Cuba: The Day After / Iván García

The state in which the old Hotel Cosmopolita de Camajuaní  has been left by hurricane Irma in Villa Clara a province 290 km east of Havana, going by the Autopista Nacional. Built in 1918, the hotel was included in the tourism development plan to liven up the hotel trade in Villa Clara. Taken from “Los límites de la alucinación”, a report by Lianet Fleites in Periodismo de Barrio, September 12th 2017.

Iván García,13 September 2017 — On Friday September 9th, Omar, 55 years old, set up two speakers in his house,  located in an inside corridor off San Lázaro Street, in Lawton, in the south of Havana, just like he does almost every weekend, and, at 6 in the evening he started to open some bottles of cheap rum for his neighbours and friends. Any event is a good excuse for a celebration.  Omar and his family live with the money they make working, and what his family send him from time to time from Miami. They eat what they can come by and they don’t worry about the future.

When Omar found out that Hurricane Irma’s high winds were going to hit the island, he rang the electric company and the public services, to get them to cut the medium sized palm tree in the patio of his house. “I have been having this fight for a year now, especially when a hurricane is approaching. They always argue about it. They told me they would come right away, or, if not, they would send a team in a few hours. But it’s all hassle and lies. Look at what’s happened”, he says and indicates the concrete roof of his house, destroyed when the palm tree fell on it early in the morning of Sunday, September 10th. continue reading

There are stories like Omar’s all over Havana. Luis, a medical centre nurse in La Vibora had to work Sunday morning, just when Irma devastated the city with its surges of wind and rain.

“Before, the Luis de la Puente Uceda medical centre-hospital was located in a substantial building with all the necessary sanitary conditions and medical equipment. Then they decided to set up in the building a limited access surgery centre, principally for dealing with foreigners, and moved the medical centre to a less than ideal leaky ramshackle old house”, Luis explains. And he remembers what an ordeal it was.

“It was raining more inside than outside. With many of the windows broken, there were bits of wood, tin cans and leaves blowing in. The old electricity generator which wasn’t properly maintained, cut out from time to time, leaving the medical centre in darkness. When I knocked off at seven in the morning, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t windy and hardly raining any more, I had to walk home over 4 miles because some brilliant person had decided to suspend the city transport”.

Nearly 72 hours after Irma had passed Havana, Public Services, which is responsible for waste collection, had not done that over wide areas of Diez de Octubre, the most densely populated part of the capital. “Here we hadn’t seen any sign of the electric company vehicles or those of the water or public services. The streets were full of bushes and smashed up stuff left by the storm and people had piled it up wherever. That discussion by the government about which teams would collect the vegetation and the rubbish and that they had already started recovering the situation in the city was just for the television”, says a neighbour.

Although the strong winds lost their intensity as they approached Havana and did not greatly affect the capital and Artemisa province, since September 9th many Havana neighbourhoods are suffering power cuts and have no drinking water. “It was known that the areas worst affected by the hurricane were the coastal districts of Playa, Plaza, Havana Central, Old Havana, and East Havana. It looks like the authorities devoted all their resources to those areas and forgot the rest of us existed, complained Migdalia, a resident of La Cuevita, a poor area in San Miguel del Padrón.

The sea flooded over the coastal areas covering the streets 2,000 feet inland. “They looked like overflowing rivers. The water covered El Vedado, Central Havana and Old Havana. As most of the families living in these areas were evacuated, and in spite of the fact that the police and the civil defence said they would be protected, the looters had a field day. Several foreign currency outlets and shops in Miramar, Vedado and Central Havana were looted”, explained an agent deployed to keep order in important locations.

But the worst disasters of Hurricane Irma occurred in the central provinces of Cuba bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north. Sayli Sosa, journalist for the Invasor daily, from Ciego de Ávila, visited La Cayeria north of Ciego de Ávila. There, on the morning of Saturday, September 9th, the eye of the Category 5  hurricane touched land.  Irma was merciless in the tourist spots on the keys, which geographically belong to Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila  and Villa Clara. The ten workers who stayed in Hotel Meliá Cayo because of their duties sheltered themselves in a safe place, but admitted they had the greatest fright of their lives. “It was Dante-esque”, they said.

Sosa also went over to the town of Bolivia in Ciego de Avila, where he talked to Eusebio, a septuagenarian, who told him he was not afraid of hurricanes. The neighbours took shelter in the only house in the neighbourhood capable of coping with angry Irma. But pigheaded Eusebio wanted to stay put and when things got nasty he couldn’t get out. At three in the morning the deafening wind crashed through the cracks in the palmwood boarding of his house and the damp balsa wool material of the roof whistled horribly. He thought that the roof ridge was going to collapse and he got under the kitchen counter. The partly constructed grey reinforced concrete counter was what saved his life.

We have seen photos and videos and have heard descriptions of Irma’s cruelty in the tourist places in Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Santamaria, but we don’t have figures for the damage caused. In August 2016, I was staying at the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort Hotel, situated in Cayo Coco, Jardines del Rey archipelago in the north of  Ciego de Avila. While I was there I wrote two chronicles. In one of them, called Cayo Coco, a commercial centre  for the Cuban capitalist military, I said: “As with 70% of the tourist facilities in Cuba, the Memories Flamenco Hotel is managed by the Gaviota S.A. commercial operation, a business which set up in 1989 under the auspices of Fidel Castro, with the pretext of testing the profitability of the incipient tourism business”.

A few months after the main tourist season (November to April), the olive-green people lavished loads of money and resources to fix up the hotels damaged in Cayería norte, in record time. ” Most of the ETECSA linesmen and those from the electric company was sent to the keys. They are a priority, although there aren’t any tourists there as they were evacuated to Veradero. But those hotels are an important part of the hard currency earning money box”, explains a telecoms engineer.

Not too far away from the key is a very different situation. From Yaguajay, in Sancti Spiritus, a province 220 miles east of Havana, Sergio, who lives there describes over the phone that “the desolation is terrible, as if the fat madman of North Korea had fired one of his missiles. Eight out of every ten houses had their roofs damaged or their walls fell down. Nearly sixty were flattened, with just the foundations left”.

It’s not very different in Esmeralda, Camagüey.  In Adelante, the local newspaper, the journalist Enrique Atiénzar  says that Irma dealt brutally with Esmeralda. In Moscú, the damage was severe. Of the over 200 houses, mostly rustic, only ten survived the over 125 mile per hour winds. Lyam, 12 years old, doesn’t enjoy a hurricane going past, but says that 16 neighbours were sheltered in his grandmother’s house. The next day, Lyam’s grandmother sat down in the doorway and started to cry. “Not for me, but for the neighbours”.

In Cuba the real headache for the man in the street comes in the days following a tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane going by. You can just imagine what it’s like when it’s a hurricane like Irma, touching land in Cayería norte as a Category 5, then dropped to a 4 and then a 3 and then on the way to Florida went back up to a 4.

In the length and breadth of the island, thousands of families are living in shelters, having lost their homes because of a hurricane or other natural disaster. Some wait for twenty years for the state to provide them with a home. Others wait for help buying materials so they can repair their houses by themselves.

Omar, living in Lawton, knows very well what it’s like waiting for the government to help. “My house could fall down at any time”, he says with a sad face. For a Habanero, who likes salsa music, Olga Guillot boleros, and knocking back a few cheap rums with his friends, it hasn’t been much of a party lately.

Photo: The state in which the old Hotel Cosmopolita de Camajuaní  has been left by hurricane Irma in Villa Clara a province 290 km east of Havana, going by the Autopista Nacional. Built in 1918, the hotel was included in the tourism development plan to liven up the hotel trade in Villa Clara. Taken from “Los límites de la alucinación”, a report by Lianet Fleites in Periodismo de Barrio, September 12th 2017.

Translated by GH

“The Hurricane Has Delivered Punta Alegre the Coup de Grace”

The damages in Punta Alegre, Ciego de Ávila, could be around 80%, but there are no official figures. (Lisbet Cuéllar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 September 2017 — Residents of Punta Alegre, a small fishing village located on the northern coast of Cuba’s municipality of Chambas, in Ciego de Ávila, have not yet recovered from the horror they experienced on September 8th, when their community was leveled while hurricane Irma struck for endless hours.

Ironically, it was the feast day of the Cuban patron saint, our Lady of El Cobre, who, according to legend, hundreds of years ago saved three fishermen from the raging sea in the bay of Nipe. The children of Punta Alegre, however, did not count on her divine protection. In fact, they did not have anyone’s.

