Sonic Attack in Havana. A Script Worthy of Hollywood? / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 3 October 2017 — You could see the present diplomatic crisis between Cuba and the United States as just one more stage in the long running saga, but the present duel is nevertheless different from the others,  having arisen in the difficult context of the arrival of an administration in the White House which has never concealed its intention of radically changing its predecessor’s legacy in relation to the dictatorship.

In the course of the succession of North American presidents since 1959, there has never been such a marked divergence of intentions between two successive occupants in relation to the government of the island. If we dismiss the barely hinted at approaches by Kennedy just before he was assassinated, not even the contrast between Jimmy Carter’s suggested detente and Ronald Reagan’s reinstated hard line is comparable in its violence with the post-Obama about-turn. continue reading

For that reason the present diplomatic crisis provoked by the suspected acoustic attack against American diplomats in the Havana embassy has its own particular flavour. In fact it is the first one of such importance which has occurred since Trump’s arrival, and, worryingly, has greater long term implications than the foreign policy changes announced last June.

But what really hits you in the face is that the US has flat out suspended the issue of visas and is withdrawing three out of every five diplomats based in Havana under the pretext of such an inconsistent and unbelievable accusation. Biassed accusations from the North American side and minimal comment from the Cuban have characterised this story for months, and today most of us have no proper idea of what happened.

We are talking about supposed sonic attacks (??) which ended up causing psychological and auditory damage to 21 embassy officials, according to the Americans, who have not directly accused the Cuban government but have strongly hinted at it publicly. Havana has, of course, replied that it knows nothing, but is ready to collaborate in any way to clarify the situation.

But, at the end of the day, who could be behind these supposed attacks? Who could want a total diplomatic breakdown? This needs a cool logical analysis because behind the answer to these question is the face of a conspirator.

The American version has various strange aspects. According to this, the attacks occurred in different hotels in Havana, as well as in the embassy. But to claim that, with a sniper’s accuracy, they only affected the eardrums and brains of diplomatic officials, and to be able to commit this damage over such a long period of time without it being picked up by the counter-espionage resources attached to the embassy, is pretty inconsistent.

There haven’t even been any reports of collateral injury in any of these locations affecting Cuban employees, or those of any other countries — if there are any — working in the embassy, or other workers, neighbours, or non-American tourists potentially exposed by chance to the attack. This is something, at least, very strange; it sounds too bizarre.

But even so, and if we grant for the moment that the attacks happened, we still haven’t defined who ordered them. And I say that because the notion of carrying out the aggression off their own bat in the context of a false news operation will always be a possibility in a geopolitical U-turn, especially when we are dealing with the United States.

We cannot forget the sinking of the battleship Maine — the US pretext for barging into the Spanish-Cuban war — or the attack which was permitted in Pearl Harbour, which was used as the pretext for entering into the Second World War, when all the Japanese Admiralty communications intercepted in real time allowed them to fully anticipate the attack. Don’t even talk about the 9/11 disasters with the dozens of examples of outrageous evidence accusing the George W. Bush administration of, at least, open complicity — all with the objective of Middle Eastern influence. There are dozens of other examples.

Therefore it is worth analysing the posture struck by both parties in regard to the resumption and maintenance of diplomatic relations, as well as the convenience, or not, for either side, of the refreezing of the thaw.

Looking at the North American side, one can see a crude manoeuvre to justify the reduction to the minimum possible the work of the recently unveiled embassy in Havana, without going for a total rupture: a kind of being incommunicado, or Cold War Diplomacy, as you might say.

Above all, Trump has never disguised his dislike of immigration, and, with these measures, he can guarantee the interruption, for now, of the granting of thousands of visas for Cubans, at the same time as, undoubtedly advised by the hard-line Florida lobby, depriving the dictatorship of its main escape valve.

What would Trump gain? As well as cutting off the flow of thousands of potential immigrants assisted by the Cuban Adjustment Act, he will have worked out that in very little time the internal pressures will become unmanageable for a second Castro who needs some peaceful pastureland to feed the  millions in his flock, without shocking them.

Looking at the Cuban side, it could be a stupid hard line move by the Plaza of the Revolucion but a practical one, in order to revert to the icy tone of the Cold War instead of carrying on towards a thaw. In spite of everything, the motto remains “be unscrupulous” and nothing will get in the way of its desire to make sure the puppet stays in its place, because they know that only by keeping the domino immobilised can they control the reins of a people who are every day more impatient.

What would  Raúl Castro and his people gain from this? Keeping control. At the end of the day, they know that Trump is serious when he says that he gives nothing for nothing, the know that they are dealing with an inflexible negotiator, and there is no way they are going to go along with the proposed formula: doing business with the Cubans, but without much to do with Castro’s military conglomerate. In other words, nothing for the tyrant. It’s a question of take it or leave it – period. Nothing like Obama’s weak little gestures which gave no additional freedom to Liberio [ed. note: a kind of  traditional Cuban “good ol’ boy”, and, by extension, the Cuban people].

This waste-of-space is not interested in too many opening moves, which he has demonstrated often enough. But what is clear is that money sent back by emigrants — with the Cuban Americans without doubt sending a substantial percentage — is one of the main sources of foreign exchange right now — estimated at about $3.5 billion in total — for which, if we are talking about motives, every move which affects the flow of emigrants works against the inflow of money, or, what comes to the same thing, less money to put in his personal piggy banks. That wouldn’t seem to be the intention of Ali Baba and his 40 generals.

In this autumn thriller, the compass’s moving finger points accusingly toward the magnetic north. While that is happening Donald Trump will go on making his demands and Raúl Castro, as always, will bet on his hostages.

Translated by GH

Overdone Glorification / Fernando Dámaso

Bacunayagua Bridge, the tallest bridge in Cuba, was started in 1956 during Batista’s presidency, although it was not opened until 1959, by which time Batista had fled the country. (Photo; Tripadvisor)

Fernando Damaso, 6 October 2017 — It has become an everyday occurrence that, with every anniversary of some political, economic, social, medical, juridical, pedagogical, scientific, artistic, agricultural, industrial, ecological, military, etc. event, it is credited to the late Cuban historic leader.

It gives the impression that everything done in Cuba in the last 58 years has been due to “his original ideas and brilliant intelligence,” and no thanks to anybody else.  Everything points to his monopoly on good ideas, among many other things.

The fact is that, in totalitarian regimes, everything supposedly positive always is down to the current dictator, and everything negative to his subordinates, who are incapable of understanding him correctly. But, there are limits which cannot be crossed, without looking ridiculous and being mocked by the people, that’s to say, the locals taking the piss. continue reading

In the case of Cuba, it has not been like that, and everything said and written about it bears the unmistakable seal of fawning adulation, without the slightest inhibition on the part of the adulators.

Gerardo Machado was “The Illustrious One” in the thirties, and his works filled the media of his time, but his regime didn’t last any longer than eight years. And Fulgencio Batista was “The Man” in the fifties, and the same thing happened, but his government didn’t go on for more than seven years.

In spite of everything you can criticise about some of their actions, both of them left important achievements which can be admired, even today — the Central Highway, the National Capitol, enormous hospitals and educational institutions, roads, bridges, tunnels, avenues, streets, plazas, parks, aqueducts, drainage systems and other public works.

Nevertheless, today’s hero is the one most responsible for the country’s prolonged economic, political and social crisis, as a result of his repeated errors and failures. In truth, his legacy has been one of intolerance, destruction, poverty and misery, and very little worth remembering. It all needs to be “rescued,” that verb that is so fashionable in Cuba today.  

Health and education, his principal “successes,” which were already making progress year on year during the Republic, are being used as a shop window to the outside world, with the objective of political preaching to the gullible, in praise of a disastrous system which is not, and never will be prosperous, efficient or sustainable, let alone sovereign, independent and democratic.

With most Cubans more worried about survival than thinking about him, as we approach the first anniversary of his death, the authorities have chosen to use these occasions to start his premature glorification. They are trying to offer up an idyllic image of his character, to legitimise him in the eyes of history, a difficult enough task  in view of his mountain of blunders.

