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

 

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

Real Power / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Cuban troops parading in Havana

Cuba Primera Digital, Eduardo Martinez, Rodriguez, El Cerro, Havana, 25 July 2017 –The Cuban people wish for, desire and silently demand changes that can lift us out of this sticky inertia wherein poverty resembles some plasticine or treacly substance that endlessly congeals in our hands.

The demand is silent because we lack access to communication media, although many of us would shout out certain truths.

We average citizens who make up 90 percent of the population—manual laborers and knowledge workers; service employees of all stripes; technicians, including engineers and architects working on projects related to their specialties; and more—we have no voice nor vote, we do not truly boast ownership of the means of production, nor of technical and technological resources. All we have to give is our labor force, our effort and sacrifice. Period. In general, we are treated as one more machine, dispensable and interchangeable, which when no longer serviceable, is traded for a functioning model, or else discarded, kicked aside. continue reading

The remainder of the population also tries to implement the needed changes of which Fidel spoke, and which Raúl knows are vitally important to saving the system.

Once upon a time, Raúl Castro said, “We cannot continue wobbling on the edge of the abyss. Either we change, or we perish.”

The octogenarian generation led by the obstinate Fidel Castro also includes delayed septuagenarians, but all of these together do not comprise even one percent of the total population of our country. They are the superstructure, the historic leaders–figureheads who appear to be running things, but in reality not so.

Between this layer of elders and rulers who are rapidly disappearing and the immense working class below lies another stratum of rich potentates who retain the true power in this nation, although for the moment they are keeping a low profile.

Beneath the veterans who can barely stand up anymore there operates, imperceptibly, a relatively large group of persons, ranging from the level of ministers to those functionaries charged with implementing their orders and directives, and including the military chiefs who command the armed services and the repressive structures of the Ministry of the Interior. These people are the ruling class that actually generates the high-level decisions, holds the reins of power, and runs the country behind the scenes.

One feels a little sorry for the ancient overlords with their greatly diminished capacities and ability to really call the shots. They should stay home and be enjoying a good rest, away from public life; instead, they remain apparently in control, when in fact they are no more than a sad semblance of power.

True power is in the hands of the much younger generals who direct regiments and battalions of armed and well-trained soldiers; the generals of the Ministry of the Interior who manage State Security, the police, and other agents of confrontation that are behind the always-possible and ever-imminent popular uprisings that can flare up at any given time; the generals and colonels who lead the corporations and enterprises in which great investments are made of national and international capital in the productive spheres and foreign tourism; the managers of joint ventures that raise high levels of hard currency; the corporate personnel of the Banco Metropolitano, which finances the army and dominates almost all monetary and financial activity; the ministers and directors of departments in all domains of national life, who determine and issue their own regulations parallel to the elastic and vaguely-defined laws published in the Gaceta de Cuba [Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba], for which our inefficient National Assembly scarcely convenes a couple of times a year.

These highly privileged señores retain real power when it comes to deciding what can and cannot be done, who can approve what, and which changes to allow or not. They decide who will leave the country or be incarcerated, where shopping can be done and by whom, who escapes and who will be taught a lesson. This is a dark intermediate layer, highly corrupt and merciless, which could not care less about the common people below or the old geezers above.

These señores do not want—they will fight tooth and nail to prevent—change of any kind. Any. The feeble government of the octogenarians is no match for them, and the lower classes do not know what to do, or do not seem to know.

Were this to change, the señores who comprise this intermediate layer—a wall of contention immovable in the face of change—would have to give up their good state-owned vehicles; they would not be able to maintain their various private luxury cars; they would lose their special stipends for food and fuel; they would have to vacate their elegant and well-maintained residences in exclusive neighborhoods (generally built during the 1950s with the money of the millionaires back then) where new construction is not permitted, such as Siboney, Cubanacán, Atabey, Nuevo Vedado, Aldabó, etc. They would not be able to constantly travel abroad to make the expensive purchases on behalf of the State so that it can support the 11-million parasites that they say we have become. They would not be able to enjoy the many sweet, efficient and beautiful secretaries at their disposal everywhere. They would not be able carry out that vastly lucrative internal influence peddling that keeps the nation’s wheels turning, and which so much resembles embezzlement.

Were all this to change, these señores would have virtually nowhere to go, and they are well-accustomed by now to living well.

These señores are the ones who keep this country in a permanent state of bankruptcy, spending and squandering the little cash we generate, while they fatten their own bank accounts, hidden throughout the planet, on the backs of the people.

These same señores, on the day they come to realize that on the other side of change the universe looks more lucrative, will not hesitate to execute a coup d’état, will not hesitate to neutralize the octogenarian overlords, will not hesitate to order the troops to the streets to massacre the opposition. And it will be worse than in other places: in Cuba we are all soldiers.

They will become the nouveau riche, as has already happened in so many other nations that went through this process in Eastern Europe.

