The First Cuban Forklifts / Juan Juan Almeida

Photo taken from Granma

Nelson Espinosa, director general of MONCAR, a business located in the Havana municipality of Marianao, told the newspaper Granma that the production of the first 15 Cuban forklifts, a result of collaboration with the Chinese entity Auto Caiec LTD, distinguished his business’s performance during 2013.

With 40% national integration in terms of physical components, the equipment is in a testing phase and capable of supporting up to 2.5 tons.  We are now in 2014 and they have not manufactured one more.  I suspect that the future of MONCAR is related to the manufacture of the T-34M war tanks that Raul Castro inaugurated in 1960 and these are the holy hours when he did not build even one tractor.

Translated by mlk.

18 August 2014

To Rigola I Shall Not Return / Rebeca Monzo

Two years ago, after a lot of red tape, long lines and pointless waits at Immigration, the Spanish embassy and the Plaza Military Committee, I finally managed to get the son of a friend — a woman who lives overseas and who had granted me power-of-attorney — exempted from military service so that the family could be briefly reunited.

Then, a few days ago, she, her husband and her son decided to come here on vacation to visit family. Everything seemed to be going very well. The joy of being reunited with family and friends helped mitigate the enduring economic hardship and deterioration of the country, which are very noticeable to anyone who comes back after spending time abroad.

The night that marked the return to the “mother country” finally arrived but a new odyssey had just begun.

After checking their luggage and paying the 25 CUC per person airport exit tax, an immigration official informed the couple that they could leave but that their son would have to stay behind because he had not yet completed his military service. Of course, the parents decided to stay with their son, but this meant losing their airline tickets, the exit tax they had already paid and the time spent waiting for their bags to be returned. There was also the anxiety and aggravation caused by the incompetence of the system.  Continue reading

No, No and No Raul Castro / Jose Luis Garcia Antunez

Jorge Luis Antunez (EFE)

Jorge Luis Gracia Antunez (EFE)

This I believe is the second or third occasion that I write to you, and as always without the least mood or desire that you answer me, because given the absolute contempt and disgust that emanates from your person I can’t feel otherwise.

Señor Dictator and Genocide, 24 years and five months ago at barely 25 years, five months and 15 days of age I dared to defy you.  Surely your lackeys and sycophants in the high command of the political police and the party mentioned it to you.

I remind the dictator, that night you pronounced in the city of Santiago de Cuba that call to the Fourth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, and as always with a discourse like so many and like so many of your brother’s, barely a few paid you any attention.

I recall that I was in the plaza that you all call Revolution, where big loudspeakers transmitted to mute, hungry and above all deaf people your verbal diarrhea. That was Thursday March 15, 1990, Stalinist Europe was falling, the old Soviet empire was at the point of disintegrating and here in the Caribbean a senile caste was clinging to power and refusing to implement reforms. Continue reading

University (for the Tenacious) / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Reinaldo Escobar

Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)

Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 28 August 2014 – Henry Constantin is a native of Camagüey province, born in Las Tunas on Valentine’s Day, 30 years ago. He has been expelled from university three times for his ideas, but still believes he will obtain his journalism degree.

This slender, plain-spoken young man has founded two independent publications and has just returned from a cultural exchange program. For years he has been part of the reporting team of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), and today he invites the readers of 14ymedio to share the challenges he has faced in his classroom journey.

Question: You hold the sad distinction of three expulsions from university. What was the first time like?

Answer: One day I wrote this question on the board: Who was the Cuban nominee for the Nobel Prize? My fellow students did not know, neither did the professor, so I wrote the name of Oswaldo Payá. Continue reading

A Thief Who Steals from a Thief… / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Computer store (14ymedio)

Computer store (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 August 2014 — “Beds, furniture, mattresses, heaters”, is the soft cry from a reseller who prowls around the Carlos III Market entranceway. A few steps away, another dealer advertises his wares: “airs,’microgüeys’, washing machines, rice cookers, ‘Reina’ brand pots and pans…” The cries are not too loud, but measured, uttered in a tone just loud enough to reach the ears of the nearby walkers, or of those people who enter or leave the market.

