14ymedio, ROSA LÓPEZ, Havana | October 10, 2014 – The mass exodus of teachers from the classroom has been, according to the official press, the theme of meetings between the Education minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, and her department heads. The official admitted that “there are questions that need to be addressed in our country, which will be resolved in due time when the right conditions are in place.” Her words do not placate the dissatisfaction of workers in the education sector with low salaries and poor working conditions.
According to data provided by Velázquez Cobiella, in the last school year, “427 education workers resigned because of disagreements with their evaluations; 166 because of the issue of proximity to their places of residence; 766 for failing to obtain a raise; 37 for dissatisfaction with the teaching methods; and 2,343 cited personal problems.” These statistics contrast with the widely-shared opinion that low wages are the principal cause driving teachers from the classroom.
“I told them I was leaving to care for my sick mother, but actually I just couldn’t stand the heavy workload and low salary any longer,” says Cristina Rodríguez, who taught elementary school for almost twenty years in the municipality of Cerro. Like her, many others have claimed family difficulties or health problems in order to free themselves from a burden they have found too heavy to bear.
“The highest leadership of the nation is aware of the problem and has the will to solve it, but this will be done in an orderly manner and when the country’s economy permits it,” said the minister. Her words were a bucket of ice water thrown on the education sector’s expectations for better compensation.
Around the middle of this year, public health professionals received a significant raise, which fanned the flames of hope for similar actions in other branches of service. However, the measure has not been extended to other departments.
A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries?
Among the criticisms that have emerged in discussions between the Education minister and other officials is the burdensome paperwork imposed on education workers. Every teacher is supposed to maintain files on incidents in the classroom, and others that include extracurricular information, such as family evaluations, community assessments, and those well-known reports that are more police-like in nature than education-related. The minister supported limiting such bureaucratic activities to the registry of assistance and evaluation, and to the students’ cumulative records.
There are approximately 10,366 educational institutions whose principal purpose is to stem the flow of teachers to other lines of work. “I will not return to the classroom if they don’t pay me a decent salary,” asserts Martha Vázquez, a special education teacher. Thousands of teachers echo this sentiment as they do other work across the country.
A big unanswered question is: When can educators expect to be paid more decent salaries that keep pace with the cost of living? In the meantime, classrooms will continue to lose valuable teachers who will end up behind the counter at a cafeteria, or in the void of unemployment.
14ymedio, Eliecér Avila, Havana, October 2, 2014 — I saw the images of the Cuban students’ march in support of “the Cuban Five” and against “terrorism” and “subversion.” Telesur also echoed the news. I don’t know if any other television network has covered this topic. What I do know is that the participants believed they were giving an indisputable show of strength, principle and, possibly, valor.
So what did the nation gain from this audacity? Nothing – except many public expenses.
In contrast, I watch what is happening in Hong Kong, one of the most economically dynamic cities in the world, where thousands of students have been able to mobilize massive public sectors in support of their call for free local elections. The central government in Beijing opposes this demand.
Let us compare these two situations, both of which are developing in Communist territories.
In one case, protesters are taking to the streets calling for more democracy and for respect of citizens’ ability to elect their own representatives, against obstructionist government forces. In the other case – the one here (in Cuba) – the demonstrators travel comfortably to their site on buses, with snacks, slogan-emblazoned T-shirts, and security detail all included. All this to make a show of boldness geared to and directed by an agenda that has nothing to do with student demands or social protests in our country.
The students in Hong Kong get by with using social networking applications that make a joke of state censorship. When denied Internet access, they communicate directly with each other. The Cuban students use powerful megaphones to shout their “Long Live!” chants to those who are not allowed Internet access.
The apathy of Cuban university students towards the state of the nation does not cease to astound me.
The apathy of Cuban university students toward the state of the nation does not cease to astound me. If the young people of our country, with their vibrant health and energy, do not defend our elderly, our poor, our workers – our own selves – who will do it? —The state? —The bureaucracy? —The very causers of our problems?
Of what use is a march which forgets that we live in a country without the least shred of freedom of the press? Where the workers cannot afford even to eat adequately with the wages they are paid? And where the capital city is crumbling? What manner of respect can a youth and university movement inspire if it is incapable of empowering itself to recapture its autonomy and liberty?
It is clear that these marches are not initiated by the students themselves. We should also recognize that many who will read this article, and its author, took part at some time in similar marches – to break the monotony of our class schedules – to ride the wave that everyone says is the correct one – or simply to have a free day’s outing in Havana. When we grow up a little and leave the ideological bubble which our university system has become, reality punches us right in the face. We realize then the extreme manipulation to which we were subjected in order to defend the interests of a minority comfortably in power because we put them there. And this hurts.
We realize then the extreme manipulation to which we were subjected in order to defend the interests of a minority comfortably in power….
Being that nobody learns a lesson unless he learns it for himself, we will have to wait for the many Olympic champions of enthusiasm to graduate—and then face the challenge of maintaining their own households as citizens and workers.
But by then it will be too late. By then nobody will arrange buses and snacks to facilitate their expressions of nonconformity. Alternatively, if they go and do it on their own, they will discover a little-known aspect of the system, which will increase their frustration but will clarify much in their minds.
Some will decide to leave Cuba and will easily exchange their “Long Live!” megaphones for the steering wheel of the comfortable car that the ideological enemy will allow them to buy in exchange for their labor. Others will settle for eking out any kind of living they can and … “we’ll see what happens.” There will always be those others who are set on attaining positions from which they will have to convince a new generation of youths and students to march against the “historical enemy.” Their contribution will be the mental castration of the masses – an indispensable step towards constructing “The New Man.” These are the worst.
Still and all, I am convinced that this cycle of disempowerment and deception of the people cannot last forever. I feel that we are ever growing in number—those of us who in every corner of this country, including the universities, feel responsible for contributing to the profound and vital change that we need. All we have to do is agree to work together, as those demonstrators in Hong Kong are doing with such commendable maturity.
An official with the Housing Institute denounces corruption and privileges, as well as reprisals taken against his family.
