Broken Families in Cuba / Iván García

A Cuban family (X bit labs Community)
A Cuban family (X bit labs Community)

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”

His room has a heavy Samsung Split air conditioner. Opposite the bed is a tiled table with a microwave, induction cooker and a two-door fridge.

The rest of the apartments are absolute ruins, with dirty old beds, but other bedrooms have been treated with grouting. On shelves on the wall, tacky plastic ornaments and empty rum bottles. And, of course, every room secured with bars on the windows and doors.

“It’s to avoid being robbed, which is common here. Hardly anyone speaks to us. Some of them are trying to legalise their place as a separate dwelling. There are various ration books. And when the people come to fumigate the mosquitos it’s a shambles, because not everyone is at home, or they don’t allow them to fumigate. The atmosphere is like a prison, but I’ve got nowhere else to live,” admits Agustín.

Of the sixteen people who live in the house, twelve of them have family ties through their mother or father. The quarrels range from obscene shouting, punch-ups, up to fighting with machetes.

“It’s like a jungle. People get beaten up for anything, because someone has eaten up the bread ration, or stolen a piece of chicken from the fridge,” says Raisa, who lives in this jungle with her husband and daughter.

There are three refrigerators in what was the living room of the house. They all have padlocks, as if they contained valuables. In the neighbourhood they call them Los Muchos. “When they start their fights, you don’t know when they’ll finish. They have set up a protocol in the block. When the insults start, a neighbour informs the police,” a neighbour tells us.

These degrading spectacles form part of the neighbourhood entertainment. “These fights make people want to grab a front-row seat. They are more entertaining than TV soaps, and some fights are more enjoyable than a boxing match programme,” a neighbour told us.

You might think this is an isolated case. It isn’t. Too many Cuban families have split up for silly little things, ideologies or marital conflicts.

When Fidel Castro seized power at gunpoint, a large number of families began to break up. “There were examples of brothers who fought at the Bay of Pigs or in Escambray on different sides. Families who stopped talking to each other, writing or accepting phone calls from family members in Florida just for thinking differently. The government owes a public apology to these broken families,” said Carlos, a sociologist.

For reasons of economic necessity, when they got married, Sergio and Margot agreed to accept money and food and clothing parcels from their daughter Yanira, a prostitute who married an Italian in 1994.

“Before my sister left, my parents broke off contact with her. Then, when she went off to Italy, they said that as far as they were concerned, their daughter was dead. My parents were, and still are, intransigent communists. But, when the ’Special Period’ started, with twelve hours of power cuts and an extreme shortage of food, the old people relented. And now they are living off the euros and things sent them by my sister. She comes every summer and arranges a party in the doorway of the house of the president of the CDR (Committee for the Defence of the Revolution),” explains Ramsés, Yanira’s brother.

The other problem suffered by many families is domestic violence and marital arguments in front of their kids. “Cases of mistreatment of women are frequent. Most of them, because they are ashamed, don’t report them. But I believe that right now, domestic violence is the number one category of crime in Cuba,” said a police inspector in Havana.

These dysfunctional family members are the germ of the perfect storm of the decline of values in Cuba. Until the autocrat Raúl Castro launches a crusade to end it. They run from, for example, vulgar speech, bad manners and lack of courtesy, up to drunks boozing on street corners and then urinating in the street.

For the sociologist Carlos, this degradation “is a terrible anthropological damage. Developing the economy and rebuilding the country should be simpler. But poor education, violence and lack of respect for your neighbour’s private space will be difficult to remedy.”

And it is not the fault of the US embargo.

Appeared in:  Hispanopost, 30 de marzo de 2016.

Translated by GH

The Repression Obama Did Not See in Havana / Iván García

Some 46 Ladies in White who on Sunday, March 20th, were removed by force from Gandhi Park and subsequently arrested by members of the Ministry of the Interior in uniform and plainclothes. (Source: Nuevo Herald)
Some 46 Ladies in White who on Sunday, March 20th, were removed by force from Gandhi Park and subsequently arrested by members of the Ministry of the Interior in uniform and plainclothes. (Source: Nuevo Herald)

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.

Nearly thirty foreign journalists, accredited to cover Obama’s visit, arrived at the Santa Rita church to see what would be the olive green regime’s strategy in relation to the resolute Ladies in White. Continue reading “The Repression Obama Did Not See in Havana / Iván García”

But, let’s take a look back. After midday on Saturday 19th, Yamilé Garro, a member of the group led by Berta Soler, was in the kitchen, in he group´s base in the Lawton district, a half hour from central Havana by car, two pans of white rice, hot dogs and peeling different things to eat for lunch.

In the living room, spread around among three easy chairs, various women were watching the television. In the hallway some others were playing dominos or simply chatting. You wouldn´t notice the tension in the group. They were hiding it.

When night fell, Victoria Macchi, an Argentinian journalist working for the VOA (Voice of America News). and I decided to stay and spend the night with the women in their redoubt in the south of Havana.

Ángel Moya, Berta Soler´s husband, has been an opponent of the Castro regime for twenty years. He has visited prisons, more often than he would have wanted to, In Oriundo de Jovellanos, an area in Matanzas province east of Havana.

When, along with another seventy-four dissidents and independent journalists, he was sentenced to many years in jail in the spring of 2003 by the autocrat Fidel Castro, his punishment laid the way for women, who were housewives, professionals or workers, to create the Ladies in White.

Apart from their differences of points of view, that group symbolises resistance in a society which does not respect political freedom and which confuses democracy with personal loyalties.

The original group now has splinter groups, and what is probably the only flag-waver for present-day Cuban dissidence has been the recipient of painful slights and insults.

Most of these women are not intellectuals and don´t feel comfortable in front of a microphone. But when they speak of their daily lives and the abuse they suffer from the political police, it is difficult to remain indifferent.

Many of them live in dreadful concrete houses with tiled roofs or in disgusting hostels. Perhaps it is difficult for them to find the exact words to describe what is happening in the country. But when it comes to courage, they are the equal of anybody.

Margarita Barberá, age 71, is the oldest of them. “And she has been leaving for the last eight years,” gossips a fat dark-skinned woman with a low voice and a ready laugh. The youngest is a 17-year-old called Roxana Moreno.

The march on Sunday, March 20th, will be their first. In the morning another four foreign journals showed up. Together we headed to Santa Rita Church.

Like it fell from the sky, a P-3 bus appeared, totally empty. “State Security has prepared for us. Although sometimes they take us straight to the dungeon,” said Moya.

In Miramar, another “phantom” bus signed for the P-1 route parked, without passengers. Berta Solar is somewhat surprised. “Are they not going to repress this Sunday because of Obama’s arrival?” she asks, but the response is immediate.

“I doubt it, they won’t go against their nature,” she says. Already, in Mahatma Gandhi Park on 5th Avenue and 22nd Street, there’s a brawl right in the street.

Three repressors from the special services are furiously beating the independent journalist Lazaro Yuri Valle Roca. Two of them pick him up and put him in a Russian-made Lada, while and with private plates.

The foreign reporters run with their cameras to film the scene. Later, after the end of the Mass, the group files along the central promenade of 5th Avenue, the only place in Cuba where the government allows dissent, and heads down 22nd Street headed toward Third, the place of the violence.

