia, and several more have followed in the governments of the countries of Eastern Europe, while the same system of government still remains in Cuba,  imposed by the succession of the Castro brothers, with adjustments and “renovations” that only serve to cover up the mimetic capacity of an elite military clique in the transition to state capitalism, the administrator of an economic and political monopoly that attempts to successfully survive the inevitable transformation of late-Castrism into something that no one knows for sure what it will be.

Today, while others resolve Cuba’s destinies, Cubans, always subjected to extraterritorial powers and at the mercy of an octogenarian autocracy – however sufficiently proud or stupid enough so as to not recognize it, and sufficiently meek as to not revolt — have ended up winning just one card: that of begging, only that the olive-green elite poses as a beggar, their hands held out palms up, asking the alms of foreign capital. Reality has ended up obeying the discourse: never before have we been more dependent.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Four Cubans Among the 50 Most Influential Latin-American Intellectuals of 2014 / 14ymedio

14YMEDIO, Havana/November 19, 2014

The Spanish political magazine Esglobal has included four Cubans in its list of 50 most influential Latin American intellectuals of 2014 published this Wednesday: historian and essayist Rafael Rojas, economist Carmelo Mesa-Lago, professor emeritus at the University of Pittsburgh, blogger and manager of 14ymedio Yoani Sanchez, and the writer Leonardo Padura.

The ranking, developed in collaboration with the Latin-American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLASCO), has as its objective “highlighting the enormous talent and variety of viewpoints that are generated in Spanish and Portuguese, as languages capable of offering alternatives to the hegemonic English in the contemporary world’s dissemination.

To select the intellectuals, the magazine used some basic criteria, like choosing living and active people who perform at least part of their work in Spanish or Portuguese with influence in the Latin-American or international setting.

Among the other intellectuals chosen by Esglobal are Chilean writer Isabel Allende, Pope Francis, Mexican economist Jorge Castaneda, Spanish sociologist Manuel Castells, Mexican activist and journalist Javier Sicilia and Nobel Prize for Literature winner Mario Vargas Llosa.

Translated by MLK

Raul Castro’s Migratory Reform Falters / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Cuban passport (CC)

Cuban passport (CC)

14ymedio, ELIECER AVILA, Las Tunas/November 15, 2014 — Officials, opposition and public opinion in general have recognized as positive the implementation of the Migratory Reform (covering emigration and travel) promoted by the Cuban government at the beginning of 2013.

In spite of the fact that the trips for many dissidents continue to be marked by abuse, delays and confiscations by Cuban customs authorities, the truth is that until now, only people subject to some kind of legal process, whether invented or not, have been prevented from travelling.

But this may be starting to change. Signs of a sudden regression, in regards to the new rules, come to us from the eastern part of the country.

Two officials, the Major “Oliver” and the Lieutenant Colonel “Vilma,” from State Security Management and Immigration and Alien Status Management (DIE), respectively, have communicated categorically to young Hanner Echavarria Licea that “it has been decided that you are not going to travel.”

To that end, today they retain his certified criminal record document, which the Peruvian embassy demands, so that he cannot participate in the conference “Civic Conscience and Citizen Participation” which will take place in Lima.

The youth, a teaching graduate, self-employed and son of a retired official of the FAR, is a serious and educated young man who enjoys high standing in his community. Precisely the kind of person that State Security cannot bear to see fighting for profound change in Cuba.

Echavarria Licea joined the political movement SOMOS+ and was elected by its members to be its leader in Las Tunas. This seems to be the reason for the current reprisal of not letting him leave the country.

His case could be palpable evidence that even today, someone without prior criminal history or any legal entanglement whatsoever, may be prevented from exercising his right to leave the country. Which would mean the end of the more or less serious application of the Migratory Reform.

Translated by MLK

Audiovisual Education / Regina Coyula

The concerns of cultural and UNEAC officials over the potentially dangerous ideological content of the paquete* (package) is also causing me some concern. I am not an avid consumer of either the paquete or of television in general, but a furtive look, a stolen glance, a scan across the horizon raises serious doubts about the ammunition these Cuban organizations have to counter the barrage of audiovisual material coming from this package.

