Ivan Garcia, 20 June 2016 — The choice facing Yolexis was simple. Either he studied teaching, or he would have to do two years in the armed forces. At the age of 18, he couldn’t think of anything worse than putting on an olive-green uniform and marching around for hours in the hot sun.
So, he decided to study to become a teacher in the east of Havana. “To be a teacher in Cuba is the last card in the deck. My parents told me that, before the triumph of the Revolution, to be a teacher was a source of pride in society. Now, to be a teacher is just shitty”, says Yolexis, who, because of the shortage of primary teachers in the capital, gives classes without proper academic training. Continue reading “Poor Quality Teaching in Cuba Leads to Expenses and Bribes / Iván García”
Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 6 June 2016 — In recent weeks, the world has taken a great interest in the scandalous revelations of the Panama Papers. Millions of documents have revealed the shady side of celebrities, politicians and leaders in every region and of all political colours. And, of course, a government as chameleon-like as Cuba’s was not going to be an amazing exception, the missing condiment in this soup.
The very serious revelation that the Castros’ government and its Venezuelan counterpart contracted the services of a German business, by way of the Mossack Fonseca law firm — trying in that way to not appear tied in with such unsavoury accomplices — to arrange the production of the current version of the Venezuelan passport, and the subsequent control over the distribution of this document since then by Havana, has been the most embarrassing thing that has been revealed by these documents about the island’s government. Continue reading “Cuba, a Tax Haven for the Untouchables / Jeovany Jimenez Vega”
Fernando Damaso, 17 May 2016 — In the few available spaces for people to express their opinions in the official Cuban media (letters to the editor of “Granma,” “Rebellious Youth,” a page of “Workers”, “Ordinary People Talking” on Havana Channel, “Cuba Says” on Cubavision, and others), they complain about and attack useless, bureaucratic, irresponsible and lazy officials, who don’t do what they’re supposed to do and let problems mount up and increase. The editors of these spaces are no better. The criticisms are not forwarded, but remain stuck at square one. They are rarely sent on to the relevant government ministries or organisations. It seems that these deplorable events only occur because of officials’ mistakes, since, higher up, everything is perfect and there is no responsibility for any of it. Continue reading “Harsh Reality / Fernando Dámaso”
Ivan Garcia, 23 May 2016 — It was a warm autumn night in 2015. The Mikasuki casino, in a swamp in the Everglades, thirty minutes from downtown Miami, was crammed full of anxious people, frantically pressing buttons on the slot-machine screen.
Ivan Garcia, 27 May 2016 — As of three weeks ago there have been power cuts of up to three hours in different parts of Havana. Sometimes longer.
“Friday, April 29 in Altahabana (a neighbourhood in the southeast of the city), the power was cut off from eleven at night until four-thirty in the morning. Because of the heat, I spent the whole night waving a fan over my eight-month-old baby. Two days earlier, there was a three-hour outage in the afternoon,” I was told by Magda, who works at Comercio Interior.
Ivan Garcia, 19 May 2016 — The raindrops tinkle on the zinc roof of a greasy hut used to store sacks of fertilizer, agricultural tools, and the various ancient contraptions that are always be a nuisance to keep in the house.
Osvaldo, the sixty-five-year-old owner of a farm southeast of Havana, calmly takes a drag on a cigarette butt, scratches his head with his thick fingers, which look like twisted meat hooks, and asks his son, “Where the hell have you left the wrench to open the water pump?” Then, once the engine has been started, he runs through the rain back to the entrance of his house. Continue reading “Why Cuban Agriculture Is Inefficient / Iván García”
This manual is the result of a collaboration between the Interparliamentary Union, a world-wide parliamentary organisation, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), with the support of the International Red Cross Movement and the Luna Roja Media.
On all five continents, parents, brothers, spouses, are children are desperately seeking family members, about whom they have no news. Families and communities, who don’t know what has happened to their loved ones, cannot move on from the violence which has disrupted their lives. Continue reading “Missing People / Dora Leonor Mesa”
Fernando Damaso, 10 May 2016 — “There is really no spectacle more hateful than that of servile talents.” (José Martí, Complete Works, Volume 13, Page 158, Cuban National Press.) I wanted to start these lines with this thought of the Apóstol [Cubans refer to Martí in this way], as many of our intellectuals, some of them with famous names, have joined the flock of government sheep, without having any need to do so, taking an active part in its campaigns of disinformation and manipulation of the people, going so far as to commit acts of violence against those who think differently to them, and demonstrating an aggressiveness which is foreign to them and does not fit well with their personalities. Continue reading “Servile Talents / Fernando Dámaso”
Ivan Garcia, 1 May 2016 — Guillermo tries to run away, to avoid the stones the kids are throwing at him, as if he were a doll stuck on a target, but his legs, which are atrophied and beginning to go gangrenous because of his diabetes, can’t respond to the urgent messages from his brain.