Around 250 people, between workers in the area and paramilitaries, advised by State Security officials, beat them with impunity and deployed a lamentable verbal lynching.

These are the famous “acts of repudiation.” A sad achievement of Fidel Castro’s Revolution. An apparently popular method of canceling the will of “the other.” Of annulling it. Of intimidation.

When the populace tires of the brawling and shouting that the Ladies in White are “mercenaries,” the police pretends to intervene to prevent the feast of violence from continuing.

A grey-haired man, stocky, who calls himself Romulo, tried to convince two foreign journalists that “these opponents are invented by the United States, they are criminals and mercenaries.”

“And because of this can can’t demand political rights?” I ask. “Since the Triumph of the Revolutions we Cubans have had all the political rights we need,” he responds.

“And why do they arrest and beat them?” I inquire. “Well,” he says hesitantly,” because they violate the laws with their public scandals,”

“And why don’t they also arrest the other side who are also screaming and beating?” I delve more deeply.

Lacking arguments he looks at me like I’m a freak, and says, “Which side are you?” and walks away. A former official of the Ministry of the Interior, who at least is present, says that because of “those lunatics (the opponents), the State spends some hundred thousand pesos every Sunday on fuel, blocking off streets, mobilizing the workers and diverting buses from public service.”

“Wouldn’t it be simpler if these people didn’t follow anyone, according to the government, leaving them to fight their own battles?” The man shut up without answering. The fourth bus, two ambulances and numerous patrol cars took 46 Ladies in White and 13 men to the dungeons.

When Air Force One landed in Havana, perhaps Obama’s advisors in Cuba mentioned the incident. It raises several questions. Will the president of the United States hold Raul Castro responsible for the repeated violations of human rights? He probably will, but without offering details.

Obama has already said that the road to democracy will be long. The Ladies in White know this better than anyone.

Translated by GH

Goodbye, Obama / Iván García

Good
Goodbye Obama! (See source, below)

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”

His companion was more pessimistic. “Doesn’t matter what he says, nothing’s going to change here. When he goes, the usual will happen. It’ll change when the old gits who run the government finally kick the bucket. Forget about what Obama could offer us. Remember that Fidel and Raúl are Spanish. If you wanted to find more obstinate people, you’d have to get them specially made”, says an old grey-haired chap, gesturing with his hands.

The disnformation and rumours swirl around. “I’m not going to miss the speech. They say Obama is going to announce the end of the blockade”, says an old lady selling cones of peanut in Avenida Acosta in the 10 de Octubre district in the south of the capital.

Since Sunday 20th March, the weather is quite fresh and the Lenten winds cause waves which top the walls of the Malecón.

To get a taxi to the old part of the city, Vedado or Miramar is almost mission impossible. “Many streets are closed, and the police are being very difficult. I am not going to work until Obama goes. And I am not going to miss his speech or the Tampa game,” says Victor, driver of a ’55 Ford.

When Obama started his moving address, using his oratorical gift, combining it with specific subliminal messages, he emphasised that democracy and political rights are not a whim or a luxury, in this 21st century they are a necessity.

Even in the auditorium, with an audience carefully-chosen by the authorities, you could hear applause when Obama mentioned the right to demonstrate and freedom of expression.

Drawing parallels from the fight for racial integration in the United States, Obama made it clear that democracy in all its glory is the jewel in the crown of human rights.

Susana, an engineer, says that her eyes filled with tears when Obama described his meeting with a Cuban lady who had not seen her sister for 61 years. “In 1979 I saw my father leave for the States and I never saw him again. He died last year and I couldn’t even go to his funeral. These things have to end. The cost of the political polarisation between the two governments is being paid for by ordinary Cubans. Hopefully, Obama’s words don’t just blow away in the wind.”

Minutes after his historic speech in the enemy’s house, Obama arrived in Cadillac One, which caused a sensation in Havana, at the US embassy. For just under an hour, he held a discussion with 13 representatives of the Cuban opposition.

At the same time, in another room, four journalists, who were “unmuzzled”, met Ben Rhodes, one of the architects of the thawing-out strategy with the Castro regime.

In the conversationn, Rhodes did not contribute anything new. Of course, Obama´s adviser has a bomb-proof belief that the new politics will permit the empowerment of the Cuban people.

Although there are no historical precedents to show that discussions, internet, and an open channel for dialogue with dictatorial regimes smooth the way to democracy,

Both Rhodes and Obama insist that détente is a better option than interference or economic sanctions. But a lot of Cubans have little expectation that there will be a move toward democracy in Cuba within the lifetime of the Castros.

Last year, 43 thousand Cubans abandoned their country in search of decent pay and a reasonable standard of living. They voted with their feet. I have no doubt that after Obama´s visit, the Cuban exodus will continue.

Photo: The President of the United States saluting from the door of Air Force One. It was after 4 pm on Tuesday 22nd March, it wasn´t raining, but the Lenten wind that you get in spring and Easter made itself felt on the runway of Rancho Boyeros Airport and throughout the city of Havana. To say goodbye to him there was Raúl Castro, with Raulito, his grandson, bodyguards, and some others. A few hours later, Obama, his wife, two daughters, and his mother-in-law, arrived in the early morning in Buenos Aires for a two-day visit to Argentina. (Source: Telemundo.)

Translated by GH

The Urban Marabou* / Fernando Dámaso

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.

Translated by GH

The Business of Exporting Cuban Medical Services / Ivan Garcia

Cuban doctors protesting in Bogota
Cuban doctors protesting in Bogota

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”

Venezuela has ended up not just the most dangerous, but also the worst paid by the olive green autocracy, which has made the export of medical services the country’s principal industry.

While he was in Caracas, Jorge was paid $200 a month and the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) deposited 150 convertible pesos into a bank account for his wife in Havana. “Cuban doctors go to places nobody wants to go to. And with terrible salaries. The government wins both ways. It gains propaganda and earns money from us”.

“Why do Cuban medical professionals go to difficult locations, risking their lives?”, I ask him. Jorge looks up at the ceiling of the dilapidated clinic in a poor neighbourhood in Havana and thinks for a few seconds, before replying:

“Some go in order to emigrate, others see these journeys as a way of earning some money in order to sort out personal problems. I don’t know, there are lots of reasons, but I can assure you that the last thing on their mind is the altruism that Cuba talks so much about”.

An investigation carried out by various independent journalists for the Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), published in Cubanet in September 2015, revealed how Cuban personnel in the so-called “international missions” are robbed of their salaries.

According to this investigation, the Asistencia Médica Compensada programme has become a way of getting in foreign currency and a useful diplomatic and public relations tool for the Cuban authorities.

Those who join the medical brigades abroad enjoy higher salaries and have access to major perks. But they have to hand over at least 50% of their income to the government, depending on their assignment. As an example, the report indicates that the doctors located in Trinidad and Tobago deposit half their salaries in an acount in the name of Rody Cervantes Silva, coordinator of the brigade, who then transfers it to the government.

“Supposedly, this is a voluntary ’donation’ says Odalys, who is a dermatologist, and who offered her services in South Africa and Portugal, and explains that the payment system is different in each country.