14ymedio, September 24, 2014 – Before leaving Cuba in October, 2013, the author of this accusation occupied an important post at the Housing Institute and, as a jurist, saw firsthand the intrigues perpetrated by high-level officers of the agency to illegally grant properties to elites and friends. As is shown in the accompanying photos, Juan Carlos Gálvez Migueles was an active participant in the political life of the Island. On December 14, 2008, Gálvez was elected to the national secretariat of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, and ratified as a member of the executive committee of that organization.
A lawyer by profession, Gálvez worked as a counterintelligence officer following his studies at the Eliseo Reyes Rodríguez “Capitán San Luis” Advanced Institute of the Interior Ministry. His problems started when he refused to collaborate in the legalization of mansions belonging to the children of ex-President Fidel Castro.
“I was disappointed in many things about the system that were drummed into me and that I was taught to defend. The blindfold fell from my eyes when I saw the problems of daily life in the real world of the average Cuban,” Gálvez told 14ymedio in an email exchange. “That system is not made for honest, sincere, hardworking people like me, where the more corrupt one is, the better.”
My Duty is to Denounce – I Am Not Afraid
by: Juan Carlos Gálvez Migueles
By these presents I wish to make a public statement about the violation being committed by officials of the Cuban State who represent the Provincial Housing Administration of Havana, against three women and a girl of just one year of age, with the intent of evicting them from the property located on 3rd Street, Building 15022, Apt. 10, between 7th and N streets, Altahabana neighborhood, Boyeros municipality. These women are: Sara Elvira Migueles Velo, 47-years-old; Rosaima Rodríguez Migueles, 17-years-old; Marinelvis Martínez Migueles, 24-year-old, mother of a one-year-old girl, named Aynoa. They are, respectively, my mother, sisters and niece.
The property from which the authorities want to remove them was acquired by this writer in May, 2012, when I was appointed Principal Specialist of the Havana Provincial Housing legal division, while in process of being named assistant legal director of this agency.
In August of 2013, I was accepted to participate in an advanced public administration course at the University of Extremadura, Spain. However, the Spanish embassy did not grant me a visa because I missed the deadline to submit some required original documents. At that point I decided to leave Cuba for good, due to various reasons that at present I don’t believe it opportune to divulge.
To facilitate my departure I took advantage of the opportunity provided by this course and requested authorizaton by the Provincial Housing Director, Liudmila Mejias Ocaña, to approve my attending this course. In reality, I was leaving for another country but I could not say where I was going, because right away my family’s home would be taken away, as is happening right now. Besides, I also could not disclose what I was up to, because I had been a member of the Interior Ministry and had ties to high-level officials stemming from the duties I carried out.
In October, 2013, I left Cuba, keeping my new home base a secret, until January, 2014, when it becomes known. It was then, in a gesture of cruelty and bad faith, that the Provincial Director of Housing and Assistant Legal Director, Marbelis Velázquez Reyes, imposed a disciplinary measure on me of final separation from the agency for unjustified absences. This is a measure that violates Decree 302 of October 11, 2012, which in turn modifies Law No. 1312, “Migration,” of September 20, 1976, given that what should have been applied in my case was a leave of absence from my position.
But her objective was to take revenge because I had already been selected as assistant provincial legal director. Therefore, she had to attack my family, declaring them illegal occupants without right to relocation, knowing that they had no place of origin. Then, where will they be taken to live? On the street, to a temporary community shelter? I don’t believe this is just or honorable.
Therefore, I am bound to make this accusation:
I was asked to work on the legalization of the houses owned by the children of ex-President Fidel Castro Ruz, all homes that consisted of more than 500 square meters of living space, comprising more than 1000 meters of total lot space, surrounded by hundreds of meters of addition land. I refused to do this, based on it being in violation of the current General Housing Law No. 65, which only recognizes properties up to 800 meters in size.
I was asked to work on the legalization of the houses owned by the children of ex-President Fidel Castro Ruz, all homes that consisted of more than 500 square meters of living space.
These individuals, by virtue of being offspring of a leader, have more rights to a good home than my family. I ask: What do they contribute to society that I haven’t? In what war did they serve? What have they done that is special? Why do these citizens have to have an interior ministry official representing them in their legalization proceedings?
Are they different from other Cubans? Can they not go to the municipal housing administration like other citizens? Could it be that they cannot wait in line? Can they not observe the waiting period established by law? Are they subject to a different law that I was not taught at the Advanced Institute of the Interior Ministry, when I was pursuing my degree in law and operative investigation of counterintelligence? Where is the equality that we so proclaim to the world?
Another case is that of Marino Murillo Jorge, vice-president of the Council of Ministers, to whom was granted a grand residence – or rather, a mansion in the Playa district, in return for an apartment he owned in Cerro municipality. But the irony is that the property Murillo was granted was assigned to the Ministry of Education and, with supposedly just the authorization of Raúl Castro Ruz, it was transferred to the ownership of this citizen without any disentailment process and, hence, no discussion.
Perhaps this citizen, for occupying a high post in the Cuban government, has more right to a dignified home than my family? What merits does he have that hundreds of thousands of Cubans, as educated as he or more so, do not?
I can also speak to the favors granted to officials of the National Housing Institute such as the house that was exchanged for the president of this agency, Oris Silvia Fernández Hernández, a grand property, which originated in a confiscation. Could it be that she has more rights than my family? Does the legal director of the National Housing Institute also have more rights than my family, a corrupt individual who has been sanctioned and yet remains in his post? I could go on naming any number of high State officials.
The granting of housing is decided in the office of the Provincial Director in favor of individuals who pay up to 5000 CUCs.
I denounce how thousands of families live in unhealthy conditions in temporary community shelters. They are not granted public housing, this being a responsibility of the Provincial Housing Director, Liudmila Mejías Ocaña, who does not control the administration of the Provincial Housing Commission. The granting of housing is decided in the office of the Provincial Director in favor of individuals who pay up to 5000 CUCs, friends who give gifts, as well as high-level officials, and relatives and lovers of high-level officials. All of this is public knowledge and has been condemned on various occasions but, as there is so much intrigue that involves high-level officials, nothing happens.
