Fernando Damaso, 29 November 2016 — In October, Hurricane Matthew struck the eastern side of the Island, creating destruction and desolation in Maisí, Baracoa, and other communities of the territory, from which their inhabitants–given the precariousness under which they were already living–will take years to recover. This is especially so being that much of what is reconstructed today is of a temporary character, due to the lack of durability and resistance to natural phenomena of the materials utilized.
The national economy continues to be in crisis, and the lack of supplies can be seen in the empty shelves of the freely-convertible currency (CUC) stores, in the service stations bereft of gasoline, and in the pharmacies that don’t stock basic medications. Other essential services also show their deterioration and affect the Cuban people. Continue reading “Little War Games / Fernando Dámaso”
Against all logic, from the 16th through 18th of this month, the authorities carried out the Bastion 2016 Strategic Exercise, which practically paralyzed the country for those three days. As if this were not enough, they added two “Days of Defense,” the 19th and 20th, with the goal of perfecting the country’s preparedness to confront a supposed enemy, under the concept of “War of All the People.”
In the conclusions published in the official press, the solution to wartime problems was declared “successful” by the ministries in charge (the same ones who are incapable of resolving the problems of peacetime) as were the exercises carried out with the mobilized population (infantry exercises, arming and disarming of weapons, shooting, grenade launching, disguise and others). In addition, there were assurances that “Cuba’s invulnerability to military aggression” had been confirmed.
In today’s world, with the level of arms development and technological advances in all spheres, no country can consider itself invulnerable, including the major powers. It is absurd to declare this with respect to a small and poor country such as Cuba, equipped with obsolete and recycled weaponry.
Now the practice runs were underway for a great military parade, in the style of those from the Cold War era, on 2 December, for the 60th anniversary of the Landing of the Granma and in honor of the “historic leader’s” 90th birthday–which has been moved to 2 January 2017, due to his death on the evening of 25 November and the activities surrounding his funeral.
It is true that all of these events, except the (albeit expected) demise, was long planned. But prior to Hurricane Matthew and the results of the United States elections. they could have been reconsidered.
It is no secret to anyone that these happenings required resources of all types and exacted great physical and economic costs. The questions by many citizens were: Why, instead of being squandered, were these means not applied to relieve–in the shortest time possible and with greater quality–the problems in the communities affected by the hurricane?
The explanations provided by the authorities–including the one about the exclusion of Guantánamo, a poor province with few resources, from these activities–satisfied very few. In the context of the improvement of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, do they not insert unnecessary noise?
Could it be that with these little war games, there was an attempt to “cohere” to the regime the ever-less “cohered” Cuban people?
Could it be a pathetic attempt to “play an old hand” for the benefit of the next tenant of the White House?
Iván García, 4 December 2016 — There are three things in the spirituality of the island. Rumba, Santeria, and baseball, which for a decade has been replaced by the passion for football (soccer) among Cubans, especially the youngest generation.
For nine days — something unprecedented in the cuntry — we Cubans have been disconnected from the events and sports overseas. A real media blackout.
Mourning, hymns and slogans rining in the ether. Also the mourners and exalted eulogy. In these nine days, Cuba smelled a little bit like North Korea, its ideological partner.
At this point, after 60 years of autocracy, the public applauds, fakes loyalty to the regime and signs whatever the government proposes [during the mourning period Cubans are being asked to sign a loyalty oath]. hallucinatory as it seems. But under the table Cubans continue to live in this stronghold of the real Cuba ignored by state media.
In that Cuba, people speak with fractured words, reinvent themselves every twenty-four hours, and clandestinely buy everything from cocaine to a yacht.
In the terrestrial island, not in the virtual or the delirious one that the Castro regime authorities sells us, after eliciting some tears on Via Blanca with the passing of the caravan with Fidel Castro’s remains, Oneida, on arriving at the shabby filthy room where he resides in the Luyano neighborhood, went to see the list-keeper who collects the money from the illegal lottery known as la bolita, and bet 200 pesos, around ten dollars US, on number 64, which stands for “big death,” according to the list that assigns a meaning to each number.
The funeral rites of the “big death” recalled that stage of the not so distant Soviet Cuba, full of prohibitions and a press worthy of Charlie Chaplin. It seems like a backward Middle East nation.
Now, from 26 November to 4 December, by state decree, there is zero alcohol. Zero films, zero soap operas, not even the news. The olve green mourning prevents Cubans from learning about Stefan Curry or LeBron Hames, paralyzes the insipid national baseball series and the fans missed the game of the year, between Real Madrid and CR7 and the Barcelona team of the flea Messi.
Spanish journalists who covered the funeral figured out where they could watch the game. “I hope in a hotel in Santiago de Cuba I can see the match,” commented a reporter from a Catalan newspaper.
In hotels and bars in Havana, where the fans usually gather with their scarves in the team colors — very hot in this climate — and wearing T-shirts with Leo Messi, Neymar, Luis Suárez, Cristiano Ronaldo or Sergio Ramos, were closed, complying with the official ukase of maximum mourning for the death of Castro I at the age of 90.
But in Cuba, there is always a Plan B. Those who have powerful shortwave radios try to get the signal from Spain’s Radio Exterior. Others, paid for an hour of internet connection, 50 pesos, the equivalent of two-and-a-half days pay, to follow the crucial game on line in the pages of El Pais or El Mundo.
At the end of the game, tied at one, Julian, who had connected in Cordoba Park, located on the border between the Sevillano and La Vibora neighborhoods, some crestfallen Barça were leaving: “33 games without losing, now we’re at eight points, goodbye league for you.” A friend asked him to speak softly: “Pal, keep it down with all this going on, the police are waiting to pounce.”
With the disappearance of Fidel Castro, the last guerrilla of the Third World, has deployed an dense ideological paraphernalia in Cuba, asphyxiating, that has brought back the animal fear among many Cubans.
Those who daily put their elbows on the bar do it in secret, so that the snitches and the intransigent followers of the regime don’t think they celebrating the death of the “great world leader.”
All the music has been shut off, and quinceñeras, weddings and anniversaries are postponed until further notice. Also cancelled were dances and religious festivals, like the night of 3 December, the eve of the day of Saint Barbara, who is also Changó in the Yoruba religion, one of the most venerated deities for Cubans.
“Fidel Castro owned the farm and the horses. There must be calm until his ashes are deposted in Santiago de Cuba,” said the peanut seller who was once a political prisoner.
The dissidents are also quiet. The Ladies in White didn’t go out into the street to protest on the last two Sundays, as a sign of respect and not to provoke the repressors.
On his way to paradise or hell, according to your viewpoint, Fidel Castro pounded the table with authority to demonstrate that even as dust, he generates absolute respect in the population.
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Havana, in a big mansion about to fall down, but with an illegal satellite connection, the owner spent the whole game keeping a dozen young people quiet so they could see the match, each one paying 2 Cuban convertible pesos, a little more than two dollars.
“Gentlemen, don’t shout so much, we don’t want to go to jail,” he told the boys. But the joy could barely be controlled when Sergio Ramos, scored in the last minute of the game. Result: one to one.
And when it’s about Fidel Castro, even a football game can be an offense.
Iván García, 25 November 2016 — After sweeping a park that spans entire block in the Vibora neighborhood of Havana, Silvio sits on a wooden bench and, in the shade of a carob tree and a fresh autumn breeze, guzzles a liter of cold water.