“The contract you sign with MINSAP doesnt give you much detail. You sign it more because you need the money than for any other reason, and you hardly read the small print. In Pretoria they paid me $400 a month and the bank deposited $1200 for me. Looking into it, I knew that my real salary was $5,000. They kept hold of 70% of it. Even so, with the money you get, you can sort out your house and even buy a second hand car, said Odalys.

The international missions also are a basis for running parallel businesses in the countries in which they operate. Oscar, a gynaecologist, carried out under-the-counter abortions in a private clinic in an African country. “I made $500 for each abortion. I was able to buy a house and a modern car with the money I saved”.

Irene, head of a group of nurses, went frequently to Venezuela, Brazil and Ecuador, for work reasons. “Before I left, I bought three or four thousand dollars.  With this money I could buy flat-screen televisions and cellphones, among other things, and I sold them when I got back. With this investment I make two thousand convertible pesos profit”.

But it is the government which makes the most out of these medical services exports. Ten billion dollars annually. According to Yiliam Jiménez, president of Cuban Medical Sales SA, Cuba has 51 thousand health professionals serving in 67 countries.

This Services Retailer is a network of companies, research institutes and high standard clinics which offer services at competitive prices in the international market.

While many Cuban hospitals and medical centres are crying out for repairs and and patients bring buckets and fans, towels and sheets when they are admitted, clinics like Cira García, the La Pradera Medical Centre and CIMEQ (Surgeons’ Medical Research Centre) offer a la carte menus, have air-conditioned rooms and 24 hour ambulance services.

The overseas medical squads have also converted themselves into a migration option. It’s an unusual week in which Solidaridad sin Frontera, a Miami-based organisation, does not receive six or seven calls from Cubans who want to join the Programme for Cuban Medical Professionals, better known as Visas CMPP, offered by the US government.

Since 2000, about 6,000 medical workers have deserted their international missions. And, up to 2010, 68 Cuban doctors have died in Venezuela, victims of street violece. Six years later, the up to date figure is not known. A plaque in a hospital remembers them.

Iván García

Martí Noticias, February 24, 2016.

Photo: Cuban health workers, who deserted medical missions in Venezuela protest in Bogotá.

Translated by GH

What Women Want / Luis Felipe Rojas

Patricia Jaramillo, author of the book “What the hell do they want?” Photo – Luis Felipe Rojas.

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”

In this work, she deals with women who are beautiful and mocking, heroic, and half-mad. They are manipulative and intelligent women, who penetrate mens’ thoughts: queens who end up with all the territory we once laid claim to, and that we men foolishly flaunted.

In the pages of her book there are tips to face painful separations, final divorces and the scabs that emerge from the boredom between couples who cross the threshold of habit. “Understanding feminine codes can be an almost impossible task, and this is because men have not learned to decipher them,” says the author.

At the last Miami Book Fair I ran into Patricia Jaramillo, who was hiding from the sun under a tent where her writer friends were also selling newly released books. Patricia went out in the middle of the street, asking people questions, and inviting them under the awning displaying the cover of her book: some bought it and most tried to decipher the puzzle: What the hell do they want?

Following is one of the many gems in the book:

“Why doesn’t your wife want to have sex (with you)? What are the excuses women use to say no? What the hell do they want?

— I’m watching a program on television.

— I’m dirty and / or sweaty.

— I’m exhausted

— I’m trying to watch the movie.

— I had too much to drink and/or eat.

— I have to get up early tomorrow.

— I’m sick.

— I’m on my period, etc.

The truth behind all these excuses:

“She’s angry! Surely that is the most frequent reason why a woman will refuse sex. If there is an area of relationships in which women think they are in control, surely it is intimacy. Refusal shows who’s the boss in bed and punishes you for her anger. She could also be avoiding sex with you, because she isn’t enjoying it.”

The truth is, they are always an enigma, women are a dark tunnel and you have to go slowly, win her over with patience, and only in this way will we save ourselves and solve the riddle: “What the hell do they want?”

Patricia Jaramillo wants to help us to understand and, also promises a new release: “What the hell do men want?”

Translated by GH

If We Are Talking About Terrorists / Mario Lleonart

Photo: with friends Roberto Pisano and Leonardo Delgado

Mario Lleonart, 29 January 2016 — A few days ago (January 15th and 16th) I took part in a gathering in Miami of the Coordinating Liaison Committee of the Cuban National Meeting, of which I am a member, along with eight others. On the 18th, on Martin Luther King Day in Saint Petersburg, Florida, I paid tribute to King, joining in the parade in his honour distributing copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On the 19th I visited locations in Sarasota and Manatti, Florida, which had been pounded by tornados early in the morning of the 17th. Continue reading “If We Are Talking About Terrorists / Mario Lleonart”

While I was doing this, the political police made appointments with or visited people who know me in Cuba, who take part in forums of the Instituto Patmos, parishioners, collaborators, friends, neighbours and family members, to warn them that it was dangerous to have anything to do with me, inviting them to cooperate with their secret services, and to turn them against me. After I returned to Cuba some of them dared to tell me about these contacts, pressures, harassment and threats. One of the reasons put forward by the Cuban Gestapo, without any support, was that I had met terrorists in the USA.

In the afternoon of the 20th, I visited Leonardo Delgado, a one-time political prisoner, in his house in Tampa. He has been battling lung cancer for five years. With him was Roberto Pisano, one of his prison companions. His stories about the ancient Cuban prison are shocking.

That morning I had received some mail from Cuba, testifying to the arguments put forward against me by the State Security. Listening to Pisano and Delgado’s stories made me think how ridiculous it was that someone in Cuba would say that I had met terrorists in the US, since it was in fact the opposite.

I replied to the mail saying that if, by any chance I had had a meeting, without knowing it, with terrorists in the USA, it would have been if I had unknowingly met an undercover agent, one of the hundreds illegally infiltrated into the US by the Cuban political police. Like those involved in the shooting down of the four Brothers to the Rescue pilots, or those who specialise in assassinating without leaving any traces.

Translated by GH

Necessary Investigation Into Dead Cubans In The Nicaraguan Jungle / Juan Juan Almeida

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Juan Juan Almeida, 18 January 2016 — Why don’t the countries which are implicated carefully investigate, in a reasonable period of time, the disappearance of these Cuban migrants? Why doesn’t the Nicaraguan government carry out an effective judicial investigation into these cases?

The accusers whisper, but, out of fear, do not accuse. They speak cautiously about dozens of Cubans abandoned in the jungle.

We will only have a rough idea of the number of those who have disappeared when those who are arriving and those who are still in Costa Rica, decide to break their silence. Continue reading “Necessary Investigation Into Dead Cubans In The Nicaraguan Jungle / Juan Juan Almeida”

Although for now there is no exact number of Cubans who have disappeared, whether assassinated, or lost, we are beginning to hear worrying tales, referring to the Nicaraguan jungle as a mass grave, where the bodies of some of our countrymen are hidden.

Sadly, while they ignore all this, the useless media is pleased with itself, and entertains itself scrutinising with disproportionate voracity and exaggerated delight, the motives, whether political or economic, which oblige these people to abandon their country.