After the catastrophe, when the inhabitants of Punta Alegre began to come out of the few remaining homes or shelters in which they had taken refuge temporarily, they encountered a panorama of utter devastation. A pile of debris, sea corals, chunks of roofs, scraps of furniture, tree branches, and mud stretched over what once was a quiet coastal town. Some fishing boats had been swept by the sea into the village and floated between houses. Only the more solid masonry constructions, barely a minimum percentage of the precarious housing found in the town resisted the hurricane’s fury. continue reading

Witnesses confirm that nothing resembles the picturesque little town that Punta Alegre once was, with its smells of sea and fish, settled in a privileged geographical landscape

 Irma’s attack, with sustained winds of 240 kph (149 mph) and the incursion of the sea, totally or partially destroyed both the humble houses and almost all of the scarce State facilities, including the fishing cooperative – whose already weak fleet suffered the total loss of or damage to several boats – the two shopping areas, the camping base, the two restaurants, the nursing home, whose dining room served food to retirees of lower income with no subsidiary help, and other facilities. Not even the village church escaped the catastrophe: half of the belfry collapsed, including everything besides the bell.

The amount and total magnitude of the damage is still unknown, but according to the testimonies of some neighbors who have managed to leave the town for other places where communications and electricity service have already been restored, the current image of Punta Alegre is of utter desolation. Some say that more than 80% of the town was destroyed, but, so far, there are only unconfirmed estimates. In any case, the witnesses say that nothing resembles the picturesque little town that Punta Alegre once was, with its sea and fish smell, set in a privileged geographical landscape between the bay to the north, and green hills that descend into the horizon to the south.

Ronald is a 30-year-old from Punta Alegre who was visiting his parents when Irma raged over the place where he was born. Five days later, back in Havana, where he lives with his wife and children, he tells us that “the hurricane has delivered the coup de grace to Punta Alegre”.

“The truth is that the decadence had begun there many years ago, since the Máximo Gómez Sugar Mill (formerly Punta Alegre Sugar Mill) was closed for good during the crisis of the 1990’s and many people lost their jobs”, he says, explaining why he left and moved to the capital.

“In my parents’ and grandparents’ days, Punta Alegre had a lot of drive for a country town. The bay was deep enough to allow ship traffic of respectable size, carrying the sugar produced in the mills,” he recalls. 

Tourist infrastructure, far from being a new source of employment, was a severe blow to fishing, because the maritime road did not meet the technical requirements

But the closing of its plant would be just the beginning of the town’s collapse. Tourism fever started around the same time, driven by a government desperate to raise hard currency. The construction of hotels in Cuba’s northern keys (Jardines del Rey), as well as that of the embankments to connect these keys to the mainland, far from being a new source of jobs for the inhabitants of Punta Alegre, were a severe blow, since the maritime road did not comply with the technical requirements that call for the presence of sufficient number of bridges to allow the proper circulation of the marine currents. This increased the salinity of the waters in Buenavista Bay, and with it, many marine species that were the economic sustenance of a traditionally fishing community disappeared from the area.

“Suffice it to say that, from that point on, the cooperative, built after the Revolution, which up to the ‘80’s maintained a fairly large flotilla, began to decline and its catch levels fell, eventually deteriorating and losing many boats for lack of maintenance or official disinterest. And, along with the decay of the cooperative, also came the decline in the fish-processing plant, which was the source of employment for many of the town’s women, including my mother and my grandmother”, remarks Ronald.

In fact, Irma is not the first hurricane to hit Punta Alegre. In 1985, Kate arrived in the region as a category 2 hurricane and demolished a good number of houses and other infrastructures, among which was the old nautical club built on stilts, over the sea waves. On that occasion, the late Cuban President Fidel Castro, who used to visit regions hit by the hurricanes and personally guide the recovery efforts, built a small community of houses further away from the sea for Hurricane Kate’s victims. In spite of this, the town’s original characteristics were never recovered.

“Somehow, people have always managed to survive, and also to try to have a little fun”. We still had the Los Cocos Beach, which was in the Máximo Gómez Mill, where people went to enjoy themselves at the camping base until a few days ago. Now all that was lost and who knows if anything will be recovered, or when. It is as if Punta Alegre has been doomed”, he mourns.

But, to date, what Ronald and the majority of the inhabitants of Punta Alegre can’t understand is the scandalous abandonment of the local and municipal authorities when Irma’s scourge was imminent, although it was known well ahead that the hurricane’s trajectory would have a catastrophic effect on the town and its people.

 “There was no assurance of food for the people. Only 150 packets of salt crackers arrived for a population of about five thousand, and some coal sacks were distributed free of charge”

“Before Irma arrived, transportation and communications were cut off, and there was no assurance of food for the people. Only 150 packets of salt crackers arrived for a population of about five thousand, and some sacks of coal were distributed free of charge”. That was it. Baby food did not arrive either, nor was there a distribution of powdered milk or canned food for the people to get by during the storm. One can just imagine the fights over a few of those crackers. The only thing that stayed open and active around the clock was the bakery, thanks to the only operational generator in the area. The medical post was also active”.

“Despite widespread propaganda in the official press, this town did not even benefit from an adequate contingency plan. There was no efficient evacuation procedure of the inhabitants near the coastline, where the sea breached with a force never seen before, so that entire families, including small children, who thought they were safe in homes, were forced to evacuate in the middle of the night, under rain and gusts of wind in a nightmarish situation. “We believed that this was it, that we were going to drown because the water was up to our chests. The children were terrified, screaming and crying non-stop. Some people did not scream, but panic was reflected in their eyes”, recalls Ronald.

Even under the pummeling of the winds, the two village stores were sacked, as well as the “El Toletazo Restaurant”. The scarce food collected there, and in other small warehouses of a few State establishments were shared spontaneously and jointly by the town’s people. “It must be noted that people helped each other. Not one person in a protected shelter shut anyone out. Everyone supported and consoled each other. It was very emotional, despite the misfortune”.

No Government representative visited the village until September 12th. However, in previous days, several senior officials had made an appearance in the Keys.

Until the 12th of September, when the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party finally arrived in Punta Alegre, no government representative had visited the town, which to this day still lacks the basics, such as electricity, drinking water and telephone service. However, in previous days several senior officials, including the Minister of Tourism, had been present in the Keys to evaluate the damage suffered by hotel facilities and to guide reconstruction work which, according to President Raúl Castro, must be completed before next November, the start of the high season.

“When the worst moments had passed, a lot of people went out to forage… Some people found a considerable number of whiskey bottles and other alcoholic drinks, which had been swept away by the waves from the storerooms and facilities in the Keys. There were also some things to eat that landed on shore by the force of the waves and the wind, but they were spoiled. They say that the hurricane caused the loss of tons of food from the hotels in the Key resorts. It is a crime that food was lost instead of being delivered to the nearby towns before the storm hit”, admonishes Ronald.

When the young man was able to leave the village, he saw long lines of townspeople crowded in wait for food that, according to government leaders who just materialized on the scene, should start arriving by truck at any moment”. There were long lines of people anxious to get food for their families”, he says, “and it hurts to think that most of them have lost their homes and all their possessions”. After a pause, he repeats his initial idea: “Yes, Hurricane Irma was the coup de grace, but the destruction of Punta Alegre had already begun a very long time ago”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

A Lot of Manipulation / Fernando Dámaso

Jose Marti’s mausoleum in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, Santiago de Cuba (ReginaBeardsley.com)

Fernando Damaso, 5 September 2017 — The manipulation of José Martí — whom we Cubans call “the Apostle — not just his life but also his ideas, has been progressive. Accused, in 1953, of being the “intellectual author” of the attack on the Moncada Barracks, and the assailants self-styled the “centenary generation” (it being 100 years since his birth), from 1959 on he was “unchained”.

The “Lenin-Martí” rooms (Lenin first and then Martí) in the military bases were there until the disappearance of the Soviet Union, embellished with “Martí-Ho Chi Minh Days”, when we felt like “giving our blood for Vietnam”.

Cautiously at first, when the Apostle was still thought of as a liberal-democrat, but distanced from socialism, in the eyes of the more dogmatic, they soon began to ascribe to him ideas he had never had, in order to convince us that now, had he been alive, he would have been a socialist. continue reading

In reinventing history and attributing merits or defects to their subjects, in accordance with the political convenience of the moment, our leaders have been very good at getting submissive historians to endorse their opinions.

Look at the absurdity they have propagated, that “before, we would have been like them, and now they would have been like us”, which is totally appropriate to the process of “baloneyfication”, which started then and has continued to the present day.

At a particular moment difficult to pin down exactly, during the period of the personality cult, the ideas of the “Maximum Leader” started to be considered as continuations of those of Martí, and that he was his best disciple.

Now, both of them, with their remains (bones and ashes), near to each other in the same cemetery, are presented as indivisible, where one cannot exist without the other, and they even affirm that Cuba cannot be thought of without them.

Without asking his permission, they have put an annoying travelling companion beside Martí. This soup (or rather an indigestible stew) of homeland, nation, party, Martí and “historic leader”, is what they offer to the younger people in the country, trying to gain their eternal commitment, without freedom of choice, and conditioned by conveniently manipulated facts.

