God Bless America / Rebeca Monzo

My aunt is one of the many thousands of Cubans who never tires of thanking that nation that welcomed her and permitted her to safeguard the security of her adolescent son, giving her the opportunity to work and forge a better and more secure future.

Even so, since her prolonged exile, which began in 1961, she does not let a single day go by without thinking of that marvelous land where she was born, studied and had a beautiful family and which she never intended to abandon until she found herself forced to do it.

Within days she will turn 99 years old and still she keeps dreaming of returning to a free Cuba, although she is now aware that those who will enjoy that forthcoming moment are going to be her grandchildren.

Happy July 4th to the nation and people of the United States of America.

Translated by mlk.

4 July 2014

Lilo, An Artist Who Fed Himself From Misery / Angel Santiesteban

Lilo Vilaplana

When I began working in Cuban television, in the second half of the eighties of the past century, the first person they introduced me to was Lilo Vilaplana. He was already a star Assistant Director and they assigned him to teach me, in practice, his expertise.

We immediately became good friends, and friendship flowered as if an elf had taken us by the hand. I joined the post-production of a children’s series directed by Roberto Villar, and we would begin to produce an adventure fantasy written by the brilliant writer Daina Chaviano.

In the serial edition, we could see from our booth how they accommodated the trial of the Number One Cause of General Arnaldo Ochoa. I remember that our editor was famous for being one of the best in the trade, and he recognized that the soldier who was doing it in the other booth was excellent.

Continue reading

Santa Ana In Sight / Juan Juan Almeida

How much Santa Ana day has cost us, and as always, as the date, July 26, approaches I have zero tolerance. Already this year they are announcing the celebration will be in the new Artemisa province.

Then, all the national press overflows with unending lies, and I read things like this: “In this province by the minute the work atmosphere, enthusiasm, commitments and pride are on the rise, it barely rests, daily we check the previewed works and other actions linked with the population’s quality of life, with the improvement, beautification, and sanitation of towns, cities and centers, declared Raul Rodriguez Cartaya, chief of the Provincial Administration Counsel.”

And it offends me that they keep believing that we citizens are revived by accepting as true this disrespectful stream of lies knowing that the country is falling to pieces.

Translated by mlk.

25 June 2014

Now They Will Leave, But Illegally / Juan Juan Almeida

Gelkis Jimenez, Adriel Labrada, Carolos Manuel Portuondo, Alejandro Jaime Ortiz, Yasmani Hernandez Romero and Diosdani Castillo were ballplayers excluded from a pre-selection of 43 players that was prepared to face a United States university team next July.

According to the president of the Cuban Baseball Federation himself, Higinio Velez, the reason for the elimination is that the mentioned players were caught when they tried to leave the country. More foolish than foolishness, I ask myself if instead of suspending them, if it is not better to let them go. It does not even deserve comment.

Translated by mlk.

26 June 2014

Cuban Mission in Venezuela in Danger / Juan Juan Almeida

They add up to thousands, the Cubans, health professionals, who have been sent to Venezuela since the first Cuban Medical Mission landed in Caracas December 16, 1999.

Our technicians, doctors, nurses; they continue and will continue fulfilling the Hippocratic Oath in the South American country and the sacred duty of offering medical attention to all who need it.

The enthusiasm of the first collaborations has eroded, today all the personnel of the Cuban medical cooperation seem to be transitioning to a bad moment, full of insecurity and uncertainty, because among many other situations, they confront the discontent of a wide sector of the population.

So shows a classified report dated last Friday, June 13, signed by Dr. Victor Gauter, chief of all the missions, and sent with urgency to the Cuban Public Health Ministry. Continue reading

Cuba: The Tricks of the Embargo / Ivan Garcia

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In Havana, the good medical specialists always have at hand two kinds of treatment for their patients.

“If it is a person with family abroad or of high purchasing power, I propose that he go to the international pharmacy to buy the medications in foreign currency because they are of higher quality and more effective. Those who cannot, then I prescribe the treatment approved by the ministry of Public Health with medicines of low quality manufactured in Cuban laboratories or of Chinese origin,” reports Rigoberto (name changed), an allergist with more than two decades of experience.

When you visit one of the 20 international pharmacies located in the Cuban capital, you can find a wide range of medicines patented by pharmaceutical companies of the United States.

From eye drops, syrups, tablets and ointments. Their prices instill fear. Lidia, an engineer, browses the shelves meticulously in search of Voltaren eye drops, indicated by the ophthalmologist to begin a treatment of her mother who underwent cataract surgery. Continue reading

The Deluded / Regina Coyula

There are those who walk without watching who walks behind, if they seem mysterious speaking on the phone it is for the purpose of mortifying a little the listening elves, they take for granted that some neighbor(s) take(s) note of their movements and visits, but it does not interest them. They live with the decision to behave as free beings without allowing the government’s barriers, within which all that is not expressly authorized is prohibited, to constrain them in the least.

Others prefer a stealthy attitude, they communicate with signals, they have designed an alternative vocabulary and they live under the conspiracy theory in the category of major players.  They sleep with one eye open, they see ulterior motives in everything.

Not many of the first group are free, nor are many of those controlled by paranoia watched.

Translated by mlk.

18 June 2014

The Sewer Waters’ Phantom Truck / Gladys Linares

Many Havana streets barely have any pavement. The drains are clogged. With the rains the overflowing sewers allow sewage out. They try to justify these difficulties with the Special Period, everyone knows that the neglect began in 1959.

Cubanet, HAVANA, Cuba, June 13, 2014 — We residents of the capital have seen how the streets and avenues have been deteriorating for more than 50 years, arriving at the critical situation in which they are today. Although roads are an expensive activity, and the government says it has assigned millions to the rehabilitation of the capital’s main arteries, if a profound drainage restoration is not undertaken, the situation, which is critical, the problem of the floods, as well as the sewer water in our streets, will not be resolved.

The sewer system was designed for a certain number of residents, but Havana’s population has been growing by leaps and bounds, and this creates difficulties. A few days ago through the media it was announced that the government was engaged in improving the capital’s pipeline system.

Barely two years ago the official media released a lot of propaganda about the repair of the avenues, among them Calzada de Dolores, Lacret, Porvenir, Diez de Octubre. But, as is already customary, these jobs were not well done, and a few days ago it made headlines again that the avenues already need new repairs. Continue reading

Public Health In Cuba, Between Missions, Rabies and Dengue Fever / Juan Juan Almeida

The Cuban Ministry of Public Health turned 105 years old.  Congratulations. Personally I think that health is the most precious non-material heritage a human being can count on.  It should be considered a right for all citizens of the world and a responsibility of each State.

It is sad to know that in spite of the wide arsenal and enormous development that medicine world wide counts on, almost 10 million infants and pregnant women die prematurely each year for causes that, in large measure, are preventable.  Such a powerful reason leads me to applaud the collaboration that, in medical matters, the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) and Cuban doctors offer in different countries.

Ignoring this would be a form of blindness; but clearly, because there is always a why, we should not forget that behind this so fiercely kind action, health has also a conquistador nature. Continue reading

What Is Known Is Not Questioned / Juan Juan Almeida

According to Martin Pupo, director of the Holguin Operations Base Business Unit, since March 2013 they put into operation Fleet Management and Control (on board computers known as GPS) in trucks that supply the business network far and wide in the Holguin municipalities.

The idea is to stop fuel loss; but a recent inquiry carried out by MINAL found that the business in question used monthly something more than 21 tons of fuel.  And it is logical that the costly measure will not achieve its objective because the neighbors say that in reality those who know “where the bodies are buried” are the ones who are implicated, those who steal and sell petrol are not the truck drivers but the managers signing false delivery orders.  I did not tell them.

Translated by mlk.

3 June 2014

The Other Side Of The Coin / Rebeca Monzo

She is a beautiful woman, petite, friendly, very intelligent, with a great sense of humor and even a certain naivete that makes her appear still younger than she is.  Also, bachelors and masters in science, with many accumulated scientific achievements in her long career.

She lives in the heart of El Vedado, in a building from which in another epoch was observed a beautiful view of what was once one of the most architecturally important and lovely sports parks of our city, with a blue, almost always calm sea as a backdrop.

This park, like all the city, including, it is clear, the building where she resides, has been deteriorating with the passage of time and government apathy, to the point of becoming ghosts from a shining era now passed.  In any case, the same was remodeled and completed in 1960 to form five zones:  park, stadium, gymnasium, pool, children’s playground and volleyball and basketball court, with stands for 1,020 spectators, where the architect Octavio Buigas was showcased with the solution of the spectacular tiers that seated 3,150 people, covered by a light structure of concrete “domed shells” 125 meters long “kindred” to the famous Zarzuela Hippodrome in Madrid. Continue reading

Carolos Alberto Montaner: Someday God Will Awaken / Angle Santiesteban

I thank Neo Club Editions, Armando Anel and Idabell, his wife; Barcardi House of the University of Miami and the Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, and the Alexandria Library for the opportunity to present this excellent novel by Angel Santiesteban Prats, The Summer that God Slept, winner of the Franz Kafka literary prize, Novels Genre 2013.

I want to especially mention the writer Amir Valle who, at the time, called to my attention Santiesteban’s human and professional quality revealing to me an exceptional writer.  Amir’s devotion to Santiesteban and his generous solidarity is good proof that communism has not been able to destroy the ties of friendship, although it has tried to control the emotional life of Cubans.

Repression as general punishment and intimidation

Santiesteban is a magnificent Cuban narrator, born in 1966.  He was incarcerated by the dictatorship and condemned to five years in prison, supposedly for a crime of domestic violence that was never proved. In reality, what they punished were his criticisms of the system and his confrontation with the regime. The accusation was only the formal alibi to hide political repression.

Naturally, the Cuban regime hides its repressive hand behind the supposed independence of a judicial power that in Cuba is only another feared expression of the apparatus of terror.

If the Castro regime, really, felt that it should pursue those guilty of great atrocities, and if it did not use the tribunals selectively in order to harass its adversaries, it would have severely punished commander Universo Sanchez when he shot to death an inconvenient neighbor. Or it would have initiated a responsible investigation into the assassination of dozens of innocents on the tug boat March 13th. Or it would have delved seriously into the accusation made by Angel Carromero about the probable execution of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in July 2012, to mention only three cases among the hundreds of unpunished crimes and abuses that Cubans have had to endure.

I have seen, lived and suffered enough to know that the dictatorship invariably lies about the nature of its adversaries. It accuses them of being terrorists, CIA agents, alcoholics, traitors, or, as in this case, even of domestic violence, in order not to have to assume an unpleasant truth: they use defamation, acts of repudiation, beatings, jail and, sometimes, the firing squad, to reign in critical people who have the audacity of saying what they think.

At the same time, those maltreated by word or deed sow terror with the objective of making an example that will not be spread. It is preventive punishment. They strike so that others will lower their heads.

Repression in Cuba, well, it has two clear purposes that Lenin was already recommending at the beginning of the Bolshevik revolution: punish those guilty of deviating from the official line and intimidate the rest of the population. They are, of course, the same mafia methods converted into government measures.

That process of destruction of the reputation of the dissident or of the simply disaffected, especially if dealing with a famed intellectual, is always the prelude to jail or physical aggression. It begins with the insult and evolves into a savage kicking, ostensible and public, aimed at “giving him a lesson” so that he does not dare to contradict the sacred gospels of the tribe of thugs who occupy power.

Angel Santiestebal has gone through all this. They have beaten him, defamed him, they have tried futilely to silence him, but what they have managed is to convert his case into what is called “a cause celebre” that has awakened the attention of half the world.

Something similar to what, in the past, happened to Heberto Padilla, Jose Mario, Armando Valladares, Jorge Valls, Angel Cuadra, Reinaldo Arenas, Rene Ariza, Hector Santiago, Maria Elena Cruz Varela, Juan Manuel Cao, or Raul Rivero, and to so many other writers and artists who suffered various forms of the same ordeal.

The novel and the escape

The Summer That God Slept tells of the flight of a group of Cubans on board a raft. The narrator relates, almost always in the first person, the ups and downs of the trip, and describes the characters who accompany him from the time they embark on the Cuban coast, full of dreams, until they return to the island, on board a ship of the US Navy which takes them to the Guantanamo camps where an uncertain destiny awaits them.

In this case, the eventful journey is less important that the author’s disquisitions on Cuban history and the failed communist government.  It is interesting to note a frequent presence in the novelist’s reflections: Jose Marti. Santiesteban, like so many Cubans, rightly, venerates Marti and uses his life and work as ideal and measure by which to judge what is happening on the Island.

The story is strong and dramatic for two reasons. The first, because thousands of Cubans have died of drowning or being devoured by sharks and barracudas in the seas near Cuba trying to escape from the communist system. That is to say, Santiesteban, in his fiction, which has so much of reality, gives a powerful voice to those thousand of victims. His novel, although the author has not proposed it, has a very important historical component.

How many Cubans have died in the attempt?  They are dozens of thousands.  It is not known exactly, but they are many.  Some speak of 75,000, others double that. Without doubt, many more than those who have died in combat in all the wars fought on the Island since Colombus set foot at the end of the 15th century.  And if they are not more, it is because Jose Basulto conceived and put in the air Brothers to the Rescue in order to help the rafters, until the dictatorship destroyed two of the unarmed airplanes that flew above international waters, killing four people who were just trying to help their fellow countrymen in danger of death.

The second reason that this novel is of notable importance is the theme of the relentless exodus of Cubans.  Why or rather from what do they flee, if since the 18th, 19th and very particularly the 20th centuries, until the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959, the Island had been a net receiver of hundreds of thousand of immigrants, to the point of being the American nation that received the most foreigners in relation to its population?  (More, proportionally, than Argentina and the United States).

They flee the lack of freedom, translated into lack of opportunity.  Successive generations of Cuban residents always perceived the promising experience of living better than their parents and grandparents, something that they routinely achieved.

Until the Comandantes arrived, mandated that the dreams of prosperity stop and imposed on Cubans a system of government that impedes the creation of wealth, is incapable of maintaining infrastructure, and destroys accumulated fiscal capital, as is observed in those cities devastated by the unmitigated stupidity of Castro-ism.

When you are born in Cuba, you know that, as much as you may study or try, you will not be able to improve your quality of life because the system prevents it. That is why Cuba is the only country in the world from which engineers, doctors, writers and all those who yearn to do something constructive with their lives and undertake a lucrative activity to achieve their own well being and that of their families escape on rafts, risking death.

They flee also the lying and tiresome discourse that tries to justify more than half a century of social failures with heroic references to violent activities that lost all connection with the young generation.

What the hell does the remote battle of Uvero — a shootout elevated to the category of epic combat — or Che’s disastrous adventure in Bolivia mean for some young kids who want to have fun and normal lives that permit them to spread their wings and pursue their individual dreams?

And when they achieve it, when finally, they have managed to emigrate, they experience another facet of the horror:  The State, that rancorous communist dictatorship bent on harming those who have fled and harassing and mortifying those who have stayed, denies them access to the academic titles that they legitimately acquired, sells them documents at exorbitant prices, describes them as scum or worms, treats them as enemies, and intends that the host country keep them in a legal limbo so that they cannot make their way.

While the rest of the nations of Latin America ask the United States to protect their undocumented citizens with such legal measures as the Law of Adjustment that protects Cubans when they touch US soil, the miserable State forged by the Castros tries to repeal such legislation.  Not satisfied with the damage inflicted on Cubans when they live on the Island, it tries to prolong their suffering in exile, creating for them difficulties so that they cannot adequately develop.

Nothing of what is said here is different from what is quietly muttered by Cuban intellectuals who have not been able to or desired to seek exile, including many of those miserable ones who sign letters in UNEAC to support the tyranny or to applaud executions, pressured by the political police.

That’s why a voice like that of Angel Santiesteban Prats is so uncomfortable.  Each time that a writer on the Island — and I think of Padilla, Maria Elena Cruz Varela, Antonio Jose Ponte, Raul Rivero, Yoani Sanchez, Ivan Garcia, and so many others — dares to describe reality without fear or swallowing the fear, their cowardly colleagues are victims of the disagreeable phenomenon of moral dissonance.  They think one thing but say another, while they applaud what, really, deep in their hearts, repels them.  The regime has managed to domesticate them, they know it, and they live with that annoying imprint that shackles always leave.

In the end, it must be very sad to live always masked officiating in the temple of the double standard.  Angel Santiesteban Prats freed himself from that ignominy and wrote, in order to test it, a splendid book.  Someday God will awaken, and he will come out of his cell.  Thousands of readers await him thankful to give him the embrace that he deserves.

Published in NeoClubPress.

Translated by mlk.

4 June 2014