We know that those who have exercised power for long periods of time try to create myths. Then, subsequently, there has always been a process of taking them apart, to see them in the clear light of day. In this case, we have to get on with the second stage.

If it doesn’t happen, they will continue to manipulate history in the interests of spurious political interests and ideologies, far removed from reality, poisoning generations to come with falsehoods and lies.

Translated by GH

Interview with Julio Ferrer Tamayo, Independent Cuban Lawyer / Iván García

Julio Ferrer Tamayo, independent Cuban lawyer (Photo: Ivan Garcia)

Ivan Garcia,25 September 2017 — If you want to go to the house of the 58-year-old dissident lawyer, Julio Ferrer Tamayo, the busy Esquina de Tejas, which is ten minutes by car from central Havana, can do as a reference point. Four important city streets meet at the famous corner; Monte, Infanta, Calzadas de Cerro, and Diez de Octubre.

Walking through a dirty, broken-tiled entrance way, after going past San Joaquin and Romay, you get to a tiny house, whose door opens out to Monte Street, and that is where Ferrer lives. He receives me in black shorts and a blue sweater. His home is  hot, and has an upstairs addition which serves as a bedroom and bathroom. In the little living room is a sofa and two armchairs with ochre coloured covers. There is a music centre and an old television on a display cabinet.

After being in jail for eleven months for reasons I will explain in a minute, Julio Ferrer was freed on August 25th. He’s a free man. Or at least, in theory. Six days later, on Thursday morning, August 31st, he received some good news. “In a judgement, a tribunal determined that my wife should be declared innocent. I don’t think they will let her out quickly, but I hope that before the end of the year she will be able to be back home”, says Ferrer. continue reading

Since July 31st, 2012, five years and one month ago, the lawyer Marienys Pavó Oñate has been sleeping in a grey prisoner’s uniform in a women’s prison to the east of the capital. “The process rigged up by the legal system against her and me was cobbled together with false evidence. They set up a witch-hunt against me because in 2009 I joined some independent lawyers’ associations”, Ferrer told me in a slow and deliberate tone.

His disagreements with the government started long before that. A native of Santiago de Cuba, 937 km east of Havana, Julio was brought up by his parents with the maxim that your dignity is non-negotiable.

Like most Cubans, he applauded anyone who spoke about prosperity and sovereignty. But he always formed his own opinions. After he qualified as a lawyer, he saw at first hand the corrupt legal practices in Cuba.

He became one of the most respected judges and a well-regarded lawyer in a totalitarian regime, where the body of law which regulates a society is just words in the air.

“Until 1993 I was a judge in the Guanabacoa Municipal Tribunal. When I took up the appointment, there were dozens of cases filed away, and other irregularities which, with the help of the team working with me, I managed to bring up to date. I have always observed a cardinal principle: respect the rule of law — promote just decisions with guaranteed procedures, and ensure that the different institutions, be they the District Attorney or the law enforcement agencies, correctly document every accusation. But, very often, those in charge of administering justice fail to comply with this precept. There are diverse reasons for this non-compliance”, explains Ferrer, “from poor work, to the most dangerous case: falsifying evidence in order to convict an innocent person”.

He cites as an example “the case of someone  who was remanded in custody, and the Tribunal didn’t even have the documentation. This person should have been set free immediately. In order to justify this arbitrary application of the law, they constructed a false case, even including a fake entry in the register of decisions

In his opinion, “Tribunals in Cuba are not autonomous. The system of justice is driven by the whims of the government and the police authorities. There are subtle coercive mechanisms whereby a judge submits to the desires of the municipal or provincial party organisation or the police. In the La Tutelar festival, which, on August 15th, is celebrated in honour of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, the patron saint of Guanabacoa, the police referred to the Tribunal a truck full of people detained for supposed criminal activities, in the hope that we would make a speedy decision and throw them in jail. As the judge, seeing them violating criminal procedures, I set them free. For this, I was viewed with disapproval in the Ministry of the Interior, the Public Attorney’s office and the Communist Party”.

In Cuba, if you grant yourself autonomy, you pay a price. There is an invisible frontier, and nobody knows just how far you can go and how far is too far. And the lawyer Julio Ferrer crossed the line.

Ferrer recalls that “I had dossiers on people who were sanctioned and, because of various irregularities, were absolved and had to be given back their property. I remember the case of a bogus front company, managed by the Council of State, which openly flouted all the applicable legislation. An employee died because of an accident at work, and the Public Prosecutor accused an electrician as the supposedly guilty party. After studying all the documentation, I requested that the Director of the company and the Head of Human Resources appear before me as the accused, in order to clarify what happened. None other than José Luis Toledo Santander, who was then the Provincial Public Prosecutor and the Dean of the Law Faculty, and now heads up the Commision of Constitutional Affairs and National Assembly of Popular Power lawyers, came to my office to try to persuade me. When I wasn’t convinced, he simply voided the decision”.

Julio’s close friends told him about the animosity felt by the political and police authorities against him in the Guanabacoa Municipality of Havana. They had their eyes on him.

“Long before I became a dissident, I was identified as a ’problem’. They tried to buy me off in different ways but I stood my ground. Most of the judges and prosecutors who handled cases of interest to the state collaborate with State Security, and I never could accept that. In 1993 I decided to stop my activities as a judge and I started work as a lawyer in a collective law office. They never found me doing anything dirty. I was the first to arrive at work and the last to leave. I always kept up my studies, improving myself and keeping up-to-date. I specialised in criminal, administrative and military law. But I was a nuisance”, Ferrer confesses.

Then came the moment for scores to be settled. It happened in 2009 when he first joined the Cuban Legal Association, and then Cubalex, two organisations considered illegal by the government. That’s when the crusade began against the marriage of the two lawyers, Julio Ferrer Tamayo and Marienys Pavó Oñate. Cubalex, a  consultancy run by Laritza Diversant, was compulsorily dissolved by the State Security on September 23, 2016.

Anyone who disobeys Castroism knows that one of the special services’ favourite strategies to make an opponent cave in is to use their family. And Marienys, Ferrer’s wife, was the first victim. “They accused her of bribery and alleged falsification of the documents of her own house. Then later they sentenced her to nine years detention for fraud. And lastly, on a joint basis the sentence was fixed at seven years. It is all an invention. Her case cannot bear the most minimal legal analysis. What’s more, the prison governor has asked for different documentation from the tribunals and the response has been silence. My wife is a hostage. It’s a strategy to break me down”.

Julio himself has been accused by the government of various crimes. But in the end the authorities let him go free. “When, on September 23rd, they arbitrarily held me in the Cubalex offices, no-one, in five police units, wanted to take me, because of the obvious irregularities of the case. The whole process is a farce”, which is the word Ferrer uses to refer to the political police and the Cuban legal system.

Julio Ferrer completed eleven months of detention in Prison 1580, located in  San Miguel del Padrón, southeast of Havana. “Who pays for those judicial errors?” I ask him. There is in Cuba a norm for compensation after any arbitrary legal action. But it never happens, least of all with someone who is considered to be an enemy of the Revolution”, replies the independent lawyer, who still maintains his unequal dispute with the despotic state.

“I am going to present an action in the tribunals against chancellor Bruno Rodríguez for the falsehoods and calumnies presented against me in the Human Rights Council of the United Nations in Geneva” says Ferrer.

“Who gains from this lawsuit? Don’t you know that Cuba is an authentic dictatorship?” I ask him. “Having a knowledge of the relevant laws puts you at an advantage. Not even the government complies with its own legislation. In this peaceful confrontation, we are demonstrating the ineffectiveness of the system. The weapon which can give us victory is having better legal knowledge than the government functionaries”, he replies.

Night starts to fall in El Pilar, the working class district in El Cerro where the untiring dissident lawyer lives. In the background you can hear the racket from a room near his home and a reggaeton at full volume.

Julio Ferrer turns on his old television. He wants to watch the National Series baseball game. Then he phones Carla, his daughter, and they chat for a while. Some day in October or November he hopes that his wife will knock on the door.