Translated by GH

How Does the Cuban Survive? / Eduardo Martínez

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, Havana, 31 July 2017 — In the 1960s and even the 70s, the legitimacy of the system–despite its continuous economic fiascos and failure to achieve an adequate and genuinely Cuban social system–was acceptable for the hopeful lower classes, while the middle and upper classes were fleeing to Miami.

Fifty-eight years after the triumph of the Revolution and still under the same regime, we ask ourselves the same questions, and many more besides.

The so-called Special Period began in 1990, a crisis from which, more than a quarter-century later, we have been unable to emerge. But the government obstinately insists on committing the same errors that produced the misfortunes of today. continue reading

This system appears equitable in theory, but in practice (the evaluative test of truth) it has proven to be dysfunctional.

The government attempts to improve and change the system, but in practice, nothing improves and nothing changes.

Of what use has been the enormous propaganda expounded around the Economic Guidelines and the last two Congresses of the Communist Party?  What changes have effectively improved the very precarious living standard of the Cuban people?

A foreigner might ask, “What is this man saying? What ‘very precarious living standard,’ when in fact they have government-guaranteed basic subsistence, free education, unbeatable social security, and enviable health care comparable to the best in the world?” He might think that I am a “mercenary on the imperialist payroll.” But whoever thinks this way does himself little favor. We shall speak of these matters…

The changes the government has made–to allow for a certain degree of self-employment in minute private businesses–improve the living standard of a few very determined entrepreneurs who, come hell or high water, are trying to earn incomes that will provide them a decent existence.

But these individuals are few and far between, and they have a difficult time of it, given the great number of erratic and disorganized regulations, the stress of inspectors and functionaries constantly hanging around demanding the expected and the unexpected, the high cost and difficulty of obtaining inputs, and the draconian taxes that must be paid to agencies that provide no type of security, facilities or guarantees for the work they supposedly regulate. And there is no wholesale market to lower prices and provide some assurance of supplies, preventing start-up merchants from snatching up all available materials needed by individuals.

Up until a few years ago, everything was guaranteed. You would work for the State until the age of 60, then retire with a little pension that would support you until death. Today, nothing is guaranteed. Nothing.

Of what use have been those vaunted “Guidelines”? We Cubans continue to live in poverty, on the lowest human scale.

The current situation of average Cubans–more than 90% of the population–is dire, literally unsustainable. The government knows this but does nothing to improve this situation, even though there exist the means and resources to do so, the methods and a trained labor force desirous of working for a suitable salary.

A redistribution of profits is needed, a clear and transparent accounting system, so that the citizens may know where every cent that we produce is invested: it is our right…

Readers will forgive the digression that follows, because regarding this subject, I find myself obligated to put forth concrete examples that could hurt the feelings of many.

One of my neighbors in Havana’s El Cerro neighborhood is an engineer who is now quite advanced in years. His wife was a professor. Both have been retired now for decades, with pensions of 200 Cuban pesos* (CUP) per month each. They have no children or other relatives. They were once faithful and honest functionaries, and members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC).

The minimum cost of living is at about 2500 CUP (approx. 100 Cuban convertible pesos, CUC*) per month. With that sum one can acquire basic foodstuffs and medicines. Forget clothes and shoes, household appliances, home repairs, etc.

Both of these elderly people have to decide between what they will eat or what medicines they will buy when needed. In the not too distant future they will die and will not be counted in the national statistics as dead from starvation or lack of adequate medical care.

Last month, by way of the ration book, they bought the assigned amount of chicken, five eggs, and a half-pound of “soy ham” per person. This couple cannot acquire anything in CUC. Where is the protein in their diet? The fruits and vegetables they need?

In their prime, this aged couple were active members of this society and faithful followers of the PCC. Today, they do not officially exist. They will soon leave this earth and nobody will have done anything for them. They live in isolation, confined to their apartment during their last days.

This is how the majority of the aged survive. Many were faithful followers of Fidel who, at some point, renounced their emigrating relatives, took part in repudiation rallies and hurled eggs at those who were leaving, always applauded at the Plaza of the Revolution–even when their monthly ration of rice and sugar was reduced by a pound under the standard quota—and who trooped along in the Marches of the Combatant People, etc.

This permanent economic crisis and the astronomical inflation that the government maintains by force directly harms the elderly. There has been much official talk about helping them, taking care of them, but nothing has been done of any great scale. Old folks’ homes are extremely scarce. To enter one, you have to give up your pension to the State and, to get his or her attention, you have to give up your house to a functionary who decides if you will be admitted.

Lack of adequate medical care? How can that be?

My brother, generally healthy and very active, took ill a few days ago. He went to the doctor’s office on the second morning of a severe malaise, but on that day they were only seeing pregnant women. He was not seen. On the third day he returned to the office and the general practitioner, without so much as examining him, let alone taking his blood pressure or listening to his heart, among other basic check-ups, prescribed him analgesics. On the fourth day, still suffering the same complaints, but worsening, my brother visited the polyclinic and the doctor on duty was about to prescribe him something, without performing any examinations, blood work, urinalysis, etc. Nothing. My brother fled before the doctor could get a word out. He turned to a well-known cardiologist, who within in a nearby hospital discovered that he is a diabetic, and placed him under treatment.

Doctors find themselves constantly besieged everywhere by relatives, friends and acquaintances in search of at least basic medical attention, and this increases their workload tremendously, because desperate people are knocking on the doors of their homes at all hours.

It takes me a half hour to walk to the hospital where my wife works as a gynecologist. For her–who of course does not own a car–it takes two hours. She has to constantly stop to give street consultations to the persons who are impelled to seek her out because of the deficiencies of the health care system. She, with infinite patience, gives them her time and does the best she can.

Today, overburdened Cuban doctors are forced to economize, to employ a personal evaluative scale by observation before utilizing expendable or electronic resources that might be costly to the State. This is per training by the Ministry of Public Health. Where do they put the more than $8-billion earned by our foreign medical missions?

In the pharmacies, no antacids, anti-fungals, anti-allergens, potent analgesics, antibiotics, etc. can be found. There is practically nothing there except for medicinal syrups concocted from traditional herbal recipes. Even aspirin is scarce. Notwithstanding, many powerful medicines, some of Cuban manufacture, are sold on the black market at exorbitant prices.

In the poorly provisioned hospitals, to gain admittance is quite difficult, albeit free. For a surgical operation one needs a miracle or a friend.

When a patient is admitted, he or she must bring bedclothes, food, fans, drinking water, etc., and–in light of the devastating shortage of nurses–someone must remain with the patient to ensure the timely administration of treatment and medications. Upon release from the hospital, if the patient does not slip 10 CUC to the ambulance drivers, there is a wait of three days for the ambulance service from the hospital, or else one must rely on expensive private taxis.

Have we spoken of the enormous waiting lists for operations? The sick must wait weeks, months, years, and then die because the operating rooms are never available due to advanced deterioration, or lack of bedding, anesthesiologists, water or surgical sutures.

Is this the celebrated medical service?

Everything I refer to here is demonstrable. One only needs to visit a hospital as a patient.

But the rulers always have some luxury tour planned out for the gullible or those who want to believe.

Today in our society can be seen sharp differences between a rarefied group of enriched government bureaucrats (along with a few successful miscreants) and the overwhelming majority of the people.

There are excellent neighborhoods such as Nuevo Vedado, Miramar, Siboney, Atabey, and some other area along the periphery of Havana such as Fontanar, etc., where these personages somehow finagle (there is always something murky about these transactions) grand mansions, practically all built in the 1950s, as this is the only architectural era on which one can rely for elegance and style.

There is a law on the books, of which little is said, which imposes space limitations on permits for new construction. That law refers to modest dwellings of just a few square meters per inhabitant.

Near my house, a functionary who drives an enormous Mercedes has built a residence of nearly 1000 sq. ft., utilizing a private work force. With the blocks and cement they have used just on the surrounding wall, a modest apartment house could be built.

No argument here against big mansions. The problem is when its occupants sharply preach all that about “do as I say, not as I do.”

At this time, the government appears to be in a profound financial crisis. It hardly exports anything, tourism has not increased as predicted, and the price of petroleum is still low (thanks to Venezuela). All that’s left are the scarce products of our pharmaceutical manufacturing, biotechnology and the export of human capital to the detriment of our already precarious internal services.

There are shortages of supplies to the CUC stores, and delayed and even more scarce stocks of regular and subsidized foodstuffs.

What will low-income people, the aged, eat when there are no more provisions to be had through the ration book?

There are markets for fresh agricultural products and pork and lamb, but their prices continue to rise unabated. For example, at the peak of the harvest season, a pound of tomatoes or onions costs 10 to 15 Cuban pesos, which is more than a worker makes in one day, and let’s not even speak of pork, which costs 35 Cuban pesos per pound.