I denounce how legal documents are worked up in the Provincial Housing Office to favor these same people, all under the Thirteenth Special Ruling on Law No. 65 (General Housing Law), being concluded in record time, while the documents in other cases go to eternal rest. Those responsible are the Provincial Director, and the Assistant Legal Director, Marbelis Velazquez Reyes. The latter owns a fine house that was disentailed to her after seven years, very well furnished and equipped, while she earns a monthly salary of only 500 Cuban pesos.
I denounce how my family, on September 17, asked to be seen at the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba to present their case and were refused attention, the officials alleging that only letters are accepted at that location and nobody is seen in-person – an unheard-of and ill-intentioned assertion. This is not the democracy promised by our rule of law.
In similar fashion, they went before the Provincial Party Committee of Havana and the officials who saw them during a public hearing told them to go before the Municipal Administrative Council of Boyeros and, if their problem was not resolved there, they should go before the Provincial Administrative Council of Havana. As we would say in Cuban, it was a ball game, back and forth.
I should ask, why not lease the property to my family? For whom is this property being reserved? It could be that this apartment is already sold, or is being set aside for a friend.
Surely when this accusation comes to light, they will begin to question me about where I obtained the money to leave Cuba. Well, it was from the sale of the deplorable house that my mother owned and a landline telephone that I had in my name, money that I supplemented with funds from a friend who was my older sister’s boyfriend.
I ask that the right of my family to live in a decent home be respected, that events will not be repeated like those we endured when for more than 10 years we lived in a wooden building that was falling apart, where we would bathe in the kitchen, and defecate in nylon bags because we had no toilet. At that time I was a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of Popular Power of San Nicolás de Bari, today Mayabeque province.
My neighbors there and those who voted me in can attest to this. That was also the time that I served as Municipal Housing Director and never did I take even one concrete block for my house – a fact that my employees can corroborate. What did I gain from being so humble, so honest, that now my family should be treated in this manner. For all of this I decided to leave my homeland.
I declare that today I fear for the lives of my family in Cuba, for possible reprisals against them, resulting from this accusation and others that I may be forced to make to defend our rights. By the same token I fear for my life in this country where I reside, for having information about officials, for having been myself a member of the Cuban counterintelligence and someone who knows the methods they employ.
14ymedio, Ignacio Varona. Havana. 2 September 2014 — In a few bites he polishes off the second pizza of the day. That evening he’ll dine on “bread with something,” accompanied by a shake and a sweet. For years now he has trouble seeing his feet while standing. His stomach hangs over his extremities and other, more lamented parts. Richard was slender in his youth, but a sedentary lifestyle and an excess of calories have caused his neighbors to call him “the fat man from the third floor.” His condition is shared by the more than 43% of the Cuban population which suffers from some degree of overweight.
Obesity, that 21st-century epidemic, also wreaks havoc in our country. In the last two decades, the scales have increasingly shown higher poundage. Does this mean that we’re eating more, or eating worse? Experts such as Dr. Jorge Pablo Alfonso Guerra declare that the first alarming signs of this affliction can already be seen in adolescence. Among the causes of Cubans storing more fat than they should, Dr. Alfonso points to “inadequate nutrition, a tendency towards less physical activity, and false standards of health and beauty.”
The common diet of the country, rich in carbohydrates and animal fats, is a legacy of our culinary heritage, but it is also a result of economic adversity. “There are days when all I eat is rice and hotdogs, because that’s all I can buy,” says Eugenia Suárez, who is 5ft-31/2in tall, and weighs 254 pounds. For years she has suffered from diabetes, high blood pressure and severe knee pain, due to her excess weight. Today she dreams of having bariatric surgery to reduce the size of her stomach.
Eugenia’s children are highly likely to be overweight, as well. Scientific studies have shown that the risk of obesity in children is multiplied by four if at least one parent is obese. A study produced in Havana by the anthropology department, assigned to the biology faculty of the university, determined that, between the ages of 6 and 15 years, 23% of girls and 21% of boys are overweight.
“It’s the children of those who suffered through the Special Period during their adolescence,” says Eloy R. López, endocrinologist and associate of the Institute of Nutrition and Nutritional Hygiene. “Their parents have an obsession with food and pass it on to their little ones.” According to this doctor, “the nutritional hardships that we endured in the 90s have triggered a compulsion towards constant food intake which, combined with bad culinary habits and poor food choices, create a very worrisome situation.”
Erroneous esthetic standards that glorify the “beer belly” and “love handles” make it difficult to treat males for this affliction.
“Sugar consumption is very high, because with it, people try to fill other needs,” López explains. “The same happens with the flour that is often used to make a food ‘go farther’ and feed several diners.” Every week, dozens of people visit his practice who want to make the needle on the scale go backward. His patients are “mostly women because among that population in our country, obesity is more common, and also because they worry more about their physique and tend to seek help.” However, he points out that “men are more difficult to convince that they have a problem. Erroneous esthetic standards that glorify the ‘beer belly’ and ‘love handles’ make it difficult to treat males for this affliction.
“I always encounter difficulties when recommending a healthier diet, because these individuals will tell me, ‘Doctor, I can’t afford that type of food,’ and they have a point, to some extent.” One grapefruit costs two Cuban pesos, the healthy pineapple can cost up to 15, and right now one pound of tomatoes costs no less than 20. “When I add it all up, a healthy diet would cost in one week what a professional earns in one month,” admits the doctor. To eat healthy in Cuba is expensive – but the problem isn’t only a monetary one.
Richard, the one whose neighbors no longer call by name, explains what it is that makes him consume so much junk food. “I live with my parents, my brother, his wife and child, the kitchen is small, and there’s almost always somebody frying or boiling something, so most of the time I have to eat out.” In the dining room at his workplace there are also no options that might help him lose weight. “Almost every day there is rice, sweet potato, custard…and the choice of vegetables is limited to cabbage for a season of the year.”
I am often disappointed that the best dishes on our menu, which are based on vegetables and fresh ingredients, are rarely requested.
