From Minint Official To Political Prisoner Incarcerated For “Espionage” / Luis Cino Alvarez

Luis Cino Álvarez, Cubanet, Havana,  5 November 2018 —  The temper tantrum and bunkhouse scene put on recently by Castroism’s anti-diplomats, who grew indignant that the issue of political prisoners in Cuba was brought up at the United Nations, brought to mind a case of which I learned a few days ago via an inmate of Guanajay prison, of a young ex-officer of the Interior Ministry (MININT) who also is confined there, serving a 25-year sentence in terrible conditions.

His name is Jorge Frank Iglesias Fernández. He is 29 years old and was a lieutenant in State Security until February 2015, when he was detained and tried for “espionage.”

Iglesias Fernández refused to commit what he considered to be an injustice, giving warning of the imminent arrest of a Cuban American woman and a North American man who were visiting Cuba and whom State Security were investigating for presumed “counter-revolutionary activities.” continue reading

The authorities also linked to the case the ex-lieutenant’s brother, Víctor Eduardo Iglesias Fernández, 18, and sentenced him to five years in jail – which sentence was later commuted to “limited freedom,” with the added requirement to periodically appear before the enforcement judge.

After being detained for a year at Villa Marista, the head barracks of State Security, where he was subjected to continuous interrogations and enclosed in a cell measuring 3×2 meters, Jorge Frank Iglesias was sent to the maximum security area of Guanajay prison, in Artemisa. They have been holding him there in solitary confinement for almost the last two years. He has no phone privileges. His parents can visit him once a month, for two hours, and always in the presence of a guard.

My source tells me that in Iglesias Fernández’ cell, the guards have not turned off the lights for even one minute since his confinement. This continuous exposure to light has affected his eyesight and he suffers from frequent and intense headaches. When for such reasons they have had to transport him to the prison hospital at Combinado del Este, he has been taken in handcuffs and in the custody of an impressive team of armed guards.

I supposed that in any other country, a crime such as that committed by ex-lieutenant Iglesias Fernández – whom it would be a stretch to classify as a spy, being that he never was recruited by the North Americans – would be punished, as well, but not with such despicable and inhumane viciousness.

Could it be for cases such as this that the regime’s anti-diplomats refuse to speak about political prisoners?

The Cuban government refuses to admit that there are political prisoners in Cuba, and even less, prisoners of conscience. And don’t even mention the conditions of their confinement. The official spokespersons, when they deign to speak of the matter, provide assurances that these prisoners are convicted of crimes referred to in the Cuban criminal code – especially violent criminals, hijackers of planes and ships who had the good fortune to not serve as a lesson by being executed, or various ex-military personnel or intelligence agents convicted of espionage or revealing “state secrets” (which would be the case of  Jorge Iglesias Fernández).

This in a country where a state secret can be how many bushels of plantains were lost in Alquízar, or of tomatoes in Consolación del Sur, because of there being no trucks or fuel to collect the harvest in time.

It would be fitting, so as to evade international pressures, for the governmental cheerleaders to keep in mind the hundreds of peace-loving individuals who, in a country governed by moderately normal and just laws, would not be in prison but in Cuba are locked away, in terrifying conditions, for legal aberrations in the Cuban penal code that are frequently applied against dissidents, such as “contempt,” “disobedience,” and “pre-criminal dangerousness.”

Author contact: luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

A Doctrinaire Constitution / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 15 September 2018 — A constitution is not a doctrinaire document, but is rather the result of consensus among differing political, economic and social positions.

Throughout the current project to revise the constitution, the effort has been made — using other language — to introduce the Party’s political, economic and social guidelines, so as to endorse them constitutionally and pull one over the eyes of the Cuban people. A single ideology permeates each article — sometimes at the start, others at the end. It’s like the master pastry chef who deems it necessary to add a drop of lemon to each one of his creations.

The 1940 Constitution, free of ideological adornments and respectful of Cuban history and traditions, when analyzed today — 78 years after its promulgation — continues to dazzle for its responses to the moment in which it was drawn up and its foresight about the immediate future, without imposing straitjackets on succeeding generations. Without a doubt, the delegates to the Constitutional Assembly of 1939 achieved a Constitution for “with all and for the good of all,” as the Apostle would have exhorted.* continue reading

The 1976 Constitution and the current project do not come close to it in depth nor transcendence — but rather remain as simple doctrinaire documents, far from the conviction and needs of the Cuban people — what with both being focused on maintaining one Party’s hold on power, at all costs and with no regard for the country’s development nor its citizens’ wellbeing.

Herein is the reason that, in the current draft document, are found so many restrictive and discriminatory measures in the political, economic and social order — which will only be greater in the new laws that will complement it.

*Translator’s Note: Refers to a phrase spoken by Jose Martí (christened by Cubans as “the Apostle”) in 1891. It has since been invoked by countless orators and writers to convey the spirit of the ideal Republic.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué  Ellison

Political Discrimination / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 30 August 2018 — The need to eliminate the various types of existing discrimination is constantly discussed and written-about in Cuba. Among them: race, gender, sexual orientation, region or country of origin, physical or mental disabilities, etc., etc. Even so, nothing is said or noted about getting rid of political discrimination. Apparently, just as the “irrevocable socialism” article–appended to the previous Constitution and also present in the current one–says, it possesses a like character.

Political discrimination has been a constant practice, applied from the highest levels of the Party and the State towards any such citizen who does not agree with the party line, and it can be seen–in its most fanatic, dogmatic and unhealthy extremes–in the Union of Young Communists, and in the student and youth organizations ruled and controlled by it.

Its leaders, advised and directed by their party and government “elders,” shout outdated slogans, rattle on about subjects of which they know nothing, and regularly use physical violence to impose their retrograde ideas on the rest of the young people.

They have tied them to the past, swindling them out of their present and compromising their future. For them there is no such thing as respectful dialogue, nor civilized engagement with differing opinions, because they have been brought up in the perpetual monologue: that of themselves with themselves.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) Accuses The New York Times of Flinging "Crazy Theories" About "Sonic Attacks"

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 September 2018–The Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) has accused The New York Times (NYT) of surprising its readers with a “crazy theory” about the supposed sonic attacks that harmed the health of various US diplomats stationed in the embassies of Havana and Beijing. The daily ran an article in its Science section on Saturday in which it quotes various physicians and experts who, discarding other explanations, point to microwave technology as the prime suspect in the health hazards inflicted upon the functionaries.

UPEC has published a letter by attorney José Pertierra — among the most popular pro-Cuban government jurists, and one who has a law office in Washington, DC — in which he classifies the article as “an example of poor journalism,” being based as it is on “pure speculation” and not exposing the cause of the possible illnesses. continue reading

“Every time that a witness makes unsubstantiated claims in a court of law, the attorneys are required to present the ’evidence’ and to ask a fundamental question: ’How do you know this?’ Unfortunately, The New York Times does not ask this fundamental question,” writes the lawyer, who is thus demanding that scientific or procedural criteria be applied to journalism.