If you doubt it, take a look at how many ministers and other functionaries have fallen into disgrace in recent years, when the octogenarians tried to apply a few honest touches with what little authority and prestige they have left—as happened to the corrupt General Acevedo, or the previous Education Minister, who traveled abroad on the public dime more than 70 times in barely two years. This could be a long list…

Within that dark layer, subtly and silently, lies the real power. They are the ones who could trigger a sudden upset to our society, were they to consider it prudent or beneficial to do so, for they hold the means and resources in their hands, under their direct control. They have a lot of money and have become used to wielding unlimited power, good students as they are of the aged rulers who are on their way out. This bad seed will become our new opulent capitalists, cruel and merciless. For now, they are the ones who will set the status quo, the clamor for change from average citizens notwithstanding.

eduardom57@nauta.cu; Eduardo Maro

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Nothing Has Changed* / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 12 May 2017 — At the recently concluded Fifith National Council of the National Union of Writers and Artists (UNEAC), during skin-deep presentations, one timorous playwright expresed this thought: “A critical mindset is fundamental in society. UNEAC must become the thermometer wherein discussion is allowed.”

It appears that in UNEAC, as in the rest of Cuba, discussion is not allowed and requires permission to practice. And here I thought this was an inherent right of every citizen and not only for members of the UNEAC (with its appropriate authorization).

We all know that the UNEAC is a governmental organization, commanded and controlled by the Ministry of Culture, a body which lacks independence and whose principal duties are designated by the government and the party. continue reading

This Council, as more of the same, stands behind the execrable repression inflicted, in plain light of day this past May Day, on a citizen who had the gall to get ahead of the official start of the parade and run while waving a North American flag. If he had done this with a Venezuelan flag, perhaps he would have been applauded and even congratulated–but he did it with that of the “eternal enemy” and that, over here, constitutes a criminal act.

Both events demonstrate the prehistoric dogmatism and intolerance of our authorities, incapable as they are of setting aside their totalitarian stances.

Only in dictatorships are discussion and the display of a flag (even that of a country with which we have recently reestablished diplomatic relations) prohibited, and are those who do these things beaten up.

To speak of tolerance and of respect for diverse opinions is one thing, but to practice them is something else entirely. It constitutes a yet-unlearned lesson for the Cuban authorities. The old and new rulers do not tire of repeating the same old, broken record of defending the sovereignty, independence and identity of the Nation–which has always served as the basis of violating the most basic rights of the citizenry.

In this country nothing truly important changes. The few changes are limited to insignificant matters, which often are even more detrimental than beneficial to Cubans. To understand this, you need only sense the public opinion on the street and set aside the tired official rhetoric.

The matter of the Cuban flag could not be left out of the UNEAC Council, albeit already a tired topic.

Señores, the elements of the flag, or even the actual flag, reproduced in a piece of apparel, a tool or a craft, are not the flag. Let us leave aside extreme positions and let us truly repect the flag, not utilize it for cheap political and patriotic acts nor as a background for demogogues, thus breaking with the established tradition for its use–which actually has been and is systematically violated by the authorities. A similar thing occurs with the national anthem and emblem.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Translator’s Notes:

*The orginal title of this piece in Spanish is, “El Cuartico Sigue Igual,” which can be literally translated as, “the little room is unchanged.” The author is riffing on a song that became very popular in Cuba in the late 1940s, “El Cuartico Está Igualito.” The phrase is a jilted lover’s refrain addressed to the departed love object, describing how everything in their love nest remains the same, just as she/he left it. Ever since, Cuban writers have used this phrase or a variation when referring to all manner of unchanged situations.

Planet Nothing

Rebeca Monzo, Havana, 16 June 2017 — Cuba is a distant planet. It has nothing to do with the rest of the world, because nothing functions there as in the majority of civilized countries. This “planet” is ruled by the whims of its ancient rulers who have spent almost 59 years doing whatever they please.

Now is when we were supposed to be doing better, thanks to the massive arrival of a tourist trade that for decades overlooked Cuba as a destination because of the innumerable restrictions imposed by the regime–and which now has no choice but to “loosen its grip” in this regard, because the country does not produce goods and is totally bankrupt. Curiously, almost all the tourists I talk with remark that they come to Cuba because they want to experience it before the great changes that are coming. It must be that they want to “feel” firsthand, rather than watch a movie about, a true Jurassic Park. continue reading

Nobody knows what is being done with the money collected via remittances [from Cuban émigrés abroad to their relatives on the Island] and tourism, being that the stores are practically empty, the public transportation service is worse every day, the city grows ever dirtier, and buildings continue to collapse–structures whose extreme deterioration is due to the government never having taken care of them adequately.

Yesterday at the the Panamericana chain store location on 26th Avenue between 17th and 15th Streets in Vedado, I was struck with consternation to see the huge line of people waiting to enter. I asked an employee who told me that they had only one cashier, because the other three had quit their jobs, as had the workers in the personal and household cleaning supplies department. Only one cash register, in the groceries department, was open to the public.

We go on floating in a state of absolute stagnation, where “nothing from nothing” is our daily reality.

Ed note: Rebeca has a room for rent on Airbnb if you are going to Havana. (Additional note: this “advertisement” has NOT been posted at her request or even with her knowledge.)

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cubans Feel Like Hostages to Both Castro and Trump / Iván García

Photo Montage Credit: Cubanos Por El Mundo

Ivan Garcia, 19 June 2017 — “Impotence.” This is the word that a performer in the Guiñol Theater (located in the basement of the FOCSA building in Havana’s Vedado district) uses when asked her opinion of the new Trump Doctrine regarding Cuba.

On a day of African heat, a group of eight waits to navigate the Internet in a hall administered by the state-run telecommunications monopoly ETECSA. The performer exchanges opinions with the others regarding the event of the week: the repeal by Donald Trump’s administration of Obama’s policy of détente. continue reading

On the street, for those Cubans who earn only token salaries, breakfast on coffee alone and complain constantly about the inefficiency of public services and the government’s inability to improve the quality of life, political machination is just an annoyance.

Human Rights, democracy and political liberties all sound good, but they are not understood in their full context. At least, this is what can be deduced from the opinions expressed by the people waiting in line. Some make clear that they are speaking from their personal perspective, that they watched Trump on Telesur but have yet to read the measures for themselves.

For lack of time, and the propaganda fatigue brought on by the barrage from the official press–which has caused many compatriots to decide to not keep up with news reports but instead take shelter in social-media gossip–the group waiting to go online is shooting to kill in all directions.

“Everybody talks about ’the people,’ about the ’dissidents,’ about the Cuban American congressmen over there, about the government over here, but nobody has hit on the formula for us to derive benefits from a particular policy. Obama tried, but the gerontocracy that rules us did not allow private business owners to get ahead. I feel like a hostage, to Castro and to Trump. A puppet,” the performer confesses.

One lady, a loquacious and chain-smoking housewife, asks, in a tone of disgust, “What have the people gained from Obama’s policy? Nothing.” And she explains to herself, “Those people (the government) don’t want to change. They will not give up,” she says ironically, “the honey of power. Trump is a crazy man, a clown. The guy is a pill. His speech was pure theater. It’s all cheap politicking. And in the middle of it all, we Cubans are–and will remain–screwed. Nobody can change this [regime], and nobody can take it down, either.”

A self-employed worker affirms that he does not see a solution to Cubans’ problems because “we haven’t had the balls to confront the arbitrariness of the government. To hold on and and get screwed, that’s our fate. With all his yammering, the only thing Trump will achieve is that the ’revolutionary reaffirmation’ marches will start up again, condemning ’yankee interference.’ You can already see that coming.”

At a park in Old Havana there are no optimists to be found, either. On the contrary. “Damn, brother, I thought that The One was going to put back the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot law. The only way this shit’s going to be resolved is letting people leave Cuba. You think that over here the folks are going to sign up with the Ladies in White to get beaten up? No, man, people will mind their own business, getting by under the table and trying to scrape together a few pesos. There is no way that Cubans will take to the streets. Unless it’s to get in line at foreign consulates, or if Gente de Zona put on a free concert,” declares a young man in the Parque del Curita, waiting for the P-12 line to Santiago de las Vegas.

Almost 60 years since the protracted and sterile political arm-wrestling between the various US administrations and the Castro brothers, a broad segment of the citizenry sees itself caught in a no-man’s land–in a futile battle for which nobody, not the Cuban rulers nor the US, has asked their permission. They think also that political naiveté has always reigned supreme in the White House, given the oft-repeated intentions to export democratic values to a fraternity of autocrats with the mentality of gangsters and neighborhood troublemakers.

“It is a narrative replete with personal ambitions, pseudo-patriotic elation and cheap nationalism, which has served only to consolidate a history of sovereign and intransigent rulers who never allowed North American interference. It’s fine for a tale, but this politics of confrontation on both sides has left only one winner: the regime of Fidel and Raúl Castro. The rest of us have been the losers. Those who were not in agreement with the Revolution or who wanted to emigrate were called ‘gusanos‘ [worms]. Families were split up and kept from having contact with relatives in the US. The result of all this is what we see today: a great number of Cubans who cannot tolerate those who think differently from them, many who want to emigrate, women who don’t want to have children in their homeland and, in general, a great indifference on the part of citizens towards the problems of their country,” explains a Havana sociologist.

The official reaction has been restrained. For now. A functionary with the Communist Party assures me that “the government is not going to wage a frontal campaign to discredit Trump. Yes, of course, the various institutions of the State will mobilize to demonstrate that the government has it all under control. But Trump’s speech was more noise than substance. Except for the matter of US citizens’ travel to Cuba, which undoubtedly will affect the national economy, the rest [of the Obama-era policies] remains in place, because the military-run businesses are only two hotels.

The owner of a paladar [private restaurant] in Havana believes that “if the yumas [Cuban slang for Americans] stop coming there will be effects on the private sector, because almost all of them stay in private homes, travel around the city in convertible almendrones [classic cars], and eat lunch and dinner in private paladares.”

The news was not good for Cubans who had plans to emigrate to the US. “Many dreamers thought that Trump was a cool guy and would reinstate the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy. I was not expecting as much, but I thought at least that the Cuban-American congressmen would influence Trump’s allowing the exceptional granting of visas to Cubans stuck in Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean, and reactivating the asylum for Cuban medical workers who have deserted their missions,” said a engineer who dreams of resettling in Miami.

The perception right now among Cubans on the street is that they are back to a familiar scenario. One of trenches. Replete with anti-imperialist rhetoric and zero tolerance for liberal thought of any stripe. The scenario most favorable for the hierarchs who dress in olive green.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

A Bad Bet / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 13 June 2017 — Of the real and supposed problems that the Cuban Revolution proposed to solve, as the basis of its historical necessity, after more than half a century of exercising absolute power, many have not been solved, the majority have been aggravated, and others have emerged that did not exist before.