It is rare to find anywhere in the country a cafeteria whose menu is not based on sandwiches, fried foods or highly-sweetened juices. Those that attempt to offer more healthy choices have a limited clientele and are forced to impose higher prices. “I am often disappointed that the best dishes on our menu, which are based on vegetables and fresh ingredients, are rarely requested,” says Miguel, a chef in a private restaurant on 3rd Street in Miramar. Instead, “fried pork morsels, pizzas, and sandwiches with mayonnaise are the most popular among diners.”
Following such indulgences, the more vain among the populace try to burn those calories in the gym, or seek faster and riskier methods to drop their extra pounds.
The Weight-Loss Business
“An obese society is a society disposed towards paying to lose weight,” affirms Dayron Castellanos, who sells diet pills. He earned a degree in physical culture and sports, but now he works in the weight-loss business. He sells via catalog such products as the Chinese-made Pai You Guo pills, whose directions for use state that they will promote “appetite reduction and effective evacuation.” To his list of “miracle remedies” are added ketones (supposed fat-burning substances), and green tea capsules.
Castellanos is not licensed to sell any of these products, most of which are not even approved by the country’s pharmaceutical authorities. His business is by word-of-mouth and classified ads. All that is needed is a phone call and a few “convertible pesos” and the customer goes home with what he thinks will be the solution for his “little rolls and spare tires.”
“I have had patients adversely affected by continued consumption of diuretic tea and other weight-loss remedies,” says Dr. R. López. “People want magical, immediate solutions, but to lose weight and keep it off, it is necessary to make permanent lifestyle changes.” However, the doctor’s opinion can barely be heard within the chorus of those hawking weight-loss products of all kinds.
Castellanos’ customers are basically members of Cuba’s emergent middle class. “This doesn’t mean that there are no overweight poor people, only that they can’t afford these pills,” says the prosperous entrepreneur. Many young women looking for quick fixes answer his ads, but older people do, too. In Cuba it is estimated that among the population older than 60, 51% of women and 30% of men are overweight to some degree. The risks of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes are causing many of them to be concerned about those extra pounds.
Declining health is a problem, but those suffering from obesity have a harder time emotionally with the social and familial repercussions of their condition. “I want people to start calling me by my name again, and not ‘the fat man from the third floor,’ ” Richard concludes, as he faces a cafeteria board advertising a special of ham-and-double-cheese pizza.
14ymedio, Havana, Regina Coyula, 8 September 2014 — Tiendas Panamericanas [Panamerican Stores], owned by the CIMEX corporation, has just launched a grand (for Cuban national standards) shopping center. Utilizing the building formerly occupied by the old towel factory, Telva, on the corner of 26th Avenue and Calzada del Cerro street, a side addition was built, doubling the space. The opening of Puentes Grandes has been well received, being that until now only small stores have existed in that neighborhood, and the closest shopping centers — La Puntilla, Galerias Paseo, and Plaza Carlos III — are located about two miles away.
Spurred by curiosity, I visited Puentes Grandes last Saturday. Hundreds of people had flocked to the place. There was a line at the handbag security station, because bags and purses are not allowed inside stores that take convertible currency. There was another line at the entrance. We were going on half an hour already. In other circumstances I would have left, but resisted the impulse just to be able to write this article. Finally, I went through a narrow entryway where, as always, are those who wait, and those other, clever ones who butt the line. The interior entrance is quite spacious, with metal shopping carts, and other cute small plastic carts on wheels for which I predict a brief, happy life, and baskets. All is set up for the customer to select his purchases; merchandise is kept behind the counter in the perfume and household appliance departments.
A large interior arcade connects the grocery and housewares area with the hardware department, where I was detained by an employee. To go from one area to the other, you have to now go outside and re-enter, even though just days before you could walk directly between departments and check out at any register. Why is this? The employee doesn’t know, but he was assigned there to enforce the trajectory. I had placed various items in my cart, then had to stand at the register line, go outside, stand in another line to leave my purchases at the handbag security station, then go stand in another line to enter the hardware area.
Among my purchases was a pressure cooker — a Columbian one. I don’t know whatever happened to those marvelous pressure cookers from the INPUD factory of the city of Santa Clara, which for a while now have not been on the market. At the exit of every Cuban store there is always an employee who compares purchases to sales slips
Employee: “You’re missing the guarantee for the pressure cooker.”
Me: “And where do I get that?”
Employee: “In Household Appliances.”
Back at Household Appliances, the young (all the employees are very young) lady told me “no,” in that overly-familiar, faux-affectionate way that many mistake for kindness:
“Mami (Mom), do you see a power cord in this pot? My department is *electrical* household appliances. The guarantee is given at the register.”
The check-out girl assured me that she had no guarantee certificates at the register, that it was at Household Appliances where I had to obtain one.
Among my purchases was a pressure cooker — a Columbian one. I don’t know whatever happened to those marvelous pressure cookers from the INPUD factory of the city of Santa Clara, which for a while now have not been on the market.
I know how to be patient. Besides, this ridiculous episode was prime material for my article. I returned to Household Appliances, where I told “my daughter” (she had called me, “Mami,” right?) if she knew the meaning of “back-and-forth.” The girl gamely took my pressure cooker and marched over to the register. The ensuing argument over the pot without a power cord was priceless. A half hour was spent on that silliness, just to conclude in the end that the guarantee for the pressure cooker is the sales slip.
I asked to speak with the management because it is inconceivable to me that a business can operate in this manner. The manager was not available, but there were various people in his office who turned out to be his superiors. I’m not going to repeat my complaint here — you can put two-and-two together and imagine it. The interesting thing is what those officials, who have been spending opening week in a kind of mobilization mode, told me.
For almost all the personnel in the store, this is their first work experience. The cash register system is new, the check-out staff do not understand it very well, and the registers frequently get stuck, producing electrical overloads that trigger the circuit breakers, leaving whole zones of the shopping center in the dark. On opening day they had to suspend a children’s event. Adults and children were run over by the crowd, and nothing less than a sacking of the place occurred, what with many people taking advantage of a power outage to eat and drink for free in the food court. From the hardware area there even disappeared an electric drill, among other, less valuable items. The neighbors (not the officials) say that even a flat-screen TV went out the door without being paid for.