The New York Times article says that the scientists believe that unconventional weapons which utilize microwaves are the most probable cause of the so-called sonic attacks. Although the report published in March by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) following an examination of 21 affected diplomats in Cuba makes no reference to this type of wave, the author of the study and director of the Center for Brain Injury and Repair at the University of Pennsylvania, Douglas H. Smith, said in a recent interview that microwaves are now considered prime suspects in more than likely causing brain damage.

“Everyone was relatively skeptical at first, but now all agree that there is something there,” said the specialist, who added that the physicians jokingly refer to the injuries at issue as the “immaculate concussion.”

Discarding other possible causes such as sonic attacks, viral infections, or contagious anxiety, some analysts, according to the NYT article, now point to the “Frey Effect,” a phenomenon discovered decades ago by the scientist Allan H. Frey, which posits that microwaves can fool the brain into perceiving what might seem like common sounds.

These false sensations could explain the noises and buzzing sounds cited by the diplomats, which at first were thought to be evidence of attacks by sonic weapons.

While the US Department of State and the FBI are declining to make further statements about an ongoing investigation, a group of experts has collaborated this summer with the federal government in evaluating new threats to national security which, apparently includes the mysterious Havana embassy case and weighs various explanations, among which is the microwave theory.

Frey, the discoverer of the microwave phenomenon, who has worked as a contractor and consultant with various federal agencies, speculates about the possibility that Cuba allied with Russia could have executed these attacks with microwaves in order to damage the relations between Havana and Washington that began during the Barack Obama administration.

Frey explains that decades ago, during a visit to the USSR to give a conference, he was taken to a military base outside Moscow, whose government was “so intrigued by the prospect of mental control that it adopted special terminology for the general class of potential weapons, calling them ’psychophysical’ and ’psychotronic,’” according to the scientist as quoted in the NYT.

An infinity of home appliances, such as short-wave radios, kitchen ovens, and mobile phones emit microwaves in a harmless manner — but they are easy to manipulate and concentrate because of their small size. According to statements quoted by the NYT, it is believed that Russia, China, and many European states have the know-how to manufacture basic microwave weapons that could weaken, create noise and even kill.

Last October, the magazine Neural Computation published an article by Beatrice A. Golomb, MD and professor of medicine at the University of California San Diego, that lays out the most detailed medical case for microwave attacks at the Havana embassy.

In her article, Golomb compared the symptoms of the diplomats on the Island with those reported by persons who are said to suffer from radio frequency illness, and she asserted that “numerous, highly-specific characteristics” of the diplomatic incidents “fit the hypothesis” of a microwave attack, including the production of perturbing, Frey-type noises.

The incidents at the embassy provoked the exit of non-essential personnel from the diplomatic headquarters–about 60%–and this has had significant repercussions on the daily life of Cubans, who have since had great difficulties in obtaining visas to the US, the county to which they have the most ties. Havana accuses Washington of inventing an excuse to obstruct the thaw, being that the cause and extent of the injuries suffered by the officials have yet to be determined.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba

An Old Discourse / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 20July 2018 — At the close of the Tenth Congress of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC), the new President of the Councils of State and of Ministers said, “Cuban journalists deserve the indisputable credit for having sustained the voice of the nation during the most adverse circumstances and periods, with admirable loyalty, strong sense of responsibility, talent, intelligence, and contagious enthusiasm that always generates interesting proposals.”

A clarification is in order: In reality, the only voice that they have sustained has been that of the sole party and of the government, not that of the nation. continue reading

At another point in his speech, he asserted, “I understand the anger of those who are not invited to the table because they are not part of UPEC, nor of the Cuban society that won, with sacrifice and effort, the exclusive right to discuss how to design the future.”

Another clarification is in order: Who decided that to make current journalism one must be part of the officialist UPEC? Who decided that to discuss how to design the future, one must be part of the exclusive governmental civil society?

A requirement so permeated by dogmatism and intolerance, of a restrictive and sectarian character–so foreign to José Martí’s thinking of “one Republic for all and for the good of all”–is shocking in our day when information no longer is institutional and, in the case of Cuba and similar countries, governmental, before it is civic: Twitter, the iPhone, Instagram, blogs, tablets, laptops, and all the new technology, has placed in citizens’ hands the means to democratize information. The era of official and sealed information, and of one opinion, has passed, and nobody cares about it anymore.

Too bad that the supposed “new discourse” is so like the old one, which seems taken from a moth-eaten archive.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Happy Independence Day / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, Havana, 4 July 2018 — My sincerest congratulations this 242nd anniversary of the independence of the United States of North America, to a people who exemplify democracy and progress.

Wishing with all my heart that relations between Cuba and the United Statest will advance and be consolidated.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuban Coalition in Miami Announces Media Campaign Against Cruise Trips to the Island

The cruise ship ‘Adonia’ has already provoked protests in Miami by anti-Castro groups. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Miami, 7 June 2018 — The Cuban Resistance Assembly kicked off in Miami a new media campaign, No Colabores [“Do Not Collaborate”] against cruise-ship trips to Cuba and insisted on no support of tourism to the Island because it “directly finances the repression” of the opposition.

Orlando Gutiérrez, director of the Assembly composed of organizations within and outside the Island, explained during a press conference that this activity additionally contributes to the “exploitation” of Cuban workers and makes use of confiscated properties, e.g. the piers where the ships dock. continue reading

“Cruise ships cannot function without the exploitation of the Cuban people, who, besides, have always been harmed by Cuba’s dual currency,” Gutiérrez asserted.

The campaign includes TV spots and two billboards installed near busy avenues and streets adjacent to the Miami neighborhood of Little Havana. It calls those who travel to Cuba by cruise ship “accomplices” to the stampedes that occur on the Island towards cruise-ship travelers.

During the press conference, Sylvia Iriondo, president of Mothers and Women Against Repression (MAR), claimed that there is a direct connection between the revenue that the Cuban government receives from tourism, and the ill-treatment to which opposition members such as the Ladies in White are subjected.

“Tourism increases the repression; it is one of the major sources of income for the military,” and it is difficult to separate it from the hostilities inflicted on dissidents, Iriondo said.

She assured besides that this money, estimated at $3-billion annually, never goes to the people of the Island. “It does not better the lives of Cubans–it increases the resources for the regime to carry out repression,” Iriondo added.

Javier Garcés, who spoke on behalf of Cubans whose properties were confiscated 60 years ago “in violation of national and international laws,” said that they cannot remain “silenced” while in Cuba “they use our properties.”

Meanwhile, the Mexican judge René Bolio, who presides over the Justicia Cuba (JC) commission, stated that the functionaries who manage tourism on the Island are “directly” linked to the human rights violators under investigation by this international group of activists, with the objective of bringing them to justice.

During the press conference, Bolio mentioned Alejandro Martínez, manager of the Hotel Nacional de La Habana, as an example of individuals being investigated by JC.

On the other hand, the director of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance announced that next Saturday they will collect signatures supporting a request to US President Donald Trump for legislative changes that would permit JC to try those responsible for repression in Cuba.