Speculators move around with stealth and pretending, like one who knows well that he is operating at the margin of what is legal. So, as soon as he sees a cop or some individual he suspects of being an “inspector”, the cries are abruptly suspended. Many turn away instantly, but the more adventurous stay and buy themselves a beer and adopt the carefree air of one who just wants to cool off from the heat wave of this merciless August air. They know they don’t fool anyone, but neither can they be charged with a crime if they are not caught dealing in the illegal market.

For years, black market traders have flourished all around shops operating in foreign currencies. They speculate in several different products, from sophisticated electronics equipment to cosmetics or toothpaste. They come in quite a few categories, depending on the product they sell, but all belong to this illegal trade network that is many times more efficient than the legal markets: the chain formed by hoarders and/or burglars-resellers-receivers. There is currently an official media campaign being developed against the first two links (hoarders-resellers).Government media particularly blame those who traffic in products that are scarce, while shortages–another epidemic that has turned endemic–affect the country’s commercial trading networks. Continue reading

Another “Broom” Law / Rosa Maria Rodriguez

Foreign Investment Bill | First Special Session | 8th Legislature | March 29, 2014

The National Assembly, Cuba’s parliament, easily approved (nothing odd for that body when the issue is something that, although not divinely ordained, “comes from above”) the new foreign investment law. One does not need a crystal ball to know that the new legislation — like the proverbial broom* — will sweep efficiently, basically for those in power and the barriers they have created.

The breathless financiers of the antiquated Cuban political model demonstrate that for la nomenklatura, the need of their wallets — or the need to upgrade,or air out, their state capitalism — is more important than to truly revive the the battered “socialist economy”.

As with all laws that “are to be (dis)respected” in post-1959 Cuba, it passed unanimously, i.e., everyone was in agreement — or at least, they all raised their hands — in that caricature of a senate composed almost entirely of members of the sole legal party in Cuba, which has been in power for 55 years and which, despite calling itself Communist, really isn’t. Continue reading

Letter to Pope Francis from the Christian Liberation Movement Youth

“But Cubans are tired, Cubans want changes. More than ten years ago more than 25,000 Cubans supported a legal reform project. Called the Varela Project, it called for a plebiscite to ask the people, yes or no, did they want free elections. The Cuban Constitution establishes that if more than 10,000 people support a legal proposal than the government is constitutionally required to respond.” Rosa Maria Paya. Poster by Rolando Pulido.

Havana, May 5th 2014

“Fear is ridiculous and it provides ammunition to the enemies of liberty.”- The Venerable Father Felix Varela

Your Holiness, Pope Francis:

We would like to thank you with utmost respect and kindness for taking time to read this letter.

We are Cuban Catholic youth who everyday are intent to fortify ourselves to the clamors that burst forth and splatter our conscience from the brutal reality of our beloved Cuba. From the dawn of our youth we have occupied the rows of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL), a pacifist-civic movement which, inspired  by Christian humanism and the principles of the Social Doctrine of the Church, has yearned for the freedom that Cuba has wanted and needed for more than 25 years.

We love the church, and we have grown under her auspices with the influence of her Ignatian spirituality. Because of this, we turn to you to voice our pain and concern with several Cuban Bishops who, surrounded by pro-government Cuban laity and other figures of privilege, pronounce and act in the name of the Church before the unfolding drama that we Cubans have lived in for more than half a century.

Increasingly, ecclesial offices are shunted into a caricature of the masses, to be only the bottom substrate in the background and a common denominator legitimizing the government, asking for more votes of confidence for the politico-military junta who govern as dictators and awaiting a new “leader” to succeed the dynasty of the Castro Brothers and amend the “justified errors” of 55 years of governmental mismanagement that devastated a country whilst omitting the daily violations of human rights and the repressive despotic and unpunished actions of State Security personnel against nonviolent opposition and begging for weak reforms which lack transparency and in so doing be able to navigate comfortably in all waters through the use of ambiguous and confusing language that decorate and embellish the harsh realities, foregoing calling them by name, and thus presenting themselves as authentic rhetoricians and builders of bridges. Continue reading

Message for Yadira / Regina Coyula

I’d like to be able to have a conversation with the Cuban-American Yadira Escobar. The photo in her blog tells me that she is young, and the information she provides about herself indicates that she emigrated when she was very little. I have read much about how Yadira would like to return to Cuba, and I have also read about what her dream Cuba is.