This Friday, the first group, out of the thousands of Cubans who are stuck in Costa Rica, arrived in Laredo, in South Texas. According to the authorities in the Central American country, the selection criterion for this group of 180 was how long they had been there, that is to say, the date they entered the country.

But no one says that the list was modified because, in spite of the order of arrival, or the date of entry, some of them didn’t have the money – over $550 – to pay to continue their journey, or because, simply, they had disappeared.

And little or no attention is paid to the predictable slipping away of Cubans who, fed up with waiting, unwise or impatient, under their own steam, or with the help of traffickers – and most of them know who they are, where they live and how to contact them – decided to enter the jungle in order to get to their destination and today are dead, or locked up in Nicaraguan prisons.

The accusers whisper, but, out of fear, do not accuse. They speak cautiously about dozens of Cubans abandoned in the jungle, and of some mutilated with machetes, but they don’t say how many. They also, between themselves, say that some countries in the area know about this, but are not saying anything. It is serious and brutal, like a small-scale extermination.

For one of those people, who didn’t want to give his name, because he is still there with his family, the fact of not hiding the bodies of Cubans who tried unsuccessfully to escape from Costa Rica, by way of the Nicaraguan jungle, has two explanations:  lack of interest in or respect for the fate of a Cuban, and a clear warning, with an element of threat, directed at the rest of those stuck in Costa Rica: “Don’t even try to get through the jungle.”

Fortunately, everything seems to indicate that our countrymen will arrive at a safe port, but, unfortunately, we will only have a rough idea of the number of those who have disappeared, when those who are arriving and those who are still in Costa Rica decide to break their silence, which casts a shadow over their complicity, and when all of them arrive in the United States and the families of the lost ones start to ask about their relatives’ whereabouts.

With so many unanswered questions, I wonder why don’t the countries which are implicated carry out diligent investigations within a reasonable period of time into the disappearance of these Cuban migrants? Why doesn’t the Nicaraguan government carry out an effective judicial investigation into these cases? Why doesn’t the press, both here and there, make any comment about what seems to be a badly-kept secret? There is no choice, we will have to wait, investigate and ask questions of our arriving fellow-countrymen.

Translated by GH

Cuban Education in Free-fall / Ivan Garcia

Very few in Cuba want to be teachers

Ivan Garcia, 21 January 2016 — Seven in the morning on a weekday. After a frugal breakfast of bread and mayonnaise and an instant powdered drink, Yamilka Santana, fourteen years old, puts on her backpack, weighing a little over 12 kilos.

She isn’t going on a trip, nor is she going camping. She is going off to her junior high school, Eugenio María de Hostos, in la Víbora district, a thirty minute drive south of Havana.

“I am taking all my books and exercise books in my backpack, as we don’t yet have a timetable for our classes. There are about twenty notebooks. Also, a snack, a lunchbox, and a sunshade. It looks as if I am going on a journey abroad”, Yamilka says, smiling. Continue reading “Cuban Education in Free-fall / Ivan Garcia”

About 350 pupils study in her school. They need to stay in school from eight in the morning until twenty past four in the afternoon. The state does not provide them with a school breakfast. Nor lunch.

It only gives them a snack, which most of the kids don’t eat. “It’s rubbish. Bread and a hamburger, which has a strange taste, or horrible potato croquettes. The bread is almost always hard and old. You have to be really hungry to be able to eat it”, says Melissa, a seventh grade student.

The school patio where they line up in the morning is uneven. In a wide area, previously used for sport, there are no basketball backboards and the smooth-finish concrete surface is lifting.

When it rains, the water penetrates the walls and the roof. “You get more rain inside than outside. When you get heavy downpours, they suspend classes”. says Josuán, from the ninth grade.

More than a few parents have complained to the school. “It’s dangerous for the kids. They haven’t carried out any maintenance to the school for years, and one day the roof or the walls could collapse and that would be a tragedy. The government should be concerned about the bad state of most schools in Cuba”, says Magda, mother of one of the pupils.

But the complaints have had no effect. The government’s response is to paint the fronts of the schools with a coat of cheap paint. The teaching materials are insufficient and are deteriorating.

“Ten-year-old books are passed between pupils. There aren’t enough for everyone. I share a book with two or three kids. The notebooks, pencils and school supplies hardly last a term. Parents have to pay for the rest of the things out of their own pockets”, a teacher from Eugenio María de Hostos tells us.

The first problem the parents and families of the children and young people who are studying have to deal with is the uniform. In Cuba, uniforms are compulsory up to pre-university and degree courses.

Every other year, the state sells two uniforms per student. “But they screw you. They almost never have the right sizes. And you have to go to the market, where they charge you 5 convertible pesos for a uniform, which is equivalent to 125 Cuban pesos, five days’ pay. Some families get them, much better made, in Miami, explains Berta, mother of two.

In primary school, skirts, shorts and trousers are a wine colour, and blouses and shirts are white. In secondary, mustard yellow with white blouse or shirt. In preuniversity, blue. Technical education has ochre coloured uniforms. Nursing and medicine students wear white blouses and shirts and violet skirts and trousers.

Twenty six years ago, when Fidel Castro’s Cuba was subsidised by the Kremlin, public education in the island guaranteed snacks and lunches for students.

Also, two uniforms a year, a pair of school shoes and sport shoes for physical education. That was when a proud Castro repeated in his lengthy speeches that Cuban education was among the best in the world.

Now, parents have to buy the sneakers and snacks, which accentuates social differences.

“In spite of the fact that the school management asks families to avoid any ostentation, there are clear inequalities. There are students who come with sports shoes costing 100 CUC or more. Tablets, smartphones and even first generation laptops. They also bring good snacks and lunches. Others feel bad. With patched up tennis shoes and only eating bread and oil”, the director of a school tells us.

Up to the date of writing, no primary, secondary or pre-university in Cuba has an internet connection, producing backwardness in the use of information technology, which has a negative impact on the younger generation.

“We have adolescents who arrive at school, never having used a computer and never having surfed the internet. That is fatal in the 21st century”, comments Richard, a computing teacher.

But if the shortage of decent equipment and adequate food is notable in Cuban schools, the free-fall in the quality of education worries parents a lot. From their already battered domestic finances, they have to pay for private tutoring by experienced teachers.

“I pay 4 CUC a week to the retired teacher who gives my daughter tutoring, 16 convertible pesos a month, nearly half my salary. It’s a big sacrifice, but I do it not just so that my daughter gets good marks, but also that she builds up her knowledge and will be able to take a university course”, says Magda, referring to a seventh-grade student.

The deterioration in the quality of public education in the island is reflected in rude behaviour and in an alarming reduction in adolescents’ and young peoples’  level of culture. They hardly read or learn at all.

“We have not yet caught up with the 21st century. If we keep going like this, most of our current students will not be able to adapt to the requirements of the modern world. We are twenty years behind in terms of modern teaching methods”, explains a retired female teacher.

Very few people in Cuba want to be teachers. Low salaries and poor social standing are among the reasons. Many qualified teachers prefer to work as porters in five star hotels, as taxi drivers, or making pizzas in private restaurants. Or to emigrate.

Photo: from El País de Colombia.

