I’ll Stick With "America" / Fernando Damaso

The official government Cuban press sometimes surprises us with some “profound” article that causes us to think. Last Tuesday one such article appeared in Juventud Rebelde with the title, “Abya Yala, the aboriginal name of America.”

This kind of gesture aimed at erasing the 522 years since Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America, marked on Oct. 12, has now become a mental trauma for some people. Just to be critical, they have even criticized the concept, “Meeting of Two Cultures,” which seems right to me.

It turns out that, according to the so-called “original peoples” (who in reality are not so “original” being that before them came many others, even going back to the first being considered human) and their defenders, Earth is not called that, but rather, “Pachamama,” and America is “Ixachilan,” “Runa Pacha,” or “Abya Yala.” That is, according to these “originalists,” gathered in multiple workshops, conferences, campaigns, congresses and summits, it was decided that, as of 2007, instead of “Americans” we are “abyayalesians.” If we follow this logic, then instead of “earthlings” we should be called “pachamamians.” Really, I do not like these little names. I’ll stick with the current ones.

Every country names the “Earth” and “America” in its own language, but for all, they are “Earth” and “America.” This is what allows that, although we speak different languages, we can still understand each other. This business of everyone pretending to give his local name to those things that involve us all, aside from being a ridiculous pursuit, is just nonsense. Besides, America, when it had contact with Europeans, was no great nation or even close to being one. There resided in America various tribes, some more developed than others, that warred amongst themselves, had their own dialects, and lacked a common language. The Spanish language, as the poet Pablo Neruda pointed out, allowed us to understand each other, just as did Portuguese and English.

This snobbery of wanting to change historical names constitutes a true waste of time and resources. Respecting and admiring what our ancestors – from the Greeks to the Aztecs, without forgetting other civilizations – contributed to the development of humanity, those peoples known as “original” should devote their efforts to making up for the hundreds of years of backwardness they suffer in relation to those who are not “original” but who, nonetheless, by virtue of talent and hard work, have given humanity the majority of goods of all kinds that we enjoy – and that many “originals” also enjoy, starting with their leaders.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

19 October 2014

Users Bothered By Increase in Internet Prices at Presidente Hotel /14ymedio

14YMEDIO, Havana, 24 October 2014 — Jorge Suarez has been connecting to the Internet for six months at the Presidente Hotel. In recent weeks he has seen an increase in the number of clients who use the wireless connection of the central Havana lodging. Nevertheless, some days ago he got a bitter surprise when the employees informed him of an increase in the price of the service. The measure was not due to a regulation by the Cuban Telecommunications Enterprise (ETECSA) but due to a decision by the management of the place.

The management of the Presidente Hotel has decided to increase the service to 8.50 convertible pesos since it has required a minimum purchase of 4 CUC in the cafeteria of the place, to which is added the price of an hour of Internet connection which is 4.50 CUC. The decision is aimed at decreasing the number of people who show up daily to their facility to navigate the web or check their email. “These people were filling us up, and that is not good for tourists,” says a cleaning lady who prefers to remain anonymous.

While most places that offer the navigation service keep the cost at 4.50 convertible pesos per hour, the Presidente Hotel has invoked the “discretionary” rate. Clients confirm that before the increase in connection costs, the service had been deteriorating, and most of the time at the desk they said that “there were no internet cards to sell.”

Jorge Suarez tells how he was losing confidence in being able to access the network from the well-known hotel establishment. “I knew that they were going to do something to hinder the connection, because every day the workers in this place looked with harsher faces at those of us who came and sat on the terrace or in the lobby with a laptop or a tablet,” he explains. “They told us that we had to make a purchase to be able to be here, but the prices of everything in this place are through the roof.”

The young man, a civil engineering graduate, has no other means of viewing digital sites or answering his email. “I would prefer internet in my home, I only come here because I cannot access a home connection.” The measure implemented in the Presidente Hotel leaves him without any options. “The price before already seemed expensive to me, but the new one is simply beyond reach,” he says with frustration.

According to official statistics in Cuba – with a population of more than 11 million inhabitants – there are 1,014,000 computers and more than 2.9 million internet users. The figure, nevertheless, has been questioned by those who assert that as “internet users” the government includes people who only have access to a national intranet with health or cultural content.

Cuba is the least connected country in Latin America, in spite of the fact that in February 2011 a fiber optic cable was installed between Venezuela and the east side of the island, which at first was announced as the best option for guaranteeing the highest connectivity in the country. Three years later, the government has only opened something more than a hundred public navigation places and offered an email service via mobile phones.

Cubans like Jorge Suarez keep waiting to become web surfers.

Translated by MLK      

Fear Has Seized the Artistic Community of Pinar del Rio / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

The strange ramblings of Utopito, Pedro Pablo Oliva. (Source: Web Utopias and Dissent)

The strange ramblings of Utopito, Pedro Pablo Oliva. (Source: Web Utopias and Dissent)

14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez,Pinar del Río, 25 September 2014 — The artists’ guild in Pinar del Rio is living in distressing times because of the cancellation of the exposition by Pedro Pablo Oliva, “Utopias and Dissidences.” Talking about the most famous of the Pinareno painters has turned into a sad argument by Tyrians and Trojans, some in favor, almost in whispers, and others not so much, also in a quite low tone. But what the whisperers have in common is that they are living a fear that is corroding them and brings up the miseries and limitations that we humans all suffer, but that situations like this multiply.

The way in which the machinery of creating enemies can be efficient and dissuasive then becomes the model, the perception of real danger has been the offering of a local artistic community that shows its solidarity by emulating Nicodemus: they do not want to be seen or heard. They have given to the victim their absence and silence. They have been simple spectators, once again, of the crime of exclusion and disqualification. Listeners at a trial in which they themselves have been condemned although they may only have attended as the public.

The inquisitors of Pedro Pablo Oliva have known how to stimulate in the neurological systems of many Pinareno creators the amygdala situated in the temporal lobe which fires that feeling that we call fear. Although a scant minority has risked and has stood out in spite of also admitting its fears. These last have revived the artistic brotherhood in Pinar; some few carry the decorum of many; someone said one day, those few have meant a breath of hope in the middle of so much impoverishing hate against someone who only has sown love and has been consistent with himself. That is the price of honesty.

The others, the majority, are captivated by reforms that award airplane trips and trips for compensation that rot the soul and ruin the brush.

On the other hand, the common people possess an intuitive intelligence, flavorful and uninhibited and tell you to your face what they think. Overall, they do not plan to fly or exhibit in halls of the elite. Without any ambiguity that take sides with Pedro Pablo, both as a person and an artist, and lament the fear of his fellow painters, according to rumors.

That’s why I think that, although what has happened has been a sovereign injustice, it has served to put on the table who is company for cocktails, galleries and inaugurations and who accompanies you on the road overcoming their fears and discarding the complicity of silence and pretense.

It has been painful for Pedro Pablo, his family, work team and all of us who love him as a friend and national treasure, but instructive. Although it may seem utopian, I think that the night we are living today will not have the last word. It only serves as the anteroom for the light of day.

Translated by MLK

Berta Soler: They Must Put An End To This / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Berta Coler, Leader of the Ladies in White

Berta Soler, Leader of the Ladies in White

14ymedio, Havana, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, 21 October 2014 — Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, has called for a vigil this October 21 in front of the Diez de Octubre Municipal Court in Havana. The reason is the new suspension of the trial of Sonia Garro.

Soler explained that there are “dubious things” in the way the authorities have handled this latest extension. “Sonia called to tell me that a captain had told her that the trial was suspended, but she did not believe it.” The activist also said that Sonia Garro’s defense lawyer “was unaware” of the decision. The new date for holding the criminal trial has been set for next November 7.

“We do not trust the Cuban Government, therefore the vigil goes on,” the leader of the Ladies in White told this newspaper. Soler does not rule out that “all this supposed suspension is for the purpose of demobilizing the people.” So, “we are going to be there anyway,” she announced.

There will also be a vigil in the interior of the country because it is expected that in front of the courts of Santiago de Cuba and other cities peaceful demonstrations similar to that in Havana will take place. The Diez de Octubre municipal court is at Juan Delgado and Patrocinio, and Berta Soler says that “the plan is to begin at 8:00 a.m. and last until noon. It depends on whether they let us or not.”

The activist also reported that “since this Saturday, State Security has reinforced vigilance over the Ladies in White.” This is the third time that they have suspended the trial of Sonia Garro. “They must to put an end to this,” she demands.

Translated by MLK

Seasonings and Their Uses / 14ymedio, Rebeca Monzo

14ymedio, Rebeca Monzó, Havana | October 14, 2014 — The high cost and the limited selection of basic produce forces us to trek from one farmer’s market to another in search of the most essential ingredients for our kitchens.

These days the prices for vegetables as basic as onions, garlic and peppers, indispensable in the kitchen, are so unbelievable that you would think they were threaded in 18 carat gold. The hard-currency stores have stocked various imported spices of good quality that generally are somewhat more economical.

So here I will list some of them, along with their uses and applications:

Garlic Powder.  Well known by all for its use – however, being a concentrated product, it must be used carefully, with a concomitant reduction in the amount of salt used in the same recipe. Very appropriate for soups, and meat and fish sauces. A little goes a long way. Continue reading

What Happens If Ebola Comes To Cuba? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

The Ebola outbreak on the world epidemiological scene will obviously involve a huge challenge for every country that is reached by the current epidemic, already registered as the greatest in history and that in recent days has reached about 9000 confirmed cases — although experts say that figure is an undercount.  The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reported that the epidemic is not being confronted will all the political rigor that the moment demands on the part of the international community and also warned that if the situation is not brought under control in time, by 2015 it predicts an incidence of about a million and a half cases.

It is easy to conclude that arriving at this state of things the danger would only grow exponentially.  We are confronting an extremely contagious illness of non-vectoral transmission, that can be spread person to person through the most subtle contact with any bodily fluid of an infected person — and that may be transmitted sexually to boot, given that the virus is isolated in semen until 90 days after recovery. Continue reading

The Long Tour of Pancho Cespedes / Regina Coyula

I’m going to start gathering my posts from other sites here, because I’m writing very little  these days and have half-abandoned my blog. In addition to this concert, I attended the one by Fito Paez and enjoyed it even more than this one. However, Fito came (to Cuba) two years ago, while Pancho had stopped singing for the public for a while. Here, then, is this chronicle published in 14ymedio.

From 8:00 in the evening on Saturday, the traffic jams at the corner of 1st and 10th in Miramar were a sure sign that a major event was in the works at the Karl Marx theater. Well-known artists such as Carlos Varela and Edesio Alejandro could be spotted in the crowed.

Shortly after 9:00 pm the hall was packed, and an agile, tall and slim Pancho Céspedes made an entrance sporting his new image. Having been away for 24 years from performing for his fans, he was quite nervous. He said so various times, plus it was obvious. However, that nervousness could not ruin the more than two hours of conversation, smiles, tears and – above all else – the songs shared with a public that welcomed him back with affection, sang along with him, and were all the while focused on making him feel comfortable. Pancho had come home. Continue reading

Cuban Government: Two Strategies / Juan Juan Almeida

The man looks like himself.  That’s why, I don’t hit it off with hate.  It’s true, I was born and raised surrounded by men who love to speechify and believe themselves owners of the absolute truth, so much that they imposed it by force with total impunity.

Maybe that’s why some days ago was I surprised myself thinking that separating myself from that government group to which I am genetically tied, more than anything, was due to a strange defect or capacity that I have for accepting criticism and enjoying those insults that for some are attacks and for me, charming primitivism. Continue reading

Of Jails In Cuba / Ivan Garcia

A "combatant" as Cuban prison guards are called, watches over prisoners working in their new uniforms.

For Saul prison is like his second home. He celebrated his 63rd birthday behind bars, fabricating cement and gravel blocks for a Cuban state enterprise called Provari, which makes everything from bricks, tiles and mattresses to insecticides and sells them for hard currency.

Saul knows the island’s penitentiary map like few do. Since 19 years of age he has been held in the main prisons: La Cabana, Chafarinas in Guantanamo, Boniato in Santiago de Cuba and the jails built by Fidel Castro like the Combinado del Este in Havana, Aguica in Matanzas and Canaleta in Ciego de Avila.

“In all, since I was a prisoner for the first time in 1970 because of the Vagrancy Law. I have worked cutting cane, in construction, making tourism furniture or insecticides with hardly any physical protection,” comments Saul, who has been a free man since April. Continue reading

Nicaragua Was Freed From a Regime Modeled On That Of the Castros / 14ymedio, Julio Blanco C.

In the election of February 1990, Violeta Chamorro (center) defeated Sandanista commander Daniel Ortega (right)

In the election of February 1990, Violeta Chamorro (center) defeated Sandanista commander Daniel Ortega (right)

14ymedio, Julio Blanco C., Managua, 27 September 2014 — I follow with eagerness – almost bordering on addiction – the news out of Cuba. I suppose that my nationality has a lot to do with that because probably no one better understands the reality of the Island (apart from Cubans) than we Nicaraguans.

Here we suffered a regime modeled on that of the Castros, which among other “pearls” imposed on us:

  • A terrible State security system, so that all we citizens were suspected of being traitors and counter-revolutionaries.
  • The rationing card, such an unpleasant memory.
  • Indoctrination of students at all levels of education.
  • The division of society into the good and the bad. Everything within the revolution and nothing outside it was the slogan. Whoever opposed the regime was a pariah, a subhuman, a stinker who deserved not the least consideration or respect. Those “elements” had to be persecuted, silenced, beaten, intimidated and ultimately annihilated.
  • The brutal and ruthless persecution of every communication media disaffected with the regime. This they could not completely achieve, maybe for lack of time, therefore some emblematic media like the daily La Prensa and Radio Corporacion survived the burning.
  • Bank nationalization and the forced socialization or transforming into cooperatives of all means of production, which involved a massive confiscation of private goods.

The list is much longer; I do not need to tell it to Cubans who have suffered first hand for so many years a tragedy so similar but at the same time much more extensive than ours.

My interest now is focused on the transition that Cubans are experiencing, because we went through something very similar, although here everything was quite fast due to the fact that it was not the same government that carried out the changes, but another one.

For the people of my generation who grew up in the midst of so many shortages and limitations, that period of the country’s “normalization,” above all that of the economy, was something almost magical.

The most irrelevant things were all eventful. I remember as if it were yesterday when we began to be happily flooded with junk food. First there was Pizza Hut, then McDonald’s returned after an absence of several years, then Burger King, Friday’s, Subway, Papa John’s and so many other chains that were little by little turning up in the country.

Big hotel companies like Best Western, Intercontinental, Hilton, Hyatt and others arrived, too.

And private national and foreign banks reappeared, and excellent customer attention again became a priority, not like when they were state-owned and little was needed for the employees to bite the unfortunate client.

And the private universities and colleges (these never disappeared) multiplied for every taste and pocketbook.

And many corrupt and inefficient state businesses were privatized and so many others disappeared. Maybe the most significant was Enitel, the embarrassing equivalent of Cuba’s ETECSA telephone company. The change was positively colossal, and soon came competition, and now there were other options for cable, telephone and internet.

Rationing and lines and product scarcity ended, and the giants of the food industry and commerce landed: Walmart, Pricemart, Cargill, Parmalat, Procter and Gamble, and there follows a very long etcetera.

And the first mall opened its doors with dozens of stores and modern movie theaters and its food court and its enormous department stores… but that was nothing, because soon there appeared others even better.

And refueling became a guilty pleasure because the convenience stores are as pleasant as small supermarkets and small restaurants, all in one.

And the public transportation payment system changed. You no longer had to carry a mound of coins, just recharge the electronic card.

And suddenly one day, a growing number of establishments began to offer free wi-fi; even the government installed it in some public parks in all the provincial capitals.

All this, which for us has been fascinating, is completely incomprehensible for someone who has not lived it and been systematically diverted by the State from everything that smells of progress and development however insignificant it might seem.

Maybe one day, sooner than later, Cubans can go through all this, too, and feel that strange satisfaction that is given by knowing “now we are like all the rest,” that we are no longer “different” in the more negative and abject sense of the word. In fact, they are already immersed in a stage of transition – very sui generis – but transition in the end.

Hopefully the weight of reality will finally make the regime understand that it can no longer contain the floodgates of “normality” because Cubans have made too many thousands of holes in the dam, and the waters of creativity and private initiative flow with increasing force.

* Julio Blanco C. is a lawyer in Diplomacy and International Relations. He lives in Managua.

Translated by MLK

“I will not return to the classroom if I am not paid a decent salary,” a teacher declares / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

First day of this school year (14ymedio)

First day of this school year (14ymedio)

14ymedio, ROSA LÓPEZ, Havana | October 10, 2014 – The mass exodus of teachers from the classroom has been, according to the official press, the theme of meetings between the Education minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, and her department heads. The official admitted that “there are questions that need to be addressed in our country, which will be resolved in due time when the right conditions are in place.” Her words do not placate the dissatisfaction of workers in the education sector with low salaries and poor working conditions.

According to data provided by Velázquez Cobiella, in the last school year, “427 education workers resigned because of disagreements with their evaluations; 166 because of the issue of proximity to their places of residence; 766 for failing to obtain a raise; 37 for dissatisfaction with the teaching methods; and 2,343 cited personal problems.” These statistics contrast with the widely-shared opinion that low wages are the principal cause driving teachers from the classroom.

“I told them I was leaving to care for my sick mother, but actually I just couldn’t stand the heavy workload and low salary any longer,” says Cristina Rodríguez, who taught elementary school for almost twenty years in the municipality of Cerro. Like her, many others have claimed family difficulties or health problems in order to free themselves from a burden they have found too heavy to bear.

“The highest leadership of the nation is aware of the problem and has the will to solve it, but this will be done in an orderly manner and when the country’s economy permits it,” said the minister. Her words were a bucket of ice water thrown on the education sector’s expectations for better compensation.

Around the middle of this year, public health professionals received a significant raise, which fanned the flames of hope for similar actions in other branches of service. However, the measure has not been extended to other departments.

A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries?

Among the criticisms that have emerged in discussions between the Education minister and other officials is the burdensome paperwork imposed on education workers. Every teacher is supposed to maintain files on incidents in the classroom, and others that include extracurricular information, such as family evaluations, community assessments, and those well-known reports that are more police-like in nature than education-related. The minister supported limiting such bureaucratic activities to the registry of assistance and evaluation, and to the students’ cumulative records.

There are approximately 10,366 educational institutions whose principal purpose is to stem the flow of teachers to other lines of work. “I will not return to the classroom if they don’t pay me a decent salary,” asserts Martha Vázquez, a special education teacher. Thousands of teachers echo this sentiment as they do other work across the country.

A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries that keep pace with the cost of living? In the meantime, classrooms will continue to lose valuable teachers who will end up behind the counter at a cafeteria, or in the void of unemployment.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

New Customs Restrictions in Havana: Another Turn of The Screw / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

By Jeovany Jimenez Vega

I avert my gaze with disgust from the broadsheet of troubling portents that the newspaper Granma has become. Recently, the newspaper published new customs regulations the Cuban government has imposed on its own people. In essence, they amount to a significant reduction — now significantly less than 120 kg — in the weight of non-commercial goods allowed to be brought into the country by the average citizen.

There is also a significant reduction in the value of merchandise allowed to be brought in, from 1,500 pesos beforehand to 1,000 pesos now. Everything determined to be above this limit is to be confiscated. Additionally, there is an ominous decision by the Ministry of Finance and Prices to raise the duty on merchandise received by mail from 10 to 20 CUC — some 500 pesos, the equivalent of a month’s salary — on each kilogram above the initial 1,500 grams.

Like a soothsayer looking into his crystal ball, I can clearly see the inevitable consequences of these measures. Without much effort, I can spot the corrupt customs officials in every Cuban airport rubbing their hands and growing increasingly rich, charging the helpless traveller ever juicier extortion fees, enriching themselves with impunity with millions stolen under the impassive gaze of all the political and government authorities gathered around the feast. Continue reading