As for many Cubans, politics aren’t his forte. He’s serving a year of detention for hitting his ex-wife, and sweeping parks or weeding flower beds is part of his punishment.
“Things in Cuba are really bad. There’s no money, and it’s very hard to buy food. At the rate we’re going, we’ll soon be starving even more than during the Special Period. I don’t know how Trump could help make things better for Cubans. These scoundrels (of the Cuban regime) are the ones that have to do that. And they don’t. They steal all the money and then entertain us with their long speeches. Trump seems like an S.O.B., but the sitution in Cuba isn’t his fault. The solution is to sell the country in an auction. Can’t that be done?” asks Silvio in the warm, morning sun. Continue reading “Cuba: Not Everyone Sympathizes with Trump / Iván García”
Cubans don’t really like to make predictions. They don’t do them any good.
“They’ve deceived us so many times that people prefer to live day to day. The future seems like a fairy tale. From Fidel Castro’s unfulfilled promises to produce as much milk or meat as Holland, to a quality of life comparable to that of New York.They’ve always sold us the theory that the U.S. blockade (embargo) is responsible for Cuba’s misfortunes. Then a guy like Obama arrives at the White House, who wants to change strategies and whom Cubans on the island love, and they keep blaming their problems on the Americans. That’s why a lot of people don’t care who’s governing in Washington. The solution to our problems depends on Cuban leaders,” says Carlos, a sociologist.
Cuba is hurting. The streets are destroyed, the people are tired of speeches and slogans, low salaries and decades of shortages. To escape the daily drama, people cope by settling into a recliner or an arm chair in front of the TV for hours, watching Mexican soap operas or game shows and reality shows made in Miami.
Orlando earns a living stuffing matchboxes on 10 de Octubre Avenue. He would have liked Hillary Clinton to win the election. “Forget the story that she would have continued the Cuba policies put forth by Obama. I wanted her to win because she would have become the first woman president of the United States. I think the world is lacking in female governance.”
Although polls seem unreliable after the resounding failure of Brexit in Great Britain, peace talks in Colombia, or Trump’s unexpected victory in the United States—where citizens hid their intentions in the voting booth—in Cuba an overwhelming majority preferred Hillary in the White House.
Influenced by Trump’s bad press on the island, the continuation of Obama’s legacy, and other diverse reasons—from our mixed races to empathizing with a black head of state—the average Cuban was for Clinton.
Cubans didn’t really care about Hillary’s email scandals or the accusations made against her husband by a campaign volunteer. Nor did they care about news reports accusing the Clinton family and their political dynasty of corruption.
For Delio Benítez, who has a degree in Political Science, there’s a strange phenomenon in Cuba. “In general, when Cubans are on the island, they lean toward Democrats in the U.S. elections; but once they’re living in North America, a large portion of them vote for Republicans.”
Benítez doesn’t know why. “I can’t prove it with scientific studies. Maybe it’s the prevailing anti-imperialism in Latin America, or the aggressive discourse of the Cuban regime. But in the Cuban subconscious, Democrats are, politically speaking, more reasonable than Republicans, with their tendencies toward war and their anti-immigration stance.”
For Josuán, a vegetable and fruit seller in an open-air market in Havana, Hillary was a better option because “she may not have abolished the Cuban Adjustment Act. For me, and for many who plan to emigrate, Clinton was our candidate. Trump is going to repeal that law. And those of us who planned to leave will have to speed up our trip.”
The majority of citizens that have coffee without cream for breakfast also don’t expect a disaster from the Trump administration. “He’s a businessman. Maybe he’ll fit in better with Castro than Obama. Hillary would have been perfect, but (Cuba-U.S.) relations won’t be broken with Trump. One thing for sure, things are going to be bad for us Cubans regardless of who wins in the United States. The blame for our misfortunes lies here at home,” claims Emilio, a personal barber, in a soft voice.
If you want to meet a sector of Cubans that applaud the election of Donald Trump, please visit the dissident, Antonio Rodiles, in the Miramar neighborhood in east Havana, or Berta Soler at the Damas de Blanco headquarters in Lawton on the south end of the capital.
That branch of the opposition, under the umbrella “Forum on Rights and Freedoms,” practically held a party over Trump’s victory. According to their statements, they believe that as repressed dissidents they will get more backing and financial assistance from the White House.
But it just so happens that, in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, anyone who has survived eleven U.S. administrations had an equal chance of being imprisoned or executed during a democratic era as they did a republican era.
Autocracies thrive and survive regardless of any major or minor international condemnation. Ending autocracy is Cuba’s business. No one else’s.
Fernando Damaso, 12 September 2016 — In light of the proliferation among Cubans of garments adorned with elements of the United States flag and, to a lesser degree, the flag of England, some “defenders” of the national identity and of patriotic symbols have proposed making the Cuban flag more visible, as “many Cuban flags.”
Being that the natives of this Island tend to outdo ourselves and we forget that there is a happy medium, some sportswear items have appeared (awfully designed for the Río de Janeiro Olympics)–shirts, shorts, caps, purses, tote bags, and even aprons–bearing elements of the national standard or, simply, reproducing it without any creativity. Continue reading “The Flag "Bearers" / Fernando Dámaso”
Now, following the beat of these pioneers, other “purists” have raised their voices, demanding a prohibition against the use of the flag on items of clothing, because it is unnecessary to import “bad customs” from other countries. In the first place, to categorize the habits of others as “bad” or “good” seems a bit petulant: they are customs and should be respected, even if not imitated.
Besides, why this late defense of patriotic symbols, when in fact, officially speaking, they have been quite disrespected? Examples abound: utilizing the flag during any political activity, no matter how trivial; leaving it suspended eternally in closed-off areas, even exposed to the elements; printing it on paper and, later, allowing it to be strewn on the floor like so much trash, trampled on by passers-by; hanging it up in state-run establishments as a curtain on doorways and windows to block the sun; printing images of historic and not so historic figures on it; and, as if all this weren’t enough, having the Historic Leader write his signature on it with a felt-tip pen during a public act on the staircase of the University of Havana.
Let us not even mention the national coat of arms, for it has been obviated and forgotten, having not been present, as was customary before 1959, in government buildings, but rather, in observance of a blatant personality cult, substituted by photos of living personages.
All of this racket is due to some “dogmatics” who, from an “idiotological” point of view, want to confront a foreign custom that has been taken up in our country.
I think there are real problems that are more important to confront, unless this is one more entertainment designed to lull Cubans with cheap patriotism.
In accordance with the provincial government’s regulations, bars, night clubs, shops and markets were prohibited from selling alcoholic beverages.
Cintia’s parents had already invested around 500 convertible pesos in clothing and 400 in photo sessions and videos. The date of the birthday celebration, with plans for a dance group, a professional presenter and a bottle of aged rum on each table, was to take place on Sunday, November 27.
As a precaution, Cintia’s family, preparing for a shortage of beer, had already bought 15 cases of Cristal. But they figured they could buy the rum, which was always available on the shelves of the hard-currency stores, the day before the party.
The first problem came with the renting of the salon, a State center that was used at night as a discotheque. On Saturday morning the administrator returned their money, explaining that “because of the national mourning after the death of Fidel, recreational and cultural activities were suspended.”