In the medium term, the Ferrer-Pavó partners will probably emigrate to the United States as political refugees. They don’t see any other way out.  They have suffered brutal harassment by the government. And in Cuba you find yourself in no mans land.

Translated by GH

What if Hurricane María had gone through Cuba? / Iván García

Photo: By Yariel Valdés González in Caibarié, a fishing village to the north of Villa Clara province, which suffered greatly in the path of Irma. Taken by Periodismo de Barrio

Ivan Garcia, 22 September 2017 — In that bit of Havana between Calle Línea and Avenida del Malecón, people are still taking out mattresses, clothes, furniture, and other things damaged by the sea which was driven inland by the powerful Hurricane Irma two weeks ago, and leaving them to air in the sun.

In any park, house in multiple occupation, or corner in Vedado, with a network of buildings and grand old houses with designs ranging from Art Deco and Neo-Classical to reinforced concrete, built before Fidel Castro changed architecture into the clunky and the vulgar, their residents tell stories with typical Cuban exaggeration. continue reading

“I am telling you that when the water got into the garage in my building, the cars were floating. It felt as if someone was tapping on the wall of my room, and it was the cars, which were drifting about like crazy spinning tops,” I am assured by Ignacio a 76-year-old pensioner, standing in a queue to get a portion of yellow rice with hot dogs for 5 pesos (20 cents USD).

In various kiosks improvised by the state to help people affected by Irma’s blast, they sell packets of crackers for 25 pesos, tins of sardines for 28 pesos and guava sticks for 17.

“People with money don’t buy that food, because here we now have electric light and gas in the street. This kind of “grub” is for the poorest people, who, both before and after the hurricane, lived without a cent to their name. The government doesn’t begin to understand that families who have no money, and there are lots of them, cannot buy stuff, even if they sell it cheap. They should give this food away without charge. It’s not our fault we are poor,” says Luis Manuel, a man with calloused hands who collects empty drink and beer cans and then sells them as a raw material.

Not everyone living in El Vedado is upper crust, earning lots of money and being sent dollars from family on the other side of the Straits of Florida. Just like Miramar and other middle class districts in Havana before 1959, El Vedado has been marginalised, many houses are in danger of collapsing, and lots of elegant residences have been transformed into slum tenements with hundreds of families living in dodgy conditions.

The patio of the big old house where the poet Dulce María Loynaz lived, in 14th Street between Línea and  Calzada, has been converted into a plot with innumerable pigstys made of wood and panels thrown up in a hurry.

Round and about the US embassy, where the hurricane mercilessly attacked the building, there are clusters of residential areas and basements of buildings converted into apartments which have been flooded up to the ceiling by sea water.

Magda, a single mother with three children, who sells cleaning products, clothing and memory cards on the side, brought to Havana in suitcases by “mules,” believes she is dogged by misfortune.

“I don’t know why, but destiny is treating me cruelly. I fight to take care of my kids, I am an honest person, I don’t rob or blame anybody. I have bad luck, like I was born under a bad sign.  I have spent fifty years  trying to live the way God wants and trying to get out of being poor. And there’s no way.  And now the government comes down from the clouds with the news that it’s going to sell building materials at half price. They’re either fools or they’re playing the fool. Can’t they understand that people aren’t living badly because they’re masochists? It’s because the money we have coming in isn’t enough to live any better. For people like me, with the roof falling down around our heads, the only way to repair your house is if the state covers all the cost,” says an angry Magda.

Up and down the country there is a frank discussion concerning what kind of strategy there should be about building materials needed to deal with natural disasters. Some think there should be affordable insurance policies, others that designers and civil engineers should come up with houses which are more hurricane-resistant.

“It’s a viscious circle. Every year the government sells you panels and poor quality building materials, and the following year, when a new hurricane comes along, the wind destroys your roof or your house again. What do they make corrugated iron roofs for? You don’t need to be a genius to see that hurricanes always affect the poorest people. None of the houses in Siboney or Miramar, where the elegant people live, suffered any upheavals from Irma,” says Eulogio, who lives on a plot in El Vedado.

Two weeks after the Irma bombshell destroyed thousands of houses, schools, hotels, crops, poultry farms and state institutions in its path, the people living in the areas most affected are at breaking point.

A fisherman living in Isabela de Sagua, 331 kms east of the capital, who is passing through Havana, says “Hurricane Irma practically wiped my village off the map. 90% of the houses were partly damaged or completely destroyed. It will be years before we can recover from it. If Hurricane María had gone through Cuba, we would have needed Jesus to come here after it and pray for us.”

Fifty-eight years after Hurricane Fidel Castro established communism in the island, burying freedom of the press, opposition parties, and converting democracy into empty words, hurricanes are the enemy to be defeated. They affect Cuba, the Caribbean and the United States; the number one enemy of the Castro brothers. Each time they are stronger and more destructive. Human ingenuity, which was able to put a man on the moon, create the internet and eradicate fatal diseases, hasn’t found an effective way to reduce their damage.

As long as the olive-green autocracy goes on distributing panels and materials which are only good for repairing minor damage, and while they go on building fewer than eight thousand solid houses a year, the fury of the hurricanes will carry on devastating the towns in their path. And, as always, the people most affected will be the poor.

Translated by GH

Cuba: The Day After / Iván García

The state in which the old Hotel Cosmopolita de Camajuaní  has been left by hurricane Irma in Villa Clara a province 290 km east of Havana, going by the Autopista Nacional. Built in 1918, the hotel was included in the tourism development plan to liven up the hotel trade in Villa Clara. Taken from “Los límites de la alucinación”, a report by Lianet Fleites in Periodismo de Barrio, September 12th 2017.

Iván García,13 September 2017 — On Friday September 9th, Omar, 55 years old, set up two speakers in his house,  located in an inside corridor off San Lázaro Street, in Lawton, in the south of Havana, just like he does almost every weekend, and, at 6 in the evening he started to open some bottles of cheap rum for his neighbours and friends. Any event is a good excuse for a celebration.  Omar and his family live with the money they make working, and what his family send him from time to time from Miami. They eat what they can come by and they don’t worry about the future.

When Omar found out that Hurricane Irma’s high winds were going to hit the island, he rang the electric company and the public services, to get them to cut the medium sized palm tree in the patio of his house. “I have been having this fight for a year now, especially when a hurricane is approaching. They always argue about it. They told me they would come right away, or, if not, they would send a team in a few hours. But it’s all hassle and lies. Look at what’s happened”, he says and indicates the concrete roof of his house, destroyed when the palm tree fell on it early in the morning of Sunday, September 10th. continue reading

There are stories like Omar’s all over Havana. Luis, a medical centre nurse in La Vibora had to work Sunday morning, just when Irma devastated the city with its surges of wind and rain.

“Before, the Luis de la Puente Uceda medical centre-hospital was located in a substantial building with all the necessary sanitary conditions and medical equipment. Then they decided to set up in the building a limited access surgery centre, principally for dealing with foreigners, and moved the medical centre to a less than ideal leaky ramshackle old house”, Luis explains. And he remembers what an ordeal it was.

“It was raining more inside than outside. With many of the windows broken, there were bits of wood, tin cans and leaves blowing in. The old electricity generator which wasn’t properly maintained, cut out from time to time, leaving the medical centre in darkness. When I knocked off at seven in the morning, in spite of the fact that it wasn’t windy and hardly raining any more, I had to walk home over 4 miles because some brilliant person had decided to suspend the city transport”.

Nearly 72 hours after Irma had passed Havana, Public Services, which is responsible for waste collection, had not done that over wide areas of Diez de Octubre, the most densely populated part of the capital. “Here we hadn’t seen any sign of the electric company vehicles or those of the water or public services. The streets were full of bushes and smashed up stuff left by the storm and people had piled it up wherever. That discussion by the government about which teams would collect the vegetation and the rubbish and that they had already started recovering the situation in the city was just for the television”, says a neighbour.