Along those lines, Iriondo pointed out that the Cuban ex-president, Raúl Castro, should be tried for the deaths of four pilots with Hermanos al Rescate [Brothers to the Rescue] who were shot down by Cuban fighter-bombers in 1996.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Among the "Roots" / Fernando Dámaso

Fernando Damaso, 14 April 2018 — Cuban aborigines–Ciboneys and Taínos–were at very primitive stage of civilizational development at the time of the Conquest, and barely left any important marks on the national identity.

The Spanish colonizers arrived in 1492, establishing the “primal roots” with their customs, language and culture, planting the first seeds of what, with the passage of time, would become the national identity. continue reading

It is noted that a decade later, in 1502, the first African slaves were brought to Cuba, replacing the depleted aboriginal labor force. African slaves occupied an inferior level on the social scale from that of the aborigines. It is at this time that the so-called “African root” appeared in our as-yet unformed nationality, although its influence was still rather poor, being limited to the vicinity of the barracks where the slaves were crammed and exerting no other, transcendental influence upon the life of the colony.

As the years went on, the original “Spanish roots” blend with the African, Chinese and those of other immigrants to the Island, comprising the “cultural ajiaco” of which Don Fernando Ortiz would speak. However, it should be kept in mind that, like any other good ajiaco, the “protein” came from the “Spanish roots,” and the African and other roots contributed the starchy vegetables.

In the crucible of the struggles for independence were united desdendants of Spaniards (the majority), of Africans, of Chinese and other nationalities, giving rise and growth to the national identity.

According to the 1953 Census, the last one conducted during the Republican era, 72.8% of the Island’s inhabitants comprised the white population, 14.5% the “mestizo” (mix of black and white), 12.4% the black and .03% the yellow (Chinese). In this setting, the majority religion was the Christian–primarily Catholic, with more than 70%–and the minority was composed of African religions and others. Today these percentages have changed, but the majorities are still held by whites and by Christianity in a syncretic form.

During the years of the Republic and in many of the socialist era, the black and mestizo populations were discriminated against, primarily in relation to their religious beliefs and practices, until–more for political convenience than out of a sense of justice–these stopped being an impediment to membership in certain political organizations and to occupying some official positions.

This caused the surge in Afrian culture, particularly in music, dance and the plastic arts–as well as the massive “initiation of the saints”–for snob appeal in the case of nationals, and in the case of foreigners, for tropical exoticism. It should be noted that, regarding the latter, a lucrative business has developed, charging prices that range between two and five thousand CUC to obtain the “initiation” by the “babalawos.”*

This does not mean that there have not been nor currently exist talented artistic creators who profess these religions and defend their “African roots” in their works. However, there also many merchants who have made out of “the African” the raw material for obtaining abundant and easy earnings.

The official empowerment of “African roots” to the detriment of the “Spanish” ones has always been in response to political conveniences–as well as to place them above the majority Catholic religion, which is less dependent on the economic, political and social system implanted in the country. This is the source of their national proliferation, obviating the fact that the majority of Cubans have always sung habaneras, sones, boleros, guarachas and the like, and not African chants; and they have danced flamenco, waltz, contradanse, danzón, mambo, cha-cha-cha, pilon and other dances, and not African dances. These latter, in one or another case, have been relegated to very specific folkloric or ethnic troupes in some regions of the country.

It is notable that, when thousands of Cubans in the 1990s decided to adopt a foreign citizenship, they opted for the Spanish one and not one from any African country. Nor are our Afro-Cuban women and men interested in marrying African citizens–rather, they prefer Spaniards, Europeans, North Americans and even Latin Americans.

It appears that the “African roots,” despite their imposition by the authorities and their deputies, have been unable to supplant the “Spanish roots” and what these mean to Cubans, regardless of the color of their skin.

*Translator’s Note: The practices described pertain to the Afro-Cuban religion of Santería. Babalawos are priests of this religion.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Cuban Festival in Washington: One More Victory for Castroism / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Omara Portuondo and Aymée Nuviola (Credit: Kennedy Center)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Álvarez, Havana, 15 May 2018 — Omara Portuondo, Ballet Nacional, Pablo Milanés, Haydée Milanés, Los Van Van, Teatro El Público, Aldo López Gavilán, Jorge Luis Pacheco, Orquesta Faílde, Teatro El Público, Orquesta del Liceo de La Habana… The top drawer talent went to Cuba, to the Kennedy Center, to the Artes de Cuba festival. The best and most reliable, the ones who can be trusted to not defect or say something inappropriate–because it would not be to their advantage to do so.

It matters not if Pablito Milanés, who has been whining lately, were to make some controversial statement, because this would only show that Cuba has changed, that we are completely transparent, and that dissent is allowed (of course it is!)—provided, that is, that the dissent is expressed as the Maximum Leader wanted: “within the Revolution.” * continue reading

As the journalist Yuri Nórido wrote, with utmost optimism, a few days ago in the Trabajadores newspaper: the Kennedy Center patrons will see for themselves that in Cuba, “questioning and committed” (we all know to what) art is made.

You will pardon my cynicism, but I do not trust the assurances given by Alicia Adams, the festival curator, that the Cuban government did not intervene into the selection of artists. With a regime like this one, I’m not buying that story…

What a coincidence that among the more than 250 performers selected by Adams—let’s say we believe that she alone made the selection—there are no independent artists (except the Mal Paso dance company, which, it is true, does not receive state subsidies)—and even less any of the writers, filmmakers, painters and other artists who are censored and condemned to be ostracized, such as those plastic artists who, at this very moment and while being harassed by State Security, are holding an alternative Bienal in Havana.

What a coincidence that among the artists in the Cuban diaspora—let’s not call it “exile,” that ugly word—who are fewer, were not included, for example, such virtuosos as saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Could it be because they are openly anti-Castro?

By the same token, just to allay any such suspicions, the quintet of New York-based saxophonist Yosvany Terry, and the singer Aymée Nuviola, who lives in Miami, were at the Kennedy Center. Neither of them have ever made a peep against the regime, which Adams must have taken into account when making her selections. Because we wouldn’t want the festival to be politicized…

It’s not that artists must spend their lives making political statements, but in the case of individuals who have been forced to leave their country for reasons that always, one way or another, can be traced back to politics, it would well be worthwhile if, occasionally, when it’s relevant, they would declare themselves, speak plainly and leave off the subterfuge. They should follow the example of Alicia Alonso and Omara Portuondo, who whenever they have the opportunity to do so, they give witness to their unbreakable loyalty to castroism.

Speaking of Omara Portuondo, her fan Aymée Nuviola appears to be trying with her what she was unable to do, no matter how hard she worked, with Celia Cruz: to prosper in her shadow. Maybe she’ll even get to cut a duo record with the Diva of the Buenavista Social Club. And continue taking trips to Havana, where, to some people who don’t care about put-downs, snubs and payoffs, applause sounds sweeter than in Miami.