If the government is trying to gain access to the bank credits of major world markets to salvage at least one part of the socialist economy, it will find itself forced to cut back on all types of services to the population, and even if not, they will continue to deteriorate. And we are well past the times of Marches of the Combatant peoples, of military slogans and harangues.

Still, this government has nine lives. In the 1960s, the Soviets bailed it out. Later, Hugo Chávez came on the scene to rescue it. Today, as Chavismo is mired in problems, the help will come from whom we least expected it.

Will the regime accept the political and social cost of a massive infusion of North American investments? Hopefully it will, because I’m dying to eat a double Big Mac and wash it down with a liter of Coca-Cola on the corner of Malecon and 23rd.

Really, the Castros have never cared about the people’s calamitous situation. What they care about is the State, their State, the one they hope will survive them, so that they will not find themselves as defendants in a Cuban version of the Nuremberg Trials.

eduardo57@nauta.cu

Translator’s Notes:

*Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, worth about 4 cents US, and Cuban Convertible pesos, each worth 25 Cuban pesos, or about one dollar US. It has been a longstanding, but as yet unfulfilled, promise of the government to move to a single currency.

Translated By:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

Somos+ Stands In Solidarity With The Victims Of The Terrorist Attack In Barcelona / Somos+

Somos+, 18 August, 2017 — The political group Somos+ offers condolences and solidarity to the city of Barcelona, in the wake of the recent terrorist attack which left 13 dead and over a hundred wounded, according to official sources.

We grieve the loss of human life caused by this condemnable act. Our thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims. We wish for a quick return to calm for the city and that those responsible are brought to justice

We repeat our condemnation of these kinds of attacks that threaten humane principles. We are part of a community that dreams of an end to this wave of terror and hatred, in the construction of a fraternal, caring society.

Translated by Alice Edwards

Cuban Universities Need Autonomy / Iván García

University of Havana. It was established 5 January 1728 by Dominican friars. It is the oldest higher education institution in Cuba, and one of the first in America. Taken from Cubanet.

Iván García, 30 August 2017 — Since his wife died two years ago, Manuel hasn’t been eating properly. At night, he sits in front of an obsolete cathode ray tube television, and usually watches the news or the baseball while he drinks some fourth-rate rum bought from a convenience store.

His big old house with high ceilings needs rather more than just a lick of paint. In the living room, the worn-out furniture is long overdue for replacement. Books, periodicals and magazines overflow four shelves on the wall. In a corridor there are various cardboard boxes full of textbooks and bibliographies about electronics and computing.

He says he’s 65, but looks ten years older. His sparse beard needs a barber to do something with it, and his greasy hair urgently needs a wash with anti-dandruff shampoo.  He has been unhappy since God took his wife away. continue reading

His uncared-for appearance makes him look like a tramp or an incurable alcoholic. But Manuel is a professor of electronics. He has a masters and a doctorate and has written a couple of specialised books, “which probably not many people have read”, Manuel says with a frank smile.

His miserable basic monthly salary of  740 Cuban pesos, equivalent to 30 dollars, doesn’t go very far. “I also get 80 pesos a month for my masters, 150 for the doctorate and 100 pesos extra for over 20 years’ service as a teacher. A thousand and seventy pesos in total, which is 43 Cuban convertible pesos at the present rate of exchange (roughly 43 USD). It’s enough to eat once a day, pay the electricity, water, gas and the phone. If I have anything left over, I buy books”.

With the same honesty he confesses, “They don’t pay me not even one convertible peso bonus. In this age of knowledge, with out-of date laboratories and shortages in the basic materials for study, university professors continue imparting knowledge to future generations out of vocational dedication more than anything.”

Manuel could offer private classes and get extra money. “Many of us do it, but I don’t. Because it’s prohibited and it’s unethical. A teacher giving an exam should not charge for passing his students. It’s a type of concealed fraud which they do in Cuba.  Those classes benefit students with well-to-do parents. The most studious and capable are the ones who should graduate. University is for the best of them. In technical courses like telecommunications, those who don’t have ability quit their studies in the first or second year because the classes are difficult”.

In his opinion, “Cuban universities have lost their quality, but their faculty staff continue to be the best qualified in the national education system. It isn’t like that in primary or secondary schools where, with certain exceptions, teachers now are not very good. That becomes evident later; when students get to university, they have all sorts of weaknesses, some of them basic, like they don’t know how to spell”.

David, a student of industrial engineering, thinks “there are good, middling and bad teachers, just as in any area of work. But, when compared to pre-university, secondary and primary, the university professor has preserved his standing. The government should allocate a bigger budget to equipping the universities. It’s unforgivable that courses like computing or electronics have second generation computers and that the connection time to the internet is limited like the bread in your ration book.”

Diana, a philosophy graduate, has pleasant memories of her teachers. “They were very professional and very knowledgeable about the subjects they were teaching. But when they entered the classroom some of them made you sad, with their old clothes, and their worn-out shoes with broken soles”.

José Manuel,  a working professor, believes “that higher education has lost a lot of its quality. What is happening is that in comparison with the dreadful state of teaching in the other educational levels, the universities see themselves as being on a different dimension. Thirty years ago, the University of Havana, the one in Santa Clara, and the old CUJAE, which is now the José Antonio Echevarría Tech., were among the best higher education institutions in Latin America. Now we are hardly in the top 250”.

Martí News talked to some university professors about the deterioration in the quality of higher education and what could be done to improve it. Rody, an algebra professor, got straight to the point:

“The reduction is due to the poor salaries. Every time there is a meeting with officials with the Ministry of Higher Education, they ask for more commitment and blah blah blah, but never a word about a pay increase or motivation for teaching staff. Apart from putting salaries up, they could incentivise the best professors by offering them personal grooming products and food as well as houses and cars. The government should provide subsidised holidays for outstanding teachers with accommodation in tourist resorts. They do it for the military, why can’t they do it for all teachers, not just those in university?”

Sara, a history teacher, thinks that “Cuban universities need autonomy, and not to be controlled by the government. Let educators have their correct place in society. We have to get away from this inverted pyramid in Cuba. Manual trades are important and necessary, but, everywhere in the world, people with university qualifications earn more than unskilled workers”.

Talking about autonomy, in 2012, the professor and academic Dimas Castellanos published an article in Diario de Cuba in which he ended up emphasising: “With the loss of its autonomy, the Cuban university ceased to be a strong point of civil society. In order for it to be that, the changes taking place in the economy have to be accompanied by changes in liberties and rights, among which university autonomy is an unavoidable necessity if it is to be relevant.

Carlos, an ex-professor of sociology, emphasises: “Because of miserable salaries and low social status, a lot of university professors are chasing scholarships and collaborations with overseas universities. And, if successful, definitely more than a few of them are deciding to emigrate. The Cuban academic world is poverty-stricken. The most talented professors, if they have their own opinions, and are not crushed by the system, may pay for it by being expelled from the centre, isolated and disparaged. There are more than enough examples. That was the case with the dissident Félix Bonne Carcassés, who died at the beginning of the year, a university professor with an excellent academic career. Or the recent case of the economist Omar Everleny Pérez, thrown out by the government from his job as an investigator”.

It’s not unusual in the island to find university professors driving taxis or renting their houses out to tourists and in that way adding a bit to their meagre finances. Others trawl the internet searching for scholarships or academic events outside the country to participate in. “Whichever doctorate, or simply taking part in a special panel outside the country, helps you earn a few dollars or euros which, when you get back, you can use to repair your house and buy food for your family”, explains an academic who spends half the year travelling to countries in different continents.

One possible way to update yourself, widen your knowledge and exchange experiences, especially following the re-establishment of relations between Cuba and the United States, would be if Cuban university professors could get internships or establish themselves as speakers at American universities.

It would be like winning first prize in the lottery.

Translated by GH

Edison Lanza and the Lack of Press Freedom in Cuba / Somos+, Karla Pérez González

Edison Lanza

Somos+, Karla Pérez González, 28 August 2017 — Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteur for the Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH), shares his vision on what is happening in Cuba regarding the violation of a series of elementary rights, already surpassed by the majority of systems that govern the continent.

The Uruguayan, who has held the reins of this department of the CIDH since 2014, regrets the Cuban case, where according to him, at the moment “the modality of repression has changed, but it is still a state that violates the international standards of freedom of expression”. continue reading

“In the last 20 years the rapporteur has been consistently pointed out that, first of all, there is no pluralistic system of political parties in Cuba, there is no system that allows pluralism of opinions and diversity of ideas. Then there is a legal framework restricting freedom of expression, starting from the Constitution that subordinates this right – which is individual – to the interests of the Party and the Revolution. There are an immense series of criminal figures that suppress critical voices. The history of the last 30 years in Cuba has led to situations of exile, or imprisonment for political dissent that forms organizations that are not allowed by the regime. Simply to propose from the Academy a series of transformations in the economy and in the Cuban political system, some were cataloged of subversives and of attempting against the security of the State, and they underwent severe and long penalties of prison”, said the journalist.