Although the strong winds lost their intensity as they approached Havana and did not greatly affect the capital and Artemisa province, since September 9th many Havana neighbourhoods are suffering power cuts and have no drinking water. “It was known that the areas worst affected by the hurricane were the coastal districts of Playa, Plaza, Havana Central, Old Havana, and East Havana. It looks like the authorities devoted all their resources to those areas and forgot the rest of us existed, complained Migdalia, a resident of La Cuevita, a poor area in San Miguel del Padrón.

The sea flooded over the coastal areas covering the streets 2,000 feet inland. “They looked like overflowing rivers. The water covered El Vedado, Central Havana and Old Havana. As most of the families living in these areas were evacuated, and in spite of the fact that the police and the civil defence said they would be protected, the looters had a field day. Several foreign currency outlets and shops in Miramar, Vedado and Central Havana were looted”, explained an agent deployed to keep order in important locations.

But the worst disasters of Hurricane Irma occurred in the central provinces of Cuba bounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north. Sayli Sosa, journalist for the Invasor daily, from Ciego de Ávila, visited La Cayeria north of Ciego de Ávila. There, on the morning of Saturday, September 9th, the eye of the Category 5  hurricane touched land.  Irma was merciless in the tourist spots on the keys, which geographically belong to Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila  and Villa Clara. The ten workers who stayed in Hotel Meliá Cayo because of their duties sheltered themselves in a safe place, but admitted they had the greatest fright of their lives. “It was Dante-esque”, they said.

Sosa also went over to the town of Bolivia in Ciego de Avila, where he talked to Eusebio, a septuagenarian, who told him he was not afraid of hurricanes. The neighbours took shelter in the only house in the neighbourhood capable of coping with angry Irma. But pigheaded Eusebio wanted to stay put and when things got nasty he couldn’t get out. At three in the morning the deafening wind crashed through the cracks in the palmwood boarding of his house and the damp balsa wool material of the roof whistled horribly. He thought that the roof ridge was going to collapse and he got under the kitchen counter. The partly constructed grey reinforced concrete counter was what saved his life.

We have seen photos and videos and have heard descriptions of Irma’s cruelty in the tourist places in Cayo Coco, Cayo Guillermo and Cayo Santamaria, but we don’t have figures for the damage caused. In August 2016, I was staying at the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort Hotel, situated in Cayo Coco, Jardines del Rey archipelago in the north of  Ciego de Avila. While I was there I wrote two chronicles. In one of them, called Cayo Coco, a commercial centre  for the Cuban capitalist military, I said: “As with 70% of the tourist facilities in Cuba, the Memories Flamenco Hotel is managed by the Gaviota S.A. commercial operation, a business which set up in 1989 under the auspices of Fidel Castro, with the pretext of testing the profitability of the incipient tourism business”.

A few months after the main tourist season (November to April), the olive-green people lavished loads of money and resources to fix up the hotels damaged in Cayería norte, in record time. ” Most of the ETECSA linesmen and those from the electric company was sent to the keys. They are a priority, although there aren’t any tourists there as they were evacuated to Veradero. But those hotels are an important part of the hard currency earning money box”, explains a telecoms engineer.

Not too far away from the key is a very different situation. From Yaguajay, in Sancti Spiritus, a province 220 miles east of Havana, Sergio, who lives there describes over the phone that “the desolation is terrible, as if the fat madman of North Korea had fired one of his missiles. Eight out of every ten houses had their roofs damaged or their walls fell down. Nearly sixty were flattened, with just the foundations left”.

It’s not very different in Esmeralda, Camagüey.  In Adelante, the local newspaper, the journalist Enrique Atiénzar  says that Irma dealt brutally with Esmeralda. In Moscú, the damage was severe. Of the over 200 houses, mostly rustic, only ten survived the over 125 mile per hour winds. Lyam, 12 years old, doesn’t enjoy a hurricane going past, but says that 16 neighbours were sheltered in his grandmother’s house. The next day, Lyam’s grandmother sat down in the doorway and started to cry. “Not for me, but for the neighbours”.

In Cuba the real headache for the man in the street comes in the days following a tropical storm or Category 1 hurricane going by. You can just imagine what it’s like when it’s a hurricane like Irma, touching land in Cayería norte as a Category 5, then dropped to a 4 and then a 3 and then on the way to Florida went back up to a 4.

In the length and breadth of the island, thousands of families are living in shelters, having lost their homes because of a hurricane or other natural disaster. Some wait for twenty years for the state to provide them with a home. Others wait for help buying materials so they can repair their houses by themselves.

Omar, living in Lawton, knows very well what it’s like waiting for the government to help. “My house could fall down at any time”, he says with a sad face. For a Habanero, who likes salsa music, Olga Guillot boleros, and knocking back a few cheap rums with his friends, it hasn’t been much of a party lately.

Photo: The state in which the old Hotel Cosmopolita de Camajuaní  has been left by hurricane Irma in Villa Clara a province 290 km east of Havana, going by the Autopista Nacional. Built in 1918, the hotel was included in the tourism development plan to liven up the hotel trade in Villa Clara. Taken from “Los límites de la alucinación”, a report by Lianet Fleites in Periodismo de Barrio, September 12th 2017.

Translated by GH

A Lot of Manipulation / Fernando Dámaso

Jose Marti’s mausoleum in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, Santiago de Cuba (ReginaBeardsley.com)

Fernando Damaso, 5 September 2017 — The manipulation of José Martí — whom we Cubans call “the Apostle — not just his life but also his ideas, has been progressive. Accused, in 1953, of being the “intellectual author” of the attack on the Moncada Barracks, and the assailants self-styled the “centenary generation” (it being 100 years since his birth), from 1959 on he was “unchained”.

The “Lenin-Martí” rooms (Lenin first and then Martí) in the military bases were there until the disappearance of the Soviet Union, embellished with “Martí-Ho Chi Minh Days”, when we felt like “giving our blood for Vietnam”.

Cautiously at first, when the Apostle was still thought of as a liberal-democrat, but distanced from socialism, in the eyes of the more dogmatic, they soon began to ascribe to him ideas he had never had, in order to convince us that now, had he been alive, he would have been a socialist. continue reading

In reinventing history and attributing merits or defects to their subjects, in accordance with the political convenience of the moment, our leaders have been very good at getting submissive historians to endorse their opinions.

Look at the absurdity they have propagated, that “before, we would have been like them, and now they would have been like us”, which is totally appropriate to the process of “baloneyfication”, which started then and has continued to the present day.

At a particular moment difficult to pin down exactly, during the period of the personality cult, the ideas of the “Maximum Leader” started to be considered as continuations of those of Martí, and that he was his best disciple.

Now, both of them, with their remains (bones and ashes), near to each other in the same cemetery, are presented as indivisible, where one cannot exist without the other, and they even affirm that Cuba cannot be thought of without them.

Without asking his permission, they have put an annoying travelling companion beside Martí. This soup (or rather an indigestible stew) of homeland, nation, party, Martí and “historic leader”, is what they offer to the younger people in the country, trying to gain their eternal commitment, without freedom of choice, and conditioned by conveniently manipulated facts.

Translated by GH

Cuban Universities Need Autonomy / Iván García

University of Havana. It was established 5 January 1728 by Dominican friars. It is the oldest higher education institution in Cuba, and one of the first in America. Taken from Cubanet.

Iván García, 30 August 2017 — Since his wife died two years ago, Manuel hasn’t been eating properly. At night, he sits in front of an obsolete cathode ray tube television, and usually watches the news or the baseball while he drinks some fourth-rate rum bought from a convenience store.

His big old house with high ceilings needs rather more than just a lick of paint. In the living room, the worn-out furniture is long overdue for replacement. Books, periodicals and magazines overflow four shelves on the wall. In a corridor there are various cardboard boxes full of textbooks and bibliographies about electronics and computing.

He says he’s 65, but looks ten years older. His sparse beard needs a barber to do something with it, and his greasy hair urgently needs a wash with anti-dandruff shampoo.  He has been unhappy since God took his wife away. continue reading

His uncared-for appearance makes him look like a tramp or an incurable alcoholic. But Manuel is a professor of electronics. He has a masters and a doctorate and has written a couple of specialised books, “which probably not many people have read”, Manuel says with a frank smile.