For the moment, the Cuban regime is winning another propaganda battle. With so many good artists at the Kennedy Center—the majority of them “educated in the art schools created by the revolutionary government,” as they insist on pointing out—anyone would think that the official culture in Cuba is a marvel, another “achievement of the Revolution.” Perhaps this, and not so much the building of bridges between Cuba and the US, is the objective of this Cuban art festival, the largest celebrated outside the Island.

luicino2012@gmail.com

*Translator’s Note:  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

 

Concerning When We Ate Cats in Cuba / Iván García

Iván García, 7 April 2018 — “I was born during the Special Period, in 1990. Twenty years later, my parents told me the truth: my birth brought them to tears,” says Ricardo, today a university graduate.

I can understand that. In my house, too, we went through difficult times when my sister gave birth during the height of the “Special Period in Times of Peace.” As ostentatious as that was the official name given to one of the blackest intervals suffered in 59 years by the Cuban people–and that is saying a lot.

An old proverb says that a child comes into this world with a loaf of bread under his arm. But in the 90s, to have a child in Cuba meant the opposite: to lose an arm, if not both, just to get a piece of bread. continue reading

The story of this war-without-cannon-blasts could fill multiple tomes. In 2018 the mere mention of the Special Period to a Cuban is enough to send shivers down his spine.

The first time I had any notion of the “Special Period” was in the summer of 1989. Upon inaugurating an AKM rifle manufacturing plant in Camagüey, Fidel Castro made mention of what we would be facing. Later, during a function at the Karl Marx theater in Miramar, he half-jokingly told the women in attendance, “Take good care of your wardrobes–you’ll need them in the coming years.”

The people on the Island never lived abundantly. There was always a shortage of something. Besides holding back individual liberties (about which those of us born after the Revolution had no concept), Father State guaranteed to each of his citizens a poor life, but a dignified one. Thanks to the petroleum pipe from Moscow.

Prior to that silent war, we could buy two pairs of pants a year, three shirts and one pair of shoes, with a ration book for “industrial products.” These were paid for in Cuban pesos, the national currency.

The ration book for groceries back then was more generous. Nothing to write home about, but less emaciated than in later years. There were foodstuffs for sale in unregulated venues. At the dairy stores, boxes with bottles of fresh milk, yogurt containers, and cheeses would be delivered at dawn, and nobody even entertained the thought of stealing them.

That was in the 70s or 80s. Back then we could not imagine the “surprise” that the olive-green* socialism had in store for us. It was terrible. People dropped weight as if they were going to a sauna every day. We were always hungry. Lines would form for half a day to buy pizza topped with boiled potato instead of cheese.

Starving and toothless old people would jam into the little cafés just to down a kind of infusion made with orange or grapefruit rind. As for animal products, you can only imagine. Culinary monstrosities appeared. The state laboratories hastily churned out soy hash, “meat” mass, oca pasta, and fricandel [a kind of “mystery-meat” hot dog], among other horrible inventions.

The dollar was prohibited, and what few valuable items there were, people would sell to afford food. When in July 1993 the dollar was decriminalized, my mother sold her record collection of Brazilian music for $39.

Others sold their furniture or exchanged it for a pig, which they would hide in the bathtub. It became fashionable to breed chickens on balconies and roofs. Many cats ended up in pots, in place of rabbits.

Exotic diseases appeared, such as polyneuritis, optical neuritis, and beriberi. On the streets, more than one person dropped like a fly from locomotive deficiencies. Public transportation disappeared and in its place emerged horse-drawn wagons, which are still functioning in rural towns. Tractors were replaced by ox-pulled plows.

The bicycle became the official vehicle of the people. The top brass, of course, continued getting around by car. There was serious talk about Option Zero, a plan to have army troops go though neighborhoods giving out food.

What prevented people from starting to die off in massive numbers from hunger, and Cuba becoming the North Korea of the Caribbean, were the measures adopted by Fidel Castro. Venturing far from socialist philosophy, and taking a liberal and market economy approach, the government allowed small business start-ups. The possession of hard currency was legalized.

All of this proved effective. Hundreds of citizens were able to progress, and the government stashed millions of dollars into its coffers.  But in 2009, a real crisis emerged that affected the entire planet. Facing a worldwide drop in oil prices, coupled with internal instability and squandering, Hugo Chávez–the new ally–whispered a message to the Castros: “I am running out of cash.” The Brothers from Birán** took the hint. And they started proclaiming the same decades-old speech they have sold to the Cuban people: Savings must be made. The belt must be tightened. One more time.

And so we go. In the midst of a storm. Without umbrellas. With an economy that is taking on water. And with foreign partners who view the regime with distrust for the absurdity of its investment laws and the dishonesty of its dealings. With thousands of Cubans leaving the country or trying to leave, to go anywhere, tired as they are of the aged government, and never forgetting the crude reality of the Special Period when in Cuba we ate cats.

Translator’s Notes:

*A reference to the color of the combat fatigues worn for years by Cuba’s top echelon of leaders. This epithet is often used by dissident Cuban writers when alluding to the Cuban government, its socio-political system, and its bureaucrats.

**A reference to the town in eastern Cuba that is the birthplace of Raúl and Fidel Castro.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Which Jose Marti do Cuba’s Rulers Read? / Somos+


“I feel like they murder a child of mine each time they deprive a man of the right to think.” –José Martí

Somos+, Germán M. González, 29 January 2018 —  In Cuba, there is an urgent need to restore, rehabilitate, revive, reconstruct, rescue, all familiar terms in the party/government media. The sugar and coffee agro-industries, livestock breeding, the fishing and merchant marine sectors–all are barely surviving at less than 30% productivity. Also at risk are intangibles such as culture, the transmission of our history–in short, everything.

But for Cubans, both in and outside the Island, there is an urgent need to rescue José Martí, our Apostle, because his thought is proving today–in the shadow of our civic extinction and the battered state of our national pride–an indispensable guide. continue reading

They combine Martí with incompatible things, starting with his appeal that heads up the current Constitution: “I want the first law of our Republic to be the cultivation of Cubans towards the full dignity of Man”–negated when the supremacy of one small part of the society over this Republic, and the state, is proclaimed in Article 5–wherein additionally he is mixed up with characters (“…follower of Martí and Marxist-Leninist…”) who were antithetical to the ideology that can be noted throughout his entire body of work. The following maxims are representative examples:

A Constitution is a living, pragmatic law that cannot be constructed out of ideological elements. José Martí Complete Works, v. 9, p. 308.

On the “candidacy commissions” during “elections”:

 The Republic is lifted on the shoulders of universal suffrage... Op.Cit., v. 1, p. 91

On considering Marxism-Leninism to be an exclusive ideology:

To know diverse philosophies is the best way to free oneself from the tyranny of some of them… Op.Cit., v. 15, p. 91

On eternal socialism:

The right of the worker cannot ever be hatred of capital: it is harmony, conciliation, the coming together of one and the other. Op.Cit. v.6, p. 275.

On thousands of executions following extremely summary trials lacking procedural safeguards:

(…) capital punishment is unjust for it quenches in the body (…) the rage roused by the crime of the spirit. Op. Cit. v.21, p. 25.