Translated by GH

Alaska, Another Route for Cubans / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 1 December 2015 — As a part of the basket of measures relating to the migration crisis concerning Cubans in Costa Rica, and with the obvious intention of protecting human interests, starting from 1st December, Cubans wanting to travel to Ecuador will have to get a visa to enter that country.

The regulation is an attempt to control the stampede; but already the human traffickers, taking a bird’s eye view and with financial resources, are trying to find new routes to connect Havana with the United States. Now it seems crossing the last frontier is the latest thing.

I would like to make it clear that not one single letter of what I am writing here is any attempt to encourage illegal emigration Continue reading “Alaska, Another Route for Cubans / Juan Juan Almeida”

; but, to write about the matter with my eyes closed or making political points, is to make myself a central part of the problem.

Crossing Central America, Cubans in the hands of traffickers have to confront  the dangers of the jungle, get around conflict zones ruled by guerrillas and drug traffickers, and put up with the aggravation of being constantly ripped off by corrupt locals. Things more improbable, but just as dangerous as the Siberian steppes.

The latest madness also costs 10,000 – 12,000 CUC per person.

Cubans, conscious victims of people traffickers, fly Havana – Moscow by Cubana de Aviación (CU0470) 1.156,00 €, or by Aeroflot Russian Airlines (SU0151) 627,39 €.

Arriving, still a few at a time, at Sheremetyevo International Airport, the Cubans are received by guides who put them up in previously-reserved houses and hostels. I have been told that it is all quite a challenge, they give them warm clothes, something to eat, and then, like polar bear cubs, God knows in what conditions, they get onto a whaling ship and cross the Bering Strait to arrive in Alaska, which is American territory.

Cubans heading to the United States

We know the rest, the Cuban Adjustment Law.

The situation in Costa Rica, will eventually be sorted out. How?  I don’t know. That is for governments and diplomats to work on. But let’s not kid ourselves. The problem exists and the exodus continues.

Already, Havana is whispering that Oceania is another way, heading toward the Cook Islands, Niue, Tuvalu and Samoa, states which have visa-free agreements with Cuba, nothing complicated, and from there travel to American Samoa, which, as its name indicates, is also American territory.

The person I was talking to told me something which shook me: “Water should be free, drinking it is a vital part of a human being’s existence; but water gets bottled and sold. Don’t you think that is profiting from life? Getting people out of Cuba, people who are going to flee anyway from that country, is less shameful than selling bottled water.”

We did not dramatise the tragedy saying that in order to control the migration the rules of a million dollar organisation are going to change. It isn’t like that, we know that the Cuban and United States governments, and the whole region is working to trap the traffickers; but this is tackling the effect without doing something about the cause. The solution is to create a Cuba with rights, liberties and opportunities. Then, no-one would want to escape.

As you know, when hope dies, so does love. That, for a disillusioned people, the traffickers are seen as strange roses growing in the ashes of a disaster; but, I think that the most dangerous thing is not the traffic in Cubans, but that the island  will be converted into the most perfect location for the transit of people from many other countries, who are seeking the same destiny; but with a different objective: Terrorism.

Translated by GH

Everything Changes, So That Nothing Changes in the Cuban Armed Forces / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 14 December 2015 — For the Cuban government, December is a month of notable events and anniversaries. And, although  it tramples on the right of people to support Human Rights Day, it is worth repeating; it allows people to celebrate the anniversary of the landing of the yacht Granma, the Revolutionary Armed Forces’ birthday, the jubilee of the Battle of Ideas, the anniversary of the Battle of Alegria de Pio, and praising the fact that, since 1977, following a historic manoeuvre  of calculated ambiguity, it also permits the celebration of Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Strange, cruel, and unusual, because partying is what is important and because, as my grandmother, who didn’t need to study to gain wisdom, said, “All believers think that their religion is better than their neighbour’s one.” Continue reading “Everything Changes, So That Nothing Changes in the Cuban Armed Forces / Juan Juan Almeida”

Nevertheless, right now, when the phantasmagorical menace of an imperialist invasion has ceased to exist, when the fable which describes the subversive presence of the enemy in the north has lost all its efficacy, when it looks like Raúl’s reforms are going to last, and when we shouldn’t say that Cuba is a dictatorship, but an “authority” which, without doubt, continues to commit ignominious excesses in pursuit of the interests of the state, the Cuban idealogues should abandon the “poetry of ’59”, and work hard at developing an institutional make-up which crystallises, I am not saying makes transparent, Cuba’s vision to the world.

What I am talking about is, obviously, a psycho-political veneer. For example, the Union of Military Troops could change its name in order to change the facade, and in this way the new recruits to Military Service will emerge a little more agreeable than when they went in.

“To change everything so that nothing changes”; well-known paradox of the novel The Ocelot, by the Italian writer Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, is the sophistry of the Cuban government. What was once called the Rebel Army, and then the Ministry of Defence, and later MINFAR; can now be called PATRIGAL, which is a bit closer to the present-day business reality, which is a mix of “patrimony” and “national”, and which is led by a General.

The uniform and soldiers’ ranks, which still belong to the dead structure of the non-existent Warsaw Pact, could also be redesigned. Get rid of the uncomfortable, ghastly and rather undignified and hot olive-green uniform, and turn to a more symbolic, indigenous and airy one, like the ones used by the Mambisas in the struggle for liberty. The difficult bit will be in equalising the distinguished, cultured and recognised Camagueyan strategist, Major General Ignacio Agramonte y Loynaz with Brigadier General Lázaro Pichs Sobrino, Director of the Ministry of FAR, without adjectives to set them apart, and to know that the only war he has seen is Fast and Furious (Part II), on the small screen.

I am not suggesting the Adidas sweat-suit should be the national uniform, because that has become the preferred get-up of the ex-leader, and that would be a complication. Quite apart from the recent corruption scandal, of volcanic proportions, which involved a representative of the famous German company and unscrupulous directors of the Cuban sports industry.

Lastly, and only from eagerness to attract sympathy, as an additional measure, they could transform the military barracks into motels, just as they did one day with lodgings number 222, in order to convert it into the garrison which now includes Mr. President’s house.

To end now, as the Chinese proverb says about China, “BIG SOULS HAVE FREE WILL”

Translated by GH

Macri Victory Encourages Cuban Democrats / 14ymedio, Mario Lleonart

Mauricio Macri, new president of Argentina
Mauricio Macri, new president of Argentina

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Lleonart, 26 November 2015 — Mauricio Macri won. For those who hope for democracy in Cuba, the best option won. Although the recently-elected President hardly mentioned the island during his campaign, it is clear that the cause of liberty in Cuba will have a friend in him. His references to the situation in Venezuela have also been a wake-up call for the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana.

If he manages the transition well in his country, his will definitely be a major mandate. Nevertheless, Macri needs to get himself prepared for governing Argentina, starting off from the disaster left by Cristinismo [ed. note: Cristina Kirchner’s administration], which will signify quite an achievement in view of the obvious boycott by officialdom, which is showing a certain reluctance in handing over power. A gesture far-removed from what politicians who are really interested in the future of the country, and respectful of the popular will should do. Continue reading “Macri Victory Encourages Cuban Democrats / 14ymedio, Mario Lleonart”

An indication of Macri’s intelligence and ability is his new cabinet. In the election of each post one can see a genuine intention to get Argentina to rise again like a phoenix from the ashes. The appointment of Susana Malcorra to the chancellorship was accompanied by the news of a top-class team to lead the country from December 10th.