These officials, who themselves are retail veterans, expressed amazement at the level of theft they are encountering here. For example, they told me that on Friday (the day prior to my visit), they had surprised five people in the act of thievery; two customers had had their handbags stolen inside the store and one other in the adjoining cafeteria; and all of this is in addition to the disappearance of many small objects from the shelves. They told me that they had never had such a hard time at any other store, not even at Ultra, which is located in a densely-populated and troubled area of Central Havana.
The solution (?) has been to divide the two areas of the shopping center, creating an inconvenience for the customer which I don’t think will solve the theft problem, because the cause of this phenomenon has to be sought outside the store.
I thanked the officials for their friendly explanation. However, as long as the customer of this center remains nothing more than an annoyance to the staff, the oversized photo at the door of the smiling young woman promoting efficient service and customer satisfaction will be just one more Kafkaesque detail of the whole picture.
Unauthorized vendors welcome new customs regulation with caution as they prepare to redefine strategies
14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 3 September 2014 — “Call me from a land line” instructs the classified ad placed by Mauro Izquierdo, vendor of electrical household appliances. He has a wide range of items on offer, from air conditioning units to toasters, but his specialty is flat-screen TVs. This morning, his cautious response to all callers was: “Right now I’m in the midst of redefining my pricing structure until everything settles down with the new customs regulations.”
Mauro is but one strand in the complex tapestry of unauthorized vendors who are living through anxious moments with the new restrictions imposed by the General Customs of the Republic. Price increases are imminent in the black market, given that a good part of the merchandise offered through its networks enters the country via the flight baggage of so-called “mules.” “I have ceased all operations for the time being, because I don’t know if I will get the accounts with new prices that have been imposed on the airports,” the able merchant confirms.
His clients also have been preparing for the increase.”I’m finishing construction on my house and I had to run to buy lamps, bulbs and bathtub plumbing for the bathroom, because all of that might become unavailable very soon,” said Georgina M., looking to the future, as she concludes construction on a new residence in the western township of Candelaria.
14ymedio contacted approximately 20 vendors offering merchandise on classifieds sites such as Revolico and Cubisima. Although previously-listed products remained at their advertised prices, any orders going forward would come “with with new tariffs added to the price,” according to various distributors. Last week, Leticia was offering hair dryers, massage machines, and hair removers. However, now she is planning to raise prices by about 20 or 25 per cent on each product so as to be able to “finance the payments that those who bring the items into the country must make at Customs.”
The advance notice given of the new rules has allowed many people to be prepared. Rogelio, a Panataxi driver who makes trips from Terminal 2 of José Martí International Airport, refers to how even “two days before the new restrictions went into effect, what people brought was incredible — suitcases upon suitcases.” Even so, he noted that since yesterday, “travelers seem more cautious and, among those I have transported, I have seen a decrease in the amount of baggage they’re carrying.” Another taxi driver joined the conversation, saying that “people have now been made to jump through hoops.”
Even so, for other alternative vendors, the new measures barely affect their supply chain. “I buy space in the ‘containers’ of people who are on official missions, working in the embassies and consulates throughout the world, and that is how I bring in my merchandise — therefore the new rules don’t touch me,” boasted a seller of lawnmowers and commercial refrigerators, who enhances his ads with attractive photos of each unit and the guarantee that it’s “all done with proper documentation.”
It is still too early to measure the true impact on the informal market of the new customs rules, but sellers as well as merchants are preparing for the worst.
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
Later I selected for a research topic the actual level of acceptance enjoyed by the official media in the general population. I was failed, and that report was suggested as possible grounds for my expulsion. Finally, they lowered my grade for poor attendance — a false claim being that the majority of my colleagues had more absences than I did. That was the year my son was born and my professor/advisor had told me, “take care of that and don’t worry about absences.”
My son is now 8 years old – the same age as my problems.
Q: Even so, you tried again…..
A: A year later I was able to enter the University of Santa Clara journalism school. I was the only student who was not a member of the FEU (University Student Federation), and — in the university’s Internet lounge — I learned of the existence of alternative blogs. It was there that we founded a magazine called Abdala*, which we ultimately we named La Rosa Blanca* (The White Rose). We produced it without a computer, but still published five issues, until (another magazine) La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour) replaced it.
When I completed that course, they failed me for having produced a radio script dealing with the effects of the Huber Matos case on the broadcast media in Camagüey.
Q: Were you allowed to present it?
A: The professor thought it was heresy for me to stir up the case of that Sierra Maestra commander condemned to 20 years in prison for resigning his post. He suggested that I do a project on the journalism of José Martí. So I tackled the censorship suffered by the Apostle** at the hands of the Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper, La Nación. They failed me again, but by that time I had the right to reevaluation.
So I tackled the censorship suffered by José Martí at the hands of the Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper, La Nación.
I went to Camagüey for the weekend and when I returned (to the university) they were waiting to remove me from the premises. They informed me that I had been expelled from the graduate school by virtue of a disciplinary action — nothing ideological, of course!
Four men escorted me to the door and instructed the custodians to keep me from re-entering the building. They also instructed the newspaper Adelante and the Radio Cadena Agramonte station — where I had done my journalism practica — to call the police if I tried to enter.
Q: So that was your definitive goodbye to university classrooms?
A: I don’t surrender easily. In September, 2009, I took the aptitude tests to enroll in the National Institute of Art (ISA), in the school of audio-visual media. I attained the maximum score and was accepted. While at ISA, I worked on the magazine, Convivencia, edited by Dagoberto Valdes in Pinar del Río province. He proposed that I join the Reporting Council and I said yes. I also worked on the independent program Razones Ciudadanas (Civic Reasons).
Another project I participated in while a student at ISA was Hora Cero (Zero Hour). It began after a strike motivated by the bad food we were served. It consisted in staging encounters with persons outside of the institution. Jorge Molina and Gustavo Arcos came, but when we invited Eduardo del Llano, we were obstructed.
In May, 2011, they scheduled me to meet with the dean of ISA, to tell me they had discovered that I had been expelled from the graduate school. At that point I was three days from completing my courses, so I resisted, arguing that the other students should decide my fate. Once again I was removed by force from the premises, in a car that left me at the bus station. So that is the end of my history as a university student, and my obsession with obtaining a degree.
Q: And after the third expulsion?
A: I returned to Camagüey and re-initiated the Hora Cero (Zero Hour) project, at my own risk, in my own home. We started with exhibitions of the photos of Orlando Luís Pardo, a short by Eduardo del Llano, and music by some troubadour friends. Up to now, we have had good attendance by the public. The poet Maikel Iglesias, the theater troupe Cuerpo Adentro, the poet Francis Sánchez, and Eliecer Ávila with his audiovisual work, Un cubano más (Just Another Cuban), have also participated.
To Hora Cero have come university students, professors, neighbors, courageous people who dare to exchange ideas. Some attend who have been instructed to inform about what takes place in these encounters, and others who have been coerced for having received a simple invitation from me to participate.
The first time that State Security visited me, my mother — who at that time was serving on a mission in Venezuela — was threatened. They told her that if she continued supporting me, she could lose the bank account where her salary is deposited. Others have been told that Hora Cero is funded by the CIA.
Q: Have you gone back to your studies?
A: A year ago I heard about a program, Somos un solo pueblo (We Are One People), for young people who have had difficulty pursuing their studies here, and are given the opportunity to do a 6-month course in the United States. Classes in psychology, personal effectiveness, principles of business or sociology, among many others. It was a wonderful experience for me and I learned a lot.
Q: And now?
A: I think I will have my work cut out for me in the next 50 or 60 years, judging by how I see present-day Cuba. If I have any time left over I want to write fiction…but with the way things are, that will have to wait.
Translator’s notes: * Both of these titles are from the poetry of 19th century Cuban patriot José Martí. **Martí is referred to as the “Apostle of Cuban Independence”.
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
It follows, therefore, to suggest to the Cuban authorities that to be consistent with their own laws, they should conduct an aggiornamento (update) of the philosophical foundations of their ideology, and of the historic government party.
The Cuban state has long had its eyes on foreign investors. Rodrigo Malmierca, minister of exterior commerce and foreign investment, stated several months ago in Brazil that Cuba will continue to have just one political party. He was, of course, speaking to the interests of Brazilian entrepreneurs, and emphasizing the message of confidence and stability that Cuba’s governing class wants to convey so as to encourage them to do business on the island.
This standard produces another discriminatory law that baits foreigners with financial benefits and tax breaks, in contrast to the prohibitive taxes imposed on Cuban nationals who launch themselves into the private sector. They took everything away from Cuban and foreign entrepreneurs when this model was imposed, and now they stimulate and favor only foreign capitalists to invest in our country. They say it’s not a giveaway, but any citizen of other provenance is placed above our own nationals, who once again are excluded from investing in the medium and large companies on their home soil.
Just as our Spanish forebears did, they engage in shameless and abusive marginalization of Cubans on their own turf, and restrict Cubans’ economic role in their own national home. The state continues holding “the master key” of the hiring process. It serves as the employment agency to calm the fears of its followers and urge them to continue their unconditional support, with the established and visible promise of compensation and privilege — albeit with a diminutive, revolutionary, symbolic and coveted “little slice” of the national pie.
On the other hand, the impunity that inheres to bureaucrats in management, along with the lack of respect toward Cuban society implied in their excessive secrecy, unbuttons the shirt of corruption.
Some of the many examples that strike a nerve among Cubans of diverse geographic areas are: What is the state of affairs of the country? What are the revenue and expenditures of different phases of the economy? Why do they not inform the public of the annual income generated from remittances by Cuban émigrés, and how these resources are used?
I could say and write much about the new law and the same old discrimination and practices contained in the same old legislation. As far as I am concerned, despite everything, the result is just another flea-bitten dog with a reversible — but no different — collar.
But that would be giving too much relevance to the segregationist, shoddy and desperate hunt for money by the elite in power, which needs ever more colossal sums of evil capital to “sustain” its unsustainable bureaucracy and inefficient model.
Anyway, this new law – like the proverbial broom – will always sweep clean for them. Considering their dynastic, highborn, 50-plus-year-old lifestyles, this seems to be all that matters to them.
*Translator’s Note: The writer refers to a saying, “Escobita nueva barre bien” – parallel to the English a new broom sweeps clean.
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
We are held captive by the arbitrariness of a bunch of geezers…grandfathers once restless in their youth, who now penalize behavior such as they once exhibited…backed up by a poorly-told history that makes heroes out of many, mercenaries out of others, and of those who were not part of their elite group, not even in the shadows are they mentioned. These were members of their beloved and novel revolution.
Their rhetoric is one of equality, yet those who surround them enjoy a level of prestige difficult to achieve. They play at showing solidarity with other peoples, while they trample on their own citizens…self-elected, with no regard for the wishes of their constituents…identified with power, owners of the Island, governing with an ideology that only they believe in…but supported by fellow-travellers, else they would not still be there.
Obsessed with the actions of successive presidents of the United States, to discredit them – and monitor their popularity – is part of their sense of aliveness.
Ready to cease existing when Nature decides, so go the whims of one-time youths who today are in their terminal phase. In the meantime, their legacy has elapsed – in caprice, and much political pride.
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
The Cuban educational system during the 1950s was made up of 20,000 credentialed teachers and 500,000 students. These figures are documented in the census and statistics of the era and confirmed internationally. Never in the public education sector was there discrimination against a student on the basis of race or religion. If a seeming dearth of black or mixed-race students is evident, this was only due to the fact that in those years, according to the 1953 census (which would be the last until almost 30 years later), 72.8% of the Cuban population was white, 12.4 was black, and 14.5 was mixed-race. At that time our population was six million inhabitants. The private schools were the only ones who had the prerogative to implement selective admissions.
According to my aunt, a great and respected educator and a public school director, the best teachers were to be found in the public schools because the government paid better salaries than the private schools. Also, many of these professors, above all those with specialties in music, art and languages, would also teach classes in private schools. For my lifelong love of music I credit — in addition to my family — those marvelous professors who I had in this subject throughout the course of my primary school studies.
To ignore these facts would be to cast aspersions not only on the Cuban educational system of that time, which was considered one of the best in Ibero-America along with those of Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico, but also on all those great Cuban educators who conferred lustre and prestige on our country. Among them, to mention only a few, for the list would be interminable, we can name the following:
José de la Luz y Caballero, Rafael María Mendive, Enrique José Varona (youth educator), Max Figueroa, Camila Enrique Ureña, Mirta Aguirre, Gaspar Jorge García Galló, Raúl Ferrer, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, Vicentina Antuña Tavío, Aurelio Baldor (whose texts are still utilized in Latin America), Ana María Rodríguez, Añorga, Valmaña, and many more who were the mentors of our most celebrated professionals.
For all this, I cannot leave unmentioned that, after 1959, government decrees so pressured the teaching profession that private schools closed down and a massive exodus of educators ensued, damaging the educational system to such a degree that new teachers had to be credentialed on the fly to educate “the new sons and daughters of the homeland”. The result was a deterioration and decline of education in our country, what with it taking second place to politics. Many of our professionals, in exile today, cannot forget the discrimination they endured in the universities, due to their religious beliefs or sexual orientation, following the triumph of the revolution.
For this and many other reasons, I would suggest to this young pioneer – and to all the children of our country – to fearlessly seek answers from capable persons to clarify their doubts, gathering as much information as they can independently, and taking a bit more responsibility for their own education. Sadly, in our schools today, politics and government orders take precedence over knowledge.
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!
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
But no one gave him back the lost time and the hard experience he lived through, which – justifiably – became prime material for his prizewinning literature widely regarded for its unflinching realism and strong condemnation of the prison system, among other criticisms. Angel has already well-explained how the Regime endured this literature without taking much action, awaiting the opportunity to attack him directly, which happened in 2008 by opening the blog and publicizing everything that was of the public domain.
Now the son, Eduardo Angel Santiesteban Rodriguez, worthy seed of a valiant one such as Angel, runs grave risk of going through what his father did, or even worse. Eduardo Angel already has told what State Security did in collusion with his mother, Kenia Rodriguez Diley.
With regard to Angel’s own situation, the Regime continues to punish him for his upright position against it, and does not back down in its efforts to complicate all the judicial interventions to which he has a right by law. The objective is to eventually water down his claims because they do NOT have any argument that can sustain all the false accusations hanging over him, now that his own son told the truth, unmasking the dictatorship’s judicial farce.
Angel declared on the blog:
“My family has just, coincidentally, found out that the Review Department has sent a letter to my lawyer Lourdes Arzua, who substitutes for Amelia Rodriguez, who was cut from service for six months, where they informed her that I have asked not to have legal representation, which is completely false. I suppose that the “misunderstanding” is due to my call to that Department, in order to find out if the file had arrived in their hands, after the tribunal denied the number and my name matched. My lawyer appeared in order to clarify that the number and my name were correct. Although it appeared a joke, because that number — 444 — was that of a police serial that in 2012 was shown on Cuban television. I suppose it has to do with some joke that the bosses played with my case.
I was assisted in the call by Chief Oslaydi, who has just been ousted, perhaps for assuring me that she “would correct it and that she would pass the verdict to the Ministry of Justice, which was who, definitively, would determine what measure to take in my case.” The last time that I spoke with her, her affable and polite manner had changed. Her behavior was coarse. I supposed that she had already been visited by State Security officials, and they dictated to her what to write in my case, just as they did with the tribunal that “judged” me, then on Appeal and now on Review.
I always say, I am not naive, that the procedures to restore justice in my case are not for the government to straighten out, because they have never done it, they have never recognized an error, the “Revolution” is not mistaken, thus, its governors are perfect; complaints are made in order to continue sliming people and one day the truth may be known. Justice demands it because that is our reason for being, what has us jailed, therefore, we must continue forcing them to grow their institutional evil, which they do by refusing to accept the truth as justice.
For my file to arrive at the Review Department more than a year has passed, when normally, and according to their laws, it should take no more than three months to issue an answer. Once they had to accept the Review, six months from the filing, they invalidated my lawyer Amelia Rodriguez; now they send a letter to the office in a new effort to invalidate my representative and, as in the “trial,” leave me once more “legally defenseless,” as attorney Miguel Iturria, who was my defender then, recognized.
In recent days my lawyer inquired about the course of the file, and they informed her that a document “of the cause” is missing, which the tribunal must present; which contradicts what the ex-chief told me, that the file had already been delivered to a specialist who was working on his exhausting review.
All this foolishness by State Security, I feel it like the kicking of the hanged man. If they thought that once I was incarcerated they were going to sap my strength, I cannot think anything other than that they calculated this as if they themselves were in my place, but in my case, my strength to fight for the liberty of my country has increased.”
The day after denouncing this new judicial hoax, he declared:
In the most extreme example of “the secretiveness of the State,” State Security is preparing my transfer to a border patrol unit.”
For days now a rumor has been circulating that is now taken as fact, given that the prison authorities await my transfer to be completed so that they can transport a Minister and a Vice-Minister of Construction who are serving sentences for “diversion of resources”. There is no way that officials will allow these prisoners to coincide with me, fearing that I will obtain information from them and later divulge it on my blog.
Following the escape of a prisoner and his arrival on the coast of Miami, State Security ordered a reinforcement of the surveillance being conducted on me. They established a 24-hour command post and they’re watching every move I make within the settlement.
A few minutes ago, they just ordered some bars to be soldered to secure the place where they will take me, and they said these had to be in place before tomorrow at the aforementioned border patrol unit.
Evidently, they will keep me there more watched and isolated. Thus begins another chapter in this journey of injustice, all for my my dangerous crime of thinking differently.
I reaffirm that I have more strength than on the first day of my incarceration. It is an honor that they commit these extreme acts against me, for exercising the faculty of thinking and expressing my opposition to the dictatorial regime that has been subjugating our country for more than half a century. Meanwhile, they tolerate murderers, drug traffickers and rapists, barely even harassing or watching them, as they do in my case.
Long live live Cuba, and may She Live Free.
Sunday, June 20, 2014. Lawton Prison Settlement, 10:30pm.
The rumor became a reality
Ángel was transported yesterday, illegally, without his next of kin being notified nor him being permitted to make a telephone call. Since then, he has been held at an unknown location.
The recent confession by Ángel’s son regarding his father’s innocence, and the fact that just a year ago (2 August, 2013), Ángel was transported illegally and arbitrarily, without his family knowing, to the settlement where he currently resides — and that he was held for four days at a location unknown until his relatives investigated the matter outside of official channels, causes us to think that this time the punishment could be more severe.
The sadism of this Regime is enormous, and they are hitting him where it hurts the most: his son. Evidently they’re trying to punish the father for the courage shown by his son, isolate him even more, and prevent him from continuing to denounce to the world the reality of how it is with him and with Cuba.
Now, we are not speaking solely of accusations of human rights violations committed against an adult who is dedicated to his country’s liberty. We are now dealing with a grave violation of the rights of the child during the Kafkaesque proceedings visited upon the father. They used the child as cannon fodder to falsely incriminate a dissident courageous enough to call Raúl Castro a dictator. Now, this child become an adolescent – who has provided a tremendous lesson in courage and honesty to the world – is at the mercy of State Security and its sadistic system for punishing those who dare express themselves freely. The boy’s helplessness is further increased by his father being not only encarcerated, but in a unknown location.
It is not an exaggeration to sound an international alert in support of Ángel and Eduardo Ángel. It is enough to witness the numerous cases publicized by the media regarding the abuses and punishments of the children of dissidents, including their incarceration. One such is the case of the three Alexei brothers, Vianco and Django Vargas Martín , who were jailed starting in late 2012, when the twins Vianco and Django were only 16 years old. They are the children of the dissident Miraida Martín Calderín, a member of the UNPACU [Patriotic Union of Cuba] and the Ladies in White. There is the case of an eight-year-old girl, Yanisleidis Olivier Reve’, daughter of Damaris Rodríguez Revé, member of the Ladies in White, who was held back a grade in school because of her mother’s activism.
From this post I call upon the international community to support Angel and his son, and I emphasize, once again, that the life and health of both are the exclusive responsibility of Raúl Castro. The world is watching and there is no longer any hiding it, even less in the sham accusations against Ángel, ripped apart by a mere boy.
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
“The shadows lift themselves/ from the same path/ where once was born/ that rare flower; / and the wind breaks through to cut/ the voice of some history.”
There is a flavor here of Machado, a thread connecting us to Paul Eluard, but it is La Avellaneda and Gabriela Mistral who season the bundle of words with which “Testigos de la noche” shows us Janisset, while the publisher Ultramar takes a mature step on its path of promoting literature. We see here a book that stands out through its modesty and economy of resources, both achievements boding well for the poetic profession as well as that other dying star, the readers of poetry, who upon entering the 21st century are seen as odd creatures.
An old poem is a new poem
Would that nothing human were foreign to us. It is like a canticle, a voice emerging from the deep thoughts of someone wiser than we. Nothing human is foreign to me, responding to that poetic subject that Janisset Rivero utilizes to traverse that broad plain that is Testigos.
The expression of love, desperation and fear of death surrounds us since the dawn of the world. Articulated anew by the momentum of Janisset Rivero’s verses, the realization of these timeless themes seems renewed: “The cry of the night/ charges the word/ and later silences…” Thus says one of her perhaps most accomplished compositions. But, is it death? Is it life? Is it the flowering of the fears of all times? We don’t know – Janisset Rivero leaves nothing assumed, and thus we witness another example of how insinuation is perhaps the surest shot.
Contemporaries as we are, we now face the dilemma that all that we poets touch has been touched by others, but the intimism revived in this work becomes addictive and pleasurable. To again read poems of love, hatred, human fears (which by virtue of being human we have all had them), is a good enjoyed by the most cultured.
No one tires of reading letters, messages, cries. No one – human as he may be – can simply walk by the weeping or the smiling rain of a woman. And we have here, readers and listeners, attentive to that voice that has emerged from JR to insert itself as a matter of course, in the skin of the poetic subject that she has utilized to narrate the ancient canticle of her work.
This, is it a new book or an old one? We, are we new or old readers of poetry? I believe that two words, two concepts have brought us together on this night of celebration: friendship and love. JR treats both with the same intensity – “Testigos” shows it.
Poetry without compromise
I do not believe in literary compromises. Somebody said that we writers are gravediggers by birth. We kill a writer to ride his glory, we bury an author because we want to throw off his powerful influence. For this reason, the mentions that JR makes here of her compatriots, of her brethren who have preceded us in death and of the glory of their heroic achievements, are a natural act of gratitude, and not an archetypal “compromise”. At least that is how I have read it and her, and this convinces me more than any instruction or qualification made on the surface, or under pressure.
Why were there not appearing here the shadows or the lights of (Pedro Luis) Boitel or Orlando Zapata Tamayo? “Redeemed at last/ in battle./ They fear still…/ and you shine, Pedro/” … and I would add, OZT, Antonio Maceo, Virgilio Campaneria, Marti, Eusebio Penalver, Zoila Aguia, The Girl (the lovely girl, I would say) of Placetas. The verses in “Testigos…” are not accusations. They are tollings of a bell to remember, they are antidotes to apathy and greetings of a new time that is today and not tomorrow. This manner of greeting without weeping, of remembering without the frigid and obligatory applause, renew a poetry that refuses elegies. The verses of JR are a flower-word-wind, a herald, and for that, poetry is ever grateful.
JR chose the difficult path of touching her dead without placing a banner at the door to the house. This is a happy thing, because it makes her intimate as well as plura; it makes us participants in all that she touches, in all to which she invites us, on this night, and tomorrow.
Miami, June 5, 2014
Yusimí Sijo (L) and the rapper Raudel Collazo (C), Luis Felipe Rojas (R)
…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?
To Frank Abel Dopico
The rock-and-rollers love the nocturnality of trains
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
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?