Regarding the island of the last five-year period, he explained that “there are sentences of journalists, activists, human rights defenders and journalists are simply being held outside official structures, which can last for 24 or 48 hours. They are then released, or subjected to criminal proceedings that generate a strong inhibitory effect, or destruction of material, subtraction of equipment to prevent independent journalists from performing their work. ”

Internet was the last topic of the interview. It is known the complicated panorama that crosses the common Cuban to “connect”. When in the world this communicative tool is a necessity today, the criollos still have to see it -not because they want to, but because they have no other choice- as a luxury, a petty-bourgeois pleasure.

“Obviously the lack of internet access that today is the platform to disseminate information par excellence and in general Cubans have restrictions to access the Internet, to disseminate. Surveillance also on those who exercise freedom of expression. A journalist who lives guarded, who tries to know his source of information, his contacts by email, etc., is a journalist who is not free. All this scenario makes Cuba a country not free to do journalism.

The Rapporteur has also integrated, led and founded several non-governmental organizations in defense of the right to freedom of expression. He did postgraduate studies on freedom of expression and criminal law at the University of the Republic, and holds a doctorate related to the processes of regulation of audiovisual media in the region at the Faculty of Social Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires.

Edison Lanza is co-founder of the Center for Archives and Access to Public Information in Uruguay. Moreover, this also included the Committee on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information of the Regional Alliance for Free Expression and Information and the IFEX-ALC Alliance for the Defense of Freedom of Expression. He has also offered consultancies to different countries for the development of law projects related to access to public information, freedom of expression and communication media systems, among others.

Translated by: J. Rausenberger (From Somos+ English site)

Cuba Ignores Sanitary Crisis To Not Frighten The Tourists / Juan Juan Almeida

Setting up for Carnival

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 August 2016 — Holguín, the Cuban province reporting the greatest increase in cases of zika, dengue and haemorragic conjunctivitis, might experience an increase in the level of contagion with the arrival of travellers wanting to visit the area in the upcoming carnivals programmed from 17th to 20th August.

Doctor Luis Arlet González, Provincial Director of Public Health, Julio Caballero, First Secretary of the Communist Party in the town, and Julio César Estupiñán, President of the Provincial Assembly of People Power (the local government), have more than once warned about the danger of celebrating  carnivals in the middle of this epidemic. But the First Secretary of the Communist Party in the province, during the last meeting of official organisations, made known the decision not to cancel the merriment for fear of frightening the tourists. continue reading

“It seems unbelievable that with the number of cases of zika, dengue and conjunctivitis reported daily, they could think of holding celebrations. For the Party, as always, all they are interested in is the income raised by filling the nearly 5,400 homes dedicated to tourism and they play the game without thinking that the city’s principal value lies in the inhabitants’ welcome and the beauty of the town set in 60 kilometers of beach and sun. Tourists look for contact and that, without a doubt, increases the contagion which is expected to soon reach pandemic levels”, says a frightened doctor at the “Vladimir Ilich Lenin” University General Hospital in the town.

The government recently provided funding for what is called “Operation Good Health”, which involves mobilising volunteers to carry out fumigations, and includes personnel able to locate infected people and raise awareness using the local media. But, in spite of these efforts, the number of patients increases daily.

Travel agencies receiving inquiries from travellers worried about the local situation avoid raising fear and uncertainty among overseas visitors. The provincial authorities decided to lock away those patients labelled as most contagious, but when the admissions at the “Lucía Iñiguez Landín” Hospital Clínico Quirúrgico in Holguín were overwhelmed they found themselves obliged to open up the nursing facility to take in the affected people.

People with contagious epidemic haemorragic conjunctivitis are being locked away in classrooms and lodgings in Celia Sánchez Manduley University, a long-established school for social workers, which, incidentally, has announced that the start of the next course will be postponed until September 20th, or until further notice.

Nevertheless, in the face of the incomprehensible decision to proceed with the carnival preparations, and in the closing stages of the preparations for the festivities in the provincial stadium and the busy Los Álamos and Libertadores Avenues, the local authorities have pronounced themselves satisfied on becoming aware on August 10th that Havana has ordered the activation in the province of the protection and security plan.

All the infantry units were quartered, the air force, the anti-aircraft defences and the navy were put on alert. But as the saying goes, nothing good lasts forever; such a colossal military mobilisation was not because of the epidemic, but because  General Raúl Castro, president of the Council of State and the Ministries of the Republic, was on vacation this weekend in his paradise hideaway in Cayo Saetía, on the north coast of East Cuba.

Translated by GH

Díaz-Canel: Killer of Illusions / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Miguel Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro (Reuters)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, 24 August 2017 — In his hardline speech to Cuban Communist Party (PCC) cadres, Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel killed any illusions some may have harbored that a future government headed by him, following Raúl Castro’s retirement,* would tend towards reforms and be less authoritarian and repressive.

Assuming the stance of a prison warden and speaking in a more commanding voice than usual, Díaz-Canel came across as considerably menacing–and not only with respect to the open opposition. Into the same bag of what he called “subversive projects” and “counterrevolution” Díaz-Canel also tossed the loyal oppositionists of Cuba Posible, the pro-government journalists who collaborate on non-state media, centrists and other ideologically diverse actors–no matter if they declare themselves to be within the Revolution.** As if this were not enough, he also warned that there would be no consolidations of a private sector that could break away from the State and turn into an agent of change. continue reading

All of this in a tone that more reminiscent of a State Security official than of a technocrat of the party bureaucracy. So intransigent and backward did Díaz-Canel come across, that in his place could have stood the uncouth Ramiro Valdés, or Machado Ventura himself were he not so busy cleaning up agricultural disasters.

If a medium as mild in its treatment of the regime as OnCuba Magazine irritates Díaz-Canel, we can only imagine what he thinks of Cubanet and Martí Noticias, among others, and what he has in store for independent journalists.

Could it be that the heir apparent, if he wants to make it to February 2018, could not spare any harshness in his lecture? How could he disappoint the little old commie fanatics who keep the fuse lit, even at the risk of it all exploding in their hands?

There is no need to dig deep and expect surprises from Díaz-Canel. For now, he called the play and it truly sets my teeth on edge. It is more of the same. Without much variation in the score.

There was no reason to expect otherwise–why insist on sniffing out a Gorbachev or Deng Xiao Ping in Díaz-Canel? He must have learned in cadre school that this type of system does not allow reforms that do not come apart at the seams; that rats, regardless of how they might beg for it, cannot be fed cheese, because then they will want water, and then more cheese, and will continue begging for it until the pantry runs out.

Actually, it was only the usual naifs, those given to wishful thinking, the extreme optimists, who harbored illusions about Díaz-Canel. He might have been able to appear liberal with the gays and rock fans of the Club Mejunje in his native Santa Clara, back when he had not yet put on weight, would ride his bicycle, and looked like Richard Gere. But once he got to Holguín as first provincial secretary of the PCC, he did not hesitate to order evacuations of marginal neighborhoods: apparently he preferred the invasive marabú* weed to squatters.

Starting now, he is giving advance notice, as if he were just another general–and of the praetorian kind–that he wants a calm and orderly classroom, and that he will not balk at ordering State Security (after seeing to the extinction of the dissident movement) to take care of the insubordinate, lackadaisical and diversionist elements. And it could be that later on, given his inclination to social media, he will tweet–cock of the walk that he is–that “there is no reason to make the least concession to the Yankee imperialists.”

Díaz-Canel is of a younger generation, but as in his school days, he remains disciplined, a follower of orders. And very attentive to what his preservation instinct dictates. Apparently it has not failed him yet. It is no accident that he has gotten to where he is today.

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translator’s Notes:

*In 2013, Raúl Castro told the Assembly of People’s Power (the Cuban Parliament), that he will retire from the presidency of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers on Feb. 24, 2018. At the time of that announcement, Díaz-Canel was promoted to first vice-president of both councils.

**A reference to Fidel Castro’s Words to the Intellectuals speech of June 30, 1961, in which he set limits to the free expression of artists and writers: “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing.”

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Enigmas of Successions

The First Cuban Vice-President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, shown here listening to Raul Castro, is one of the candidates to occupy the presidency. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 6 August 2017 – Only half a year before the announced general-president Raúl Castro’s departure from his duties as President of Cuba, it is still not known with certainty who his successor will be. It is undeniable is that whoever the Power choses to give continuity to the failed socio-political and economic model imposed by the olive-green clan will inherit not only a country in ruins with an astronomical debt and an aging population, depleted by the emigration of a large segment of the best of its workforce, but also a very different regional panorama from that memorable summer of 2006, when Fidel Castro proclaimed himself  “provisionally” retired from the Government after placing country’s direction in the hands of a clique led by the current president.

In recent times the continent’s left has been suffering its worst setbacks in decades, after losing the political power that had spread like an epidemic and even seemed fused to some of the most economically strong nations of this hemisphere, such as Brazil and Argentina. continue reading

At the same time, Venezuela, once the capital of this shady Castro experiment known as “socialism, XXI century style,” continues to sink in what many experts consider the greatest economic and political crisis in that country’s history, which has affected a significant contraction of the oil subsidies destined for Cuba, with its implications for an economy as fragile and dependent as ours.

Gone are the fleeting glories of the entelechies born in the wake of the late Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro, like the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA-TCP), created in 2004 in Havana, or Petrocaribe, which was founded in Venezuela in 2005, in order to politically influence the small oil-poor Caribbean nations and buy their support in international forums, in exchange for oil quotas at extremely magnanimous prices.

Despite such an adverse scenario for his interests, it is assumed that whomever is sentenced by Raúl Castro to be his successor will be “reliable”: sufficiently pliable to lend himself to the management of those who really move the political threads

Despite such an adverse scenario for his interests, it is assumed that whomever is sentenced by Raúl Castro to be his successor will be “reliable”: sufficiently pliable to lend himself to the management of those who really move the political threads – and all other threads – behind the scenes, and be reasonably cautious not to attempt the rehearsal of too abrupt a turn that would dislodge the ever-unpredictable social balance in a country saturated with shortages and frustrations. Autocrats do not like surprises.

It is necessary to consider the possibility that – similar to his elder brother when he left power in 2006 – the general-president has conceived a kind of collegial succession, leaving specific functions to several representatives of the different tendencies which, according to widely spread but never confirmed opinions, exist among the groups close to the Power. The bad guys’ great advantage is that they know how to be cohesive when they have common interests to defend.

Thus, a collegial government after the partial withdrawal of the general-president is a perfectly possible variable in a nation where there is only one political party “as the superior governing force of society and the state,” where, as a norm, the ruling caste ominously tends to ignore all the other commandments of the Cuban Constitution and what they themselves have legislated without obstacles in the last 40 years, and where all the political and economic maneuvers are hidden in the most absolute secrecy and come to light only as fait accompli, which saves the mokogos* of the Palace of  Revolution the cumbersome process of requesting approval from the bland Parliament or of also submitting the most important matters of State to the consideration of the (dis)governed.

In fact, this variant of collegial succession – not necessarily explicit – headed by a visible string-puppet does not seem very remote. Especially if one takes into account the experiences of other regional successions, such as that of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, elected by the deceased Hugo Chávez at the touch of his finger, but devised to the last detail by his comrade and mentor, Fidel Castro, in order to guarantee the survival of their respective so-called “socialist” projects and their leaders.

The once rampant Chavismo, just as its maker conceived it, has ended up succumbing to the ineptitude of the “successor” and the Castro greed

Suffice it to examine the composition of the Maduro cohort to understand that the red-olive/green arrangement was not only forged in Havana, but was already a done deal long before the Chavez, the “Eternal Commander,” was planted in the Mountain Barracks to end up transmuted into a little bird**.

However, despite the careful calculations of the most experienced conspirators, the ambush that Maduro has led Venezuela into is so complicated and profound that it overwhelms any control. Sooner or later, the dictatorial power will fall, because the situation has become ungovernable and, by appealing to repression and crime to retain power, the Government has lost all traces of legitimacy. The once rampant Chavismo, as conceived by its maker, has succumbed to the ineptitude of the “successor” and to the Castro greed.

Another planned succession, but of very different character, is the one that took place in Ecuador after the triumph of the candidate of the ruling party, Alianza País, in the person of Lenín Moreno in the second round of elections last May.

Moreno, surprisingly and quickly, soon began to detach from the hard and belligerent politics of his predecessor and has developed a conciliatory, inclusive, measured and serene style, seeking dialogues and agreements with different social sectors and with the opposition, which has provoked the virulent reaction of an angry Rafael Correa, who has described Moreno as “a traitor,” among other equally strong accusations.

The cases of Venezuela and Ecuador confirm that changes in power are not always “more of the same”, but can lead to unpredictable turns

 The confrontation has led to a deep fracture within the heart of party, according to the sympathies of its militants, between Correa and Moreno. Nevertheless, during the festival of Lenín Moreno’s electoral victory, a radiant and happy Rafael Correa could be seen celebrating the triumph at full sail, shouting slogans and thundering on the microphones with songs of the radical left (“here is the clear, the affectionate transparency”) as if instead of Lenín Moreno, he himself had won the elections.

Just as all autocrats dream of or aspire to it, Correa certainly believed that the person who was at the moment his cabinet vice-president would now, at the head of the new Government, be a docile follower of his dictates, the visible figure behind which he would somehow continue to exercise the power and iron social control. It has not been the case, and this avoids deepening the country’s internal conflicts and opens the way to a possible process of pacts that will overcome the tensions and social polarization suffered in Ecuador through all these years.

It would be premature to say how successful or not Moreno’s performance might turn out, but it is clear that this veteran does not feel indebted to the previous government, but has his own agenda. If it will benefit democracy and the citizens of Ecuador, let’s welcome it.

The cases of Venezuela and Ecuador allow us to confirm that changes in power, beyond successions or ruptures, are not always “more of the same,” but can lead to unpredictable turns. Thus, succession in Venezuela has resulted in the fraudulent attempt to legitimize a corrupt and repressive dictatorship, while succession in Ecuador seems to favor a return of the democratic spaces violated by the previous ruler. We will wait to see if the Cuban succession offers us a Maduro or a Moreno.

Translator’s notes:
*Ceremonial figure in Kundu settlements of southwestern Cameroon.
** Maduro has claimed that Chavez comes to him in the guise of a “very small bird” and speaks to him through whistles.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Meaningless Nonsense About the Flag / Fernando Dámaso

The flag, better “well adjusted” some think. (14ymedio)

Fernando Damaso, 24 April 2017 — The “official experts” continue talking and writing about the “correct” use of the national flag. Some of the arguments they trot out are laughable. The problem is not so much the rejection of the use of the national flag on clothing, as criticising the use of the American flag by many, mostly young, Cubans. It is something ideologically unacceptable  for fossilised minds. Let´s take ít one bit at a time.

In the United States, from when it was born as a nation, the flag has had an important place in the life of its citizens. Honoured and respected, it can be seen in government institutions and in front of many houses, as well as on the facades of many buildings. It is also everywhere in sporting and leisure facilities, and framed ones adorn the rooms of young people and adults alike and even the walls of commercial organisations. As if that weren´t enough, it appears on clothing and different consumer goods, with original and bold designs. It has never been idolised, but forms part of the daily life of every American. Something similar, though to a lesser extent, happens with the British flag. continue reading

In Cuba, the flag accompanied the Mambisas (a mixture of Cuban, Dominican and Filipino fighters for independence) who fought for independence in the 19th century but, when the republic was established, it became an official symbol of state, on display only in state institutions from dawn to dusk. It never featured in peoples’ day-to-day lives, apart from certain patriotic dates, like 10th of October, 24th of February or the 20th May.  During the years of the Cuban republic it was an object of respect, and its use was well regulated.

After 1959, the flag began to be used in a thoughtless way by the authorities, often without worrying about the established norms for its use, for any kind of political event and, over time, for many people, losing its emotional impact. And more than that, they put other flags next to it which had nothing to do with it, and that compete with it for importance (which is what happened with the 26th of July flag).

This totally anomalous situation changed it, for many, into more of a symbol of a government which had appropriated it, rather than of the Cuban people. In other words, the flag had become “official”, like the guayabera (a kind of mens’ shirt similar to what barbers wear), “safaris” and checked shirts that government officials are in the habit of wearing.

Nowadays no Cubans wear such clothes, least of all young people. They appear to be repudiated. Also, very few Cubans are interested in putting up a flag in their home or displaying it as a part of their clothing. The problem does not have to do with regulating, or stimulating, its use, as some suggest, but in honestly pointing out why many young people, and some not so young, wear clothing with the American flag on it.

Listen, you brainy ideologues,  don’t you understand that it’s a subtle way of demonstrating a preferance for a different system to the one we have here?

It isn’t, as you think, a problem about “trashy merchandise”, nor about “imperialist aggression”. Test it out, design some clothing with the flag, or parts of it incorporated, and you will see how few people actually buy it.

Translated by GH

Quinceaneras in Cuba: A Vanity Catwalk / Iván García

A quinceañera poses in a classic American Car. (NBC News)

Ivan Garcia, 14 August 2017 — A week in Punta Cana, Cancun, or some paradisiacal beach in the Bahamas. And if the family is well heeled, two weeks on a luxury cruise.

The excursion to an all-inclusive hotel in the Caribbean, in addition to the quinceañeara and her parents, can include the girl’s best friend and boyfriend. Orestes, a corpulent mestizo who makes a living “under the table,” explains to the Hispano Post the latest trends in girls’ 15th birthday parties in Cuba.

At a private cafe in the Vedado neighborhood, Orestes details about the expenses. “A week in Punta Cana, at an all-inclusive four-star hotel, three people, can spend $1,400 on the room reservation and maybe 200 or 300 more fulas (bucks) on purchases and gifts. I advise you to bring more money, because both the stores in those resorts and the markets in Dominican Republic have quality packages at good prices and you can buy merchandise and then resell it in Cuba and cushion the expenses a little.”

Orestes goes on to give more details. “Before the trip 300 CUC (339 dollars) are spent to get three passports. Then the visa, whether the Dominican, Mexican or Bahamian, has to be paid for, in addition to fulfilling a lot of requirements, because although the United States has repealed the policy of wet foot/dry foot, the perception in Latin America and in the world is that Cubans are likely immigrants. People who have a multiple-entry visa for the United States do not have problems, because with it they can travel throughout the continent without any other visa. And if you’re lucky you can get a tourist visa for the daughter and pay for a stay in Miami Beach, which would be ideal, but the accommodation and expenses are higher.”

He pauses to drink a mamey milkshake and stare for a moment at the Confederations Cup soccer match between Portugal and New Zealand, from a flat screen at the coffee bar. Orestes goes on to explain:

“Already with the expenses of the hotel, air ticket and other preparations for three people, the sum fluctuates between 3 thousand and 4 thousand CUC. But the expenses of a quinceañeara party that pulls out all the stops do not end there. The package of photos, something usual among the quinceañeras, costs 120 CUC for the cheapest and 950 CUC for the most expensive. Add to that, from 400 to 500 CUC for the purchase of clothes, getting her hair done at a noted hairdresser and, to finish the job, about 2 thousand CUC for a not too flashy party, because a quality celebration is 5,000 CUC,” aays Orestes, who says that, on the party for his daughter, including the trip abroad, photos, clothes, hairdressing and party, he spent the equivalent of $10,000.

“Brother, and I have not finished yet, because I have two other daughters who will also have to celebrate their quinceañeras,” he concludes with a forced smile.

The quinceañera festival is a tradition that goes beyond Cuba: in several Latin America countries they are also celebrated. According to a historian consulted, “This custom dates back to the Middle Ages, when kings and princes, landowners and merchants awaited the time of puberty (coinciding with the onset of menstruation and, therefore, the reproductive age of fertility) to make the most of their daughters. It was time to expose them publicly before the greedy eyes of future husbands. And among these, select not the most handsome or someone of appropriate age for the young woman, but the one who could offer a higher dowry.”

At one time in Cuba, rich families broke the bank, the middle class saved and organized a more or less sumptuous party. The daughters of employees and workers were satisfied with modest celebrations. Other families could not even afford that. “I turned 15 on November 10, 1957 and my parents only gave me a sweater that cost ten pesos,” recalls the journalist Tania Quintero.

“In my fifteenth, in 1985, in parties, drinks and clothes bought in tourist shops, my parents spent about 800 pesos, which at that time amounted to 200 dollars, as the fula was exchanged on the black market at four pesos to one. My parents were professionals, they had good salaries and they started saving from the time I was four or five years old. At my daughter’s party, in 2012, we spent almost 4 thousand dollars,” says Betty, a language teacher.

And in five years, the expenses have multiplied by a factor of ten. As has the vanity, tackiness and frivolity. If at one time the savings of the parents were enough to organize the 15th birthday party, now the celebration involves the whole family and relatives living abroad.

“If you have relatives in the US they save you. They may not be able to send you a lot of money, but it’s a relief if they send you clothes, cosmetics and hair products,” says Luisa, a divorced mother who has spent a decade collecting money for her only daughter’s Quince.

A sociologist in Havana says that more than a tradition, “Quince parties have become a social event where many families want to show off their economic solvency. Show that they are different. There is a sort of rivalry. And those who can, they want to organize a party more lavish than those of their daughter’s friends at school. A total escalation to foolishness and waste. The worst thing is that many families who spend large amounts of money leave other priorities of everyday life unresolved, such as repairing their home.”

Mariana, the mother of 16-year-old twins, says that the day after their birthday she did not have the moneyf or a cup of coffee. “You are sending your daughters out into that world, where in the typical pack complex, every girl wants her party to be the same or better than her friend’s. It’s kind of like a drug. And parents and relatives begin to spend wildly. They want to rent the best costumes, the best photographer, the best hair stylist, a famous television presenter and the most recognized DJ. Absolute madness.”

Those who benefit most from this celebration fever is the private sector. Giuseppe, an Italian who landed in Cuba after his marriage, was dedicated to photographing seabeds.

“But that kind of photography does not earn cash in Cuba. Then I scrambled and with my savings I opened a business photographing weddings and quinceñearas. The main thing is to be creative and offer quality. The rest comes alone. I have cheaper packages, between 200 and 300 CUC. But people usually choose photo packages of 600 CUC or more. Each package includes transportation, rental of costumes and videos. The most sold packages are those where the girl, thanks to the techniques of photoshop, embraces her idols, and a magazine in made about her life or announcing famous brands. Yes, it’s pretty kitschy, like those parties, but they drop of nice wad of cash,” confesses Giuseppe.

Actors, musicians, comedians and TV presenters earn extra money as masters of ceremony. “Besides drinking and eating for free, the Quince parties allow me to support my family and buy quality food. For every presentation including a comic show for an hour and a half, I charge 150 CUC,” says a well-known comedian.

On a single party you can spend the salary of four years of a high level professional. And there is no class distinction. From the poor who count their centavos to those who have bank accounts, everyone in Cuba likes to celebrate their daughters’ fifteenth birthdays.

Now a novelty has been added. Young Cuban men are also celebrating their 15th birthdays. It does not matter that on the Island the average monthly salary is 25 dollars and many families only eat one meal a day. Ostentation can do more.

Translated by Sofia

The Bolivian Circus / Fernando Dámaso

Map of Pacific War area. Source: Wikipedia

Fernando Damaso, 31 March 2017 — Although hardly anyone is surprised at the clowning about by the person who calls himself ” the first indigenous president” (in fact, there was another one before him), now, with his going on about “a sea for Bolivia” he is becoming news again.

Bolivia lost Antofagasta, the Atacama desert and the sea coast in the Pacific War or the “Saltmine War”, [trans. note: The full alternative name was the Birdshit and Saltmine War] which went from 1879 to 1883. It was ended in 1883 with the signing of the Treaty of Ancón. In the Treaty, Bolivia lost land to Chile, and also Peru and Argentina. Peru, which annexed the Bolivian territory of Tacna and Arica, returned the saltmine provinces of Tarapacá and Arica to Chile. Argentina kept hold of the territories it had annexed.

To try to change present-day frontiers between countries, which have been settled by treaty and agreements favouring the winners, following wars and occupations, is not really doable. It would mean changes pretty much all over the world, which is absurd.

Also, Paraguay doesn’t have an ocean outlet either, just as, for example, countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which hasn’t held back their development.

The ambition of the “Bolivian indigenous man who became president”, rejected by Chile, seems to be more a response to his “indigenous jingoism” policy, intended to gain support for his intention of putting himself forward again as a presidential candidate, something which was turned down in a referendum. Everything seems to indicate that the “indigenous” has enjoyed power so much that he wants to perpetuate it, intending to arrange a new referendum on something which the Bolivians have already decided.

Translated by GH

Talking With The Enemy / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 29 May 2017 —  Yes, General, on this point I entirely agree with you: “The enemy uses ever more sophisticated information weapons”. He clearly is the enemy; the one who stubbornly opposes all my people’s progress; the one who brazenly deprives them of their rights; who obliges them to live in misery; who lies to them with empty slogans, and without any sign of embarrassment, who embezzles their resources and squanders them on sectarian whims; who forcefully suppresses dissident voices, and who stoops to the vileness of dragging and hitting defenceless women without even respecting his own laws.

Thanks to terror enforced by brutality, firing squad and prison, these accomplished villains managed to take all the levers of power from the beginning of the 60’s, ending up ruining a country intended by nature to be prosperous, and today we can see how these awful people are sharing out what they have looted from my country. continue reading

Those terrible enemies of my people, General — used to their monopoly of lies — are the ones who  tremble with fear when light is thrown on the truth. But when things change — not thanks to them, but in spite of them — and there is something called progress and something inherent in human nature called free will, neologisms have appeared which don’t fit with absolutist jargon — words unintelligible to them, unpronounciable in the mouth of an enslaved people. Fully accessible, uncensored internet? OMG! Freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and association? Never! Among other licentiousness permitted by that cruel international capitalism which  surrounds us.