Are they trying to educate us with soap operas like Avenida Brasil (Brazil Avenue), in which the growing middle class does not make the connection between economic prosperity and good manners or good taste?  Or, alternatively, is Paraíso Tropical (Lost Paradise), which is currently being broadcast, now considered to be the model?

Are they betting on Cuban soap operas, rejected as “ugly” because they portray the current reality or labeled as “sci-fi” because they sugarcoat that same reality?

Do the latest South Korean soap operas (where nothing is ugly and everybody is an idiot) have some deeper meaning that escapes me?

Are they thinking of getting rid of many of their musical programs in which triviality, vulgarity, sexism and bad taste exert a pull over producers as well as musicians?

Is education going to be achieved through interview programs, whether they deal with politics, addiction, entertainment or public services?

Will cinematic education disrupt the profile of their programming, turning the Saturday Movie into a different version of the Sunday Matinee and Midnight Cinema by replaying B movies?

All of this is making me wonder if officials are really as concerned about quality as they are that the paquete continues its expansion unchecked by state supervision. Nah! it doesn’t matter how many operations they carry out. Like the Hydra, for every distributor that is eliminated, two more show up. And if they are trying to counteract its effects with the above-mentioned content or other similar programming, the education of the citizenry will continue to decline. On the other hand, the future success of the paquete, in which everyone chooses what he or she wants, is guaranteed.

Translated by Corriver

*Translator’s note: The paquete, or package, is a selection of foreign entertainment programs distributed informally throughout Cuba. In July, 2014 the national television broadcaster, TVC, admitted it could not compete with its selection of programming. UNEAC is the Spanish abbreviation for the Artist’s and Writer’s Union of Cuba.

17 November 2014

TEDx Lands in Havana / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Herman Portocarrero, ambassador of the European Union Delegation, in Havana during his talk, “Borders Without Borders,” during TEDx Havana (Photo: 14ymedio)

Herman Portocarrero, ambassador of the European Union Delegation, in Havana during his talk, “Borders Without Borders,” during TEDx Havana (Photo: 14ymedio)

For some time, TEDx Havana had been cooking. Those of us who for years have followed the trail of this event, which mixes science, art, design, politics, education, culture and much ingenuity, were counting the days until we could hear on our national stages its stories of entrepreneurship, progress and creativity. Finally, that day arrived, to the gratification of many and the dissatisfaction of many others.

TED is a non-profit organization founded 25 years ago in California, which is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design. Its annual conference has become a feast of ideas and proposals, while the famous “TED Talks” provide a microphone to speakers who inspire their listeners to take on new projects. These talks have, over time, been sneaked into the alternative information networks in Cuba, and they have sparked a desire among the public to see these screen personalities in-person, in the here and now.

For these reasons, there was great anticipation at the news of the imminent landing in our city of that independent – and equally inspiring – part of TED, which is TEDx. The event, named InCUBAndo [“InCUBAting”], took place in the Covarrubias Hall of the National Theatre this past Saturday afternoon. Among the organizers credited in the printed program were the singer Cucú Diamante, the actor Jorge Perugorría, and Andrés Levin, music producer.

We almost did not learn of the arrival of TEDx until 24 hours prior to the curtains being drawn back at the National Theatre.

So, yes, the arrival of this program was literally a landing. The set design in the hall included some little allegorical pink airplanes – the meaning of which many in the audience wondered about – but which turned out to be part of a plastic art installation. Besides which, we almost did not learn of the arrival of TEDx until 24 hours prior to the curtains being drawn back at the National Theatre.

Some flyers distributed at the University of Havana and around the La Rampa cinema last Friday were the first signs to the Havana public that TEDx would arrive in our capital city. Actually, prior to this, the British ambassador to Cuba, Tim Cole, had already announced it on Twitter – but the news only got through to those with Internet access – of which there are very few in this “disconnected city.”

Regardless, as long as we could have TEDx, we were ready to forgive all: the haste of the arrangements, the lack of advertising, and even the “secrecy.” If the event had to occur under these conditions, well, so be it. At any rate, hundreds of Cubans arrived at the scene to hear these exceptional people who were here to tell us their life stories. One of the best presentations was the one titled “Borders Without Borders,” by the diplomat Herman Portocarrero, European Union representative in Cuba.

