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

Wages in Mariel: One Good Thing and a Lot of Bad Things / Dimas Castellanos

From cubacontemporanea.com

In accordance  with the new Foreign Investment Law*, workers will be engaged by an State-run employing organisation. When you factor in the fact that the only union permitted is the one representing the interests of the State, we are looking at a capitalist-style relationship in which the workers have no-one to defend them. Although we already knew about this, the information provided by the Director General of the regulating office of the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) is surprising just the same. Let’s see: Continue reading

One Night: A Critical View of Cuban Social Reality / Dimas Castellano


Una Noche
(One Night) is the film which best reflects why it is that young people leave Cuba. That’s how a female friend of mine, who is a lover of the seventh art, laconically replied to my question, after visiting the film exhibition in the 34th Festival of New Latin-American Cinema, which took place in Havana from 4th to 14th December 2012.

Because of the social theme it deals with, because of the magnificent photography of Trevor Forrest and Shlimo Godder, Roland Vajs’ and Alla Zaleski’s sound quality, and also director Lucy Mulloy’s script, the British-Cuban-North American co-production Una Noche constitutes an important cinematographic work, which, with its truthful narrative, gets close to documentary cinema; and, due to the authenticity of the people and social events it focuses on, it gets close to naturalism. Shot in Havana, with local actors, dealing with a national theme, the film can be considered to be part of the filmography of the island.

una-nocheShot between the years 2007 and 2011, the 89 minute film received international resonance with the news that the three principal protagonists, Javier Núñez, Anailín de la Rúa and Daniel Arrechada, deserted the artistic delegation going to the XI Tribeca Film Festival in New York, in the month of April 2012.

The first two did it as soon as they touched down on North American soil in Miami, the third, after receiving the prize in Tribeca. The event, something quite ordinary for Cubans, attracted international attention to the film and served to confirm the film’s story.

Continue reading

Police Sharks / Tania Diaz Castro

Osvaldo Brito, Valdy, with his Florida baseball cap – Photo Tania Diaz Castro

HAVANA, Cuba, April – Osvaldo Esteban Brito Amat is another of the many Cubans, mostly youngsters, who every day jump into the sea looking for a better future.

“And the sharks? Aren’t you afraid of them?” I asked him while he told me about what happened to him when he tried to get to the coast of the US for the second time.

“No way. If you don’t take any risks in life, you won’t achieve anything. The sharks here, on land, do you more harm. They go around dressed as policemen and they don’t let you live.”

Everyone calls him Valdy and he was born 41 years ago in Ben Tre, one of the various communities forming part of Bauta Council, in the province of Artemisa next to the city of Havana.

Because of his height, blue eyes and his build, Valdy could be taken for a North American in any place in the world, although the sun has darkened his skin and he speaks in a very Cuban manner.

He boasts of never having been a good example of a revolutionary, because from when he was a child he never felt anything in his heart when he was made to repeat every morning before starting his classes: “Pioneers of communism, we will be like Ché.” He says that nothing that you are forced to do can be sincere.

“I think that ever since I was born I have dreamed of living in the USA,” he tells me. “I didn’t try to go earlier because of my mother. I promised her not to do anything crazy like going in a very risky way. But my mother died a year ago. So now it won’t hurt her if the worst happens. And if I succeed in getting there I am sure she would be very happy.”

“In Ben Tre, that small village, where scarcely three hundred people lived, working on miserable little plots and in the poorest of living conditions, many people remember the former North American landowners there in the fifties of the last century, the good wages they paid to the workers, and how they lost their lands and they left the country when Fidel Castro disappropriated them without offering any compensation.

“It’s the second time I have jumped into the sea, hardly ten days ago, at El Salado beach, at Baracoa. I was a kilometer from the Florida coast. I could almost smell Miami. I felt so happy to be able to open my eyes and try to make out its lights from afar. But they caught us. There were several of us, all youngsters and we almost cried when we saw the US coastguards’ boats on top of us.

“They treated us well. With respect. Just as the Cuban authorities did. They only asked us why did we want to leave. I told them the truth: because I don’t like socialism. I am a bird with four wings who wants to fly to liberty. To earn money by working, not looking for handouts offered by the Cuban government.

“I work for myself. I sell meat and pigs’ trotters, sausages, and some fruit, from my horse and cart; what I get from the community in order to earn an honest living. But that’s a criime in Cuba. That’s why I am familiar with jail. I am very familiar with it without being a criminal.”