The up-to-now Head of the Cabinet of the General Secretariat of the UN, a position in which he has performed exceptionally well since 2012, has earned public praise from Ban Ki-moon himself. “I have valued his advice, admired his dedication and benefitted from his leadership,” he once affirmed. Praise which is confirmed in Malcorra’s experience, in relation to international relations, an area in which Argentina has been very lacking.

Without doubt, the head of the cabinet could not be anyone else than Marcos Peña, one of the best thinkers in Macri’s electoral alliance, Propuesta Republicana (PRO). He was also one of the principle interlocutors at the time of laying out discussion points when he was head of the campaign. His youth — 38 years of age — is in keeping with the tone of this new party, which has been capable of destroying such a damaging Peronist tradition.

A demonstration that each Minister has been considered with the necessary care is the appointment of the social activist, ex-Buenos Aires legislator and present National Deputy, Sergio Bergman to the Environmental portfolio. This rabbi, chosen in 2011 as legislator for the City of Buenos Aires for the PRO, is an important and eloquent expert in relation to the present global context.

Bergman has been an unwavering opponent of the Argentina-Iran Memorandum of Understanding, signed by President Cristina Kirchner in relation to the matter of the attack perpetrated in 1994 on the headquarters of the Argentina Mutual Association of Israel (AMIA, its initials in Spanish), which resulted in the death of 85 people. His appointment is further evidence of the change of direction represented by Macri’s victory from the terrible course Argentina has been following.

The delay in naming the Minister of Employment also indicates the respect shown in this instance and says much for the care taken by Macri not to make a quick superficial decision on this position which is of such importance to the Argentinians, especially in times of change such as these.

Working with that team, Macri will be able to put behind them the dark times of scandals like the Chavista [ed. note: a reference to Venezuela’s late president Hugo Chavez and his and the current administration in that country] briefcase transported to Argentina by a businessman to finance Cristina’s campaign or the unpunished assassination of the Public Prosecutor Alberto Nisman, as well as the squandering of public money.

The new government will put an end to the period of justice denied, as in the case of the attack against the AMIA The renaming of the Centro Cultural Kirchner will symbolise the passing from one era to another.

The first target for Macri in the international field will be his participation in the next Mercosur summit, to take place in Asunción in December. He has already announced that he will insist then on the application of the democracy clause to Venezuela “for the perscution of the opposition.”

What has happened in Argentina will probably be reflected in the next few days in the Venezuela elections. The popularist policies urged by the Havana regime remain stuck in the past.

Translated by GH

The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway: Past and Present / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, 31 July 2105 — According to a report presented by the Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge, in the Fifth Ordinary Sessional Period of the National Assembly of Popular Power, during the first haf year of 2015, the GDP grew by 4.7%.

In reference to transport, among other things, he said: in the first half year of 2015 this sector grew 6.5%, but the goods sector fell short by 700,000 tons, so that there is production which could not be transported and raw materials which was not delivered on time to its destination; between 20 and 25% of the $2,100,000 which, up to the month of March, was paid for demurrage of containers and ships was caused by deficiencies in the railway system and road transport. In order that delegates might understand the importance and characteristics of transport, he explained that for journeys of over 280 km the best way to transport things is the railway, so that, it is important that its activity levels return to normal. Continue reading “The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway: Past and Present / Dimas Castellano”

A quick look at the history of railways in Cuba permits a clearer evaluation of his proposals

Among the freedoms conceded by the cities to the Creole-Cuban landowners at the end of the 18th century was the right to import machinery, whose introduction onto the island was a decisive move for the sugar industry.

In 1794, during Francisco de Arango y Parreño and Ignacio Pedro Montalvo’s first technical study journey, what most attracted their attention was the steam engine. Arango y  Parreño saw in that the solution to the bottleneck in the Cuban sugar factories. In order to experiment he ordered a Watt, as these machines were called, named after their inventor. [1] Although the steam engine was not invented for specific purposes, the one acquired for Cuba was the first in the world which was applied to sugar production. [2] From 1820 on its use increased, continued in 1840 with the vacuum evaporator, as substitute for the open Jamaican trains, (a reference to the type of pails used in the processing machinery, and nothing to do with railway trains) and from 1850 on with the centrifuge to mechanise the purification operation. All of this made Cuba into the world’s largest sugar producer.

With the application of the steam engine to the wheels of the wagons, came the locomotive in 1804. In 1825, the first public railway in the world was opened in England and, in 1830 the first line for the haulage of passengers and goods. Arango y Parreño, being aware of the latest advances in the technology, understood the importance of its introduction on the island. On November 19, 1837, only twelve years after England, the fourth railway in the world was opened in Cuba. That day Havana was linked up with Bejucal. The following year the Havana – Güines line was completed, and twenty years after that all the sugar-producing areas in Cuba were joined by rail.

The railway dealt with the high cost of transportation, which was one of the brakes on the sugar industry. Up to 1830 the shipment of sugar from Güines to Havana represented 25% of the value of the product and, when the railway started up between those two points (1838), the transportation costs fell by 70%. But, apart from the economic considerations, the railway accelerated the unification of the island which had begun at the end of the 17th century, creating a similar physical and social picture throughout the island, leading to the emergence of Cuba as a social and economic entity.

Between 1899 and 1908, the Cuba Central Railway and the Cuba Eastern Railway were created. One of their objectives was to integrate the railways which had been constructed since colonial times. That process was speeded up by Military Orders 34 and 62 enacted by General Leonardo Wood, during the government of occupation, which developed the sugar industry as much as it did the railways. In 1909, when Major General José Miguel Gómez took on the presidency of Cuba the cities of Havana and Santiago de Cuba were already connected by the Central Railway.

Taking into account the fact that Cuba is a long thin island, it was understood since colonial times that the railway was the ideal mode of transport and consequently an efficient infrastructure was created which united the country from north to south and east to west.

Owing to the deterioration suffered after 1959, the Revolutionary government proposed the building of a central double-track line, 1,149 km long, for high-speed trains. On January 29, 1975, Fidel Castro opened the first 24.2 km section, but the plan collapsed, as such things nearly always did. Thirty-one years later, the same Fidel said: “We were intending to construct a new line employing all the technical resources required. Many curves were straightened out, but the work could not be finished, not just because we did not have the experience, but also for international problems which were arising. ..” In the same speech, delivered in 2006, he added: “Today we have just taken delivery of 12 locomotives, and not just any old locomotives; they are simply the best we have ever received in our country; the most modern, the most efficient, and the most economical.” [3]

From the year 2006 up to the present the official Cuban press provides information on what happened regarding the railway. The deterioration due to lack of attention in a 15 metre strip on both sides of the track, including some stretches which remained buried under rubble, required, in the year 2010, 30 million pesos to clean up and restore. [4]

With an integrated focus on the matter, Cuba arranged the purchase of 550 wagons, tankers and rolling stock, while at the same time investing in 112 Chinese-made locomotives. [5]

They did not put enough effort into solving the difficulties presented by the railway lines; in spite of spending nearly 600 million dollars in the last five years on the acquisition of equipment, machinery, tools, material and new productive lines capable of reversing the grave deterioration in the railways.

On January 20, 2011 capital repairs were started on the 40 km of the Central Line, planned for that year. According to the engineer Bárbaro Martínez, principal specialist in the National Company of Lines and Construction Works of the railway, “The damage ws such that we had to carry out a very major reconstruction task, equivalent, you could say, to building a new line.” [7]

The deficiencies in the tracks continue to be the principal cause of accidents. Interviewed by the newspaper Granma, the engine drivers of railcar 2125, Jorge Inerarity Estrik and Joan Camayo del Pino, recognised that, apart from the deterioration of the track, many accidents occur due to crew negligence, basically due to getting drunk, and other violations, and not complying with instructions. And frequently the cattle owners intentionally let their herds wander and wait with bags and knives until they are run over [because it is illegal to kill a cow in Cuba]. [8]

In 2011, manual maintenance of more than 7,000 km of track was realised, more than that delivered in 2010. Nevertheless, in spite of the achievements in the rail system, there are still factors obstructing all the effort put in to deal with all the accumulated deterioration over decades as well as the difficult economic situation in Cuba.

The Capital Industrial Works Company (Railway Sleepers)  of Villa Clara last year was unable to meet its production plan, in spite of having built a new line with Italian technology, and a surface treatment plant. There was no lack of concrete or ballast, but there were difficulties with plastic for the excavation mechanism, the cleaning, the die-making, the service provided by the national mechanical industry, and other problems.  and other problems. “For these reasons they failed to complete 45 thousand units, which prevented the renovation of 24 km of track.” (one km of track needs 1,800 railways sleepers. Right now, they are working with the left-overs from the last half-year of 2011, having not received any supplies.

From the foregoing analysis we can draw at least three conclusions:

1 – that the importance of the railway was understood by the ranchers over two hundred years ago, and from then up to 1959 the railway worked efficiently, so much so that you could set your clock by the punctual timekeeping of the trains;

2 – the goods left untransported in the half year examined is not news, it is the result of problems related to a common factor: the non-viability of the present Cuban model; and,

3 – the surprising fact is that in spite of the effect of the railway on the other sectors of the economy, the latter increased by 4.7%.

Footnotes

1: James Watt (1736-1819) Scottish engineers who invented the double-action steam engine
2: “The sugar factory, Cuban economic and social sugar complex” (Fraginals, Manuel Moreno)
3: Juventud Rebelde (Cuban daily paper). Alina Perera Robbio “We have procured the best locomotives in the world”, Sunday January 15th, 2006
4: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro “Clean up the mess next to the railway track”.
5: Granma. Lourdes Pérez Navarro “The railway is waiting for its time”, Thursday, August 19, 2010
6: Granma, Lourdes Pérez Navarro “Investments which move trains” Friday May 28, 2010.
7: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. “Opening the way for the Central Line” Granma, Friday, 11 February, 2011.
8: Lourdes Pérez Navarro. “Accidents keep happening on the railway”. Granma, Thursday February 17, 2011.
9: Maylin Guerrero Ocaña. “Railway renovation moving on.”, Granma, Thursday, May 17, 2012
10: Lourdes Rey Veitía. “Without linking things up, the railway won’t advance” Monday, March 5, 2012.

Translated by GH

Eight Years of the Cuban Independent Writers Club / Ivan Garcia

 Photo: Members of the Cuban Independent Writers Club at a meeting in Havana in 2011. From the Cuba blog.

Iván García, 16 November 2015 — In the depths of the peeling, unpainted building where the journalist and independent writer Víctor Manuel Domínguez lives, a lady, who is waiting for customers behind a display counter of cheap Chinese jewelry, is reading a well-used copy of a book by Corín Tellado.

On a rusty, narrow vertigo-inducing staircase, a dirty abandoned dog urinates hastily and without pause. Dominguez has lived in that ruinous building, in the very heart of Havana, for thirty years.

In the living room there are more books than furniture. With some music of Gal Costa in the background, Victor Manuel looks over dozens of manuscripts which will compete in the Vista-Puente de Letras competition [ed. note: for Cuban writers resident in Cuba] which it is anticipated will in the future be divided between Havana and Miami. Continue reading “Eight Years of the Cuban Independent Writers Club / Ivan Garcia”

The writer looks through a mountain of papers which overflow his black briefcase, and explains: “Exactly on December 17th, when the world received the news about the change of direction between Cuba and the United States, in Miami the Writers’ Club awarded the Gastón Baquero prize for independent literature to the poet and free journalist Jorge Olivera,” talking without leaving off from smoking one cigarette after another.

“There have been changes. This invitation is also extended to writers in exile. But the Club’s work is not treading water. Last Saturday, November 7th, we presented the Vista Puente de Letras project, a tribute to the Puente publication, censored by the government in 1965, and to writing as a vehicle of communication,” says Victor Manuel, and he adds: “Fidel Castro’s government has always treated as anathema any outbreak of autonomy. There are plenty of examples of intolerance of free thought. Like the banning of Puente, the Stalinist decision of the court against Herberto Padilla, or the suppression of María Elena Cruz Varela’s Criterio Alternativo, who was made to retract her poems in an openly-Fascist move.”

Domínguez explains that in 1996 a diminished group of independent journalists, those who had had books published, “decided to finance a literary project which was discredited by the government’s scribes. Typical of any totalitarian regime: they attack the person, not the work. What with the repression and exile, the group dissolved. On May 7th 2007, Jorge Olivera and I started the Independent Writers Club. We didn’t have anywhere to arrange literary gatherings. We were like gypsies. Some embassies and consulates, including Germany, Sweden, Czech Republic, Norway, Poland and the US, opened their doors so we could read poems and fragments of our writings”.

But the best was still to come. “2013 was a watershed. The new migration regulations permitted club members to travel abroad and carry out some exploratory lobbying in different places, in order to find a publisher who would put out our work. Before 2007 specific works by imprisoned dissidents or writers were published. But the contact with foreign publishers, especially Neo Club Press in Miami has been fundamental,” emphasised Victor Emanuel.

He goes to his tiny kitchen and makes some coffee. “It was a giant leap forward. Last year we published six books. and in 2015 we are going for  ten, and in the Vista Puente de Letras edition, coming out in Miami next December we have planned another five works. Right now we have about 50 writers who have joined our club. Among them more than 15 have come from official institutions or are still in them. Qualitatively the project is in very good health and is addressing bluntly and without prejudice all Cuba’s social and political issues”.

I ask him why have so many writers who belonged or belong to the UNEAC (Writers and Artists Union of Cuba) have decided to join the project. Victor Manuel thinks before answering.

“For various reasons. 17 D [ed. note: 17 December 2014, the date of decision to re-establish US-Cuban relations] marked a before and after in the national life. It was the starting pistol for many intellectuals to have new hopes and see new possibilities. Also the state publishers are in clear decline, since every year they publish works very punctually. They accord more importance to committed writers and to political tomes. Any writer’s desire is to be published and they see the Club as an open window to achieve that. Also, Cuban society is slowly losing its fear,” added Domínguez.

The dissident journalists and intellectuals consider that an important dam has been breached. “Dividing walls have been blown up, which, as a result of fear and control of intellectuals had prevented us crossing to the other side of the street. The government understands the power of the written word. Doctor Zhivago, the Gulag Archipelago or Three Trapped Tigers have more ability to make you think than an ideological tract. That’s why they censor poets like Raúl Rivero, political scientists like Carlos Alberto Montaner or novelists like Zoé Valdés.”

From January 2016, Writers Club is thinking of publishing a magazine every four months. The first number will be dedicated to the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero, who lives in Madrid and who will be 70 on 23rd November. Intellectuals and journalists who aren’t gagged want to pay homage to Rivero’s life-long work. His work cannot be hidden by distance, official censorship or exile.

For Victor Manuel, Raúl Rivero is like an incorporeal spirit. “He is always with us in Havana”. Our job is to multiply talent and give free  rein to the literary creativity of Cubans in and outside of the island”. That is what the Writers Club is trying to do.

Iván García

Translated by GH

How Does History Help Us? / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, Havana, 17 September 2015 — 120 years ago, between 13th and 18th September 1895, twenty delegates selected from the five corps that the Libertador’s Army was divided into, and formed into a Constituent Assembly, promulgated the Constitution of Jimaguayú.

This Constitution, different from others in that it wasn’t structured in three parts — organic, dogmatic, and with a reform clause — but rather contained 24 consecutive articles without divisions into titles, sections or chapters. In it the Government of the Republic resided in a Government Council with legislative and executive powers. The executive power devolved upon the President (Salvador Cisneros Betancourt), while the legislative power stayed in the hands of the Government Council. In addition to a judicial power, organised by the Council, but functioning independently. The posts of General in Chief and Lieutenant General were vested in Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo respectively. Continue reading “How Does History Help Us? / Dimas Castellano”

Appearing in the people’s history as a counterpoint to absolutism, constitutionalism is fundamental to governability. The constitutions reflect the requirements for social development. In that sense, the Magna Carta of Jimaguayú was an expression of the need of the new political and legal order of the Republic in Arms. It constitutes an important link in Cuban constitutional history.

On its 120th anniversary, the weekly Trabajadores of Monday September 7th and the daily Granma of 16th of the same month each included reports,  under the headlines: “Neither Marti nor radical”, and “120 years after Jimaguay respectively, which I am going to comment on.

1 – In Granma the historian Rolando Rodríguez is cited, who stated that Jimaguayú is a document of overwhelming importance in the history of Cuba, an indication of the legal and republican idea and the determination to provide a constitutional direction to the Cuban insurrection.

If that constitutional text is recognised as a necessity of the new political and legal order demanded by the island and an important link in our constitutional history, how can the official historiography consider it as a “document of significant importance in Cuba’s history”, without a critical reference to the present Cuban constitutional situation, which has little or nothing to do with — starting off with the divisions of power — the legacy of Jimaguayú?

2 – The article in Granma says that “Martí longed to drop the authority that the Cuban Revolutionary Party had awarded him at a representative meeting of the Mambisa combatants …” [Ed. note: term used to refer to any pro-independence fighter in the Wars of Independence]

In José Martí’s War Diary — referring to his encounter with Antonio Maceo and Máximo Gómezon May 5th 1895 in La Mejorana — he wrote “… Maceo and Gómez talk in low voices, near me [1]: hardly speak to me. There in the hallway; that Maceo has another idea about government; a council of  generals with authority through their representatives, – and a Secretary General: the land, and all its functions, which create and support the army, like Army Secretary. We are going to a room to talk. I cannot sort out the conversation for Maceo: but V. stays with me, or he goes with Gómez? And he speaks to me, interrupting me, as if I were the continuation of the shyster lawyer government, and its representative … I insist on being ousted by the representatives who are meeting to form a government. He does not  want every operational head sending his man, his creation: he will send four from the Oriente: “within 15 days they will be with you. – and will be people who will not let  Doctor Martí mess with me there …” [2]

One may deduce from this text that in La Mejorana Martí considered his removal. These were his words: “I insist in being deposed before the representatives who are meeting to select a government.” That is not a longing, but a demand to not be removed other than by an assembly of representatives.

If the Revolutionary Party of Cuba started off on the basis of an analysis of the Ten Years’ War as an organising and controlling entity, and one which promotes awareness and is an intermediary link to get to a republic and that great mission had hardly got under way, it is difficult to accept that their hope was to shed their authority.

Also, if Martí’s attachment to institutionalisation and democracy led him in 1884 to move away from the Gómez Maceo plan, when he took the opportunity to write to the General in Chief: “But there is something which is higher than all the personal sympathy which you can inspire in me, and this apparent opportunity: and it is my determination not to contribute one iota by way of a blind attachment to an idea from which all life is draining, to bring to my land a personal despotism, which would be more shameful and disastrous than the political despotism I am now supporting.” How can it be affirmed that Martí “was longing to be shot of the authority afforded him by the Revolutionary Party of Cuba”?

3. Granma says: “It is also established that every two years there would be an assembly charged with proposing necessary changes in accordance with changed circumstances, which would elevate it to a higher position than that approved in Guáimaro.”

If the 1959 revolution is seen as heir and continuation of the constitutional legacy, it would seem to be contradictory that, on taking power, instead of re-establishing the 1940 Constitution as it had promised to, it replaced it with statutes known as the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State, without convening any constituent assembly.

Cuba remained without a Constitution until 1976 when there was approved the first revolutionary constitution modelled on the that of the Soviet Union, which prohibited any modification before 1992. Then, in 2002, the system installed in 1959 was declared irrevocable. With that decision, the Cuban constitution ceased to reflect ongoing changes which occur in any society, and became a braking mechanism on society.

The question is: How can our constitutional history be praised from the standpoint of a reality which negates it?

4. In the Trabajadores weekly paper, Antonio Álvarez Pitaluga states in En la de Jimaguayú that there was no balance of power and nor did they defend Martí’s thesis. It is said that Enrique Loynaz del Castillo and Fermín Valdés Domínguez defended  José Martí’s hypotheses, but I think that it is now difficult to sustain that position, because if you look through the documentation, above all the minutes of the Council of Government, you see that in all the Assembly’s discussion there was not a single mention of Martí, nor of his documents, nor any analysis of his thoughts. That is to say, they avoided it; you don’t necessarily  have to say they did it intentionally, but rather unknowingly, because many of the people there knew him, his work, his revolutionary activity, but not his thinking or his documents.

The questions are: 1 – Was Fermín Valdés Domínguez unaware of José Martí’s thinking? And 2 – if Fermín Valdés Domínguez, followed by the majority of the delegates, defended the division and limitation of powers, which was one of José Martí’s republican ideas, was the important thing that his name should appear in the documents, or that the majority should defend and impose his ideas, as actually happened?

The 120th anniversary and the two articles published demonstrate that you cannot deal with any historical event, much less one of such importance as the constitutional text of Jimaguayú, without relating it to the present in order to show that  we have either gone forwards or backwards. If we do not have regard to the limitations of the present constitution which cry out loud for fundamental reform, how does history help us?

[1] In the original, “I hear” is crossed out

[2] Martí, José. Texts chosen from three volumes. Volume III, p. 544

Translated by GH