Yadira is a self-proclaimed lover of freedom. Neither the Marxist collectivism nor capitalist individualism agree with her idea of what Cubans want; however, she missteps in inciting our academics, university students, and specialists of all kinds to be at the ready to plan the national course.

I can assure young Yadira that there is an intellectual contemplation coming from many places and many walks of life on Cuba, but their mark cannot always be found in official channels; it needs to be sought out in alternative sites, and in many cases, it is plagued, silenced and demonized. Continue reading

Amidst Rumors and Disinformation, Angel Santiesteban Continues Missing

{*Translator’s Note: Angel disappeared from prison on July 21, 2014. As of today he has not been heard from for 29 days.}

Five days* have passed now since the disappearance of the writer Angel Santiesteban in Havana, barely hours after he wrote a post from Lawton prison,  in which he announced to the world that there were strong rumors that the Regime’s prison authorities would transfer him to a higher security prison.

After his disappearance from said prison last July 21, without the Cuban authorities informing family members of anything, another rumor started circulating: supposedly, Angel Santiesteban had escaped. In a telephone call that the writer’s son, Eduardo Angel Santiesteban, made to the prison, worried at not knowing anything about his father, a minor official confirmed the rumor. “I don’t know if they did it to scare me, to make me more nervous than I am,” said the 16-year-old, on the Columbian television program, Night, Channel NTN24. In conversations with family and friends he has said that he feels this lie by the regime’s prison officials is a bad sign. Continue reading

The Day the People of Havana Protested in the Streets / Ivan Garcia

1000472_474759539275644_1332749336_n1994 was an amazing year. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the USSR had been the trigger for the beginning in Cuba of the “Special Period in Times of Peace,” an economic crisis which lasted for 25 years.

We returned to  a subsistence economy. The factories shut down as they had no fuel or supplies. Tractors were replaced by oxen. And the power cuts lasted 12 hours a day.

The island entered completely into an era of inflation, shortages and hunger. To eat twice a day was a luxury. Meat, chicken and fish disappeared off the menu. People ate little, and poorly. Malnutrition caused exotic illnesses like beri-beri and optic neuritis. Continue reading

Temperamental Old Coots / Anddy Sierra Alvarez

The issue is not just about winning the argument with the United States. It’s also about a legacy created 55 years ago. Of what use to us are their perspectives, when ambitions fade with the passage of time”

The leaders of Cuba are well past working age. Small changes occur at the hands of his brother, Raúl Castro, another long-lived individual who has lived his life and realized the goals he set for himself. What are his ambitions today?

The Cuban desires progress and is at the mercy of old men. Are they perhaps different from others of their age group? As far as I know, an old man does not have the same drive as a young person who is just beginning to face the challenges of the future. Continue reading

Alan Gross: Trapped in a Cold War Tale / Ivan Garcia

Alan Gross (b 1949, NY) before his detention and now.

In the Zamora neighbourhood, next to the Carlos J. Finlay military hospital, in the Marianao Council area, in Eastern Havana, many of the neighbours don’t know anything about the background of Allan Gross, the US contractor, who is stuck there.

It’s a poor district, with little houses, dusty streets and broken pavements. The midday heat finds it deserted. Not even the street dogs can bring themselves to walk over the hot asphalt.

People there take shelter from the mid-day sun inside their houses, or, inside a bare private cafe, put together in a house entrance hall, they talk about the latest TV serial, José Dariel Abreuthe’s 31st home run with the Chicago White Sox, or Barcelona’s next sign-ups.

Around here is where you find out about the latest violent crime which happened the previous night and, if the person you are talking to trusts you, he’ll take you round to the house where one of the neighbours will discreetly sell you some trashy industrial bits and pieces and Chinese cell phones. Continue reading