“Of course I will try again. As they say, third time lucky.”

He showed me the baseball hat with Florida on it which they gave him in the US boat. For him it’s a trophy for his heroic act of confronting the sharks in the middle of the night. I ask him if he doesn’t think that they deserve to be welcomed into that great country and he looks at me with his deep blue eyes, filled with tears.

Cubanet, 8 April 2014

Translated by GH

The Difficult Task of Eating Lunch and Dinner / Leon Padron Azcuy

HAVANA Cuba – Imagining a Cuban nutritionist in a health centre is like flying a kite without air. Given the general scarcities, these specialists in healthy eating, in their efforts to propose adequate diets to patients with obesity, high cholesterol or diabetes, have to act as circus magicians.

How can anybody guide you on what to eat to improve your health when you can’t obtain essential foods such as milk, beef, fish, seafood, when malangas (a kind of sweet potato) are available occasionally and potatoes are unobtainable?

Carmen, a nutrition specialist in various hospitals, finds her work makes her sad. “We all know what deficiencies we have to put up with. It pains me to see the looks on the faces of the old people who ask what they should eat, and complain about the impossible prices of fish, a pineaple, or oranges, from the healthy eating suggestions I give them so that they can recover their good heath”, she told me.

Most people – Carmen included – can’t afford fruit, on their miserable incomes. Imagine an old lady whose social security payment doesn’t even allow her to buy medicines, or a single mother without economic support from her child’s father.

Worthless junk food

A balanced diet is necessary to control certain conditions, but it’s also necessary to maintain your health. The worthless junk food eaten by Cubans is really an insult to the palate, is responsible for the small stature of today’s kids, the early loss of teeth, and the use of canes on the part of many under-70’s, due to deterioration in their bones.

It’s impossible to avoid catching diseases, when we are eating our monthly ration of “enriched mince*” (whose ingredients no-one knows), the little bit of chicken you get when there isn’t any fish; and other “leftovers”, dating back to the 90’s, of the notorious Special Period**, which never ends.

Who would tell the Cubans of the island that their food would be much worse than the diet the 18th and 19th century colonist farmers gave their slaves? In the plantation barracks they did not go without dried beef, bacalao (a type of fish), beef, milk and other valuable nutrients.

The 1842 rules regarding slaves specified that the masters must give their slaves two or three meals a day, with eight ounces (230 gm) of meat, dried beef or bacalao, and 4 ounces (115 gm) of rice or other kind of grain, accompanied by 6 or 8 plantains every day, or their equivalent in sweet potatoes, yams, yuccas or other types of tubers.***

Before 1959, the chef Nitza Villapol, became popular with her television recipes Cooking by the Minute. Later, in order to survive in the revolution, Villapol (by then a party militant) adapted her recipes to fit what you received in your meagre ration card. And ended up offering a recipe for “grapefruit steak”.

Even our very own Fidel Castro didn’t escape the temptation of offering cooking recipes. He recommended Cubans to drink some milk with a little bar of chocolate. It seemed like a joke: “what chocolate, and what milk?” asked the desperate mothers at home, who did not know what to dream up to feed their kids.

It’s absurd that the government can’t guarantee every citizen a glass of milk, and doesn’t allow Cubans to set up private businesses to supply milk and meat. It’s hypocrisy to blame the low livestock output on theft of cattle, when it is nothing else but another product of our misery.

What can we look forward to? Today’s slave-owners refuse to relax the state monopoly, the reason why Cubans can’t enjoy a balanced diet. What can Carmen, the nutritionist, say to the elderly person lacking in vitamins who asks her what should I have for lunch and dinner?

Leonpadron10@gmail.com

Translator’s notes:
*”Mince” refers to “minced meat” which, in Cuba is likely to be a “mystery substance” rather meat.
** Fidel Castro coined the term a “special period in times of peace” to refer to the time after the collapse of the Soviet Union when the sudden loss of the USSR’s financial subsidy plunged Cuba into a severe economic crisis
***Source:
El Ingenio, Manuel Moreno Fraginals

Cubanet, 4 April 2014

Translated by GH

Microbuses or Transport’s Shame / Ernesto Garcia Diaz

HAVANA, Cuba – In the Cuban capital, two cooperatives operate the old public routes of the so-called taxis-ruteros, microbuses which take passengers from the Parque de El Curita, to four destinations: El Náutico, Alamar, Santiago de las Vegas and La Palma.

Curious to know why the people in Havana speak so ill of these services, I asked the impatient passengers: how frequently do they run? how long do they take to get there? And to various drivers of the vehicles, about the contracts the cooperatives use to lease out the buses.

A driver on the Parque del Curita Micro X line – who didn’t give his name – answered me: ” I do about 16 journeys a day, the microbus has 25 seats, and the fares for them to go to the CNoA (Non-Agricultural Cooperatives), 50 seats for the total return journey, or say 250 pesos. The fare is 5 pesos (CUP), equivalent to 20 cents.”

The driver continued: I carry more than 800 passengers a day, I collect about 4,000 Cuban pesos (equivalent to $160).  In 24 working days I hand over to the association, not less than 96,000 pesos ($3840). First I pay over what is due to the cooperative, which leases me the vehicle, the difference, or what is left over, goes to the drivers, because we are the semi-owners of these microbuses. Did you know we have to repair, clean, and cover the cost of maintenance, for which we have to pay third parties and the CnoA itself?

Another driver went further than his colleague: “After paying the association, I am left with some 1,200 pesos ($48), because as I am going along people get on and off. Those receipts don’t go to the CNoA; we keep them for our costs, because we are driving piles of old junk.

I could recognise that the micro’s driver, as well as his own income, receives about 600 pesos a month from the cooperative ($24), as profit share for being associates.

Waiting 40 minutes in the sun and rain. Photo Ernesto García.

Liliana Ezquerra, vice president of the Provincial Administration Council of Havana, recently emphasized to the media: “When the two transport cooperatives started operating, using vehicles rented from the state, the number of passengers in the capital increased and at a lower fare than the private drivers charge.”

Havanans waiting and getting exasperated in El Curita park. Photo Ernesto Garcia.

One passenger in the Micro X Alamar told me “It’s 8:50 in the morning, I waited 40 minutes for the bus, they arrive here when they feel like, come to fill up with fuel and hang around to go back again or to start their working day. They take time having a snack – how should I know?! The bottom line is, it’s a disaster. They may be cheaper than the privates, but I can’t rely on them to get me to my work on time.”

Another passenger told me: “There is no fixed time for them to start work; but nevertheless the pirates are in the street at 6 in the morning, and at 12 at night they are still providing a service; I don’t even want to talk about the public buses, you can’t even count on finding one at 7:30 at night.”

The third passenger, irritated, assured me: “Look, a microbus just got here and it got lost more than 30 minutes ago. Just so you can see. Look, there it comes, who should I complain to if now they are the owners?

As for me, I took a photo of the delayed bus, because I also spent more than 30 minutes waiting for it.

Cubanet, March 11th 2014.  

Translated by GH

24 March 2014

Sociology of Transport / Regina Coyula

My acquaintances in public transport like Ms. C tells me that we are now facing another cyclical crisis in urban transport. In the rush hours you see bus stops which are full up and people hanging about in queues 50 metres long and who are trying to guess where the bus is going to pull up, which, you can be sure, will not be at the stop.

The “blues” and “yellows” we used to see have disappeared, those inspectors authorised to stop public transport and organise passengers wanting to get on. In contrast, lots of fairly empty buses associated with work places, pass the crammed-full bus stops, one after the other, giving rise to lots of colorful comments on the subject of the privileged few.

In the face of this phenomenon, I always ask myself whether it wouldn’t be better if this semi private transport were incorporated into the public transport, but as a dear acquaintance says to me: The “Razonamil* I’m taking must have too strong an effect.

The irritation of buses whizzing past just adds to other frustrations, every one of  which is a burden. Therefore, waiting for a bus and, if you can manage to get on, listening to how everyone in there gives vent – even if briefly – to his individual view of the process of modernisation of the economy, and how it provokes immediate reactions from other passengers, is a good thermometer, even though it may be that the general “reaction” is one of indifference.

Looking at the passengers’ faces doesn’t show you a happy society. Some of them pass the journey dozing, even though they are standing up; the younger ones often cut themselves off with their earphones or, on the other hand form noisy groups and are often abusive if people protest.

Most of the passengers are men and they are also the majority sitting down. Rucksacks, baskets, briefcases and parcels which seem to be heavy, take up a space which is already insufficient for the passengers. Gaunt faces, acrid smells, verbal violence in response to the slightest incident. And the heat is the last straw in this micro world.

*Translator’s note: “Razonamil” is a joke, a fake name of a drug that makes Regina “see reason”.

Translated by GH

28 March 2014