His miserable basic monthly salary of  740 Cuban pesos, equivalent to 30 dollars, doesn’t go very far. “I also get 80 pesos a month for my masters, 150 for the doctorate and 100 pesos extra for over 20 years’ service as a teacher. A thousand and seventy pesos in total, which is 43 Cuban convertible pesos at the present rate of exchange (roughly 43 USD). It’s enough to eat once a day, pay the electricity, water, gas and the phone. If I have anything left over, I buy books”.

With the same honesty he confesses, “They don’t pay me not even one convertible peso bonus. In this age of knowledge, with out-of date laboratories and shortages in the basic materials for study, university professors continue imparting knowledge to future generations out of vocational dedication more than anything.”

Manuel could offer private classes and get extra money. “Many of us do it, but I don’t. Because it’s prohibited and it’s unethical. A teacher giving an exam should not charge for passing his students. It’s a type of concealed fraud which they do in Cuba.  Those classes benefit students with well-to-do parents. The most studious and capable are the ones who should graduate. University is for the best of them. In technical courses like telecommunications, those who don’t have ability quit their studies in the first or second year because the classes are difficult”.

In his opinion, “Cuban universities have lost their quality, but their faculty staff continue to be the best qualified in the national education system. It isn’t like that in primary or secondary schools where, with certain exceptions, teachers now are not very good. That becomes evident later; when students get to university, they have all sorts of weaknesses, some of them basic, like they don’t know how to spell”.

David, a student of industrial engineering, thinks “there are good, middling and bad teachers, just as in any area of work. But, when compared to pre-university, secondary and primary, the university professor has preserved his standing. The government should allocate a bigger budget to equipping the universities. It’s unforgivable that courses like computing or electronics have second generation computers and that the connection time to the internet is limited like the bread in your ration book.”

Diana, a philosophy graduate, has pleasant memories of her teachers. “They were very professional and very knowledgeable about the subjects they were teaching. But when they entered the classroom some of them made you sad, with their old clothes, and their worn-out shoes with broken soles”.

José Manuel,  a working professor, believes “that higher education has lost a lot of its quality. What is happening is that in comparison with the dreadful state of teaching in the other educational levels, the universities see themselves as being on a different dimension. Thirty years ago, the University of Havana, the one in Santa Clara, and the old CUJAE, which is now the José Antonio Echevarría Tech., were among the best higher education institutions in Latin America. Now we are hardly in the top 250”.

Martí News talked to some university professors about the deterioration in the quality of higher education and what could be done to improve it. Rody, an algebra professor, got straight to the point:

“The reduction is due to the poor salaries. Every time there is a meeting with officials with the Ministry of Higher Education, they ask for more commitment and blah blah blah, but never a word about a pay increase or motivation for teaching staff. Apart from putting salaries up, they could incentivise the best professors by offering them personal grooming products and food as well as houses and cars. The government should provide subsidised holidays for outstanding teachers with accommodation in tourist resorts. They do it for the military, why can’t they do it for all teachers, not just those in university?”

Sara, a history teacher, thinks that “Cuban universities need autonomy, and not to be controlled by the government. Let educators have their correct place in society. We have to get away from this inverted pyramid in Cuba. Manual trades are important and necessary, but, everywhere in the world, people with university qualifications earn more than unskilled workers”.

Talking about autonomy, in 2012, the professor and academic Dimas Castellanos published an article in Diario de Cuba in which he ended up emphasising: “With the loss of its autonomy, the Cuban university ceased to be a strong point of civil society. In order for it to be that, the changes taking place in the economy have to be accompanied by changes in liberties and rights, among which university autonomy is an unavoidable necessity if it is to be relevant.

Carlos, an ex-professor of sociology, emphasises: “Because of miserable salaries and low social status, a lot of university professors are chasing scholarships and collaborations with overseas universities. And, if successful, definitely more than a few of them are deciding to emigrate. The Cuban academic world is poverty-stricken. The most talented professors, if they have their own opinions, and are not crushed by the system, may pay for it by being expelled from the centre, isolated and disparaged. There are more than enough examples. That was the case with the dissident Félix Bonne Carcassés, who died at the beginning of the year, a university professor with an excellent academic career. Or the recent case of the economist Omar Everleny Pérez, thrown out by the government from his job as an investigator”.

It’s not unusual in the island to find university professors driving taxis or renting their houses out to tourists and in that way adding a bit to their meagre finances. Others trawl the internet searching for scholarships or academic events outside the country to participate in. “Whichever doctorate, or simply taking part in a special panel outside the country, helps you earn a few dollars or euros which, when you get back, you can use to repair your house and buy food for your family”, explains an academic who spends half the year travelling to countries in different continents.

One possible way to update yourself, widen your knowledge and exchange experiences, especially following the re-establishment of relations between Cuba and the United States, would be if Cuban university professors could get internships or establish themselves as speakers at American universities.

It would be like winning first prize in the lottery.

Translated by GH

Cuba Ignores Sanitary Crisis To Not Frighten The Tourists / Juan Juan Almeida

Setting up for Carnival

Juan Juan Almeida, 16 August 2016 — Holguín, the Cuban province reporting the greatest increase in cases of zika, dengue and haemorragic conjunctivitis, might experience an increase in the level of contagion with the arrival of travellers wanting to visit the area in the upcoming carnivals programmed from 17th to 20th August.

Doctor Luis Arlet González, Provincial Director of Public Health, Julio Caballero, First Secretary of the Communist Party in the town, and Julio César Estupiñán, President of the Provincial Assembly of People Power (the local government), have more than once warned about the danger of celebrating  carnivals in the middle of this epidemic. But the First Secretary of the Communist Party in the province, during the last meeting of official organisations, made known the decision not to cancel the merriment for fear of frightening the tourists. continue reading

“It seems unbelievable that with the number of cases of zika, dengue and conjunctivitis reported daily, they could think of holding celebrations. For the Party, as always, all they are interested in is the income raised by filling the nearly 5,400 homes dedicated to tourism and they play the game without thinking that the city’s principal value lies in the inhabitants’ welcome and the beauty of the town set in 60 kilometers of beach and sun. Tourists look for contact and that, without a doubt, increases the contagion which is expected to soon reach pandemic levels”, says a frightened doctor at the “Vladimir Ilich Lenin” University General Hospital in the town.

The government recently provided funding for what is called “Operation Good Health”, which involves mobilising volunteers to carry out fumigations, and includes personnel able to locate infected people and raise awareness using the local media. But, in spite of these efforts, the number of patients increases daily.

Travel agencies receiving inquiries from travellers worried about the local situation avoid raising fear and uncertainty among overseas visitors. The provincial authorities decided to lock away those patients labelled as most contagious, but when the admissions at the “Lucía Iñiguez Landín” Hospital Clínico Quirúrgico in Holguín were overwhelmed they found themselves obliged to open up the nursing facility to take in the affected people.

People with contagious epidemic haemorragic conjunctivitis are being locked away in classrooms and lodgings in Celia Sánchez Manduley University, a long-established school for social workers, which, incidentally, has announced that the start of the next course will be postponed until September 20th, or until further notice.

Nevertheless, in the face of the incomprehensible decision to proceed with the carnival preparations, and in the closing stages of the preparations for the festivities in the provincial stadium and the busy Los Álamos and Libertadores Avenues, the local authorities have pronounced themselves satisfied on becoming aware on August 10th that Havana has ordered the activation in the province of the protection and security plan.

All the infantry units were quartered, the air force, the anti-aircraft defences and the navy were put on alert. But as the saying goes, nothing good lasts forever; such a colossal military mobilisation was not because of the epidemic, but because  General Raúl Castro, president of the Council of State and the Ministries of the Republic, was on vacation this weekend in his paradise hideaway in Cayo Saetía, on the north coast of East Cuba.