On the plans for massive scholarships:

There is great danger in educating children away from home, for it is only from parents that the continuous tenderness flows which should water the youthful flower, and that constant mix of authority and affection–ineffective, owing to the very domination and arrogance of our nature, but that both proceed from the same person. Op. Cit. v.5, p. 260

On the medical missions and emigration that break down the family:

 (…) so necessary in the family home is the father, always dynamic, as well as the mother, always cautious. Op. Cit. v.4, p.275.

On intervening in the internal affairs of and conflicts between sovereign nations:

Nothing so imprudent there is as to perturb with their own rancors–given that there are unfortunates who hold them–the peace of a foreign people: (…) Op. Cit. v.4, p. 137.

On the abrupt eradication of thousands of small and medium-sized businesses and farms:

A nation is rich that includes many small proprietors. Op. Cit. v. 7, p. 134.

The finest citizen is he who cultivates a large tract of land. Op. Cit. v. 7, p. 164.

On heavy bureaucratization:

A country of paper pushers is headed on the wrong path. Op. Cit. v. 15, p. 391

On the absolutist State:

 (…) from being a slave of the capitalists, as is said today, would a man go to being a slave of the functionaries. Op. Cit. v.15, p 391.

On the absolute and lifelong power guaranteed by the current political system:

All power that is fully and prolongedly exerted degenerates into a caste. With the caste comes the vested interests, the high positions, the fear of losing them, the intrigues (…) Op. Cit. v. 9, p. 340.

On the militarization of the economy and society:

What in the military sphere is a virtue, in the government sphere is a fault. A country is not a battlefield. In war, to command is to bring down; in peace, it is to raise up. No known edifice exists that was built upon bayonets. Op. Cit. v. 13, p. 129-143.

On caudillismo [Spanish or Latin American-style autocratic government]:

 A Revolution is still necessary–that which does not make of its caudillo a President, that revolution against all revolutions: the raising up of all men of peace (…) so that neither they nor anyone else will ever see him again!  Op. Cit., v. 6, p. 360. 

Let us rescue Martí–the true one has been hijacked–and we need him.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Teacher From Central Valley / Fernando Dámaso

Tomas Estrada Palma, the first president after the independence of Cuba. (University of Miami)

Fernando Damaso, 24 January 2018 — This year will mark 116 since the founding of the Republic on 20 May 1902. Although it was the time of the nation’s greatest progress and development–with important economic and social achievements, including health and education–this period has been systematically discredited and distorted during the last 60 years when only its defects have been written and spoken about. The same has happened with its presidents. To better understand them, I start the publication of their biographical sketches and presidential periods. Here is the first:

The Teacher from Central Valley: Tomás Estrada Palma

As early the first months of the year 1959, the new authorities had already launched a campaign against the history of the Republic, demonizing or legitimizing figures and deeds according to their political interests. One of the first victims was the first President of the Republic. continue reading

Don Tomás Estrada Palma was immortalized in statues and busts in cities and towns, and his name appeared on streets, schools, and even a sugar milling company. Such an honor was bestowed by those who knew him and those who, with the approval of the majority of Cubans, respected his accomplishments since 1868. In Havana, his bronze figure was placed on a pedestal on the Avenida de los Presidentes, between 5th and Calzada streets, in the Vedado district.

“The revisers of History” began an attack on him and other personalities who did not share their political and ideological tendencies. Estrada Palma’s statue was cut at the ankles and removed, leaving his shoes on the pedestal as evidence of the vandalism. His likeness and name also were expunged from other public spaces and, if he is mentioned today, it is only to revile him. Why so much hatred, more than a century after his physical life, against the first President?

Palma’s empty pedastal, only his shoes remain. Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Tomás Estrada Palma was born in Bayamo in 1835 and was among the first who joined the war against Spain when hostilities began on 10 December 1868. In the then-Free City Hall of Bayamo, he was its first mayor and defended the abolition of slavery (which had been proclaimed by Carlos Manuel de Céspedes), but in a gradual manner.

At the hearing on 27 October 1873 in Bijagual (Jiguaní) to depose de Céspedes as President of the Republic in Arms, conducted during the Chamber of Representatives session led by Salvador Cisneros Betancourt as deputy, Estrada Palma accused de Cespedes of “attempting to undermine the unassailable rights of the people,” and of practicing a system of favoritism by awarding military ranks to debtors and undeserving friends, endangering high-level collective interests. At the site, with more than 2,000 rebel troops, were Major General Calixto García, Generals Calvar and Modesto Díaz, and Brigadier Antonio Maceo. Along with Manuel Sanguily, Máximo Gómez, and other important leaders, Estrada Palma met with Vicente García in Loma de Sevilla, following the revolt of Lagunas de Varona, so that the latter would desist from his rebel activities and respect the authority of Juan Bautista Spotorno, the recently-designated President.

On 29 March 1876, Estrada Palma was elected President of the Republic In Arms in his own right by the Chamber of Representatives to succeed Spotorno, and due to Francisco Vicente Aguilera’s inability to return to Cuba to occupy the post. On 19 October 1877, he was taken prisoner by the Spanish in Tasajeras (Holguín). Francisco Javier de Céspedes, having taken as Interim President, could not prevent the demoralization of the revolutionary troops; the Chamber of Representatives elected as his substitute, to the surprise of all, Vicente García, the rebel from Lagunas de Varona and Santa Rita, to whom it feel to reach an accord with the Spanish General Arsenio Martínez Campos and forge the Pact of Zanjón.

Tomás Estrada Palma remained imprisoned in Spain until the signing of the Pact, which won him his liberty and later relocated to the United States, where he worked in education and ran a prestigious school in Central Valley, near New York City. He established political and personal ties with José Martí,* with whom he worked closely in pro-independence activities and who designated him (upon traveling to Santo Domingo en route to Cuba) as Delegate of the Cuban Revolutionary Party.

In 1901, upon Generalísimo Máximo Gómez’ refusal to run as a candidate for the upcoming elections, Estrada Palma was nominated by his party (with Gómez’ support) to face off against the other proposed candidate, Bartolomé Masó. On 31 December 1901, while residing in the US, Estrada Palma was elected as the first President of the Republic soon to be established. He returned on 17 April and assumed the office on the very birthday of the Republic of Cuba: 20 May 1902.

During his presidency, Estrada Palma continued the reorganization of the Public Administration begun by the US provisional military government in Cuba. He allocated major resources to education, bringing to 3,712 the number of schools and classrooms, creating Kindergarten schools, summer schools for teacher training, and the National Library.

He devoted attention to the development and protection of industries, improving public safety and the prison system, construction of communication lines, and obtained compensation for the members of the Liberating Army by way of a $35-million credit. It fell to him to confront the first labor strike in the Republic, that of tobacco workers calling for better salaries in November 1902, which was suppressed due to the country’s lack of means to satisfy their demands.