The housing shortage, the thousands of families living in precarious and overcrowded conditions, and more thousands housed in inadequate locations, constitute a clear demonstration of the Revolution’s failure. Insufficient and inefficient public transit, for years incapable of meeting the minimum needs of the population, and the appalling and unstable public services of all types, show another face of the failure. If we add to this the loss of important agricultural outputs, the obsolescence of the industrial infrastructure (lacking upgrades and needed investments), plus a generalized lack of productivity, the situation becomes chaotic. continue reading

Nor have the political and the social spheres achieved what was promised, what with the continued absence of freedoms and basic rights for citizens, as well as low wages and pensions, covert racial and gender discrimination, street and domestic violence, incivility, antisocial behaviors, corruption, and disregard for flora and fauna.

The blame for this string of calamities has always been cast upon the embargo–but even back when it went unmentioned while the country was benefitting from enormous Soviet subsidies* these problems went unresolved. At that time, the abundant resources were squandered on foreign wars, backed insurgencies, absurd and grandiose failed plans, and other frivolities.

The socialist state and its leaders, albeit abusing the revolutionary rhetoric, have reliably demonstrated in Cuba that the system does not work and is unfeasible–just as happened in the other socialist countries which erroneously bet on it.

To propose a “prosperous, efficient and sustainable socialism” is to propose a negation, and it constitutes no more than another utopia to deceive the citizenry and detain the march of time a little longer–knowing that, at the end, it will fail as it has up to now. Socialism, perhaps attractive in theory, is in practice a failure. A bet on it, in any of its forms, is to ensure a loss.

Translator’s Notes:

*Before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the start of Cuba’s “Special Period.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba: From Worse to Impossible (and We Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet) / Iván García

Beggar sleeping. See details of picture below.

Ivan Garcia, 3 June 2017 — In coming days when the administration of the unpredictable Donald Trump, following four months of review, announces its Cuba policy, it could be that Obama’s guidelines are retained save for touch-ups of a few items such as doing business with military enterprises that directly benefit the dictatorship.

Good news for the regime would be that the White House were to maintain the status quo.

To appease the internal dissident movement and a segment of the historic exile community that supported his election bid, Trump will demand respect for human rights, economic liberty and freedom of expression, and blah, blah, blah.

But the Castroite autocracy will counterattack with plausible and powerful arguments. continue reading

And it will point a finger at the Trump administration, which accuses his own country’s press of being his worst enemy and which makes multi-million-dollar deals with the Saudi monarchy, a government that violates innumerable human rights and reduces women to mere objects. All of which makes it not the best moral paragon to speak of freedoms.

During the Obama era–my god, how the regime misses him–Castroism did not allow small private businesses to access credit nor import products from the US.

The Cuban government’s strategy is simple. They want to do business with the powerful Norte, all comers, but with state–or military–run concerns as the sole partners.

If Trump maintains the scenario unfolded by Obama, i.e., academic, cultural, business and political exchanges between both nations, Raúl Castro will probably make his move and grant greater autonomy to small private businesses on the Island so as to placate the New York real estate mogul.

Not a few small private entrepreneurs, perhaps the most successful ones, are children or relatives of the olive-green caste, and they head up successful enterprises such as the Star Bien paladar (private restaurant), or the Fantasy discotheque.

If the panorama does not change, the regime will continue its diplomatic and academic offensive, utilizing its agents of influence in the US to continue efforts to bring down the embargo, or at least weaken it until it becomes a useless shell.

For the olive green autocracy, the plan to counteract that “damn obsession of US elites with democracy and liberties” involves conducting sterile negotiations that only buy time.

The Palace of the Revolution wants to change, but only in the style of China or Vietnam. It does not understand how those two communist countries can partner with the US while Cuba cannot. Castroite strategy is headed in that direction.

There are two subliminal messages coming from the military junta that governs the Island.

First: With an authoritarian government of social control in place, political stability is assured and there is no risk of a migratory avalanche or of the Island becoming a base of operations for Mexican drug cartels.

Second: Were there to be a change that provoked the people to take to the streets, the Island could become a failed state.

Trump, who is not known for his democratic qualities and has the discernment of an adolescent, could take the bait and do an about-face. “After all,” he might think, “if we’re partners with the monarchies in the Gulf, we continue to buy oil from the detestable Maduro government, and I want to make a deal with Putin, what difference if I play a little tongue hockey with Raúl Castro or his successor?”

But Trump is an uncontrollable reptile. And Cuba is not a center of world power, and it has a small market and laughable consumer power. Thus it could be that Trump will play the moralist and make demands that not even he himself lives up to, just to satisfy the Cuban-American political bloc in Miami.

Whatever happens, Trump has begun shooting tracer bullets. His announcement of a drastic $20 million cut in funding for dissident projects favors the Havana regime.

It is likely that this was not Trump’s intention. But remember that he is not a Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He is a man in his third age with the mind of a primary school student.

With all that the Island autocracy is going through–reductions in petroleum from Venezuela and a crisis that could annihilate Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, leaving Cuba bereft of an important economic support; Russia supplied a shipment of fuel but is asking where will the money come from next time; and a Raúl Castro who is supposedly destined to surrender power–for the military mandarins the scene that is coming into view at the moment is the worst possible.

Don’t worry about the repression. Hard-core dissidents will never want for punches and slaps. But in a country at its breaking point, any spark can give rise to a conflagration of incalculable proportions.

Right now, the average salary in Cuba is 27 dollars per month, but to live decently requires 15 times that amount. And Havana, the capital of the Republic, has gone for a week without water.

Food prices are through the roof. Public transit has gone from bad to worse. And, as if we were living in Zurich, Samsung has opened on the west side of the city a store (more like a museum) where a 4K Smart TV goes for $4,000, and a Samsung 7 Edge costs $1,300, double its price in New York.

Havanans, mouths agape, go to gaze and take selfies with their cheap mobiles. This is the snapshot of Cuba. A mirage. And all during a stagnant economic crisis dating back 27 years which few venture to guess when it will end.

While we thought we were in bad shape, the reality is that we could be worse off. And nobody knows when we will hit bottom.

Iván García

Photo: In the entryway of the Plaza Hotel, in the heart of the capital, a beggar uses a nylon bag containing her belongings as a “pillow.” To the side is an empty cigar box collecting coins from passersby. This image is part of The Black Beggars of Havana, a photo essay by Juan Antonio Madrazo published in Cubanet.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Autonomy of Cuban Dissidents Will Always Be Beneficial / Iván García

Photo: Diario Las Américas Dissidents attend the funeral of Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas on 24 July 2012, at Colón Cemetery in Havana. (Diario Las Américas)

Iván García, 1 June 2017– The majority of the openly anti-Castro opponents I know do not live in lavish mansions nor do they possess items fashioned with the latest technology. Neither do they boast bank accounts in financial paradises and they do not own yachts or beach houses.  I don’t believe any of them know how to play golf or can afford a vacation on a Greek island.

Those luxuries are reserved for the hierarchs of the olive green regime. Those who sing The Internationale, compose speeches replete with declarations on behalf of social justice and poverty, but who wear designer-label clothing, use French perfumes and employ household servants. continue reading

The national prosecutor’s office will never open a file on the Cuban functionaries involved in the Panama Papers. No state office exists where the average Cuban citizen can learn how public monies are spent or invested. The nomenklatura lives and performs its functions with total impunity.

That leadership style of never being accountable, which has taken root inside the olive green autocracy, has in a certain way been imitated by the opposition on the Island. Most certainly, it is a harmful style.

Corruption, and its variants such as nepotism and influence peddling, has permeated a significant sector of the dissident movement. There is no transparency regarding the funding and materials they receive.

Some opponents behave with dictatorial arrogance and manage their organization as if it were a family business.

One needs money to live. And it doesn’t fall from the sky. The ideal would be that the opposition obtains money through local financing mechanisms. But Cuba under the Castros is a genuine dictatorship.

Those on the Island who declare themselves dissidents, if they work or study, are expelled from their workplaces or schools. And even were they employed, because of the financial distortions caused by the country’s dual currency system and low wages, they would be unable to sustain their organizations. Prior to 1959* political parties supported themselves with membership dues and donations from sympathizers and anonymous supporters.

To make political opposition and free journalism, to maintain offices for independent lawyers or for any civil society organization, requires funds. How to obtain them?

There are foreign private foundations that award grants to approved projects. Government institutions in first-world democratic societies also provide aid.

Is this lawful? Yes. But for the Castro regime, it is illegal and you could be prosecuted under the anachronistic Ley Mordaza [Gag Law] in force since February 1999. If the nation’s laws prohibit obtaining funds from other countries to finance political, journalistic, or other types of activities, Cuba in this case should be able to count on banking mechanisms to enable to transmission of resources.

But the opposition on the Island is illegal. The dissident movement has almost always been financed by institutions or foundations based in the US, which is not illegal in that country and is publicly reported.

I am not against receiving money from US government institutions, as long as it can be justified by by the work performed. In the case of journalism, reporting for the Voice of America, Radio Martí, the BBC, and Spain’s RNE Radio Exterior is not a crime–except in Cuba, North Korea or perhaps in China and Vietnam.

Any funding from abroad is financed by that country’s taxpayers. In the case of political or journalistic activities, the ideal would be to receive monies from journalistic foundations and citizens or enterprises.

An important part of the opposition’s economic support has come from the US State Department or other federal institutions. Those local opposition groups who believe this to be ethical and a lawful way to obtain funds should therefore be transparent in their management.

Yet 95 per cent of them do not account for those monies nor do they publish reports about them. Most of the time, the members of these groups do not know how the funds received are managed. By and large they are administered by the individual at the head of the opposition group.

They justify this secrecy with the pretext, at times well-founded, that they are keeping this information from reaching the ears of the State Security cowboys, who act like 21st Century pirates and confiscate money and goods without due process of law.

However, and this is regrettable to say, that opacity in managing collective resources is the embryo of corrupt behaviors within the Cuban opposition. Within the majority of dissident organizations, whatever they may be called, such absence of managerial accountability and transparency leads some dissidents to skim money and goods that do not belong to them, or to appropriate a portion.

These organizations, with their erratic performance, hand over on a silver platter enough information for the counterintelligence to sow division and create interpersonal conflicts inside the dissident movement.

How to stamp out these corrupt and nefarious practices, which not only defame the dissident movement, but also set a bad precedent for a future democracy? Can you imagine one of those current venal opponents tomorrow becoming a State minister or functionary? The most reasonable way to nip this phenomenon in the bud is through practicing transparency.

This could take the form of quarterly or annual reports. For example, the reporters of Periodismo de Barrio [Neighborhood Journalism], led by Elaine Díaz, keep a running budget on their web page of receipts and expenditures.

The Trump administration’s measure to drastically cut aid to the Cuban opposition, more than being harmful, signifies a new way forward that will require the development of new funding models.

Besides, this will provide greater autonomy and credibility. And it might bury once and for all that very questionable mentality of seeking solutions to Cuba’s problems through mechanisms sponsored by other governments.

The interests of the US are their interests. They are not necessarily our interests. Of course, that nation’s solidarity and also the European Union’s, is a support at the hour of denouncing the lack of political freedoms and the Cuban regime’s human rights violations.

But that’s where it ends. The money needed to carry out political projects under the harsh conditions of absurd tropical socialism should be provided by those Cubans in exile who are concerned about the future of their homeland. Money from their own pockets. Not from a foreign government. And if they believe that to enroll in a cause that is not their affair or doesn’t interest them is not a smart investment, they are within their legitimate rights to not donate even a penny.

Cuba’s problems are for Cubans, those at home and abroad, to resolve. Not for anybody else.

Our society’s modernization and the future we design for ourselves is our problem and we should resolve it with creativity, greater humility and more unity of judgment.

Perhaps the Cuban opposition will end up being grateful to Donald Trump for cutting millions in funds of which few knew the ultimate destination. Believe me, it is always better to be as independent as possible.

 

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

*Translator’s Note: Fidel Castro’s revolutionary forces overthrew the government of dictator Fulgencio Batista on New Year’s Day, 1959.

Miami Has It All, Even Russian Meat / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Some of the Russian foods, toys and perfumes for sale at Marky’s in North Miami (Photo: El Nuevo Herald)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 18 May 2017—A neighbor of mine in Arroyo Naranjo recently had to ask an old friend of his who lives Miami to help him obtain some amitriptyline. A psychiatrist had recommended this medication for my neighbor’s wife to treat a nervous condition that would worsen without it.

This drug, among many others on a very long list, has been off the shelves of Havana pharmacies for months. The official excuse, aside from usual ones such as “the criminal blockade [U.S. embargo],” is that the cash-strapped Cuban state has been unable to square its debts with foreign pharmaceutical companies. continue reading

For the very astute customs officials at Cuban airports, ever on the hunt for drug trafficking and other illegal activities, it is a headache to conduct their painstaking inspections of the troves of medicines and vitamins that are brought in by travelers from the U.S.

Thus, it is no surprise that in Havana at this time, it is easier to find Tylenol than aspirin, and Centrum or Kirkland brand vitamins than the yellow multivitamin powder produced by the state, which some prefer not to use because it “whets their appetite too much.”

Cubans on the Island are evermore dependent on the remittances and packages they receive from their relatives and friends abroad, primarily those in the U.S., whom the regime demonized for decades, called traitors, and tried to cut their emotional ties to Cuba.

Many Cubans depend on the emigres and exiles not only for medicine, sustenance and clothing, and the monthly recharging of their mobile phones. They also request and obtain from them the most varied and sundry goods: from santería necklaces and white garments for the iyabó to school uniforms, and even parts for Russian-made automobiles.

That’s right. You heard it. In various Miami establishments one can find parts for Soviet-era automobile makes such as Lada and Mokvich, and for Ural and Berjomina motorcycles. In today’s Russia it is probably difficult to find these parts, they may not even be produced anymore, but in Miami, I know not how, there is an abundance of them. And obviously they are aimed at Cuba, where Russian cars compete for longevity with the Fords and Chevrolets more than 60 years old that are still circulating.

But do not be surprised by the availability of Russian products in Miami (let us hope this is not a plot by Czar Putin and his intelligence service). When I visited that city last year, I spotted on the shelves of a well-stocked bodega (it being so Cuban I hesitate to call it a supermarket), located on Southwest 27th Avenue near Coconut Grove, nothing less than Russian canned meat. Those very same cans that we would refuse back in the day, the ones we said contained bear flesh or god-knows what other greasy Siberian beast, and that today, after so many years of enforced vegetarianism, cause our mouths to water as though they were the most exquisite delicacy. It appears that in Miami, while hunger is not their motivation, there are Cubans who are nostalgic for Russian canned meat, because I doubt very seriously that the only customers for this product would be the wealthy Russians who reside in Hallandale and Sunny Isles.

In Hialeah, which is like a piece of Cuba transplanted to South Florida (but without the ration books and the CDR) it probably is not very difficult to find those damned cans of Russian meat.

Also there, and in any other part of Miami, one can hear reggaeton and watch the pigswill of Cuban TV. And don’t be surprised if the generation of Bolek and Lolek manage to get their hands on those cartoons they had to watch as children in Cuba, when Pluto, Porky Pig and Donald Duck were considered agents of the imperialist ideological penetration.

Those who cannot resign themselves to watery coffee and bland cigarettes—if they wish to smoke (to the horror of the nonsmokers, always such scolds) stronger cigarettes than American Spirit and the Wranglers sold by the Indians in Kendall—can find in Hialeah, and not too expensive, cigarettes directly from Cuba: H. Upmann, Populares and even the unsmokeable Criollos and Titanes, a.k.a. “chestbusters.”

It seems to be true what I heard from a Cuban American who, as a sort of savior-magus bearing gifts, was visiting his impoverished relatives in Mantilla: “You can find everything in Miami, anything, whatever it is.”

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Castro Conquers Miami With Cannon Blasts / Luis Cino Alvarez

cubanet square logoCubanet, 4 April 2017, Havana, Luis Cino Álvarez — A friend was telling me, horrified, that last Friday at the Hard Rock Café in Hollywood Beach, Florida, Cuban reggaetoneros [musicians who perform the musical genre of Reggaeton]–from the Island and from ‘over there’, no way to tell anymore what with all the going and coming–put on a show. The lineup consisted of El Chacal, El Taiger (spelled just that way, not “Tiger”), Diván, Chocolate, Harrison, and Descemer Bueno (the only one of them whom I would classify as a musician).

This Cubatón (Cuban-style reggaeton, guachineo included) spectacle was aptly titled The Cannon Blast, as it was an explosion of “Made in Cuba” vulgarity and bad taste.  And there will be other such events, many more, in Florida. continue reading

To my friend it was all a joke (or a nightmare): The crème de la crème of the reggaetonero set–who would have to include also Yakarta, Baby Lores, Misha, Insurrecto, the detestable Osmany García, and Gente de Zona–profanely performing their low-class crudities, with their sinister appearance and annoying taca-taca beat, on a stage that has recently featured artists such as Don Henley, War, America, ZZ Top and Daryl Hall and John Oates.

No need to be surprised. This particular cannon blast and those yet to come are part of the none-too-slow colonization by the Castro regime of Miami and indeed all of South Florida.  They want to turn it into a type of Hong Kong, to exploit and emotionally blackmail it with nostalgia for fatherland and family. Not satisfied with maintaining their failed regime at the expense of remittances from emigrés and exiles, the Castroites also–in an effort to stir up problems, debase the milieu, and collect even more dollars–send over infiltrators from the G-2, scam artists, provocateurs, short-fused jokers, propagandizing academics, know-nothing cameleons del tíbiri tábara (from the back of beyond and staying out of trouble),TV shows, and…reggaetoneros.

For the record, it’s not that the head honchos of the regime are aware of the damage they do with the reggaetoneros, thus employing them in a macabre plan to penetrate the exile community and turn Miami into one big Hialeah, full of homeboys and every day becoming more like Marianao or Arroyo Naranjo. Save for the minister Abel Prieto, he of such exquisite taste, the top bosses don’t seem to mind the proliferation of reggaeton. On the contrary, their children and grandchildren, as lacking in good taste and class as their parents and grandparents, go crazy to the beat and enjoy it to the max.

Pertaining to music, the bosses export what they have. This is what there is.

My friend would ask himself what became of Cuban music. Little of worth is left in a country that produced Ernesto Lecuona, Sindo Garay, Rita Montaner, Celia Cruz, Benny Moré, and, post-catastrophe, Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Chucho Valdés, Polo Montañéz and Juan Formell. Regarding the few good musicians and singers who remain on the Ilsand, the big guns–with their shopkeeper mentality and proverbial bad taste, and their (anti)artistic promoters–believe it not worthwhile to send them to Miami because they wouldn’t sell enough tickets and, worse, might even get away and defect. It’s better that they remain home, making do as best they can (even though they are rarely featured on radio and TV), making music for “the most cultured people on the planet”–even though these people only want to tie one on and hear reggaeton.

Reggaeton is the perfect soundtrack to accompany the breakdown of a dictatorial system that has lasted too long and which, if not finally dissolving, is coagulating.

Vulgarity, bad taste and social alienation were imposed on Cuba. And this is reflected in the music that is broadcast the most. Reggaeton, the apotheosis of low class and degradation, came about at just the right time in the right place. It is the perfect music for the national chaos.

How was Miami to ward off reggaeton, what with so many recently-arrived homeboys who the only things they left behind were their ration books?

If, in the final analysis, we are all Cubans, whether here or there, we bear a common karma, and we must share our misfortune: portion it out, and see if we can reduce it.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

The Right of Assembly / Somos+

Somos+, Ezequiel Álvarez, 27 March 2017 — I believe that, in the resistance against the totalitarian, military dictatorship of the Castros, the existence of diverse organizations is essential and necessary. If we fight against a monolithic system, it is indispensable to start from a pluralist base wherein there is room for different ideas. continue reading

If communism’s major flaw is to intend for all the world to submit by force to one ideology, our response cannot be another antagonistic solution of the same kind.

The human being by nature represents a variety of opinions. The democratic system proclaims freedom of assembly, and as proponents of democracy for Cuba, we should accept that other points of view also have a right to participate in the opposition.

Starting from that premise, I propose that we should know how to work together in this phase, and allow the electoral process to decide the democratic route that the nation will take.

Meanwhile, let us continue, each according to his conscience, respecting the same right in others, working together toward the same ideal.

Let us prepare the foundations starting now, so that in the eventual future, we can be ready to prevent a repeat of the current tragedy. An upright structure that will serve as safe passage to a constitutional democracy, with the prior approval of the opposition parties, is a solution that we should explore and work towards making a reality.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuba: To Live As Third Class Citizens / Iván García

A Cuban market. Photo Credit: Libre Mercado

Iván García, 17 March 2017 — On a wooden shelf are displayed two bottles of liquid detergent, a dozen packs of Populares cigarettes, a packet of coffee, and, on a hastily-drawn poster, a quotation from the deceased Fidel Castro.

Past 10:30 am, the hot bodega [in this case a store where rationed items are sold] is like a steam oven. Luisa, the saleswoman, seated on a plastic chair, tries to start up a rusty residential fan. In the background can be heard the baritone voice of an announcer narrating a soap opera scene.

In the bodega’s storeroom, stacked in random heaps, are 10 or 12 bags of rice, a half-empty container of vegetable oil, and several bags of powdered milk that the State provides exclusively for children younger than 7 years of age and for individuals who possess medical documentation of having cancer or some other grave illness. continue reading

Sitting on the stoop at the store’s entrance, two dirty guys knock back mouthfuls of rum from a small jug while a stray dog, old and ragged, urinates on the door. The monotony of the surreal panorama is broken when the saleswoman hurls a piece of hose at the dog to frighten it away.

After a while, customers begin arriving, nylon bags dangling from their forearms and ration books in their hands.

To all who were born in Cuba, the regime sells 7 pounds of rice, 20 ounces of black beans, a pouch of coffee blended with peas, a half-pound of vegetable oil, and 1 pound of chicken per month–and on a daily basis one bread roll, almost always poorly made.

This subsidized market basket, if consumed in small portions at lunch or dinner, will probably last 10 or 12 days. After that, for the remainder of the month, people are on their own. Housewives and mothers who, after getting home from work, must turn on the stove should be given prizes for creativity.

To feed a family requires 90 percent of the household income. Those who make a low salary (which is the majority of the population) have no choice but to purchase average to low-quality merchandise offered by the State. Those who receive remittances from family or friends abroad in hard currency can purchase higher-quality products.

The ration book, which was implemented in March 1962, is the reason that thousands of Cubans have not died of hunger. Although what they eat remains a mystery.

Luisa the saleswoman says that “for four months now, the rice we get at the bodega is dreadful. Nobody can eat it. Not even the best cook could make it better. It sticks, forming a sludge, and it tastes like hell. And don’t even mention the beans. They’ve been taken from the state reserves, where they’ve been stored for ages. They have a terrible smell. And you could try cooking them for four or five hours and they still wouldn’t soften. This is rice and beans that pigs would not eat.”

But Diego and María, a couple of pensioners who between the two of them take in the equivalent of 25 dollars a month, cannot afford the luxury of discarding the subsidized rice.

“I mix it with the rice that’s sold at 4 Cuban pesos per pound; it’s pretty good, and this way we can eat it. If you live in Cuba you can’t be picky. You have to eat what they give you, or what you can find,” María emphasizes.

If you go around inside any state-run cafeteria, you will note that hygienic standards are nonexistent: stacks of cold-cut sandwiches, fritters or portions of fried fish on aluminum trays surrounded by a chorus of flies.

The elderly, those great losers in Raúl Castro’s timid economic reforms, tend to eat foods of low nutritional value and worse preparation, just to lessen their hunger.

There is a chain of state-run dining halls on the Island that serve lunch and dinner to more than a half-million people who are in extreme poverty.

One of these facilities can be found in the old bar Diana, located on the busy and dirty Calzada Diez de Octubre street. The rations cost 1 Cuban peso. According to a Social Security roster provided to the administrator, about 100 Havana residents–almost all low-income elderly people–are served there daily.

At two steel tables covered with cheap cloths, three women and four men, holding their old metal bowls, await the day’s rations. “The food isn’t worth mentioning. A bit of rice, often hard, watery beans, and a croquette or a boiled egg. Sometimes they give you a little piece of chicken,” says Eusebio, a retired railway engineer who lives by himself.

A dozen people interviewed complain more about their bad luck, about having no money and being dirt-poor, than about the bad cooking. “Yes, it’s bad, but at least in these dining rooms we can count on getting lunch and dinner,” notes Gladys, a single mother of four daughters who receives Social Security.

A staff member admits that “it’s very difficult to cook well without seasonings and condiments. Nor do we get vegetables and fruits. On top of that, the administrator and the cooks make off with the oil and the chicken when we get them.”

In Cuba, what is bad, unpleasant and incorrect goes beyond food preparation. You can find it in the dirty stands that hold vegetables and fruits, in the sale of unwrapped goods, or the adulteration of standards for making sausages and weighing them appropriately at the point of sale.

“It shows a lack of respect towards the population. Anything that you buy in Cuban pesos is of horrible quality. It’s the same for clothing, hardware items or household items. In general, what is sold to the people is shit. Look at these bags of watery yogurt,” Mildred points out while standing in line at a state store to buy whipped yogurt at 15 Cuban pesos per bag.

Even when purchases are made with convertible pesos*, it is hard in Cuba to buy items of assured quality.

But Cubans, who must eat, dress and enjoy their leisure time by paying for it with the national currency– the Cuban peso–must make do with devalued merchandise. They are third-class citizens in their own country.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

*Translator’s note: 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.

#SaferInternetDay / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 7 February 2017 — Today is the worldwide observance of Safer Internet Day. Best practices should guide navigation for the benefit of the user; thus, she would never have the sour sensation that her Facebook page has been taken down for having undesirable content or that he has lost access to his email account containing all his correspondence–not to mention the disaster of a hacked web page–and all for not selecting a password other than “password” or “1234.”

Often when I speak of these matters, people stare at me in surprise or with frank indifference and think that “my contents are not secret.” I always say that mine aren’t either, but to maintain the security and privacy of my data is my right, even more so in a country where intrusive (bad) practices are part of daily life.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison