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

Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)

Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)

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

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

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

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

Another “Broom” Law / Rosa Maria Rodriguez

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

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

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

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

Temperamental Old Coots / Anddy Sierra Alvarez

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

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

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

Despicable Manipulation / Rebeca Monzo

Yesterday, July 28, I read in the Trabajadores ["Workers"] newspaper about the speech given by 6th grade pioneer Wendy Ferrer during the main event of a celebration in Artemisa marking the 61st anniversary of the attacks on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Barracks. I could not help feeling shame and indignation over the vile manipulation that was so evident in the discourse read by this child.

To my understanding, the words and phrases used were not typical of a school-age child. If they were so, it would only be an even more lamentable proof of the terrible distortion fed to our students, a political manipulation that takes precedence over the true history of our country, and over true education. This is truly unfortunate. I believe that it is a civic duty to clarify for this girl, or actually for her teachers, some of the very sensitive aspects of her speech:

I completed my primary school studies — starting with a marvelous and unforgettable Kindergarten, as we then called what are today known as children’s camps — up to 6th grade in a public school, No. 31 of the Los Pinos suburb. Never, in our humble school, did we go without a school breakfast, as was provided in all public schools of that time. Nor did we ever lack notebooks — which I can’t forget included an imprint on the back of the tables for multiplication, addition, subtraction and division — or pencils, which were provided to all students at the start of — and midway through — each term. At that time, public education accounted for 22.3% of the national budget. There was also a private education sector, with wonderful schools founded and directed by great educators. Continue reading

What it Costs to Eat! / Rebeca Monzo

This week I invited to lunch a couple who are friends of mine.  I have among the more “respectable” pensions in this country: 340 CUP (Cuban pesos) — the type of currency which is also used to pay salaries.

I set out early in search of the necessary elements and ingredients to prepare for my friends a “criollo” [traditional Cuban] menu. They live outside the country, and I wanted to treat them to a home-cooked meal. Since there would be four of us to feed, I purchased the following:

Four plantains to make tostones, 10 CUP for the four; 1lb onions, 30 pesos; 1lb peppers, 20 pesos; two small garlic heads, 6 pesos; one avocado, 10 pesos; 2lb rice, 10 pesos; 1lb black beans, 14 pesos; 3lb pork steak, 120 pesos; one large (3lb) mango, 7.50 pesos. After that, I stood in line to buy one loaf of Cuban bread for 10 pesos.

As you might have noticed, a simple luncheon for four cost me “only” 257.50 Cuban pesos. My guests brought a bottle of wine.

The meal was a success and we had a great time, but as you can imagine, my pockets are wobbling until my next pension check. Now you see what a simple meal costs on my planet!

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

10 August 2014

S.O.S.: Angel Santiesteban Transferred and His Whereabouts Unknown

Since yesterday, July 21, Angel Santiesteban Prats is in an unknown location.  I will now relate the events that preceded this new arbitrariness on the part of Cuban State Security.

Joining him in his helplessness is his younger son, Eduardo Angel Santiesteban Rodriguez, 16 years old, the son of Angel and the woman who plotted against him with State Security in order to incarcerate him.

The youth — once old enough to escape from the clutches of his mother — asked to tell the truth about what had happened and how he was manipulated by her and by the Castro regime State Security to testify against his father.  Here is the link to his statements.

Obviously, we are very worried about the fate that may await the boy, for we already know through Angel’s own experience that no apologies are made for harassing and incarcerating minors.  In fact, Angel learned the drama of prison at 17 when he was jailed for saying goodbye to his three older brothers who were planning to leave the Island on a boat.  The escape was thwarted, the three “deserters” were captured, along with the youngest (Angel) for “harboring” them.  After a year and a half of incarceration, he was freed because saying goodbye to his brothers was deemed “not a crime.” Continue reading

The night has witnesses: a simpler poetry / Luis Felipe Rojas

On the evening of June 5th, I had the opportunity of presenting Janisset Rivero’s book “Testigos de la noche”  (“Witnesses of the Night”) (Ultramar 2014).  Casa Bacardi opened its doors so as to let us share this lady’s work along with the poet Angel Cuadra. Rivero read entries from her wonderful book of poems. These are the words I wrote for the occasion:

Poetry books always bring me new hope. After time spent reading poetry that leaves me cold, there are poets who emerge to refresh my thoughts and point the way to understanding the mysteries of universal poetry.

Janisset Rivero has written a book that continues the narrow hereditary line of verse in Spanish, that line which unhealthy experimentations and abuses of the language have tried to erase by force. Simple versification, without needless displays and literary artifice, is perhaps the best decision, an expression of talent and the force of poetry macerated by eyes that see above the crudest reality. Continue reading

Woe is Me, Who Was a Poet / Regina Coyula

Woe is Me, Who Was a Poet…

…or thought I was, which is worse. In keeping with this, I would have become a “fine poet of felt verses,” as literary criticism says when it has nothing better to say. Common sense and love of writing have left me here, where I feel so comfortable. I found a very yellowed piece of lined paper bearing this text typed by an Underwood, following an interminable train ride from Santa Clara to Havana taken along with a group of youths who were returning from a rock festival. Speaking of Frank Abel, does anyone know what has become of him?

HEAVY METAL

To Frank Abel Dopico 

The rock-and-rollers love the nocturnality of trains

then

the rockers run away from home

they beg for money at the station

and they go to another province

to imagine what it’s like to travel.

In the parks

the rockers are blue

they make love and urinate in the solitude of sidewalks

all pleasure they find in the cross-eyed hands of Jimmy Page.

They have a calling to be cops, the rockers

they raise the decibels

exorcism by percussion

it’s the train and it’s Led Zeppelin

there is a monastic silence in the rockers

they tear their hair and they huddle to weep in the corner of the car.

They don’t think of the following day

they clasp their hands and kiss the crucifix.

The sweet rockers

rehearse with amphetamines and other complications

to imagine how it is

to travel.

(June 19, 1990)

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

14 July 2014

There Is None So Blind As He Who Refuses to See / Rebeca Monzo

For several days now I have not published a post, despite my desires to do so and the nagging thought that it wasn’t getting done.

It is true that the World Cup robbed part of my attention, but that was not what impeded my writing. Rather, it was all the tasks that were piling up in relation to an upcoming exhibition of my works. Preparing for this event takes a lot of effort and dedication, as does the negotiating required to obtain adequate materials.

Even so, with all due respect, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the recent visit of Dr. Margaret Chan, General Director of the World Health Organization, and the statements she delivered in the University of Havana’s Grand Hall, during the unsuitably named magisterial conference. Dr. Chan expressed that, thanks to the Cuban government, our people do not eat junk food. She also praised the work of our public health.

I really do not comprehend how these people, who occupy such relevant posts in the United Nations (UN), take at face value the reports provided by totalitarian regimes, without taking the trouble to check the facts through other means and compare other data.

Most of us know that these people are hosted in our country by high-level officials, and that they are taken over and over to the same places, which obviously are set up for such purposes, e.g.: a certain floor of Almejeiras Hospital, the Biotechnology department, and the La Castellana special school for differentiated teaching, among others. In addition, the visitors are customarily taken down 5th Avenue in Miramar, and they never stop at locations that aren’t set up for these political purposes.

How is it possible that the supreme body that oversees all of these organizations — the UN — has yet to take the trouble to look into these matters more deeply?

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

15 July 2014

The Ochoa Case: A Point of Inflection / 14ymedio

IGNACIO VARONA, 14ymedio, Havana, Cuba | 13 July 2014 – The Cuban government’s support for the Soviet tank invasion of Czechoslovakia, the failure of the 10 Million Ton Sugar Harvest, the case of Heberto Padilla, the repudiation rallies of 1980, and Cuba’s Black Spring are chief among the breaking points for many who at one time backed the Cuban Revolution. A political process that at its beginnings more than a half century ago enjoyed strong approval inside and outside the island has become increasingly characterized by deception. This persistent flux from believing to not believing has made critics out of former sympathizers, and antagonists out of those who once gave ovations.

Inside Cuba, one instance of major fracture in the support for the revolution was the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa. This event took place on July 13, 1989, exactly 25 years ago. Along with him were executed three high-level officials of the Ministry of Armed Forces (MINFAR) and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). A military court found them guilty of — and condemned them to death for — the crimes of drug trafficking and high treason. Continue reading

“Cuba’s problem is within Cuba” / 14ymedio

Speaking at the Atlantic Forum, Yoani Sánchez tells Mario Vargas Llosa that help is needed to move the center of the discussion to the island.

Vargas-Llosa-Yoani-SAnchez-Madrid_CYMIMA20140709_0001_11

14ymedio, Madrid, 8 July 2014 — “Cuba’s problem is within Cuba. The locus of the discussion needs to be moved to the island.” This was the powerful message from Yoani Sanchez, 14ymedio director, to Nobel prize winning writer Mario Vargas Llosa at the VII Atlantic Forum, at the Casa de América in Madrid, Spain. Vargas Llosa had asked Sánchez how the Cuban opposition could be aided from the outside, whether there might be some common themes to emphasize, such as the embargo. “The embargo, tourism…all of that is just transferring the problem outside. To the White House, to the airports…” said the journalist and blogger, stressing that the way to push for a transition in Cuba from outside the island is not to turn attention elsewhere.

This exchange took place during the event organized by the International Foundation for Liberty, whose theme this year is the economic and institutional consolidation of Ibero-America. Vargas Llosa, foundation president, started off the proceedings by asking Yoani Sánchez about the actual scope of the so-called “Raulist” [for Raúl Castro] reforms on the island. The journalist qualified them as “small transformations caused by necessity and not by political will”, meaning that they do not correspond to the real changes that the country needs. Continue reading

Cuba is Going, But into Exile* / Juan Juan Almeida

According to the authorities, Cubans are now allowed to travel, they can own businesses, and now Cuba is the world champion of freedom. However, even so, desertions from the country continue apace. Within the span of a few hours, ten dancers from the National Ballet of Cuba via Puerto Rico, two tennis players who competed in the Davis Cup, and the members of the women’s Cuban field hockey team, all decide to cross the border to the United States.

Raúl can say what he wants, but judging from events, things — meaning Cuba — are going from bad to worse.

* Translator’s Note:  The first part of the title of this post, “Cuba Va”,  is a play on the title of – and lyrics in – a song by Cuban folk singer Silvio Rodriguez. In the sense that Rodriguez uses the phrase, it can be interpreted as “Cuba will survive” or “Cuba will prevail”.  But the phrase can also be read literally, as in “Cuba is Going” — which is the sense in which the blogger is using it.

Translated by:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

13 June 2014