In February 1903, Estrada Palma ratified the Cuban-American Treaty of Relations, which insured against any economic disaster and conceded spaces within the national territory for the installation of naval and coal bases. This action reduced the initial requirement of concessions in Cienfuegos, Nipe, Bahía Honda and Guantánamo to only two (Guantánamo y Bahía Honda) and, finally, to only one–in Guantánamo–  with a larger expanse.

During his presidential period of 1902-1906, Estrada Palma practiced irreproachable honesty, did not give or nor permit “botellas”** (public-sector positions which paid salaries for no work), reduced the Republic’s expenditures, maintained a just and flourishing annual budget, the sugar industry was rebuilt ***, public services were well-run, and citizens’ rights were respected.

Estrada Palma’s principal errors were of a personal and political nature, having presumed that nobody but he possessed the competencies to execute the presidency (an affliction that runs throughout our history, taken to the extreme in the last 56 years) and listening to those surrounding him who petitioned him to run for re-election. To achieve this objective he allowed frauds in the partial elections of February and, even worse, in the general ones, forcing the withdrawal of the Liberal Party which was putting forth José Miguel Gómez for President y Alfredo Zayas as his running mate.

On 20 May 1906, Estrada Palma once again assumed the presidency of the Republic against the wishes of most citizens, who wanted a change, and which provoked the so-called “Little War of August” incited by the Liberal Party. Unable to stop the events, Estrada Palma sought the US government’s intervention, which was denied, and he was ordered to resolve the situation through agreements with the opposition. He did not comply and again demanded US action from President Theodore Roosevelt, who refused and tried to remain neutral–although, to protect North American interests and citizens, sent ships, some troops, and a mediator.

Faced with this situation, Estrada Palma resigned, leaving a power vacuum which the Congress was unable to fill for not convening nor electing a President. This seemingly irresponsible behavior brought about the Second North American Occupation, which began on 19 September 1906 and lasted until 28 January 1909.

Some historians accuse Estrada Palma of having ordered the assassination of Quintín Banderas. Banderas was the brave, but undisciplined and troubled, Mambí general who had been sanctioned several times, had a summary judgment pending against him and was relieved of his command for the final 11 months of the last war, for which he did not receive back pay when the Republic was established. The accusation, supported by no type of evidence, does not fit in with Estrada Palma’s personality.

Tomás Estrada Palma, removed from power, retired to a country estate on the outskirts of Bayamo, where he died two years later, on 4 November 1908. He was interred in the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba, near the tomb of José Martí. Despite the political mistakes he committed towards the end of his presidential period, the austerity, honesty, and patriotism that Estrada Palma maintained during the major part of his life make him one of the noblest Cuban figures of his time.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Translator’s Notes:
* José Martí lived in exile in New York at various times while garnering support for Cuba’s independence from Spain.
** “Botella” literally translates as “bottles,” but in this context is used as Cuban slang for sinecures.
*** Which had been decimated during the Wars for Independence.

"You Are Not in Control Here," the Refrain that Silences Women

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 November 2017  — In the Havana neighborhood of La Timba a teenager loudly sings Latin trap song that causes a stir among young Cubans:  “You are not in control here, silence/Pay attention you evil woman.”  The rhythm is gaining ground on the Island with its lyrics charged with misogyny and gender violence.

Born in the United States in the ’90’s and censored in the Island’s official media, a good part of trap music glorifies drug use, casual sex, violence and criminal acts.  Its refrains have managed to displace the popular reggaton that from the beginning of this century dominated the Cuban music scene.

Trap has gone viral thanks to technology.  Many of its follower are under twenty and use bluetooth in order to send songs from one phone to another.  Mobile applications like Zapya and services like YouTube are the best record labels that the exponents of this catchy music count on. continue reading

The Colombian Maluma, the American Arcangel, together with the Puerto Ricans Bad Bunny and Ozuna, are the best known stars of the new phenomenon in Cuba.  Their lyrics are loaded with stories about slums where scheming, drugs and weapons are part of the day-to-day life.

In the trap music context women are often seen as property of the man and dependent on his whims.  Scenes of sexual assaults, young people drugged or tied to the bed and continuous infidelities are hummed by children and teens on the bus, in the classroom or on the sidewalks throughout the Island.

Some lyrics are pure dynamite in a region where gender violence indices are alarming.  A recent report by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and UN Women warns that Latin America and the Cariberrean have the highest rates of homicide against women in the world.  “The role of the media as transmitters and builders of cultural models” makes them allies or adversaries in the “fight for equality,” warns Amnesty International.

The image of women in the media is also included in the analysis of these acts of aggression.

Trap musicians defend themselves against accusations of misogyny by claiming that they simply hold a mirror to poor neighborhoods where machismo reigns. They make themselves out to be chroniclers of a daily reality wherein women are often used as bargaining chips between gangs or to settle disputes.

The Cuban authorities have reacted to the spread of trap music with an avalanche of articles in the official press, in which they accuse the genre of depicting women as mere objects of desire. The song, 4 Babys, by Maluma, has been censored from television and radio playlists.

Nonetheless, the Columbian’s voice can be heard frequently in recreation centers, school parties and on public transportation. “They always give me what I want / They put out when I tell them / Not one says no,” a dozen students could be heard chanting during recreation at a primary school in Centro Habana.

“I have forbidden my grandson to play those songs because nothing good can come from those lyrics, but there is no way to prevent it because it’s all over the place,” complains Lucinda, 72, a resident of the city of Santa Clara. “It’s not enough to tell him that he cannot listen to that music at home if they’re playing it even at school,” she laments.

Patriotic ballads are often alternated with the most raw reggaeton and trap. The thousands of teachers barely past adolescence who are staffing the classrooms of the nation, due to the personnel shortage in education sector, are avid fans of these genres.

“I want do do Fifty Shades of Grey to you, tie you to the bed with tape, start at 11 and end at 6,” says the song, 50 Shades of Austin, by the singer Arcangel–which is on the phone or tablet of every student in the Old Havana prep school.

“I don’t see anything wrong with it because it’s not real, it’s a story the singer made up to have a good time,” says middle school student Magela. “It’s not like we’re listening now to Arcangel and then are going to do what he’s saying. It’s like a video game, where you don’t really die,” she explains.

The discussions over the new style have reached the television studios. During a recent debate, Israel Rojas, the lead singer of the duo Buena Fe, was pointing to educational deficiencies in school and at home as the soil in which trap music takes root.

However, Joseph Ros, an A/V producer, warned against the dangers of censoring those themes and of a lack of dialogue over decisions about political culture in the country. The censoring of political or erotic content tends to feed the popularity of songs and videos.

During the 90s, the independent Association of Women Communicators, or Magín, convened more than 400 professionals, largely from the world of television and radio, with the objective of changing “women’s image in the media,” according to one of its founders, Sonnia Moro.

Magín members tried to “confront sexism, taboos and stereotypes,” and the messages that help reinforce “the patriarchal mindset,” but the group was quickly “deactivated” by the Central Committee of the Communist Party. “We were stunned,” admits Moro, who also points to “an absence of focus on gender” in Cuban education.