Because of the egotism, paranoia, cowardliness and stiffening of the mental joints on the part of those public enemies you mention, my country has just seen a string of excellent opportunities pass it by, offered by a North American president who broke with the approach of all his predecessors. Therefore, we can see how those same immoral people who yesterday barricaded themselves in, aluding to non-existent sirens of war, today climb back into the same trenches, hiding from the pipe of peace. When, in their arrogance, they decline to similarly hold out their hand, they show themselves once more to be against my people, like the incorrigible opportunists they have always been.

It’s precisely because of the pigheadedness of these enemy nonentities sitting in judgement over the Cuban people, General, that half of our harvests are still left to rot before they get to our tables, that a significant part of our fields continue to be covered by African marabú (a plant which is widespread in Cuba and seen as an intrusive pest) and another unjustifiable percentage left uncultivated while my country unnecessarily imports more than 1,700 million dollars worth of food a year – including, incredibly, part of its sugar requirement, while, as is well known, when these useless people arrived sixty years ago, Cuba was a net food exporter and the world’s biggest sugar exporter.

But it couldn’t be any other way in a country where two thirds of its businesses and corporations are run by military people who know nothing about the economy, but who, on the other hand, have been decorated, with honours, for their swindles and embezzlement. What I say, General, is that if an independent journalist can be imprisoned in Cuba because, according to the political police, “He does not have a degree in that profession, is not authorised by the government, nor registered in any agency recognised by the Cuban government”, then the same logic should be applied to those people, and all the Cuban military should be relieved of all civil positions and responsibilities, and should stick to their armed forces activities, the only area of influence they should exercise, given their exclusively military training.

All in all, General, it doesn’t happen very often, but this time you are quite right: right now, the best technology in the country is in the hands of the absolute enemy of the Cuban people. These people, wanting to firm up their unscrupulous strategies, have got broadband, every imaginable satellite connection, the latest cellphones, and unlimited resources for supplying legions of subnormal trolls / agents trying to create currents of opinion favourable to the dictatorship which supports them.

These enemies are the ones who control the ETECSA monopoly (Cuban telecoms company), which is seated like a merciless giant on the doorstep of all the poor people, and which imposes sky-high tariffs for poor telephone service, slow, expensive and censored internet, which is only accessible in the tropical sun on those sidewalks where you can get wi-fi. It’s the same people who bug and listen in to every conversation and message sent from and within Cuba, the same people who wipe your email intray, hack embarrassing websites and censor controversial pages.

But, can I tell you something, General? The fact remains that, for the enemies of my people, your time is up. And you know we can see your fear. The wave of uncontrolled violence against the peaceful opposition in my country during the last year shows your desperation. You know that my people have long since stopped loving you – if that’s what you can call something cooked up by lies. Now, definitely, they just hate you and fear you. That’s why this riff raff launches wave upon unmerciful wave of repression, because they know that fear is the only and last weapon they have left.

Fortunately, fear is a feeling which is phony, fleeting, and fades with time. Now, an ever-increasing part of my people has stopped being afraid of their tormentors and has decided no longer to bow down before the tyrants. But this personal liberation emits a dangerously contagious aura and the enemy knows it. And, although you try to look imperturbable, nevertheless your nervousness betrays you.

I deduce that you yourself have enemies like that. If you happen to bump into them, please tell them, in the name of the Cuban people, that this is the time for them to get out of our way. It’s necessary, and for your own good, General, that you know it too.

Translated by GH

Señor General “Going-Backwards” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raúl Castro next to Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel (Reuters)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 August 2017 – In line with the last meeting of the Council of Ministers, held at the end of June, where – according to what the General-President said in his closing speech of the Ninth Ordinary Session of the National Assembly – many deficiencies and problems were analyzed in the self-employment sector (TCP). The Official Gazette, in an extraordinary edition (No. 31) dated Tuesday, August 1, 2017, has decreed the suspension, supposedly temporary, of the delivery of licenses for at least 27 activities of the private sector (“self-employed”), “until the perfection of this sector is concluded.”

In addition, the decree states that in the future – and permanently – no new licenses will be granted to work in the areas of: wholesale of agricultural products; retailers of agricultural products; cart vendors or sellers of agricultural products on an ambulatory basis; buyer and seller of music records; and and operator of recreational equipment.

Despite this, according to what the First Vice Minister of Labor and Social Security told the official press, the provisions of the decree “do not constitute a setback in the development of (self-employed) activity,” but will “consolidate the organization and control of self-employment work so that it continues to advance in an orderly and efficient manner.” But this official did not explain how a process that has been stopped by a government decree could “advance.”
continue reading

And while such a strategy of advancing by going backwards may be paradoxical, more impudent still are the pretexts that were used to justify the retraction of what was announced years ago as a process of reforms that would oxygenate the internal economy and allow the potential for employment for a portion of the labor force let go from government jobs.

It turns out that the fickle old ruler has discovered “deviations in the implementation of the approved policy” for the TCP, ranging from the use of raw materials and equipment “illicit in their origins” to the “breach of tax obligations,” including under-reporting of sales/income, by members in the sector.

The truth is that, although the authorities have frequently expressed that the TCP has reported benefits in “lightening the burden of the State,” in the reordering of labor, as well as in the supply of goods and services – which, by the way, is not, nor should it be the natural aspiration of private labor anywhere in the world – in practice, this sector has become the most propitious villain (after the “criminal imperialist blockade”) to justify the causes of the failures inherent in the Cuban sociopolitical system.

The aforementioned “deviations” include “lack of answerability and timely solution to problems,” “imprecisions and inadequacies in control” and “deficiencies in economic contracting for the provision of services or supply of production between legal entities and lay persons,” among others.

These latter deficiencies, however, are not attributable to those who engaged in the TCP, but to the representatives and government officials responsible for correct compliance, who did not adequately fulfill their obligations, so that – if tabula rasa is used in the application of the law – the posts of state inspectors, officials of the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT), police officers, and a whole host of bureaucrats related to the implementation and control of TPC should also be suspended and constitute a dense layer of parasites that only tax the increased corruption, which is spread throughout the country in epidemic proportions.

But the new decree of “General Rupert Going-Backwards” also suffers from numerous intrinsic contradictions, such as, that among the activities in this species of temporary “hibernation” are included, first, those who rent housing, rooms and spaces, as well as coffee shops and restaurants (paladares), which is a real folly in a country that – it is said – expects that the number of visitors will reach 4 million this year, and does not have the hotel and food service infrastructure capable of satisfying such demand.

Seen from a more objective perspective, it is obvious that the Cuban government prefers that the foreign tour operators installed throughout Cuba benefit from the influx of foreign visitors, and not the native entrepreneurs themselves. This is not explained as a simple perversion of the system – which it also is – but is making Power panic, in the face of the demonstrated ability, in just a few years, of the private sector to achieve prosperity and autonomy. These entrepreneurs are much more successful and competitive than the State sector, and thus are a potential social force relatively independent from strong government subjection. And it is well-known that the power of autocracies is based on the most absolute social control.

There’s nothing so threatening for the autocratic regime as the possibility of consolidating an autonomous – and therefore potentially free – segment within Cuban society. Hence, the demonization of what they call “accumulation of wealth” and the questioning of the ability of some entrepreneurs to travel abroad and import raw materials and supplies, openly expressed in the aforementioned speech by the General before Parliament.

Equally paradoxical is that during the most recent session of Parliament the existence of a deficit of 883,000 thousand homes in Cuba was officially acknowledged – a figure that should actually be much higher – but at the same time a Decree published today in the Gazette has prohibited the granting of new licenses for private contractors, in direct contradiction to the fact that it has been precisely private construction activity that has marked a slight growth in the manufacture and repair of houses. In contrast, State dependent construction has been accumulating colossal defaults for decades, in a country whose housing is in a calamitous state an whered the majority of the population lacks the resources to attain housing.

Analyzing all the weaknesses and inconsistencies of the new Decree would require dozens of pages, but it is not worth the effort. We are simply facing the latest development of the unrealistic project of “updating the model,” which has been the chimera of Castro II since his arrival to the olive-green throne. There’s nothing so grotesque as trying to implement from the proven imperfection of Power the “perfection of self-employment,” the only segment of the national economy that works with some efficiency.

The General and his claque know it, so this new limitation on the private sector is actually the legal expression of the government’s terror of losing social control in a country where discontent, dissatisfaction and shortages continue to grow. At the moment, everything indicates that the general-president’s reformist disguise will continue to unravel at the seams.

Translated by Norma Whiting