Cintia’s family understood the reasons. “Look, here almost all the businesses are State property. So we decided to rent a private house. The trouble happened later, when we went to buy rum, red wine and champagne,” the mother says.
They went to dozens of markets and saw that black nylon had been put over the alcoholic beverages on the shelves, as a sign of mourning. “Señora, I’m sorry, I can’t do anything for you. If they catch me selling alcohol I’ll lose my job,” a clerk told her.
When asked where this regulation came from, they pointed toward the roof. “From above, from the Government.” As always happens in Cuba, when you want to know the name of the officer or minister who approved an absurd law, the web of bureaucracy conceals the one who implemented it.
Telephoning departments of the Ministry of Interior Commerce, which administers the hard-currency shops, the answers were the same: “We’re in national mourning for the death of the comandante.”
So what do you do with those who wanted to celebrate their birthdays or their weddings between November 26 and December 3? Or the devotees of Santa Barbara who always celebrate on December 4?
Although the official press hasn’t announced it, the Dry Law is extended to the whole Island. The journalist Lourdes Gómez, in Diario de Cuba, reported that “strangely, you don’t see anyone drinking alcohol. A cafeteria worker said that they received a directive prohibiting the sale of alcohol for the next nine days, the period decreed by the Council of State for national mourning.”
We Cubans are used to getting silence for an answer. Right now, Fidel’s death is the priority. He’s a genius and an important figure up to the grave, after his death, built up with a gibberish worthy of a Cantinflas comedy.
The celebrated tenor, Placido Domingo, who was going to make his Cuban debut in the Gran Teatro de La Habana, on Saturday, November 26, had to pack his bags and leave until further notice. Those who love baseball or football in the European leagues have to spend the equivalent of two days wages to get on the Internet to find out the results, since the official press and other media like radio and television are only giving news about the trajectory of the Maximum Leader.
By State decree, the army of drunkards in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and the rest of the provinces can’t drink beer or rum. “This would be in poor taste, to have people drinking and partying in the middle of national mourning. Where’s the pleasure in that? After December 4 they will have plenty of time to booze it up,” answers a police officer.
Those not suffering from the unexpected tropical Prohibition are the usual drunks. “Those people will even drink dog piss. The ones selling “chispa de tren“* are making a fortune now, since it’s not easy to spend nine days of this fuss without having a drink,” says the owner of a cafe on the outskirts of Mónaco, south of the Capital.
Private bars, restaurants and cafeterias can’t serve or sell alcohol either, but under the table, rum and beer are sold for consumption on the premises.
Coming back to Cintia’s family: At the last minute they were able to buy several bottles of rum and red wine. Of course they paid dearly for them. Finally they could celebrate her birthday, with the music at low volume. So as not to offend Fidel Castro in his national mourning.
*Translator’s note: Literally, “train spark,” referring to the sound made by train wheels on the tracks. A cheap, homemade rum, distilled from sugar and mixed mainly with kerosene or residue from petroleum refining. The toxic rum of the poor.
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 26 November 2016 — The official media have just announced the last and definitive death of Fidel Castro, and I think I have perceived more relief than bereavement in the mournful message. If I were a religious person, I would feel at least a tiny bit of grief, but that is not the case. Definitely, pity toward despots is not among my few virtues. And, as I have always preferred cynicism over hypocrisy, I am convinced that the world will be a better place without him.
At any rate, to me, the old dictator had died a long time ago, at an unspecified date, buried under some dusty headstone, without epitaph in the deepest recesses of my memory, so I can only be curious about what this expected (exasperated) outcome might mean for those who have kept their destinies tied to every spasm of his many deaths.
Nevertheless, just because I had given him an early funeral doesn’t mean that his irreversible departure from this world is not a momentous event. The image of the defeated specter he had become will now disappear, and his passing will also cease to gravitate over the superstitious temperament of the nation as an unavoidable doom. We will finally find out whether the prophecy Cuba will really change after Fidel dies is true or false, because it seems that, for almost all Cubans, waiting for changes that result from nature’s course is easier than taking the risk to do it themselves. Peoples who feel ashamed of their fates often blame their rulers for their own collective irresponsibility. Continue reading “The Ancient Dictator Died Long Ago / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”
There are also the superstitions, a nice wild card for the national lethargy. There are too many people that believe in some god, in a sense of fatality, in the tarot, in the zodiac signs, in the I Ching, in the Tablet of Ifá or other prophecies of the most varied kind. I have never believed in any of them, perhaps because accepting the mysteries of these predestinations as true would have made me feel I was cursed just for having been born in Cuba in 1959. Far from it, such an adverse coincidence became the challenge that I accepted gladly, so I never experienced the deep feelings of frustration that oppress several generations of Cubans, choked under the effects of the power of a sort of superhuman entity that seemed to sum up all creeds in it and that intervened in every destiny. An impostor, in short, pretending to be god, oracle and mantra all at once.
For almost all Cubans, waiting for changes that result from nature’s course is easier than taking the risk to do it themselves
Nevertheless, all my memories are intact. They have survived every cataclysm in good health. How could I go back on them if our spirit is pure memory? I reminisce without love, without resentment, without bitterness and without regrets, as if I were observing, in an old movie, my own story which is the same for millions of Cubans like me. There are even some chapters I find amusing. How could we have once been so naïve? How did our parents and grandparents allow us to be manipulated in such an atrocious way? It was because of fear. Fidel Castro’s true power was never the love of Cubans, but the unspeakable fear they felt toward him, an irrational and irate leader, and an individual whose limitless egomania could only be matched by his inability to feel empathy. Sometimes fidelity is only a resource for survival.
Looking back on the first 20 years of my life, I remember Fidel Castro as a sort of omnipresent magma that invaded every space of public and private life. He seemed to have the gift of ubiquity and to appear everywhere at once. My earliest memories of childhood are invariably associated with that image of the bearded man who never smiled, dressed in a military uniform, whose portrait could be found anywhere, whether on the wall of a building, on a fence, on the covers of magazines, newspapers, or in a carefully framed picture in the halls of revolutionary Cubans, who were a majority back then.
That same man very often appeared on the screen of my grandmother’s television (in my mind, I thought he lived inside that device), or he invaded every home from the radio stations, thundering and fierce, making long threatening and scolding speeches, loaded with harangues. He was always irritated, so I was a little afraid of him and tried – with little or no success – to stay away from his vibrations. My elders swelled with ecstasy and even cried out, excited about the false prophet’s this or that bravado. “It’s El Caballo!* that’s how it’s done!” The admirers of the new hard man would bellow, drunk with a fervor that I did not understand but which, over time, succeeded in infecting me.
In any case, “Fidel” was one of the first words uttered by the children of thousands of families which, like mine, had discovered that on the dawn of January 1, 1959 they were suddenly revolutionaries. And thus, also suddenly, in a nation traditionally Catholic, quite a few proclaimed themselves as atheists and renounced God only to accept a new faith, Fidel Castro as savior, and communist dogma as catechism.
Fidel Castro’s true power was never the love of Cubans, but the unspeakable fear they felt toward him
Meanwhile, countless families were fractured by political polarization and emigration. Parents and children, siblings, uncles, cousins who had always lived in harmony, clashed, became filled with grudges and distanced themselves from one another. There were those who never spoke to each other again, and died without the embrace of reconciliation. Many survivors of this telluric rupture are still picking up the pieces and trying to recreate some parts of our battered lineages, at least out of respect and homage to our estranged departed family members, all because of an alien hatred.
Then came the militias, the Bay of Pigs, the Missile Crisis, the compulsory military service, the rationing card, the monumental harvests, the Revolutionary Offensive, Angola, the in-field schools and the schools in the countryside, and the permanent consecration of endless delusions of the Great Egomaniac. And with the passage of time, the signals of the ruin we insisted on ignoring began to arrive.
The increasing shortages were silenced with slogans and with gigantic plans doomed for failure, all freedoms were buried and rights disappeared, sacrificed on the olive green altar under the weight of once sacred words and now debased by speeches (“homeland,” the most tainted; “liberty,” the most fraudulent), while – unnoticed and blind – we Cubans ourselves helped to build the bars of our prison and, docile, left the keys in the hands of the jailer.
The first great schism between the lunatic orator and me were the events at the Peruvian embassy, and especially the Mariel stampede, between April and May, 1980. They were not, however, isolated events. The first conversations (they are often referred to as approaches) had taken place in 1978 between the dictatorship and a group of emigres living in the United States, which resulted in the opening of family visits in 1979, although only in one direction: from Miami to Cuba.
Cubans themselves helped to build the bars of our prison and, docile, left the keys in the hands of the jailer
Suddenly, the stateless-wormy-counterrevolutionaries were not that, but “our brothers from the Cuban community abroad,” who had been able to preserve their original cultural values and their own language in foreign lands, and who were being offered the right to visit their country of origin and reunite with their families. Now they happily arrived, weighed down with gifts for the beggars who had chosen a revolution that proclaimed poverty as a virtue. Naïve or not, many of us felt the manipulation and discovered that we had been scammed, and although one does not wake up at the first bell after a long and deep lethargy, we began to live on alert and to question the system.
Then, without expecting it, the New Man, forged under the principles of that celebrated whore called Revolution, witnessed in surprise the spectacle of the hordes gathered at the Peruvian diplomatic headquarters and the mass flight through the port of Mariel. And we were perplexed by the thousands of deserters and horrified by the repudiation rallies, the beatings, vexations and insults towards those who were emigrating and the impunity at the barbarism that was only possible because it had been instigated and blessed from the power.
By then I was sporting my new motherhood, and before every fearful scene I would cling to tenderness for my son. I think it was then that I began to definitively tear all the dense veils of the lie I had lived for 20 years and became obsessed with the search for the truth in which I would bring up my children: freedom as a gift that we carry inside, which nobody grants, which is born with the being. So ended Fidel Castro’s leadership of me, dragging in his fall any possibility of future glitches in my spirit. The dissident, living in silence within me, emerged that year, and the paradigmatic leader of my adolescence began to transmute into an enemy.
The feelings his existence infused in me were fear, admiration, respect, devotion, doubt, disbelief, resentment, contempt, and, finally, the most absolute indifference
That is why the difficult events and the Fidel battles that followed my conversion did not make a mark: the Ochoa case, the associated executions, the Special Period resulting from the collapse of real socialism, the Maleconazo, the Balseros Crisis, the rescued child rafter Elián, the Open Tribunes, the Roundtables, the Five Spies, the Black Spring, the Battle of Ideas, the Energy Revolution and so much nonsense that resulted in swelling the ranks of the discontented and the disenchanted, widening the rift between the power and millions of Cubans.
My feelings for Fidel Castro went through several stages. It could not be any other way, since I was born in 1959, since I grew up in a family of Fidel fans and since I’ve spent my whole life in Cuba. The feelings his existence infused in me were fear, admiration, respect, devotion, doubt, disbelief, resentment, contempt, and, finally, the most absolute indifference.
News of his death, then, does not stir emotions. A friend recently wisely told me that Fidel Castro was not cause, but consequence. It seems to me an accurate sentence to summarize the history and idiosyncrasy of the Cuban nation. Because we Cubans are not (we have never been) the result of Fidel’s existence, but the reverse: the existence of a Fidel was possible only thanks to Cubans, beyond political or ideological tendencies, beyond our sympathy or resentment. Without all of us the power of his long dictatorship would not have been sustained.
That is why I take this, the occasion of his ultimate death, to sincerely make a toast, not to his memory, but to ours. May our memory never falter, so that we do not forget these decades of shame, so that no more Fidels are repeated on this earth! And I also offer, with all my hope, to celebrate the opportunity that this happy death unlocks to the new life that all Cubans will finally build in peace and harmony.
*The Horse: Fidel Castro’s nickname among Cubans
Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez and Norma Whiting
14ymedio, 26 November 2016 – Thousands of Cubans poured into Miami’s streets in the early morning hours to celebrate the death of Fidel Castro, Cuba’s former ruler, who held onto power for almost five long decades. To the rhythm of “Our Day is Coming” by Willy Chirino and “In Case I Don’t Return,” by the late Celia Cruz, the exiles celebrated surviving the man who dominated with an iron fist the destinies of those on the Island of Cuba.
The leader of the Democracy Movement, Ramon Saul Sanchez, explained to 14ymedio that the exiles do not rejoice at the death of a human being but “at the disappearance of a symbol that is used as a sword of Damocles against civil society activists and all who want to democratize Cuba.”
Sanchez says that “Raul and his brother Fidel Castro were responsible for making the dynastic transfer” and argues that military exercises like the Bastion 2016 were carried out in order to intimidate people and so that people did not pour into the streets.
“The Cuban is changing in his heart, he wants liberty. One day we are going to see that this happiness that is seen in the Cuban exile is going to be apparent to everyone,” said Sanchez.
Ufracio Gonzalez, a boxing trainer attending the demonstration explained that he decided to go out to the streets with his young daughter to celebrate the death of the dictator because “That man has done a lot of damage to Cubans. We have memories of suffering and bitterness.”
Not only Cubans were among the celebrators. Venezuelans and Latin Americans decided to share the joy of the exiles. Lia Fausta, a Brazilian living in Miami, says that she does not celebrate the death of Fidel Castro but a new life for Cuba and for all the countries in the Americas.
“Lula, Dilma Rousseff, Evo Morales, Nicolas Maduro, Ortega and Santos. We must free ourselves from these people who destroy the future of our young people,” she explained.
“I love Cuba. My mother was a woman who loved the Island. All my life the only thing I heard was ‘what a shame that this has happened (the Cuban Revolution) to a country that was the most beautiful in the Caribbean,’” she added.
Since early morning the county police have been present and closed downtown’s Eighth Street in Little Havana, the quintessential meeting place for Cuban immigrants in south Florida, estimated at about two million people.
“It is a family celebration. You find the same thing among the old and the young. No one has wanted to stay home. It is something that we owe to our parents, our grandparents, to all who suffered the worst of the Castro tyranny,” comments Elquiades Suarez, 40 years of age.
In the afternoon Willy Chirino and other famed local artists visited the restaurant Versailles.
Cuban-American members of congress also met to give a joint statement.
“We are not going to expect big changes,” said the recently re-elected Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a joint press conference with Republicans Mario Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo.
Ros-Lehtinen also threw a bucket of cold water on those who expect rapid changes on the Island with the death of Castro: “Do not expect Fidel’s death to open a door to a new chapter of liberty. It is not so easy.”
“What we need is freedom for the Cuban people, freedom of expression and everything that is written in the Helms-Burton law.”
Diaz-Balart for his part said that Fidel Castro’s legacy is “of tragedy, of repression, of corruption, of drug trafficking and terrorism.”
Fidel Castro’s public enemy number one, the militant anti-Castroist Luis Posada Carriles, described the death of the Cuban ex-ruler as “unjust” and lamented that it came “so late.”
Rebeca Monzo, 27 November 2016 — On Saturday 26 November of this year, my telephone rang at almost 2 in the morning. I picked it up with trepidation because normally at that hour one expects to hear bad news. The reality, however, was different: a friend was calling to inform me of Fidel’s death. I was relieved because, what with my family being out of Cuba, I had expected the worst.
The news did not stir any kind of feelings in me, neither pity nor joy. It was something that had been expected and that many of us wished would just be over.
What did surprise me was that Raúl so quickly made the event public knowledge. We had always thought that this would be something that would be kept hidden from us for a while and that we would find it out from relatives and friends outside the country. But the social networks and the immediate impact they cause made the current president react this way. Continue reading “Period of National Mourning, or Curfew? / Rebeca Monzo”
They have decreed a national mourning period of nine days, which in my opinion is rather exaggerated. They say it is so that everyone can say goodbye and pay their respects before his ashes. I am convinced that the majority of those who will go to do so will not go spontaneously, but rather will be transported by the Young Communists Union, the University, the Cuban Workers Center, the Federation of Cuban Women, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and all the rest of the governmental mass organizations of which the country boasts (and which are under the direction of the government, even though it publicly declares that they are not, which is totally false).
The state-run television has all the channels lined up with programs broadcasting only images of the deceased, extolling the personality of a leader who died in full decline. Only his “successful” episodes are shown. There is not a single children’s program on the air, being that children, too, are obliged to observe an enforced mourning period.
They have prohibited all public and cultural spectacles. The greatly advertised and one-time-only concert by the Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo, who traveled to our country with 500 guests, has been suspended–which for him must have been “disconcerting.” Also, the sale of alcoholic beverages has been prohibited in state-run and private restaurants, as well as in all the stores throughout the country.
I have learned that they are visiting establishments that rent out private rooms, to investigate whether any journalists are among the guests.
The city is practically deserted at night. Is this, really, a period of mourning, or a curfew? You decide.
Hablemos Press, 26 November 2016 — The dictator Fidel Castro has died in Havana this 25 November. He was among the military men who ruled the Island with an iron fist for 49 years, amassing a great fortune–despite being a critic of capitalism.
Cubanet, Jose Daniel Ferrer Garcia, Santiago do Cuba, 29 October 2016 — The top headline in the nightly news on the Castro family’s private television — the only television permitted in our country – on October 28th this year, was: “Cubans are paying tribute to Camilo Cienfuegos on the 57th anniversary of his physical disappearance.” Then we see leaders, the military, workers and students, all of them in the service of the family who own the television and who also own everything in Cuba, – when a few people own everything, the rest don’t even own their own lives – scatter flowers in the sea or in rivers in homage to the brave and much-loved guerilla. Lázaro Expósito, Secretary of the Cuban Communist Party in the province of Santiago de Cuba, and his entourage, distributed their flowers in the contaminated Santiago Bay.
Was Camilo lost at sea? Or, did Fidel Castro make him disappear? For most Cubans, the second possibility seems more likely. My father, Daniel Ferrer, fought in Column 9 under the command of Huber Matos, and, with me still in primary school, he told me that Camilo hadn’t fallen into the sea, that that was just a story. He never explained to us why he said that. Since I was a kid I have never wanted to be deceived or used. From the 5th grade on, I never again “threw flowers for Camilo.” They haven’t found any trace of the light aircraft which, supposedly, crashed into the sea. Will we need a diver like the one who discovered the wreckage of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s plane? Continue reading “Did He Disappear, Or Was He Gotten Rid Of? / Cubanet, Jose Daniel Ferrer”
If Camilo was, and I think it is true, a brave, intelligent and sincere man who fought for the restoration of democracy to the Cuban people – the great majority of Cubans who fought against Batista thought that they were fighting to restore the 1940 constitution, never imagining that they were fighting for one family to become owners of the whole nation – it is logical to think that, when he saw the disastrous road along which Castro was leading the Revolution, he would have expressed his disagreement, or, at the very least, Fidel and Raúl would have imagined that it would not be easy to manipulate him and, in either case, would have decided to get rid of him. And if that is what happened, he certainly does deserve flowers, respect, admiration and justice. But not that we should participate in the Castros’ farce of casting flowers on the sea.
If, on the other hand – and I don’t think it’s true – Camilo was another docile instrument in the hands of the Stalin of Birán (Fidel Castro’s birthplace), always ready to obey orders, even though the orders converted his country into a nation of slaves, and he really disappeared in an airplane accident over the sea, after Huber Matos’ arrest, then it’s the best thing that could have happened to him. In that way, he died clean, without having on his shoulders the weight of the tyranny’s subsequent grave and continuous crimes And, if that’s how it was, he deserves neither flowers nor admiration.
But, I do think that he deserves flowers, respect, admiration, and justice. And for that, I do not throw flowers into the sea. One day, we will know where his remains are. I don’t know why, but whenever they speak of Camilo, or of other friends and victims of the Castros, even inluding the Argentinian communist who executed so many Cubans in Havana’s La Cabaña fortress, I remember Lev Trotsky, Sergei Kirov, Lev Kámenev and Gregory Zinoviev, among other victims of Joseph Stalin’s purges.
They say there is no proof that Stalin ordered Kirov’s assassination, or that Castro got rid of Camilo. But what we do know is that Stalin did not like to be upstaged by anyone, and that the Castros even stick people away and out of sight if they seem to be the slightest bit “difficult.” Kirov and Camilo seemed to be malcontents. Those who want to have everything, do everything to control everything, and then they tell whatever whoppers suit them. But, in Stalin’s time, there was no internet.
14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Havana, 23 November 2016 — I learned via the internet that 14ymedio’s Camaguey correspondent, Sol Garcia Basulto, was illegally and arbitrarily arrested on the night of November 3 when she was travelling to Havana to get a visa for her passport.
As she herself relates, she had won a trip abroad for a journalism course. She would not qualify for enrollment in a Cuban university journalism school because her political ‘wood’ is not suitable for the construction of that ‘national informational edifice.’ Her case is not isolated. There are many young students of this profession whose careers are interrupted for the least ideological slip-up or who, when they manage to graduate, have doors to jobs closed on them. They are innumerable, the names of the recent graduates who have crossed the Strait or who are marginalized within the country and take on any self-employment that is often as distant from their abilities and aspirations as they ever imagined. Continue reading “Political Arrests Increase / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco”
Sol’s case is in keeping with a repressive wave that is playing out across the Island against opponents and independent journalists in order to put a stop to that avalanche of popular dissatisfaction that is growing among the citizenry because that handful determined to complain is the only representation of the people’s discontent. The system is not content with excluding them from the official media – the only media accessible to the population – but intends to eliminate them because of new technologies that one way or another allow what’s happening within Cuba to be known.
The most significant thing about Garcia Basulto’s detention, if the objective was to prevent her trip abroad, is that they could have visited her at her home and withdrawn her passport; taken her off the bus at the Camaguey terminal before it took off; or even summoned her to the police station. However, they waited for the bus to leave the city, and then they stopped it in the middle of the road, boarded it and handcuffed her like a common criminal. This is one more kind of mistreatment that so many of the Cuban population suffers.
I know Solecito – as I call her – and I know that she is a young woman of character. She raises her daughter alone because the father is a prisoner. I am not unfamiliar with that journalistic aspiration that has not been able to develop, as I said before, because of its dissident tenets. I have seen her often and read her work in the independent magazine Cuba’s Time which, by the way, is not at all “counter-revolutionary” except when its collaborators touch a sore spot of some public official – I even think that the State could take the articles that are written there as a reference to discover the administrative deficiencies of many revolutionaries who bleed public assets for their own benefit, as is well known.
I am at once saddened and indignant that the changes of openness promised to the people are the object of a double standard – to use this phrase that they like so much – and that now that the president general assures that there are no political prisoners, they stop and humiliate those who don’t submit to the system. It is possible that there are no political prisoners in Cuba; but political arrests increase daily.
The bad time that they gave to Solecito will not change her way of thinking but will increase her condemnation of those who oppress her. Maybe a friendly and convincing attitude together with facilitating her trip would have made her change her view and respond empathetically when the time came to practice non-professional journalism. But instead, the sad and regrettable event has brought to international light a new name that will have to be taken into account from now on.
Cubanet, Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces, Guantanamo, Cuba, 3 November 2016 — In talking to fellow countrymen and foreigners, the question comes up: Why do we Cubans have put up with so much abuse from the Castros?
The question is raised because of the discrimination to which we have been, and are still subject, to the existence of a dual currency system, excessive prices for goods and services, and the indiscriminate repression at the slightest sign of dissidence.
But those who ask this question are forgetting inescapable historic circumstances, because the anthropological damage caused to the Cuban people by the Castros has its origins in the Sierra Maestra guerilla warfare and in secrecy. We also should not forget that the Cuban Revolution enjoyed the overwhelming sympathy and support of the people because its political and economic programme was backed up by the restoration of democracy. Measures which, with obvious popular impact in a country where the people, up until then, had been seen as an entelechy, guaranteed an extraordinary level of support for Castroism. Taking advantage of that, it was able to convert the slightest criticism into a counter-revolutionary act, thus legitimising repression “in the name of the people” although those who are repressed are a part of the people. Continue reading “Why Do We Cubans Put Up With All This? / Cubanet, Roberto Jesús Quiñones Haces”
In April 1961, a group of excited militiamen accepted Fidel Castro’s proclamation of a socialist revolution, “in the name of and on behalf of the Cuban people”, without which nobody would have conceded that right, on the corner of 23rd and 12th (opposite the cemetery in Vedado, Havana). A typical example of manipulation of the masses.
Absolute control of education and the media, subjugating everyone to surveillance, ranging from telephones and correspondence, up to their private lives, making all family or individual advancement indissolubly linked to loyalty to the regime, was, among other practices, sufficient to establish Castro’s rigid control of society. When, in October 1965, the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party was created, another leftist dictatorship was politically formalized, which had, de facto, existed since 1959.
Those who dare to stand up to the totalitarian regime pay for it by death in combat, being lined up and shot, thrown in jail, sent into exile, or ostracized.
In the 70’s, the advance guard of a peaceful opposition made itself felt. It began to knit together a new awareness and, although the regime continued to enjoy popular support, the discontent was evident, as was demonstrated at the Mariel embassy and what happened afterwards. (The April 1980 occupation of the Peruvian embassy, the confrontation with the Castro government, and the subsequent mass exodus from the port of Mariel of some 125,000 Cubans to Miami.)
The Special Period was another turning point. (the extended economic crisis from 1989, through the 1990s, following the collapse of the Soviet Union). Progress in the independent civil society was still going slowly, although more visibly. Its protagonists contributed to the revealing of another Cuba, which did not exist in the Cuban official media. Radio Martí, broadcast from the United States, made an enormous contribution to that.
Fidel Castro’s posture, which was to refuse to admit the de facto failure of socialism, which he was faithfully copying, and which was going hand in hand with shortages, the exodus from the country of important cultural, sporting and political figures, the strengthening of the mass exodus of the Cuban people, the emergence of marked social differences and phenomena such as tourist apartheid, decriminalization of the dollar and prostitution, increased popular discontent.
From then on, the civil society began to grow rapidly. The ground they had gained was thanks to their courage and persistence. Repression increased, but because of that, the people know that the police beat up and lock up men and women whose sole offence is to peacefully demand the observance of the human rights, which the Castro regime repeatedly violates on a massive scale.
All of this occurs with the complicity of the State Prosecutor’s Office and the tribunals. The Cuban opposition lacks any rights. Along with the complicity of the state institutions, can be added the no less shameful connivance of numerous governments whose latest cynical act has been to approve Cuban membership of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Some ask, how much longer? Forgetting that to be a peaceful opposition requires a large dose of humility and courage. Anyone can shoot a policeman in the back, as did the members of Castro’s 26th of July movement, dedicated to overthrowing Batista, or place a bomb in a cinema or public place. If the peaceful opposition started to do that, if they took up arms – if they obtained them even though one of the first measures of the dictatorship was to eliminate arms factories – then Castro and his inevitable front men would go crying to their accomplices in the UN to denounce the “terrorists” and put an end to them with the consent of the governments who praise democracy while they support Castroism.
But it’s just one day at a time. In spite of the defamatory campaigns, the discrimination and abuse, the people are watching. It’s a long-term struggle, but at least the opponents don’t have the death of any other Cuban on their consciences. Their achievement is that they are fighting peacefully, even for the cowards who hit them, discriminate against them, and penalize them.
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 November 2016 — Rarely does the official press offer journalistic work of any interest, so a report that was published a few days ago is greatly appreciated. The work was published following controls recently directed by the Government to a total of 32 private restaurants in Havana (“Private Restaurants in the Capital Control and Success, in that Order?” by Yudy Castro Morales), a piece that reflects, in an unusually objective manner, some of the limitations that hinder the performance of private restaurants in Havana.
Weeks earlier, the State press monopoly had made mention of certain irregularities that had been detected in the sector, such as violations in urban planning regulations, illegalities in procedures for the sale of homes, “the importation of goods for commercial purposes,” tax evasion and violation of established limits related to activities for which licenses were issued.
The unprejudiced use of terms as demonized as “private restaurants,” “business” and “prosperity,, among others, is surprising
Indirectly, it also suggested that some of these establishments had become “scenarios for the dispensing of drugs, pimping and prostitution,” as well as for money laundering, which collaterally constitutes tacit acknowledgement of the proliferation of unspeakable evils within the impeccable socialist culture.
All of this, in addition to the closure of numerous restaurants and cafés and the suspension of the issuing of new licenses for this type of self-employment business created a climate of uncertainty about the fate of the private restaurant industry, popularly known as paladares*.
This uncertainty is now beginning to dissipate, at least partially, when the most official newspaper of Cuba not only deals with the results of the mentioned inspection in the capital, but disseminates critical testimony and demands from several owners of some of Havana’s privately owned restaurants.
The absence of revolutionary slogans and of political-ideological allusions of the kind that usually overload articles in the official press is another unusual feature of the article, and equally surprising is the unprejudiced use of terms as demonized as “private restaurants,” “business” and “prosperity,” among others.
Some insightful rumors considered that the official strategy consisted in selecting certain prestigious restaurants and offering them legal advantages in exchange for adhering to certain norms
In fact, problems detected by the State audit during inspections do not, in themselves, constitute a novelty: closing schedule violations, direct hiring of performers that liven up some private locations –without going through a State Agency where they are required to be registered – problems with employees’ contracts, noise pollution, illegal merchandise, smuggling and the crime of receiving stolen goods are real and well-known transgressions, in both the private and the State sector.
For that reason, some insightful rumors considered that the official strategy consisted in selecting certain renowned restaurants and offering them legal advantages in exchange for adhering to certain norms and commitments with sectors of the State entrepreneurship. The State-Godfather protects those who are loyal to it, in its best Mafioso style.
Should this rumor be true, it would not be anything new. It is popularly spoken of – though obviously unverifiable – that the owners of some of the most successful paladares have some kind of link with the power authorities and have enjoyed official tolerance in exchange for political compliance, whether fake or not.
The ideological commitment/control mechanism is (also) a longstanding practice in the gastronomic sector. During the decades of the 70’s and 80’s, restaurant, bar and cafeteria management – all of them State-owned – were very coveted jobs, since they were consistent and secure sources of illicit proceeds from the smuggling of products diverted from the official network and resold at premium prices in the black market.
Whoever has not lived in a society accentuated by shortages and subjected to a ration card to acquire their sustenance may not understand the enormous economic power that is derived from the management of foodstuffs.
So significant were the gains in the gastronomic industry that the Upscale Restaurant Enterprise in the capital gave those jobs to “team-players” of the Communist party and to intermediate leaders with a proven historical track record of loyalty to the system.
So significant were the gains in the gastronomic industry and so coveted the management jobs at prestigious restaurants, such as El Polinesio, La Torre, El Conejito, el Mandarín, Las Bulerías, Montecatini, among many others – some of the famed restaurants as well as many others – that the Upscale Restaurant Enterprise in the capital gave those jobs to “team-players” of the Communist party and to intermediate leaders with a proven historical track record of loyalty to the system.
This clientele-centered procedure created a sort of undercover middle class, whose advantages over the working class were based on their ability to access consumer goods and services that were just not available to the latter, in the same way that the standards of living and the ability of the current private owners of the most successful paladares are far beyond the possibilities of the vast majority of Cubans.
The difference between those State administrators of yesteryear and the current owners is that the former dealt with public goods, since private property was banned then, and the latter operate with private capital, but the common denominator among them is that the power — which arbitrarily dispenses approvals, punishment or pardons — controls and manipulates them from the point of view of their dependence on improprieties in following the laws in order to thrive, on both sides.
Thus, the prosperity of the ‘Private Manager’ depends, to date, on his ability to misappropriate State assets entrusted to him without being discovered, while the success of the ‘Private Owner’ depends on his ability to violate the law, be it accessing the underground market to acquire the goods that he needs or through the evasion of taxes and other regulations.
The prosperity of the ‘Private Manager’ depends, to date, on his ability to misappropriate State assets entrusted to him without being discovered, while the success of the ‘Private Owner’ depends on his ability to violate the law
But what is really novel in the journalistic report in this case is that it has given space to the voices of the presumed victims in the Government press — the ever-demeaned private owners, or “entrepreneurs” — and that these voices have expressed themselves so critically and so freely about the multiple constraints imposed by the State system that regulates self-employment.
Included among the major constraints that were listed are the lack of wholesale markets and the insufficient supply of the retail networks, the unfeasibility of joining importing entities in order to acquire consumables and equipment that are lacking in retail networks, the express prohibition for the private sector to import products that are not commercialized in the State entities, among them, certain types of alcoholic drinks that are in high demand, the restriction of allowed seating (50 chairs in total, whether under a cafeteria or a restaurant license) which “negatively affects the business,” especially those that provide services to the official tourist agencies which, on occasion, in the face of the great demand and the limits on authorized seats, push the license-holders to violate those limitations.
Criticisms were even directed at State and cooperative management nightspots, described by owners of paladares as deficient in “not offering quality services,” which makes one think that perhaps soon, and in light of the growing wave of tourists, this kind of establishment, which at the moment is exclusively State owned, might become privately owned.
What is really novel of the journalistic report in this case is that it has given space to the voices of the presumed victims in the Government press and that these voices have expressed themselves so critically
“We are willing to pay the established taxes (…) but we want profitable businesses,” stated an owner, implicitly demonstrating the financial capacity that the elite in the industry has attained.
But, in addition, the report allows us to perceive certain nuances that make a small but significant difference, in a journalism that is habitually flat and uncritical. There is a case, for example, of an owner who, as a taxpayer, demanded to know more about the fate of the taxes he pays the State, something that was considered a heresy until recently.
Of course, these are wispy and sparse signals, but they forecast the possible evolution of private capital, though reduced to an elite sector that, despite its fragility, begins to feel independent and to consider itself useful and necessary for the survival of an obsolete and unproductive system in crisis.
Of course, official responses to the claims of private owners have not been published. No one knows for sure how much was “allowed” or how audacious this infrequent journalistic report and these demands really are. At the moment, it is worth paying close attention to the direction of private Havana restaurants. Let’s not forget the old saying: “God writes straight with twisted lines.”
*Translator’s note: Paladar (plural: paladares) (Portuguese and Spanish for “palate”) used in that sense in the Spanish speaking world, however in Cuba, it is used exclusively to refer to restaurants run by the self-employed. Mostly family-run businesses, paladares are fundamentally engaged to serve as a counterpart to State-run restaurants for tourists seeking a more vivid interaction with Cuban reality, and looking for homemade Cuban food.
The term in popular usage has its origin in the Brazilian soap opera Vale Tudo”, broadcast in Cuba in the early 1990s. Paladar was the name of the chain of restaurants. The airing of that soap opera coincided in time with the first issue of licenses for the self-employed in Cuba, so popular culture gave this name to the then-new type of establishments.
Iván García , 3 November 2016 — Situated between sugar cane fields and with the Escambray mountain chain visible in the distance, at the side of the old Central Highway is the village of La Esperanza, part of Ranchuelo, one of the 13 towns of Villa Clara province, some 290 km east of Havana.
It’s an unpretentious village, similar to thousands of hamlets and little groups of outbuildings deep in the heart of Cuba. Smelling of molasses at sugar harvest time, a parish with commercial and neighbourhood life going on in the village park. A place where everybody knows everyone else. They know every family’s ins and outs, and outsiders live the life of Riley. Continue reading “Villa Clara: Poverty, Wifi and Monotony / Iván García”
“The smaller the town, the worse the gossip. When my husband and I want to drink a few beers, we go to Santa Clara, the province capital, 16km from La Esperanza, because otherwise the comments start up right away: ’Look at that, those guys have money’. Here, people just have enough to get by, says Dianeye, 36-year-old mother of two children and wife of Servando, who has a 1936 Harley Davidson and is probably one of the most important guys in the village.
In La Esperanza, people count their centavos. In the El Colonial restaurant, at the side of the park, a lunch of white rice, pork chops, red beans, plantain chips and seasonal salad for 2 people costs 34 pesos, less than two dollars.
The currency exchange shop is empty. Two bored assistants chat about the current TV soap and one shows the other one how to connect to the internet via wifi on her cellphone, in order to sign up to Facebook.
“So that I can make friends”, says the girl. “She’s trying to get a boyfriend”, says her friend with a smile. And in these villages, getting married always affects the family’s future.
Dianeye knows it only too well. When she was fifteen, she married Servando, the father of her children. Often she rides pillion on the old Harley Davidson to get to out of the way places on the island. “Yes, once I wanted to move to Santa Clara or Havana, but I got over it. My husband built a good sheet metal house. After spending so much money we’re not going to leave the village, which isn’t very entertaining, but it is peaceful”, says Dianeye.
Peaceful and boring. In La Esperanza, minutes seem like hours. The clock stands still. You can chatter forever, and only four minutes will have passed. And the time also passes slowly if you decide to walk the two kilometers round the village.
The kids who have finished with high school, give each other moral support in the park. The pensioners read their single-focus national newspapers and talk about baseball, while they yawn. The drunks share a litre of Ron de Caña (Flor de Caña rum, made in Nicaragua) and when they are completely pissed they sleep it off on the red-painted iron and wood benches.
The bus that takes you here and there passes at certain times. If you want to go a short distance, you take a small horse and cart. A noisy out-of-date Girón bus (a type of bus introduced in the ’70’s to alleviate the transport problems of the time, also known as “aspirinas” — aspirins, because they helped a bit but didn’t cure the problem ), which has Cuban-made bodywork and a Soviet-era engine, and an exposed roof showing the metal structure, takes you the 16 km separating La Esperanza and Santa Clara.
Santa Clara, capital of Villa Clara province, is something else. Although still nothing to write home about. But it’s Cuba’s third or fourth town. In the avenues, there are more than enough slogans commemorating Che Guevara, a cantankerous Argentinian who occupied the town on New Year’s Eve 1958, during Fidel Castro’s guerrilla war.
Santa Clara has impersonal architecture. Self-built houses, groups of Socialist Realism buildings, same and ugly and planned without parks or leisure facilities. Some were built with ancient Yugoslavian technology, which town planners should not hesitate to knock down some time in the future.
Just as in La Esperanza, but occupying a larger space, you will find Leoncio Vidal Park, surrounded by baroque or classical-style buildings and a modernist-looking hotel, the Santa Clara Libre.
There are several excellent privately-owned restaurants. You can have a generous portion of prawns for 4 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC, about 4 dollars) and a medium size red snapper for 3 CUC. La Terraza is one of these eating places, located in a narrow alley close to Vidal Park. It’s always full of foreigners passing through Santa Clara.
There’s a wifi point in the park, where youngsters chat to their friends, suitors or family members, on their cellphones, using the IMO app. The older folk, with their portable radios, discuss the Villa Clara baseball team’s performance, play by play, in the National Series. The fans get their hopes up over their national team.
“It’s two years since Villa Clara qualified for the second round. Now we have a chance to put up a good show. I’m sure Alexander Malleta, reinforcement for the Industriales (a successful Cuban baseball team) will perform well”, says Mario, a total baseball fanatic.
The young people in Santa Clara, just like in the rest of the country, prefer football. And in the afternoons they get together in a cafe on the ground floor of the Santa Clara Libre Hotel to watch the Real Madrid or Barcelona Champions League games.
You need to be comfortably-off to go to this cafe. A beer costs 25% more than in other bars and it has a satellite tv channel. Around 11 at night, a dirty and half-naked crazy man begs for money from the regulars.
A security guard throws him out into the street. The number of beggars in Santa Clara is rocketing, just like in Havana and Santiago de Cuba. They are referred to as ’itinerants’ in government-speak.
There seem to be three things which can’t be dealt with in Cuba. The future, the invasive marabú weed, and poverty. Santa Clara is not exempt from any of these.
14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 7 November 2016 – “There is no headache that can resist this Bayer aspirin,” says Vicky, a seller of imported medicines who offers vitamins, sedatives, flu remedies and ointments. The shortages in state pharmacies fuel illegal trade in medicines in Cuba, many of them brought from abroad.
Vicky has been “in this arena” for three years, according to what she tells 14ymedio at her house in Old Havana, which she has repaired and furnished thanks to the medicine business. She says she has regular customers whom she keeps supplied with “antacid pills, multi-vitamins and flu remedies.”
“Do you know how much Alka-Seltzer fits in ten kilos?” Vicky jokes about the commercial brand of effervescent antacid that is recovering its popularity among Cubans after decades of absence. “There are many needs, and this is a business that never loses,” she explains.
“I have several contacts who travel to Miami and Panama to supply me,” says Carlos Manuel, another medication seller, more focused on the Island’s central market. “Many are accustomed to US brands, so I try not to change my suppliers,” he adds.
“In the countryside people have a tough time getting many of these things,” says the seller, who explains that some customers do not pay him with money but with agricultural products. Carlos Manuel, in fact, already has “agreed to a pig at the end of the year” in exchange for “a nebulizer and a digital blood pressure monitor” ordered by a sixtyish farmer.
Cuba produces some 531 medications, of which 322 go to the pharmaceutical network and the rest to hospital centers, according to data from the Ministry of Public Health. The state subsidizes the sale in dispensaries and regulates the quantities that each consumer can buy, even for non-prescription medicines.
The pharmaceutical industry is going through a difficult period with the lack of liquidity that the country is experiencing. Managers of the state company BioCubafarma explained to the official media last October that the medication deficit is due to decreased availability of raw materials, a result of defaults by foreign suppliers.
“Those that sell fastest are acetaminophen and ibuprofen plus vitamin E, triple antibiotic creams and Scott’s Emulsion,” says Carlos Manuel about his alternative offerings. “There is much demand for medications by older people,” he says.
With a very low birth rate, high life expectancy and increasing emigration by the young, Cuba is on track to become the ninth oldest nation in the world in 2050 and the oldest in Latin America. Currently the elderly exceed 20% of the country’s 11.1 million residents.
“There are more requests for circulation problems, knees guards, canes, bedsore creams and disposable adult diapers.” However, the seller says that still “the medications for chronic illnesses have to be gotten here through the black market, because out there it is very difficult to buy without a medical prescription.”
In that latter category are third generation antibiotics and many of the drugs for heart disease. But also the aerosol Salbutamol for asthmatics and doses of Enalapril for arterial hypertension are scarce in the state networks and are more complicated to acquire abroad.
The imports are products with flashy labels, bottles that often promise a number of pills “free” and with variations for all tastes. “I have the same medicine in pill form but also in gum and syrup,” adds Vicky.
A bottle of 30 children’s animal-shaped, soft vitamins costs in his “private dispensary” some five convertible pesos, a fourth of the average monthly salary. A nasal decongestion spray costs twice as much, the same as a cream for combating nail fungus.
“Among my clients some spend up to 30 CUC per month on medicines, above all those who have young children or the physically impaired in their care,” the woman says.
The medicines distributed in the pharmacy network throughout the country mostly come in unattractive boxes, in the traditional blister packs or white plastic packages; there is no variety even if by chance there is a medicine for each illness. “It is not the same; although they may be good medicines they look outdated, old,” reflects Vicky.
“Everything that I have is quality, without adulteration,” the saleswoman promises a customer who has come to her house in search of a bottle of Omega 3 and other products. “It does not matter if you don’t have pain or corns, it is always better to invest in health,” she takes the opportunity do some advertising.