So he tries to hide behind some small bushes, but the stones keep flying around his head. It’s four in the afternoon on a normal day in La Vibora, and, without anything better to do, the pair of youngsters do their target practice with an old man of over 80 who can hardly support himself on his crutches.
Ivan Garcia, 2 April 2016 — The dilapidated old house where the Varona family lives, in the Lawton district of Havana, could serve very well as a set for a television series about marginalisation and violence.
The front wall cries out for a coat of paint. Cracked roof tiles threaten to fall off. And inside, the house is subdivided into seven small apartments.
Agustín, one of tenants, has an informal business selling building materials. Therefore he has been able to improve his apartment with Italian ceramic floor tiles, build a tiny bathroom with a modern shower and hot and cold running water. Continue reading “Broken Families in Cuba / Iván García”
Ivan Garcia, 22 March 2016 — Just when Air Force One landed at 2 pm at the Andrew military base on the way to Havana, forty-six Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) walked in file along the central promenade of 5th Avenue, with photos, placards with slogan against the autocracy, and photos of political prisoners.
Starting eleven months ago, every Sunday, these women take part in a march which always ends in blows, detentions and insults between Castro supporters, and the opposition.
Ivan Garcia, Havana, 23 March 2016 — Three hours before Obama delivered his speech in the Alicia Alonso Gran Teatro in Havana, while he was having his breakfast of bread and butter and cold lemonade in a private cafe in La Vibora, Anselmo shared ideas with a friend as to what matters the President of the United States would deal with in his address.
“You will see that the man will talk about the lack of democracy and human rights. This chap is not an idiot like Pope Francis or the President of France. He’s going to announce new things”, he said. Continue reading “Goodbye, Obama / Iván García”
Fernando Damaso, 5 March 2106 — Poor taste and anti-aesthetics have spread across the whole country. Havana is an excellent example of this. None of its suburbs or districts have been able to avoid it. In Nuevo Vedado, in Tulipán Street, between Marino and Estancia Streets, an African-Cuban religious-cultural centre has been put up, made out of waste materials which, instead of embellishing the location, has made it ugly. Apart from making everybody who passes it miserable, with its profusion of flags, full-size unartistic figures, worthless paintings and aggressive and dangerous metal sheets, it also afflicts its neighbours with music from early morning until late at night.
If it had belonged to any individual, the Planning Authority would have ordered its demolition by now, and would have ordered them to open up those sections of Marino and Estancia Streets, between Tulipán and Lombillo Streets to vehicular and pedestrian traffic, both of which have been closed and appropriated for its private use by the Ministries of Transport and Construction.
There is a repeat of the problem in the ramshackle facilities for the farmers’ market in Tulipán Street on the corner of Protestante, where poor taste and anti-aesthetics are also on display, made even worse by the dirty environment at that location.
It seems that urban regulations don’t apply equally to all situations, and that there are some strange “exceptions.”
*Translator’s note: Marabou is an invasive weed that has spread across much of Cuba’s agricultural land.
Ivan Garcia, 26 February 2016 — In a hospital in East Caracas, a bronze plaque records:”To the medical workers who died in Bolivarian lands while doing their duty”, as if they had fallen in battle.
But they didn’t die in combat. They were victims of the street violence which has converted Venezuela into a slaughterhouse with the highest crime rate in the world. In April 2010, which was the last time the Venezuelan government reported on the matter, 68 Cuban doctors had died for that reason.
For doctors like Jorge (the names of the people interviewed have been changed), Venezuela was a nightmare. “I spent two years in a slum in Cerros de Caracas. Early in the morning you could hear fights and gunfire. It seemed like the wild west. The embassy advised us not to go out in the street at night. I have never felt so afraid. Not even during the war in Angola”. Continue reading “The Business of Exporting Cuban Medical Services / Ivan Garcia”
Luis Felipe Rojas, 28 January 2016 — Patricia Jaramilla is a Colombian lady, whose composure helped her write What the hell do they want? — an independent production, which isn’t a manual, but a “code for women,” which is the subtitle of the text which she gave me as a present a few months ago.
We are talking about an energetic and relaxed writer, who produced a book in order that men could once and for all understand what it is they want. These are the times of the best sellers and not all works go the same way, or at the same speed, but this one promises to be a super best-seller, coming from an “indie” writer. Continue reading “What Women Want / Luis Felipe Rojas”