TEDx Havana participants greet the public at the conclusion of the presentation (Photo: 14ymedio)

TEDx Havana participants greet the public at the conclusion of the presentation (Photo: 14ymedio)

The energy in the X Alfonso Hall could be felt also from Portocarrero’s story of the birth and first steps of the Cuban Art Factory. Meanwhile the founder of the famous La Guarida restaurant tackled the difficult but gratifying path of the entrepreneur. As host, a dynamic and subtly humorous Amaury Pérez was a good link betweeb some parts of the program. Missing, however, were the voices – further away from the worlds of show business and diplomacy – of others whose ingenuity helps them to survive every day, negotiate the commonplace difficulties, and unbuckle themselves from the straightjacket of our reality.

I do not know the process that was employed to select speakers for TEDx Havana, but what I saw on the stage left me a taste of incompleteness and partiality. The dance music seemed intended to fill those voids and distract an audience that mainly had come to hear anecdotes, testimonies and life stories.

Some of the guest speakers politicized the proceedings, favoring, of course, the official line.

The worst moment was without a doubt the segment of extemporaneous versifiers Tomasita and Luis Paz – who in the middle of their improvisations sang praises to the five Cuban spies, of which three are still in prison in the United States. Up until that moment, many of us accepted the rules of TEDx Havana. Faced with the evident absences at those microphones, I believe that we had convinced ourselves that “it was all right that spaces not be politicized that way.” However, as it turned out, some of the guest speakers politicized the proceedings – favoring, of course, the official line.

Even with all the shambles, TEDx Havana leaves a good taste in the mouth – at the least a feeling that there are people not only with much to tell, but with expressiveness and composure in telling it before hundreds of attentive eyes. The experiences of this first edition will serve to better the second opportunity this event will have to take place among us.

If the organizers are open to suggestions for future TEDx events, it would be good to emphasize better and greater promotion prior to this feast of creativity and entrepreneurship. In addition, let us have transparency in the process of selecting the speakers, so that they may compete and audition in advance, from those who have created a small cottage industry of homemade preserves, to even those who, with ingenuity, laugh at censorship or dream of a Cuba where success in accomplishment is not something extraordinary, but commonplace.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Who is really blockading us? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The brand name of this company selling chicken portions in Havana tells you its origin: these products arrive here from the other side of the iron curtain, from the enemy’s shore. This “Product of USA” reminds us that more than ten years ago the US Congress approved licences for selling food products to the Cuban government, on a cash-only basis, but with the result that also for years the chain stores selling in CUC (Cuban convertible pesos, i.e. hard currency) on the island have insisted in selling these chicken portions at up to 4.50 CUC (about $5). If we bear in mind that historically this has been one of the cheapest meats on the world market, we can easily see that food for the people is not exactly treated as a special case by our government when it comes to turning a profit.

But to this type of profit in CUC we have to add its analog in CUP (Cuban pesos). Also years ago the state-run Food and Business Companies joined in the party: many administrators immediately “saw the light” and proceeded to start selling a pound of raw chicken on the black market for 25 pesos, that’s to say, the price  of the prepared product, like fried chicken, and so they keep hold of the surplus oil, and you can guess where that ends up.

In the end, Liborio, [a cartoon character representing the typical poor Cuban peasant] poor man, caught in the cross-fire, doesn’t receive his monthly bag of chicken, oil — and lots of the other things, speaking of Lindoro, [incompetent Lindoro is an archetypal useless boss of an unproductive Cuban company] –  that the people in headquarters get: poor Lindoro, who, in reality is the only loser. And the main culprit in all this continues to be the Cuban government, because of its obstinate and half-assed economic focuses, and also because of its unscrupulous pricing policy — the same one which fixes the price of a USED Geely auto at $38,000, which doesn’t cost $5,000 new, or which tries to sell us a shitty Suzuki moped for over $12,000 which cost a little more than $300.

Here everything comes down to the same thing; simply and straightforwardly our government is always pursuing one goal: blocking the well-being of the people by every means possible. And so, we should ask, who is it that is really blockading us? Lets see what the “Yankee Blockade” theorists have to say about that.

Translated by GH

9 October 2014