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

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

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

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

Street Sense / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

COWBOY POET Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

It’s called  Street Sense,  which is sort of like El Sentido de la Calle in Spanish, which is a much better title than any Cuban magazine or newspaper has got; and that obviously includes the ones published abroad.

It comes out fortnightly in Washington D.C., which isn’t just the capital of the empire, but it’s also North America’s Homelessness Central. I have never seen so many homeless as I have here. Mostly, they are in the subway stations, where they take up residence according to some kind of timetable, and where, according to Wikipedia,  they have the world’s longest escalators. But I also see them out in the open, exposed to the dreadfully cold springtime rain. And, before that, out in the worst of this city’s infinite winter.

You never come across the same homeless people, not even if you pass by the same place two thousand times. They have either moved, or they have died. No other possibility.

Many of these humble homeless guys get published in Street Sense. Those of them who have not been eaten up by hate, crime or illness. Those who have retained enough mental clarity and nobility of spirit. Those who are trying, as best they can, to get back into the machine that once vomited them out, or who were crushed by it, possibly because they tried to resist the hypocritical mediocrity which comes with any kind of success. Continue reading

Children Screaming / Armando Anel, Luis Felipe Rojas

About 30 members of the Cuban opposition,belonging to the illegal Partido Popular Republicano, throwing flowers into the sea in memory of the victims of the tugboat “13 de Marzo”. Archive photo (martinoticias.com)

By Armando Añel

What happened can be briefly summarised: on July 13th 1994 – 17 years ago today – at the crack of dawn, 72 people tried to escape from the island in a tug. When they were some 12 km from the coast of Havana, three other tugs charged the vessel, spraying high pressure water jets over its occupants. In succession they targetted the 13 de Marzo – which was now flooded – until it gave up the ghost, broke up and sank, with a total of 41 fatal victims, 23 of them children, including a 6 month old baby.

Up to now, the Castro government has not shown the slightest willingness to clarify what, from the start, it termed “an accident”. In the Granma daily newspaper, ten days after it sank, an article appeared – signed by Guillermo Cabrera Alvarez – where it said that, among other things, “a group of company workers took direct action to defend its interests. They informed the Coastguard of the crime and took it upon themselves to prevent them getting away.” Earlier, the same newspaper had argued that “in order to obstruct the theft (referring to taking the 13 de Marzo towboat), three MITRANS boats tried to intercept it, and while they were manoeuvring in order to achieve that, the unfortunate accident occurred, in which the vessel sank.” Continue reading

About The Matter of Academic Fraud in Havana / Jeovany Jimenez Vega

University Entrance Exam in Mathematics to be Repeated in Havana

It happened several years ago and it’s now one of those open secrets that even the kids know about: the bribery of teachers and professors at all levels of teaching has ended up being, as a result of habituation, something almost folkloric; and although it would be unfair to tar the innocent and the guilty with the same brush, it was certainly worth while having fired off warning shots about a matter which has reached scandalous proportions, all the more so for having had the public spotlight shone on it, in view of the terrible moral consequences, with implications for all of us.

We are not always talking about bribery in the form of straightforward cash. There is a whole range of resources available to the brown-nosers and ostentatious people to achieve their objective and once the target teacher has been singled out all you have to do is study his needs and specific tastes in order to fire the shot, which could be delicious snacks, made to measure clothes, expensive perfumes or exclusive invitations, for example. Continue reading

Travel Insurance is not a Trustworthy Contract / Edilio Hernandez Herrera, Cuban Law Association

Lic. Edilio Hernández Herrera

A few years ago, some friends encouraged me to taik about travel insurance for tourists coming to Cuba. What they cover, how the guarantee limits work, legal quality and certainty, which provisions are legally and objectively reclaimable.

This subject arose in relation to a retired gentleman, who was ill and as his family in New Jersey were unable to look after him properly for reasons of employment, they arranged things with family members in our country; retired people and student grand-daughter included, in order to make his treatment more effective and human, so that he could recover. They paid his very expensive insurance and additional costs for his stay in Cuba for a period of six months.

He began to run short of medicines, reagents, and vehicles to transport him about, etc. I don’t want to go into detail, to safeguard the family’s privacy. But the bottom line is: the sentimental grandfather left before three months was up. Continue reading

Wait, There’s Nothing Else To Do / Juan Juan Almeida

Some days ago they announced the closure to all traffic of the route over the “iron bridge”, the swing bridge in the city of Havana, which links the Municipal Square with the beach. Because yesterday they started, or at least that´s what they said, some capital maintenance works; the first ones in 55 years. The intention is to put back in order both the physical operation of the bridge, and also its appearance.

What I recall is that, some time ago, quite some time ago, because of the extensive damage to the bridge´s elements, it was necessary to limit it to only pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles, because of its bad state.

Now, all we can do is wait, and see if they will really will do what they promise, or if it´s just another superficial paint-job.

Translated by GH

17 June 2014

They Taught Us to Lie, Rob and Pretend / Gladys Linares

HAVANA, Cuba – Very often we hear the officials of the Ministry of Education stress our country´s successes in this field from 1959 onwards, and we ask ourselves how can they possibly talk about this without the slightest shame, ignoring the profound loss of values confronting Cuban society, when even Raúl Castro, on July 7, 2013 at the 1st ordinary session of the 8th Term of the National Assembly of Popular Power recognised that for the more than twenty years of the Special Period “there has been an acceleration of the decline of moral and civic values such as honesty, decency, shame, respect. honour, and an absence of sensitivity toward other peoples´problems.”

With these words he recognised that the destruction of Cuban society did not start in the Special Period. What happened is that, from the start of the totalitarian Castro dictatorship, Cubans have had to lie, be dishonest, distort childrens´ education and many other things in order to survive.

Now they say that the school and the family are fundamental in the development of the citizen, but for many years they have not cared about the training and care of the educators. In Cuba, before 1959, they had achieved great advances in public education, and although even more effort was needed to deal with the serious deficiencies in rural education, our schools were forming professionals capable of improving the culture and education of our people.

While it is true that the literacy campaign was an important event in the fight against illiteracy, not everything was wheat, because at the same time a difficult period was starting for Cuban teachers.

With the intention of imposing an educational system which would answer to the interests of the new government, they introduced the law nationalising teaching and set up a unitary educational system under the pretext that the schools we inherited were schools which tended to serve the “spurious” interests of imperialism. Those teachers who were against this were removed from education. The Kindergarten “Normal” Schools, as well as the “Normal” schools for teachers, disappeared, and distinct programmes started up for turning young people into a new type of teacher, like the voluntary teachers (who took intensive courses in the Sierra Maestra). the Makarenko teachers and, more recently, the emerging teachers.

In 1975, in view of the scarcity of teachers, they started the Teacher Training Schools, where 6th grade pupils entered, and which functioned until 1990. These schools started up again in the 2010-2011 academic year, now with 9th grade pupils. There are 22 in the country and this year will be the first graduation.

This is the way they improvised teaching: with kids, adolescents and young people without either the teaching experience, nor the necessary knowledge to carry out the complete activity of teaching and educating.

At the same time, the arbitrary programmes applied in the system, like the boarding schools in the country, where the students had to devote a part of their day to farm labour, separated the children and young people from their families at decisive stages in their upbringing, which accentuated the loss of values.

Also, during all those years, there was the continuous exodus of teachers, driven by the low salaries (no more than 400 Cuban pesos a month, less than twenty dollars U.S.), as well as the poor teaching methods, which impacted on their professional evaluation, and the very bad working conditions.

Nowadays the Cuban school is characterised by the absenteeism of pupils and teachers, by the inappropriate form of dress and way of addressing each other, and also some teachers frequently use obscene words to control the students. And we can´t avoid mentioning the deterioration of the state of the facilities.

As a result of all this, the recent scandal about fraud in the maths exams to enter higher education was no surprise, which came to light when the echoes of the previous case were still reverberating, in relation to the maths test for the eleventh grade the previous year. And the worst of it was everyone knows these weren´t the only incidents, just the ones which were made public. And, sadly, I would dare to say that they won´t be the last. I hope I´m mistaken.

Cubanet, 6 June 2014, Gladys Linares

Translated by GH

Travelling by Tram / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso | La Habana | 1 Jun 2014 –- My generation used trams when we were kids and early adolescents. After that they disappeared, to be replaced by English Leyland buses, supplied by Autobuses Modernos, known as “nurses” because they were white with a blue stripe running along the bodywork, which looked like the white uniform with a blue cape, which nurses wore.

A Havana tramway token: “Good for one journey” (FD)

Taking a ride on a tram was a whole experience in itself, with its hard basket seats, its wooden windows which you could slide up and down, and the motorman and conductor – that’s what they called the fare collector – with their ’20’s style uniforms, trying to connect the end of the  trolley pole with the electric wires, pulling on two ropes, when the pole had become detached after going too fast around a bend. Continue reading

Internet in Cuba: A Success in Spite of Everything / Ivan Garcia

CUBA-INTERNET ACCESSEight in the morning. On the ground floor of the Focsa building  – Cuba’s Empire State – on M between 17 and 19 Vedado, in a shop between the Guiñol theatre and a beaten-up bar at the entrance to the Scherezada club, a queue of about 15 people are waiting to enter the internet room.

It is one of 12  in Havana. They are few, and badly distributed for a city with more than two and a half million inhabitants. In El Vedado and Miramar there are four, two in each neighbourhood. Nevertheless, 10 de Octubre, the municipality with the most inhabitants in the island, doesn’t have any at all.

Poorer municipalities like San Miguel, Cotorro and Arroyo Naranjo (the metropolitan district with the greatest incidence of acts of violence in the country), don’t have anywhere to connect  to the internet either.

On June 4, 2013, they opened 118 internet rooms for the whole island. According to an ETECSA (Telecommunications Company of Cuba) official, around 900,000 users have accessed the service. Not very impressive figures. Continue reading

Cuba: Its Silent Conquest of Venezuela / Ivan Garcia

Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in one of their many meetings in Havana. From La Vanguardia

February 2006. Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez in one of their many meetings in Havana. From La Vanguardia

Not in his wildest dreams did Fidel Castro think he would gain political control of and derive economic benefit from a nation nine times bigger than Cuba, with two and a half times the population and with the biggest oil reserves on the planet.

Cuba’s ideological colonisation of Venezuela could go down in history as a work of art in terms of political domination. The bearded chap never ceases to surprise us.

He wasn’t a minor autocrat. For better or worse, he was always a political animal. Charlatan, student gangster and manipulator, and always audacious.

He showed his clear inability to create riches and establish a solid and coherent economy. Before he came to power, at the point of a rifle in January 1959, Cuba was the second largest economy in Latin America. Continue reading

Leaving / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

At 7 past 7 in the morning of 5 March 2013, yesterday, I left my wooden house where I had lived all my life, to go to José Martí airport. I spent the whole night copying things on a few flashdrives. And deleting evidence of my ever-more-obvious work as a dissident and counter-revolutionary.

Of course I copied texts, which don’t take up much space, of which I had thousands, mine and other peoples’. I copied photos, which do take up a lot of space and aren’t worth the trouble. I copied what I could in those pendrives which would constitute all my work from that Tuesday onwards. Those gigabytes will be my oblivion and my eternity. My portable homeland, my body, my lack of spirit. My illusion that the journey was not true.  I did not want the journey to become true with the passage of time. But it did. Better that way.

I left everything I loved on top of my bedsheets. My mother still hasn’t changed the bed clothes, she tells me every so often on the phone: a white and yellow bedcover, knitted in 1934 by my paternal grandmother, the Andalucian lady who was born at the end of the 19th century. Continue reading

The Biggest / Fernando Damaso

I read in the official press: the biggest workers’ parade in the world. How wonderful! Congratulations! But I ask myself: how does this help Cubans on a day-to-day basis?  Does it resolve any of their many problems? Maybe it would be better, although without trying to be the biggest or highest, to improve the GDP (Gross Domestic Product), and production, productivity and quality of what little we make, increase our present salaries and miserable pensions, sort out the shortage of houses, and carry out maintenance on the ones that do exist, perfect our health care and education systems, repair our streets and avenues, ensure the regular supply of water and the proper working of the drainage network, and lots of things besides. Continue reading