Translated by GH

Meaningless Nonsense About the Flag / Fernando Dámaso

The flag, better “well adjusted” some think. (14ymedio)

Fernando Damaso, 24 April 2017 — The “official experts” continue talking and writing about the “correct” use of the national flag. Some of the arguments they trot out are laughable. The problem is not so much the rejection of the use of the national flag on clothing, as criticising the use of the American flag by many, mostly young, Cubans. It is something ideologically unacceptable  for fossilised minds. Let´s take ít one bit at a time.

In the United States, from when it was born as a nation, the flag has had an important place in the life of its citizens. Honoured and respected, it can be seen in government institutions and in front of many houses, as well as on the facades of many buildings. It is also everywhere in sporting and leisure facilities, and framed ones adorn the rooms of young people and adults alike and even the walls of commercial organisations. As if that weren´t enough, it appears on clothing and different consumer goods, with original and bold designs. It has never been idolised, but forms part of the daily life of every American. Something similar, though to a lesser extent, happens with the British flag. continue reading

In Cuba, the flag accompanied the Mambisas (a mixture of Cuban, Dominican and Filipino fighters for independence) who fought for independence in the 19th century but, when the republic was established, it became an official symbol of state, on display only in state institutions from dawn to dusk. It never featured in peoples’ day-to-day lives, apart from certain patriotic dates, like 10th of October, 24th of February or the 20th May.  During the years of the Cuban republic it was an object of respect, and its use was well regulated.

After 1959, the flag began to be used in a thoughtless way by the authorities, often without worrying about the established norms for its use, for any kind of political event and, over time, for many people, losing its emotional impact. And more than that, they put other flags next to it which had nothing to do with it, and that compete with it for importance (which is what happened with the 26th of July flag).

This totally anomalous situation changed it, for many, into more of a symbol of a government which had appropriated it, rather than of the Cuban people. In other words, the flag had become “official”, like the guayabera (a kind of mens’ shirt similar to what barbers wear), “safaris” and checked shirts that government officials are in the habit of wearing.

Nowadays no Cubans wear such clothes, least of all young people. They appear to be repudiated. Also, very few Cubans are interested in putting up a flag in their home or displaying it as a part of their clothing. The problem does not have to do with regulating, or stimulating, its use, as some suggest, but in honestly pointing out why many young people, and some not so young, wear clothing with the American flag on it.

Listen, you brainy ideologues,  don’t you understand that it’s a subtle way of demonstrating a preferance for a different system to the one we have here?

It isn’t, as you think, a problem about “trashy merchandise”, nor about “imperialist aggression”. Test it out, design some clothing with the flag, or parts of it incorporated, and you will see how few people actually buy it.

Translated by GH

The Bolivian Circus / Fernando Dámaso

Map of Pacific War area. Source: Wikipedia

Fernando Damaso, 31 March 2017 — Although hardly anyone is surprised at the clowning about by the person who calls himself ” the first indigenous president” (in fact, there was another one before him), now, with his going on about “a sea for Bolivia” he is becoming news again.

Bolivia lost Antofagasta, the Atacama desert and the sea coast in the Pacific War or the “Saltmine War”, [trans. note: The full alternative name was the Birdshit and Saltmine War] which went from 1879 to 1883. It was ended in 1883 with the signing of the Treaty of Ancón. In the Treaty, Bolivia lost land to Chile, and also Peru and Argentina. Peru, which annexed the Bolivian territory of Tacna and Arica, returned the saltmine provinces of Tarapacá and Arica to Chile. Argentina kept hold of the territories it had annexed.

To try to change present-day frontiers between countries, which have been settled by treaty and agreements favouring the winners, following wars and occupations, is not really doable. It would mean changes pretty much all over the world, which is absurd.

Also, Paraguay doesn’t have an ocean outlet either, just as, for example, countries such as Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, which hasn’t held back their development.

The ambition of the “Bolivian indigenous man who became president”, rejected by Chile, seems to be more a response to his “indigenous jingoism” policy, intended to gain support for his intention of putting himself forward again as a presidential candidate, something which was turned down in a referendum. Everything seems to indicate that the “indigenous” has enjoyed power so much that he wants to perpetuate it, intending to arrange a new referendum on something which the Bolivians have already decided.

Translated by GH

Talking With The Enemy / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 29 May 2017 —  Yes, General, on this point I entirely agree with you: “The enemy uses ever more sophisticated information weapons”. He clearly is the enemy; the one who stubbornly opposes all my people’s progress; the one who brazenly deprives them of their rights; who obliges them to live in misery; who lies to them with empty slogans, and without any sign of embarrassment, who embezzles their resources and squanders them on sectarian whims; who forcefully suppresses dissident voices, and who stoops to the vileness of dragging and hitting defenceless women without even respecting his own laws.

Thanks to terror enforced by brutality, firing squad and prison, these accomplished villains managed to take all the levers of power from the beginning of the 60’s, ending up ruining a country intended by nature to be prosperous, and today we can see how these awful people are sharing out what they have looted from my country. continue reading

Those terrible enemies of my people, General — used to their monopoly of lies — are the ones who  tremble with fear when light is thrown on the truth. But when things change — not thanks to them, but in spite of them — and there is something called progress and something inherent in human nature called free will, neologisms have appeared which don’t fit with absolutist jargon — words unintelligible to them, unpronounciable in the mouth of an enslaved people. Fully accessible, uncensored internet? OMG! Freedom of the press, freedom of assembly and association? Never! Among other licentiousness permitted by that cruel international capitalism which  surrounds us.

Because of the egotism, paranoia, cowardliness and stiffening of the mental joints on the part of those public enemies you mention, my country has just seen a string of excellent opportunities pass it by, offered by a North American president who broke with the approach of all his predecessors. Therefore, we can see how those same immoral people who yesterday barricaded themselves in, aluding to non-existent sirens of war, today climb back into the same trenches, hiding from the pipe of peace. When, in their arrogance, they decline to similarly hold out their hand, they show themselves once more to be against my people, like the incorrigible opportunists they have always been.

It’s precisely because of the pigheadedness of these enemy nonentities sitting in judgement over the Cuban people, General, that half of our harvests are still left to rot before they get to our tables, that a significant part of our fields continue to be covered by African marabú (a plant which is widespread in Cuba and seen as an intrusive pest) and another unjustifiable percentage left uncultivated while my country unnecessarily imports more than 1,700 million dollars worth of food a year – including, incredibly, part of its sugar requirement, while, as is well known, when these useless people arrived sixty years ago, Cuba was a net food exporter and the world’s biggest sugar exporter.

But it couldn’t be any other way in a country where two thirds of its businesses and corporations are run by military people who know nothing about the economy, but who, on the other hand, have been decorated, with honours, for their swindles and embezzlement. What I say, General, is that if an independent journalist can be imprisoned in Cuba because, according to the political police, “He does not have a degree in that profession, is not authorised by the government, nor registered in any agency recognised by the Cuban government”, then the same logic should be applied to those people, and all the Cuban military should be relieved of all civil positions and responsibilities, and should stick to their armed forces activities, the only area of influence they should exercise, given their exclusively military training.

All in all, General, it doesn’t happen very often, but this time you are quite right: right now, the best technology in the country is in the hands of the absolute enemy of the Cuban people. These people, wanting to firm up their unscrupulous strategies, have got broadband, every imaginable satellite connection, the latest cellphones, and unlimited resources for supplying legions of subnormal trolls / agents trying to create currents of opinion favourable to the dictatorship which supports them.

These enemies are the ones who control the ETECSA monopoly (Cuban telecoms company), which is seated like a merciless giant on the doorstep of all the poor people, and which imposes sky-high tariffs for poor telephone service, slow, expensive and censored internet, which is only accessible in the tropical sun on those sidewalks where you can get wi-fi. It’s the same people who bug and listen in to every conversation and message sent from and within Cuba, the same people who wipe your email intray, hack embarrassing websites and censor controversial pages.

But, can I tell you something, General? The fact remains that, for the enemies of my people, your time is up. And you know we can see your fear. The wave of uncontrolled violence against the peaceful opposition in my country during the last year shows your desperation. You know that my people have long since stopped loving you – if that’s what you can call something cooked up by lies. Now, definitely, they just hate you and fear you. That’s why this riff raff launches wave upon unmerciful wave of repression, because they know that fear is the only and last weapon they have left.

Fortunately, fear is a feeling which is phony, fleeting, and fades with time. Now, an ever-increasing part of my people has stopped being afraid of their tormentors and has decided no longer to bow down before the tyrants. But this personal liberation emits a dangerously contagious aura and the enemy knows it. And, although you try to look imperturbable, nevertheless your nervousness betrays you.

I deduce that you yourself have enemies like that. If you happen to bump into them, please tell them, in the name of the Cuban people, that this is the time for them to get out of our way. It’s necessary, and for your own good, General, that you know it too.

Translated by GH

Censorship / Regina Coyula

The filmmaker Miguel Coyula shooting. (Personal file MC)

Jorge Enrique Lage interviews Miguel Coyula (extracts) 6

[Miguel speaking]… I am against censorship, as we’ve seen what happened with that film in the Havana Film Festival in New York; it spreads beyond the geographical limits of the island for extra-artistic interests. I mean, politics touches everything.

The worsening of the position goes back to the censorship of the film El Rey se Muere (translated into English both as “Exit the King” and “The King is Dying”) in 2015. Many people defended Juan Carlos Cremata’s work, saying they did not believe that the censors would interpret the king as being Fidel. That is, they used the language of the government to try to address the problem, when it was clear that the reference point was him. What they should have said was “Yes, it’s Fidel. And what of it?” continue reading

To the extent that artists draw up their mental blueprint to go “as far as they can” there will never be a truly independent art form. It ends up affecting not just the content, but also the form.

Liberty has to be absolute, in order to be able to take risks, and to take off. Nothing can be sacred. At least, that’s how I see art. I’ve never been interested in being part of the political game, of religion, of the consumer society, or of drugs. It seems like a nothing, but a film-maker, interested in social or political issues, who cannot have one of his characters say “when are Fidel and Raul going to die?”, which is a such a common thing to say in Cuban homes, along with much more agressive variants on the theme, is symptomatic of a dysfunctional whole.

The artist documents his time, but, looking at Cuban films made in the island over the last seventy years, you’d think that no Cuban had ever asked that sort of question. Recently I was told, by way of advice: “You can fiddle with the chain, but not with the monkey, otherwise you are out of the game”. To which I replied: “Who said I see it as a game?”

It is essential that film producers are ready to completely defend their work,  because a half-assed attitude only gets you a slow-motion impact, which is inevitably reflected in subsequent works. You can’t give an inch.

But, returning to your question, the most recent case of censorship had to do with Nadie (Nobody), April 15th just gone, when the State Security and the PNR (National Revolutionary Police) blockaded the entrance to the El Circulo Gallery where they were going to show it. This censorship is not an institutional arrangement but a blatant governmental act, a complete invasion of a private space by way of a show of police force.

Many people outside Cuba ask me how can it be possible that no Cuban intellectual living in the island made any public protest about what happened. The film had its international premiere in the Dominican Global Film Festival, where it was awarded the Best Documentary prize, but it has been ignored by the island critics.

We don’t know if it’s good, or bad, or they were left feeling indifferent to it, or if, simply, they were afraid of writing about it, as it’s difficult to make a critical appraisal of Nadie without mentioning Fidel Castro. And, to this day, that’s the line almost no-one has dared to cross.The rock group Porno para Ricardo is one of the few who have dared to confront it, and, well, the price they have paid is that they are not allowed to play in Cuba.

Translated by GH

Cuba, Elections and Electoral Reform / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 4 June 2017 — The “electoral” process which will take place in Cuba between October 2017 and  February 2018 lacks any relevance. Raúl Castro’s replacement as president does not mean he is relinquishing power, as, up until 2021, he will occupy the position of Secretary of the Communist Party, which is, constitutionally, the top man in the society and the state.

For the elections to have any influence on social progress you would need an electoral reform which would re-establish sovereignty of the people and, although in February 2015 a new electoral law was announced, it was not mentioned in the meeting of 14 June 2017.

According to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from the joining together of those who wish to defend and protect their property emanates a general will to convert the cooperating parties into a collective political body.   The exercise of this general will is known as sovereignty and the people who do it are sovereign. continue reading

In Cuba the republican constitutions of 1901 and 1940 endorsed sovereignty as residing in the people, with all public powers flowing from that. In 1959, with the emerging of revolutionary power they promised they would hold elections “as soon as possible”. Seventeen years later, they enacted a law abolishing the sovereignty of the people. As long as this situation goes on in Cuba there will be no true elections.

In the year 2003, the total share of Cubans who did not go to vote and destroyed their voting papers was 6.09% of the electorate. In 2008 it went up to 7.73%, in 2013, 14.22% and in April 2015 was over 20%. That is to say 1,700,000 Cubans. In a totalitarian country without civic and political rights, these statistics demonstrate the need for a law that satisfies this part of the Cuban people. You can add to that those Cubans inclined to vote for opposition representatives – not legally recognised – as happened in the 2015 elections, when the opposition put up candidates in the Havana districts of Arroyo Naranjo and Plaza.

According to the Secretary of the unicameral Cuban parliament, in 2014, during the fourth round meetings where delegates give the electorate an accounting of what they have accomplished,  there were over 600 assemblies with fewer than half the electors present.

The present law limits the electorate’s direct voting to the Delegates of the Municipal Peoples’s Power assemblies, which may not exceed 50% of the total number of candidates. The other half is nominated by the Candidate Committees – made up of leaders of peoples’ organisations with the authority to include unelected people. Then, candidates for provincial and national positions are directly appointed by these committees. Therefore the Cuban parliament and government are the product of the decisions of these Candidate Committees, which are subordinate to the Communist Party, which cuts out the sovereignty of the people.

Transformations are needed in terms of rights – such as the right of association and a multi-party system – so that Cubans can take an active part in determining where their lives and the nation is going. Until that occurs, you can’t talk about true elections in Cuba and there is no indication that that will happen in the upcoming elections.

The absence of peoples’ power and the non-existence of the citizen as legal entity have been, and are, determining factors in the structural crisis of the Cuban model, which is reflected in  inefficient production, insufficient salaries, uncontrollable corruption, hopelessness and an unstoppable exodus.

Published in El Comercio, Lima, Peru.

Translated by GH

Without Water in Havana / Iván García

Photo: Havana Times

Iván García, 10 June 2017 — The heat is terrible. Not even a light breeze in the wide entry to Carmen Street, by Plaza Roja de la Vibora, thirty minutes from Havana centre.

Reinaldo, an old chap, depressed, seated on a wall facing the water tank of the building where he lives, waits for the water to flow.  “On the Havana Channel news they said that we will have water from six in the morning on Wednesday May 31st, until six in the evening”, he says without taking his eyes off the tank.

All his neighbours passing by ask him the same question. “Rey, has the water come on yet?”.  With a weary voice, the self-appointed water guard replies: “Not yet, but I’m sure it will in a minute”. continue reading

The neighbours don’t hide their ill-humour and vent their annoyance insulting the government’s performance. “These people (the government) are pricks.  How long do us Cubans have to put up with having our lives screwed up?” A retired teacher considers that “if they had kept the water pipes maintained, there wouldn’t have been any leaks”.

The official press tries to be positive. As always. It talks about “the efforts of the Havana water workers who are working 24 hours a day to repair the leaks”.

And they blow a smoke screen. “After the repair work the water pressure across the city will be a lot better”, says a spokesman on the radio in a tenor voice. But the man in the street is sceptical.

“When the government takes something from us, that’s the cherry on the cake. They snatched a pound of rice from each of us to give to Vietnam during the war. The Vietnam war finished 42 years ago, and now the Vietnamese are sending rice to us. The government never gave us back the pound of rice. That’s how it always is, they take us by the hand and run off. I am absolutely sure that, because of the fuel shortage and the drought, they will extend it to a three day water cycle in the capital”, is the angry opinion of a man who tells us he has a friend in Havana Water.

The negative rumours fly about. Some worse than others But few of them are good news. Emilio, from Santiago, visiting Havana,  tells us: “it’s worse for us in Santiago, my friend”. In the city centre it’s every eight days and on the outskirts every thirty or forty. All we’ve been able to do is learn to wash ourselves with half a bucket of water and walk around in dirty clothes, which get washed every two weeks.

Juan Manuel, a hydraulic engineer, explains that “the water problem in Havana is pretty complicated. Instead of new pipelines they have put in 748.6 km of old tubing. The company repairs one section, but then the water pressure damages a section which has not yet been repaired. On top of that there is the fact that their workmanship is not of the highest quality. And their old fashioned technology along with years of no maintenance complicate things further. It’s a complete waste of time.

A pipework and drainage specialist considers that “the government wants to improve the water quality and the pipe network. But they did no maintenance for decades. 60% of the water distributed through the capital leaks away. That figure has now fallen to 20%. It’s a complex task which needs millions of dollars and the government hasn’t got any money”.

In the last seven years, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have between them donated about 50 million dollars.  “But it’s not enough. Don’t forget that the problem of out of date water pipes and drainage is not only in Havana. It affects the whole country. It’s obviously the government’s fault. When things were going well, they didn’t provide the necessary resources. And now, with the economic crisis, the reduced quantity of oil coming from Venezuela, and the drought, have made it more difficult to sort out the problem”, said our specialist, and he adds:

“Ideally we need to completely change our water management strategy.  Introduce renewable sustainable recycling methods for the water supply and for dirty water. Build a new aqueduct for sea water desalination and increase the existing capacity.

There are various water distributors in Havana. The main ones are  Albear Aqueduct, opened in 1893, the Conductora Sur, and El Gato. But, because of the deterioration of various sections of pipework, there are frequent fractures.

The water supply varies from one part of the city to another. In some parts they get water every day, at specific times. In most other places, on alternate days. And in different districts on the outskirts you get a three or four days’ supply.

The deficit in the precious liquid leads the Habaneros to increase their  water storage capacity by using tanks constructed without worrying about technical specifications or guaranteeing its drinking quality or ensuring they are protected against becoming breading zones for the Aedes Aegypti mosquito which spreads dengue and chikungunya.

“If you extend the water cycle in Havana, you increase the extent of stagnant water without adequate protection and increase the risk of insect-spread disease and get more rats. With less hygiene and reservoirs containing contaminated water you open the door to epidemics “, is the point made by an official of Hygiene and Epidemiology.

But the biggest worry for families like José’s, with his wife and three children, is having enough water to take a shower and run the toilet. In this heat, their mother has to wash with half a bucket of water and she cant flush the toilet”, José tell us.

Some places have it worse. Regla, a pensioner who lives in a run-down room  in a plot in Old Havana, the same as 170 thousand families in the capital, hasn’t received drinkable water in her home for years. “I pay 100 pesos to a water seller for him to fill two 55 gallon tanks which I have in my room. That lasts me a week usually. But with the water crisis, the man put up the price to 160 pesos. And I only get a coupon book for 200 pesos”.

The price charged by the water tanker trucks  has also shot up. “When there are no supply problems, a tanker charges 30 CUC. Now you have to pay 40 or 50 CUC. But you don’t get any, even for ready money,” is what the proprietor of a cafe selling local specialities tells us.

Food business owners have had to shut at certain hours because of the lack of water. “I hope they sort it out quickly, because sales have gone up 200%, as many people prefer to eat in the street so as to save water in their houses” says the self employed man.

According to the government media, water distribution will be back to normal on Thursday June 1st. But lots of Habaneros don’t believe it. ” They have lied to us so often that when they tell the truth, you always doubt it”, says Reinaldo, the guy living in La Vibora, who, from early morning on waits by the tank for the water to flow.

On June 1st precisely, the government announced an extraordinary session of the National Assembly of People’s Power, Cuba’s parliament. The Cuban in the street suspects that there will be more economic stringencies and they will be obliged to tighten their belts. Again.

Translated by GH

The Cuban Government, Complicit in Corruption and Peddling Favours / Iván García

Cuban bodega (ration store). From AvaxNews.

Iván García, 26 MAY 2017 — Ideology is no longer the most important consideration if you want to get an administrative position in Cuba’s chaotic business and commercial network. They only ask you to do two things: fake support for the autocracy and show loyalty to government business.

If you have both these qualities, they will remove any common offences from your work record. Nor is it a problem if you frequently beat your wife or drink more rum than you should.

Human qualities are no longer a priority if you want to have a job in a company management team or join the ranks of the Communist Party. continue reading

Let’s call him Armando. He has always worked in internal trade. “It’s all been run down. Starting with the beginning of the Revolution. In the food and internal trade sector, the biggest wastes of space have occupied key positions. The employment culture is asphyxiating, like being in a prison. Money, extortion, nepotism and witchcraft are more important that professional qualifications and personal qualities”.

After letting his life go down the drain, what with getting into trouble, involving knives, robberies, public disorder, Armando decided to get himself back on track when his son was born. “I spent most of my youth and adolescence in the clink. With a family to support, I have to look at things differently. I have no family in the States who could get me out of here. I had to learn how to play the system. With the help of a friend, after paying him 300 chavitos (CUC), I got a bodega [ration store] for my wife and managed to include myself in the staff as an assistant to the storekeeper”.

After a year and a half, his wife started the process of joining the party. “She knows nothing about politics, but in Cuba having a red card opens doors for you. My next goal is to ’buy’ a bodega just for me.”

According to Armando, for 400 CUC you can get a bodega with lots of customers. “The more people buy things in your store, the more options you have to make money. In six months or a year, depending on your contacts with truck drivers and people running warehouses, you can recoup your investment”.

Although the neighbourhood bodegas have seen a reduction in the distribution of goods being issued through the ration books, various storekeepers have said that, in spite of that, they are still making money.

“It’s not like thirty years ago, when we had 25 different products delivered to the bodegas. You don’t get rich, but you can support your family. You can do two things: cheat on weighing, and buy foreign made things and sell them on to owners of private businesses or direct to customers”, admits a storekeeper with forty years’ experience.

If there is a robbery in a state-owned food centre or bodega, the boss or storekeeper has to meet the loss. “A little while ago, they stole several boxes of cigars and bags of coffee. I didn’t even report it. I paid about 4 thousand pesos for the loss and coughed up nearly another 200 CUC have new bars fitted and improvements to the security of the premises”, said a storekeeper

An official dealing with these things emphasises that, “When a robbery occurs, the first suspect is the storekeeper. It’s an unwritten law of business. If you get robbed, you should pay up and shut up, because police investigations usually uncover more serious problems”.

Naturally, in high-turnover food stores and markets you pay weekly bribes to the municipal managers. The manager of a state pizzeria explains: “The amounts vary with sales level. The more you sell, the more you have to send upstairs. At weekends I send an envelope with 1,500 Cuban pesos and 40 CUC to the municipal director, as I sell in both currencies”.

This hidden support network, of mafia-like construction, at the same time as it offers excellent profit on the back of State merchandise, also generates a de facto commitment to the government.

“It’s what happens in any important government activity. Whether it’s tourism, commerce, or import-export. The money comes from embezzlement, irregular financial dealings and corrupt practices. One way or another, the present system feeds us. It all comes together, as a kind of marriage of convenience. I let you do your thing, as long as you let me do mine”, is a sociologist’s opinion.

Raúl Castro has tried to sort things out, and designated Gladys Bejerano as Controller General of the Republic. “Successes have been partial. They get rid of one focus of corruption but leave others or change the way they work. If you were to arrange a thorough clean up of the network of government-run businesses, the system would break down. Because, like the bloodsuckers, they feed off other peoples’ blood”, explains an ex-director of food services.

Essentially, what is left of socialism in Cuba is a pact. In its attempt to survive, Castroism violates Marxist principles and, in place of loyalty, accepts that Catholics, Santeria priests and masons can enter the Communist Party.

In the business sector there is a different idea. Embezzlement in return for applause. In that way, not much is being stolen – kind of.

Translated by GH