Last Friday in the WiFi zone on La Rampa, Melisa, barely 9 years old, was asking her mother to download the Soy Peor [“I’m Worse”] video. “Go on your way because I’m better off without you / Now I have others who do me better,” sings the Puerto Rican, Bad Bunny. “If I was a son of a bitch before / Now I’m worse, because of you.”

With a few clicks and no hesitation, the woman booted up the material that the girl would later share with her friends.

_________

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Translated By: Mary Lou Keel and Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Open Letter to Pope Francis / Ángel Santiesteban

Wednesday, 10 October 2017  Ángel Santiesteban

Havana, Cuba. Your Holiness: Now that your name is no longer so popular on the Island of Cuba, I have decided to write you these lines. I suspect that this decline in your prestige has to do with the scant companionship you have provided us, as well as with the distance that you have placed between yourself and the Cuban people. If I insist on threading these ideas it is because I am certain that your work as head of the Church–that is, of the Earth–is a far cry from the love, justness, and fairness that we knew from John Paul II, whom we Cubans remember with affection and devotion.

I want to tell you that there are many of us today who think that your appointment has not been good for this Island’s inhabitants, although I assure you that many were the Cubans who rejoiced when we learned that you would be the new leader of the Catholic Church. We were euphoric that a Latin American, who spoke our language, and who knew well what a military dictatorship means, would be in charge of the Church. continue reading

We happily believed that Your Holiness would take care of us just as John Paul II did but this was not to be. Your history was entwined with that of John Paul II. You knew that bloody military dictatorship in Argentina and the Polish Pope knew well what fascism and communism, which are so alike, signify. We had no doubt that you, Holy Father, would see the Cuban reality and would denounce it. But what actually happened was something else.

John Paul II was acquainted with fascism’s outrages, he denounced them and never left the world’s downtrodden to suffer the horrors of a communism that still persists in certain places on the planet. Holy Father, today I am certain that your visit to Cuba served only to leave behind the bitter memory of futility. Now, in the wake of your departure, many are reminded of the incarcerations suffered by those who never believed in the premises of a communist government.

While you were flying back to Rome, many Cubans were put behind bars, and I have not heard of an energetic comment coming from your mouth. The very same government that segregated Catholics in Cuba, that expelled the faithful from the universities, that imprisoned them in those concentration camps known as the UMAP, once again repressed those who thought differently, who were not willing to commune with a dictatorial regime.

We Cubans were waiting for some vigorous response from your mouth, from the mouth of Cardinal Jaime Ortega, but all encountered was a wall of silence. And as we already know, “he who is silent consents.” I suppose that you, and that cardinal who so much recalls a Communist Party militant, were much more interested in maintaining good diplomatic relations with the government than with being close to the long-suffering Cuban faithful.

Supreme Pontiff, I wish to remind you that during your visit to the Island, a desperate young man lunged towards your vehicle as you were traveling before a multitude whose members had, for the most part, been selected by the political police. That young man begged for your attention, that young man tried to direct your eyes to the injustices that the Cuban regime commits daily.

And what did you do, Holy Father? You left him to fend for himself, and the faithful the world over could see on their televisions how you continued on your way without so much as a glance backward. Did you ever learn of the ordeal which, from that moment on, that young man began to suffer? Did you discover how the regime responded to someone who wanted to get your attention? Do by chance realize that every visit by a world leader to this Island is a boost to the Castros’ communist regime? In a situation like that, the most honorable action would have been to step out of your automobile and offer protection to that faithful young man. But the opposite occurred: you abandoned him, you left him in the hands of assassins, who are in no way different from those you knew in Argentina.

Vicar of Christ, I dare to remind you that there exist on this Island some women who are called the Ladies in White. They keep with great devotion a photo showing one of them standing next to you in a plaza of the Vatican. It was during this meeting when Berta Soler, the leader of these Ladies, gave to you–besides her pleading words–certain documentation that serves as proof of the many injustices committed against them and against Cubans in general.

I wish to inform you if indeed you do not already know, that these women can no longer attend Mass and that they are arrested every Sunday and thrown into dark cells. And, although it may seem strange to you, this is for me a proof of God’s existence. It turns out that six days are sufficient for these brave women to recover from the beatings, and they once again sally forth with renewed strength; six days are enough for the Ladies to re-energize their will, to forget their bruises, to overcome their physical and spiritual fractures. These women, Holy Father, again go out the following Sunday. But the Church that you represent maintains absolute silence regarding them.

I will tell you that the photo of you and Berta graces the entrance to the Havana headquarters of these women’s organization. I will tell you that alongside that image are displayed others, those of many activists who have paid with their lives for daring to confront the dictatorship. I love the contrast in that picture of your pure white cassock with the blackest black skin tone of that woman in your company.

Please also know that, next to that photo that those ladies gratefully exhibit, rude words are scrawled on the wall, abusive comments intended to disparage them. And why does such a thing a occur? Because they make visible their discontent with a vulgar and dictatorial regime. And know that those who so denigrate them also hurl chemicals onto that photo. Know that these responses are ordered by that government that received you in Havana. Know also that nothing subdues those women–that once the attacks are over, they meticulously clean their areas with the intention that the environment surrounding that picture be as white as your cassock.

We Cubans, the Catholic ones, know that you favorably influenced the rapprochement between Cuba and the US and the reopening of the embassies. But I do not know if you are aware that since this conciliation, democracy moved further away from our reach, and there were more arrests and beatings of opponents and deaths occurring under mysterious circumstances. I assure you that your parting left a shroud of sorrow upon the Cuban people.

Unfortunately, it has also become notorious how this government which you helped tried to damage the health of US embassy personnel. Have you weighed-in on this matter, Holy Father? If so, we have not heard it. And your silence pains us, your apathy vexes us. And what would you have done if things had been reversed? What would you have said if the US had been the aggressor?

Please know that many of your flock are frightened at your cordiality towards the dictatorships of Cuba and Venezuela–and towards the Colombian guerrilla force. So much so that already there are many who believe you to be very close to the leftist forces in the region. Unjust or not, what is certain is that your actions have been very aligned with those “diplomats,” so much so that you are now called “the communist Pope.”

You represent the Catholic Church today, but tomorrow–when God wills it–another will do so, and in each case, the individual should be a mediator of truth, in solidarity with our pain, not causing more pain. We, the opposition in Cuba, are also your flock, flesh of your flesh. And I do not believe that the dictator, his family, and every one of his henchmen who have directed so much hate towards God and the Church during these 60 years of iron-grip dictatorship, deserve your attention and friendship.

Father Francis, who was able to deceive you so? Who made you believe that the dictatorship could dialogue sincerely with the Church? How could the Church forget the persecutions that the Cuban government unleashed on Its priests and faithful? Who convinced you that the embargo was more hurtful to the people than to the dictatorial government? Two years of restored relations with the US leave it clear that this friendship empowered the regime even more.

Holy Father, it was all a ruse, a smokescreen to fool you. We Cubans desire–before food–liberty, rights, democracy. Messenger of God, cease from appearing cold, stop looking away when this archipelago begs you to intercede for our liberty. Know that the young man who during your visit clung to your vehicle, even today is continuing the fight, and he alternates his theaters of action: sometimes on the streets, sometimes in the prisons. And do not be surprised if someday you learn that he was found to suffer from an unexpected and rare “illness,” or that an “accident” took his life.

Those who are assassinated by the regime do not mourn their own deaths, those assassinated by the regime believe that death is a worthy price for obtaining what belongs to us. Those who in the jails go on hunger strikes do not clamor anymore for your attention, perhaps anymore they see you as a ghost. Their prayers go to Christ, He who forgets not the pain of those who suffer on the Earth.

Holy Father, see our reality–although I believe that it would be better for you to keep your distance because every time you have glanced our way, you have ended up harming us. Perhaps what we ask is your silence–that same silence you offered, in Argentina, when one of your priests was arrested.

Father, this letter is not intended to obtain a pronouncement by you in support of victimized Cubans, of those who are robbed of their most basic right, of those whom you well know. We know too well that you will never be the agent of a miracle.

About the Author

(Havana, 1966). Graduate in film direction. Resides in Havana, Cuba. Honorable Mention in the Juan Rulfo Award (1989); National Prize awarded by the writers’ union UNEAC (1995). Book, “A Summer’s Day Dream,” published in 1998. In 1999, won the César Galeano Prize. In 2001, the Alejo Carpentier prize awarded by the Cuban Institute of the Book for the short story collection, “The Children That Nobody Wanted.” In 2006, won the Casa de las Américas prize, short story category, for the book, “Happy Are Those Who Weep.” In 2013 won the Franz Kafka International Prize for Novels from the Drawer*, convened in the Czech Republic, for “The Summer When God Slept.” Has been published in Mexico, Spain, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, China, UK, Dominican Republic, France, US, Colombia, Portugal, Martinique, Italy, Canada, among other countries.

*”Novels from the Drawer” is a phrase used to describe literature written under censorship; because the novel cannot published, the writer puts it in a drawer ‘for later’.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Country of the Absurd / Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez

Primavera Digital, Eduardo Martínez Rodríguez, El Cerro, Havana, 22 November 2017 —If in Cuba we were to change everything that needs changing, we would have to rewrite our constitution. Why? Because of the many absurdities that do not permit the economy, nor society, to advance towards development, as do almost all the other nations on the planet—and all for protecting the spurious interests of a small clique that clings to power by virtue of no other legitimacy anymore than sheer force.

The government assures us that it desires a highly developed society, but this can only happen if there is a developed economy. How can this be achieved? By doing everything possible to incentivize development, and that is not how it’s done in Cuba. continue reading

In Cuba there is no store that sells tractors, trucks, farm equipment, or any other tools for the private farmers, who in fact comprise the immense majority (and the few outstandingly efficient members) of the agricultural sector. No big stores, nor small ones, either, offer agricultural supplies. The farmers are used to getting from the national or local government whatever they supposedly need for their work, such as the so-called technological packets, etc. But unfortunately our Ministry of Agriculture and subordinate agencies are staffed by “office farmers” who only know the type of agriculture that provides for our dinner table. And so it is in the rest of our ministries.

They supposedly want to incentivize private labor but unjust, un-payable and exorbitant taxes are imposed that we expect will function as they do in the US—but in a socialist system where the People (in reality the State) own the means of production, raw materials, all the unrealized gains, and all the income and aggregate value. In real terms these taxes function as an amortization of the chronic inefficiencies of the State.

They want the transportation system to get better but they don’t sell new or secondhand vehicles at a just and reasonable price. Nor is bank financing available. They don’t allow individuals to import from abroad, forcing us to continue to rebuild as best we can cars that are 60 or more years old.

They require that private transports be in excellent working condition when there is no State-run garage to take them to for maintenance and repair, no replacement parts provided or for sale, and the few other supplies that make it to the stores, such as batteries, tires and such, end up with astronomical price tags.

They pay lip service to bettering the standard of living while paying miserable salaries at the level of 30 years ago, and prices are, by decree, increased by 270% for sale in the hard-currency stores owned by the military.

They speak of civil society and impede oppositional movements. Our nation is ruled by very veteran military commanders, and even our low-level civilian functionaries now also sport the olive green, apparently as a fashion statement.

They wish for the nation to inhabit the Information Age when there is not a single store in the land that sells computers, while ETECSA, the state telecommunications and Internet monopoly–the only such entity allowed to operate–works very slowly in installing these new technologies despite being able to do it much more speedily.

They come out for improving education while the overwhelming majority of schools are in bad shape or lack adequate conditions for their proper functioning. Many resources are scarce and the professors make, as do all the workers in the country, on paltry salaries, unjust and abusive.

We try to be a medical power when there are not enough available doctors because of their exportation to the Third World, while our pharmacies are increasingly lacking medications to the point that we are approaching catastrophe for the elderly with their minuscule pensions. Meanwhile the black market for legal drugs at high prices continues to grow, for even aspirin is hard to find. To be admitted to the hospital today is a misfortune, not a solution, for the patient. New infections that cannot be controlled are breeding because of dire sanitary conditions.

They appear to try to instill in our young people our traditions and culture when our media, especially television, is increasingly and unpleasantly politicized and all our national symbols are manipulated to a disagreeable and degrading degree of chauvinism. Meanwhile our texts and the programming on offer are ever worsening in quality to the point that the citizenry seeks and finds alternatives such as pirated cable and the celebrated “weekly packet” that even the government tries to imitate with no luck, for it doesn’t change its methods.

The ancient bosses try to reach out to the youth with their speeches when they don’t see, don’t grasp—due to their advanced age—that young people must be approached via their evermore efficient and personal technological resources. Social media is being extensively used in politics (Donald Trump has more than 22 million followers on Twitter) while in Cuba there is still not even the possibility of accessing the Internet at home and apparently it will not be for along time by design of these same bosses.

They want the populace to make money but then we are publicly scandalized when some entrepreneur starts to do so.

They don’t allow the creation, for example, of associations or organizations of independent accountants for private or State-run enterprises. To speak of independent lawyers is subversive.

They authorize private manual labor when there are no supplies: there are carpenters without wood, welders without acetylene and oxygen tanks, etc. Even many years after the supposed opening the much desired wholesale market is still not in existence while the State enterprises do have one and even so they work very poorly.

Private businesses are not allowed to import what they need, and hard currency for foreign travel is not sold under any circumstances.

They change their tune constantly and this confuses the local ideologues and the populace. What’s all this noise about creating one, two, many Vietnams when Raúl Castro has declared a peace zone in Latin America? What about religion being “the opiate of the masses” versus Liberation Theology? Stalin was once a great man and now is a butcher. Fidel previously tried to get Nikita Khrushchev to fire the nuclear missiles but now he had nothing to do with it.

They want our children to be like Che when we should want them to be like Martí.

They want development but without anybody making money, betterment but we know not how, change but not too much of it.

How long?

Eduardom57@nauta.cu

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison