The Revolution is Exactly That / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Hun
Hunger in Venezuela (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos A. Montaner, Miami, 6 August 2016 – They are hungry in Venezuela. It is the revolution. It does not matter that it potentially may be the richest country in the world. The same thing happened in 1921 in the newly debuted USSR. A million Russians died of hunger. Lenin rejoiced. “The revolution and I are like that, madam.” They kept the peasants from trading, and the Red Army confiscated food, including the seeds.

It happened in China. There were 20 million deaths. In that country grieving also is multitudinous. It happened in Cambodia and North Korea, where some desperate subjects resorted to cannibalism. It always happens. In Cuba sixty thousand people lost their sight or mobility in their lower limbs because of peripheral neuritis cause by malnutrition after the end of the Soviet subsidy. continue reading

Castro protested against the US “blockade.” The Minister of Health, who warned about what was happening, was removed from his post. The Revolution is also about keeping your mouth shut. It was not the embargo. It was the Revolution. It is always the Revolution. They gave the Nobel Prize in economics to the Bengali Amartya Sen for demonstrating that famines invariably are caused by state interference. Any of the victims of Communism could have explained to the Swedes with equal clarity and without need of getting a doctorate from Cambridge.

Why do the Communists do it? Are they sadists? Are they stupid people who commit the same errors time and again? Nothing of the sort. They are revolutionaries bent on creating a new world based on the prescriptions of Karl Marx.

Didn’t Karl Marx assert that the ruling oligarchy and state model were the consequence of the regime of capitalist property? Didn’t he claim that if a Communist vanguard were to take over the means of production in the name of the proletariat that there would emerge a new society ruled by new men endowed with a new morality?

It is a matter of priorities. Communist revolutionaries are not interested in people living better or farms and factories producing more. Those are the petty bourgeois stupidities typical of liberal democracies which include the Social Democrat traitors, the Christian Democrats and other minor species insistent on the babble of social pseudo-justice.

The two essential jobs of the Communist revolutionaries are, first, to demolish the power structure of the “old regime” and to substitute their own people for it; second, to take over the productive apparatus, ruin businesses that they cannot manage and nationalize the rest in order to deprive the old capitalist oligarchs of resources.

It is in these activities that Communist revolutionaries demonstrate if they have succeeded or failed. That is the benchmark. Lenin and Stalin succeeded, at least for several decades. Mao and the Castros succeeded. Chavez succeeded … for now.

What does it matter to Maduro that there are skeletal children who faint from hunger in school or that the sick die for lack of medicine? His definition of success has nothing to do with the feeding or health of Venezuelans, but with that fevered and delirious little world they call, pompously, the “consolidation of the revolutionary process.”

That explains the leniency in the face of immense theft of public treasure or the complicity with drug traffickers. Welcome. Marx also delivered the perfect alibi: They are in the first phase of capital accumulation. In this period of regime change, like someone who sheds a skin, anything goes.

And there will be time to re-establish honesty and to trust that the centrally planned five-year plans will bring something like prosperity. For now it’s about enriching the key revolutionaries: The Cabello brothers and their nephews, the docile generals, the Bolibourgeois, which is to say the revolutionaries in service to the cause. They have to have full pockets in order to be useful.

Do you understand now why the Communist revolutionaries repeat time and again the same framework of government? They are not mistaken. The upheaval is part of the construction of the new State.

Do you understand why the Castros advise Maduro to follow the unproductive Cuban model and why he doggedly obeys? What matters to the Chavistas is keeping power and exchanging the government elites for their own.

Do the Colombians understand what the guerrilla chief, Timochenko, means to say when he promises to revolutionize Colombia when he comes to power? Or Pablo Iglesias in Spain when he asserts that he will use in his country the same prescription that was recommended to the Venezuelans? They are consistently destructive.

That is the Revolution. Exactly that. Nothing more and nothing less.

Translation by Mary Lou Keel

Humor and Exile Combine in the Sketches of Several Cuban Cartoonists / 14ymedio, Mario J. Penton

“Not even with self-employment?” (Santana) Courtesy of the author
“Not even with self-employment?” (Santana) Courtesy of the author

14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, 31 July 2016 – “The cartoons are not what gives the cartoonist the most laughter but how much they were made to pay for them,” joked Ley Martinez, one of the five cartoonists invited to the Independent Art and Literature Festival in Miami this Saturday to talk about exile cartoon humor, their experiences and outlooks.

The graphic artists Aristide (Aristides Miguel Pumeriega), Garrincha (Gustavo Rodriguez), Pong (Alfredo Pong), Ley Martinez and Omar Santana spoke about their work for more than an hour with about a hundred people. They remembered the years of work in Cuba when publishing a cartoon could cost them a job. continue reading

“At the end of the eighties, there came a Soviet journalist from Pravda who was interested in interviewing me because of a cartoon I had made called ‘The Bobocracia.’ They were publishing it in Moscow as a demonstration of Cuba’s glastnost progress. What they got was the next week I was prohibited from going on with that work,” remembered Aristide.

The limitations of the profession’s practice on the Island impelled many of them to create their art outside of the country. Nevertheless, censorship also is present on the other side of the Florida Straits. “Miami is a very prudish city. There are problems with placing sexual symbols in the cartoons. In important media outlets they are very careful with so-called obscene words. But in the end, there exists freedom of creation. It is another type of censorship, but it, too, is censorship,” said Santana.

For Ley Martinez, a graphic designer and cartoonist for eight years, the invitees to the meeting this Saturday represent a wide spectrum of styles and themes. “They have been, since Aristide, who is an emblematic figure in Cuban graphic art, ending with me taking the first steps in the genre.”

The artist shared his experience in the use of social networks for the spreading of his work and commented on the difference between those who stay in traditional press outlets and the young ones who use more virtual media. “We want to create an environment of opinion so that people understand from the art what is happening,” he added.

“Exiled Graphic Humor: Experiences and Outlooks” panel. (14ymedio)
“Exiled Graphic Humor: Experiences and Outlooks” panel. (14ymedio)

For Martinez, graphic humor in exile does not have to be limited to Cuba. “You can make local graphic humor. About the mayor of Miami or Hialeah. It is one way of raising awareness and states of mind,” he said.

Aristide, meanwhile, said that for him the cartoon is inextricably linked to the fight against the Cuban government: “I always wanted to come to Miami because it was the other side of the coin. I had to come to this city to continue the fight against the Cuban dictatorship that seized my son. That fight of the Cuban people means a lot to me.”

The artist, a veteran of the event, remembered the years in which he was persecuted because of his work on the Island, for which he had to exile himself in Miami. About the current state of the cartoon in south Florida, he lamented the decreasing presence of the cartoon in media outlets, especially those related to Cuba.

For Garrincha, the work of the graphic humorist should not be reduced to cartoons and political satire. “One should speak of the humor in the graphic and the graphic in the humor, and people should be open to other kinds of humor.”

The artist thinks that an interaction on humoristic themes is maintained between the Island and the Cubans of Miami. “Often I have found that they send me a cartoon by email from Cuba, and they tell me, look how good this is, and when I look, the cartoon is mine. The flow between shores is maintained.”

Among the attendees of the event was the Cuban writer Legna Rodriguez Iglesias, in addition to other artists and writers from the Island as well as from the diaspora.

“How not to come to an event like this? In the sketches of these artists each of us has seen a reflection of ourselves. Even Bobo de Abela has emigrated by now,” commented Elizabeth Diaz, one of those present.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

“I Have Not Been Able to Overcome Laura’s Death”/ Cubanet, Hector Maseda

Title on video: “The most difficult moment was when they tried to accuse me of spying…”

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Julio Cesar Alvarez and Augusto Cesar San Martin, 29 July 2016, Havana – Hector Maseda dreamed of designing big ships and hanging his naval engineering degree where everyone could see it, but “since they only built boats here,” he graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.

His excellent grades assured him a post in the National Center for Scientific Research (CNIC) until 1980 when the Mariel Boatlift changed his life, as it did for tens of thousands of Cubans who decided to emigrate, but from a different angle.

Hector did not emigrate but lost his job at the CNIC for refusing to repudiate his colleagues who chose to leave the Island. He stopped enjoying the “political trustworthiness” indispensable for working at the center, the “father of science in Cuba.” continue reading

From a scientist with three post-graduate studies and author of several scientific articles, he became a handicrafts vendor for more than a year in order to be able to survive. After going through several different jobs he began to work in the medical devices department in the oldest functioning hospital in Cuba, the Commander Manuel Fajardo Teaching Surgical Hospital.

It was there, on Christmas of 1991, that he began the courtship of Laura Pollan, a teacher of Spanish and literature who would later become a symbol of the peaceful struggle for human rights in Cuba.

The spring of 2003 was a “Black Spring” for Hector and 74 of his colleagues (known as the Group of 75). Sentenced to 20 years in a summary trial for a supposed crime against the independence and territorial integrity of the State, he spent more than seven years in prison.

From that Black Spring emerged the Ladies in White, a group of wives and family members of the 75 dissidents. Laura Pollan, because of the arrest of Hector Maseda, quit her job as a professor in the Ministry of Education and became the founder and leader of the Ladies in White.

“From that moment, she gave up all her pleasures, all her intellectual and social inclinations, etc., and became a leading defender of human rights,” says Maseda.

But Laura would not survive long after Hector’s liberation. A strange virus ended her life in 2011, although Hector Maseda is convinced that the Cuban political police assassinated her.

President of the National Commission of Masonic Teaching and past-President of the Cuban Academy of High Masonic Studies, Hector has traveled the whole road of Cuban Freemasonry.

From apprentice to Grade 33 of the Supreme Council for the Republic of Cuba, he is one of the 25 Sovereign Grand Inspectors of the order which is composed of about 29 thousand Masons spread through more than 300 lodges around the Island.

He has worked as an independent journalist for outlets like CubaNet, Miscelaneas de Cuba and others. His book Buried Alive recounts the conditions of the Cuban political prison system and the abuses of jailers against political and common prisoners.

But he, who at age 15 was arrested and beaten by the Batista police after being mistaken for a member of the July 26 terrorist group and at age 60 psychologically tortured by Fidel Castro’s political police by being subjected to sleep deprivation in interrogations, still has not overcome the death of his wife Laura Pollan.

“I have not been able to overcome that trauma,” says Maseda.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Emigrant Must Earn Brownie Points to Enter Cuba / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton, Miami, 21 July 2016 — With blood-stained clothes and wounds and bruises on her arms, Ana Margarito Perdigon Brito returned to Miami from Havana’s Jose Marti Airport this past June. No one knew how to rationalize that the Cuban government prohibited her, a citizen of that country whose paperwork was in order, from entering the land of her birth.

“It is a form of revenge by the Cuban government towards emigrants. It is a type of blackmail by which, if you behave as they desire – which is to say, without being rebellious – you can enter your country; but if you dare to criticize the regime you may lose that right,” says the activist who left Cuba in 2012 in order to live in the US. continue reading

The Cuban exile, who lives in Homestead in south Florida, tried to enter Cuba for a second time in order to visit her sick mother in the Sancti Spiritus province. “The first time they turned me away at the Miami airport when I tried to fly to Santa Clara.   On this second occasion, they let me arrive in Havana, but once I was there, they told me I could not enter the country because, according to the system, I was prohibited entry into Cuba,” she says.

Her passport is up-to-date and valid with the corresponding renewals plus the authorization, an entrance permit for which Cubans living abroad pay and that supposedly has “lifelong” validity, although it can be nullified by Cuban officials.

She tried in vain to convince the immigration agents to let her speak with a supervisor or to explain to her by what rationale they impeded her access to a universal right. The answer was always the same: “The system indicates that you are prohibited entry. You must go back,” while they insisted that if she wanted to enter the country, she would have to seek a humanitarian visa.

The practice is not new; from Arturo Sandoval to Celia Cruz, a considerable number of Cubans have had to deal with the all-powerful Bureau of Immigration and Nationality in the last six decades in order to enter the Island. In many cases unsuccessfully as has happened to several people who could not even attend funerals for their parents. Many experts thought that with the new immigration law enacted in 2012, the situation would change, but it has not.

Perdigon believes that this is another sign of the Cuban government’s unscrupulousness as regards the diaspora. “They do not forgive me for the activism that I carried out within Cuba,” she explains.

Receiving no answer about her case, she tried to escape from the room where the immigration officials had taken her, and she was hit and wounded in a struggle. “I tried not to beg for my right but to win it [because] no one is obliged to obey unjust laws,” as Marti said.

Originally from the Sancti Spiritus province, she and her family belonged to several independent movements, joining political parties and initiatives favoring the promotion of human rights.

The passport of exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito (14ymedio)

The passport of exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito (14ymedio)
The passport of exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito (14ymedio)

“On many occasions we were repressed, and we suffered acts of repudiation. One afternoon, my little daughter came running in a fright to warn me that many screaming people were coming. It was an act of repudiation that they had prepared for me in the neighborhood. On another occasion, they gave us a tremendous beating in a town called Tuinucu and jailed us,” she remembers.

Her case is not unique. According to independent statistics compiled by media, dozens of similar stories have happened in recent years. Nevertheless, there are no official data about the number of Cubans who have been denied entry into the country.

“People do not demand their rights publicly, and they don’t denounce these arbitrary situations,” comments Laritza Diversent Cambara, manager of the Cubalex Legal Information Center, via telephone from Cuba. “When we go to review statistics, countries like Canada have more complaints about human rights violations than Cuba, and we all know that is because of ignorance or lack of information about demanding their rights, because if there is anything abundant in this country, it is human rights violations,” she contends.

According to the lawyer, denial of entry by nationals is not contemplated in Cuban legislation. “It is a discretionary decision by State Security or the Bureau of Immigration and Nationality, but there exist no laws that regulate it, so people are exposed to the whims and abuses of officials,” opines the jurist.

“They cannot give the reasons for which they deny entry into the country. They do not argue that he is a terrorist threat or that the person lacks some document or formality. It is simply an arbitrary decision,” she adds.

The practice is not limited only to dissidents, activists and opponents. Diversent says that her office handled the case of a rafter who left the Island in 2011 and who continued traveling regularly, until in 2015 the Cuban authorities told him that he could not enter the country again.

14ymedio has known of similar cases of journalists, members of religious orders and doctors who took refuge in the Cuban Medical Professional Parole (CMPP) offered by the United States.

Exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito marching through the streets of Santa Clara (14ymedio)
Exiled Cuban activist Ana Perdigon Brito marching through the streets of Santa Clara (14ymedio)

“One time I made some statements to a local newspaper in Spain about the hardship suffered by the Cuban people, and on return to the Island several officers confronted me in the airport, telling that if I did something like that again, they would revoke my temporary religious residency,” said a Spanish missionary who prefers for safety reasons not to be named.

The methods for preventing entry are as varied as the steps to take for immigration procedures in Cuba. There are people who have been denied passport authorization, as was the case of the well-known visual artist Aldo Menendez. On other occasions, Cubans are turned back at the last minute from the airport from which they tried to fly to the Island, as occurred to activist Ana Lupe Busto Machado, or they wait until they land in Havana after having spent 450 dollars on passport preparation, 20 dollars on the entrance permit or 180 dollars on the renewals, plus the price of passage from Miami which approaches 500 dollars, to tell them that they cannot ever enter their country again.

14ymedio tried to communicate with the Cuban Office of Immigration and Nationality, but authorities refused to respond to our questions.

“This kind of procedure should not surprise anyone,” says attorney Wilfredo Vallin, founder of the Cuban Law Association. “The government has a long history of actions that do not abide by its own law. Until recently wasn’t there in effect an express and unconstitutional prohibition against nationals entering hotels? What about human mobility within the Island? Isn’t that regulated, too?”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Dozens of UNPACU Activists Detained Attending a Funeral / 14ymedio

Patriotic Union of Cuba activists carry out marches in spite of frequent arrests (UNPACU)
Patriotic Union of Cuba activists carry out marches in spite of frequent arrests (UNPACU)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana – Dozens of activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) in Santiago de Cuba were arrested this Tuesday and on Wednesday morning when they tried to go to the funeral of one of their members. The detentions coincided with the burial of Maximilliano Sanchez Pereda, 72 years of age, who died Tuesday morning at the Juan Ambrosio Grillo Hospital.

“They set up several police cordons in order to prevent brothers from arriving to show their sympathy to the family of the deceased,” said opponent Ovidio Martin to 14ymedio via telephone. The visitation was held on Tuesday night at Sanchez’s house, “because that was his will,” he added. continue reading

Martin explained that during the day in the area of Palma Soriano “they arrested about 30 activists” and “more than 20 in the area of Santiago de Cuba.” They were all set free that same night, and the police warned them that they could not attend the funeral.

At dawn on Wednesday, near Palmarito de Cauto, another 35 members of the organization were arrested and “kept in an enclosed truck for hours in sub-human conditions, completely closed and without a bathroom,” said Martin. The same source says that on Wednesday afternoon, “they were all set free” although “they suffered arbitrary and in some cases violent arrests.”

The burial of the deceased took place Wednesday morning, and the activist says that at the moment of the burial there arrived at the cemetery “a truck full of paramilitary forces dressed as civilians pretending that they were community services.”

Martin thinks that the purpose was to prevent a cross from being left at the grave on behalf of the family members and activists on which appeared the deceased’s day of birth, the burial date, and the acronym UNPACU. “Right there a dispute broke out because the paramilitary forces pulled the cross from the grave saying that the abbreviation could not go there.”

Eventually the opponents returned “to put the cross in place.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Fear Grows of a Possible Return to the Special Period / 14ymedio, Zunilda Mata

A gasoline station in Havana between 23rd and Infanta in Vedado. (14ymedio)
A gasoline station in Havana between 23rd and Infanta in Vedado. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 4 July 2016 – Along with high temperatures, summer has begun in Cuba with cuts in electricity consumption in state facilities, a gasoline shortage in the capital’s gas stations, and a fear of the return of the Special Period. According to sources consulted by 14ymedio, authorities have informed Communist Party militants and some unions of a possible return of the hardships of the nineties if the president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, is forced to leave power.

According to a source who has requested anonymity, a document circulating in collective law firms since last month recommends preparing for an increase in crime due to “economic problems and the arrival of more travelers to the country.” continue reading

This Sunday, the signs of an economic slowdown were already felt with the shortage of regular gasoline in most of the service stations managed by the Fuel Marketing Company (Cupet) in the capital. At least 17 of 20 gas stations visited by this daily demonstrated a deficit of fuels.

A Cupet employee said by telephone that there is a “shortage crisis,” although the official press has not made any reference to the matter. The worker denied that the lack of gasoline was due to an imminent price reduction, as rumored days before among the populace. “How are they going to lower the price if there is none?” she admitted.

Cuba receives subsidies from Venezuela valued at approximately 10 billion dollars a year, including 66% of the petroleum that is consumed on the Island.

With the drastic reduction that oil prices experienced in the international market, Cuban consumers have waited months for a reduction of gas prices in the retail market. Currently a liter of regular gasoline sells for 1 CUC, while the same amount of special grade hovers at 1.2 CUC.

The shortage of regular gasoline was repeated this Sunday at the Cupet in Ciudad Deportiva on Via Blanca and Pizarro streets, and at the gas station known as El Principal in the Boyeros district, and also at the establishment on Ayestaran Street. At others, like El Forestal at Independence Avenue and Santa Catalina, only special gasoline is sold at the moment, the same as at the El Nuevo business on Porvenir Avenue in Lawton.

“All morning from one place to another looking for regular gasoline, and it’s lacking,” protested Omar Suarez, 58 years of age and driver of a Russian-make Moskovich auto. The driver pointed out that such a thing “has not been seen since the years of the deep Special Period” and complained about having to buy special gasoline, which is more expensive and not “of the quality that they advertise.”

The fuel scarcity has come with cuts in the working hours of state facilities as a savings measure, together with stricter rules against entities that exceed their electricity consumption quota. The meat market in the Plaza Carlos III center was closed several days last week with only a counter at the door for the sale of yogurt, chicken and sausages.

“We can’t keep the place open and all the refrigerators running because we would be spending more than we earn from sales,” says one employee. “The warehouse is almost empty, and it doesn’t pay if we don’t have merchandise to put on the shelves.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Totalitarian Left and Their “Escraches” / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (EFE)
Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos A. Montaner, Miami, 2 July 2016 – Cesar Nombela is the chancellor of the Menendez and Pelayo International University located in Santander, Spain. He is a renowned researcher in the world of microbiology. It occurred to Dr. Nombela and the Governing Council to award former Colombian president Alvaro Uribe the institution’s Medal of Honor, as they had done previously with other politicians from the democratic West, and immediately the totalitarian left, which has it in for Uribe, launched a protest.

In the face of the orchestrated scandal, the institution’s authorities, startled, decided to delay the award ceremony and to “widen the inquiries.” Uribe, who had exerted no effort to receive the unexpected honor, asked that it be revoked and urged the Chancellor to promote a good debate about the topic of Colombia. A person whose enemies have tried to assassinate him 15 times is more interested in substance than vanity. continue reading

This is a perfect example of the growing climate of intolerance cultivated in Spain by the totalitarian left. In 2010, then-professor Pablo Iglesias organized an escrache at Madrid’s Complutense University in order to prevent Representative Rosa Diez, an open and tolerant social democrat, from being able to express her ideas. Escrache is a sinister lexicographic contribution from Argentina, apparently of Langue d’Oc origin, which describes violent acts undertaken to silence an ideological adversary.

Lack of Fans, the Lifelong Annoyance / 14ymedio,Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Customers in a Havana electronics store, in line to buy fans
Customers in a Havana electronics store, in line to buy fans

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Havana, 30 June 2016 – The star of home appliances in Cuban homes is not the television, nor even the powerful refrigerator. In the summer, the leading role belongs to a less serious but very important object for heat relief: the fan. But what happens when buying one of these pieces of equipment becomes a real battle against shortages, lines and bureaucracy?

For several weeks, temperatures have exceeded 86 degrees throughout the country, and like every year, the demand for fans is skyrocketing. However, in the government’s chain of “Hard Currency Collection Stores” (TRDs), the supply of these devices fails again, especially in Havana’s most populous districts, among which are Centro Havana, Cerro and 10 de Octubre. continue reading

Last weekend customers in the long lines in the centrally located Carlos III Business Plaza were alerted about the arrival of a new batch of fans. “They came!” shouted an employee to those awaiting the unloading of the coveted merchandise. Two hours later, more than a hundred people waited to carry home their “friend” with blades and motor.

“They didn’t come for more than a month,” explained an employee to 14ymedio while he helped test one of the devices for a family that arrived with two small children. Consumers came from several areas of the city since it’s the “only place they’ve supplied with them,” commented a worker from the nearby Nguyen Van Troi clinic.

The great flow of customers and the poorly functioning air conditioning in the well-known store made fan buyers resort to newspapers or magazine covers in order to fan themselves in the midst of the intense heat of the facilities.

“I don’t leave my house without my personal fan,” explains Eneida, a teacher who is dedicated to tutoring students for university entrance exams. “This is my special fan, it never fails, I don’t have to wait hours to buy one, and it doesn’t need electricity,” the woman says ironically about her popular fan, made with a thin wooden slat and colored cardboard.

One of the rooms in which they sell scarce equipment was also set up to relieve the long lines in the Carlos III Plaza electronics department. The prices of these pieces of equipment approached 34.45 CUC, the monthly salary of a Public Health professional, in spite of the fact that they are of low quality and have a high rate of returns because of technical defects.

A tour carried out by this daily of other stores in the city yielded similar results. In the majority of them there are no fans for sale, not even the most expensive ones that commonly “don’t sell as fast,” according to an employee of the Puentes Grandes mall.

The location, in the west part of the capital, has not received devices of this kind for more than four weeks and “all those that arrived last month were returned by customers because they had problems,” added the worker.

Other provinces also suffer the fan shortage, among them Santiago de Cuba, known for its high summer temperatures. In the store at Troch and Cristina, a scalper whispers of the sale of a turn in line to access the business and reach one of the few fans on display. At a price of 39.45 CUC, the devices ran out before midday, to the annoyance of buyers and under the watchful gaze of several police officers who were guarding the place to prevent hoarding and fights.

The black market is delighted with the shortage situation of the in-demand appliance. In the illegal distribution networks prices have soared, and advertisements on digital classified sites offer products that are scarce in the state sector.

“I have pedestal fans called Cyclones that throw out a world of air,” said a young man outside of the Carlos III Plaza among the eager buyers who were waiting to enter the electronics department. “They are made in the USA and have remote control,” proclaimed the salesman who, for 90 CUC (roughly $90 US), heralded “a bargain and no waiting in line.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Cuba’s Self-Employed Join State Union to Avoid Trouble / 14ymedio, Mario Penton and Caridad Cruz

Street vendor in Havana (14ymedio)
Street vendor in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario J. Penton/Caridad Cruz, Miami/Cienfuegos, 24 June 2016 – Like every morning, Maria Elena and Enrique go out to sell vegetables, tubers and fruits in the streets of Cienfuegos. At temperatures of more than 86 degrees and with a sun that “cracks stones,” they travel the city carrying their products house to house and earning their bread, literally by the sweat of their brows. They are part of the more than 12,600 self-employed legally registered in the offices of the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) in the province, a not inconsiderable number for the officials of the Cuba Workers Central Union (CTC) which has seen in these “workers” an opportunity to increase their ranks.

Cuba has a unionization rate of almost 96%. According to official statistics, more than three million workers belong to18 unions that are grouped under the umbrella of the Cuban Workers Central Union, which functions as a conveyor belt for the Communist Party’s “instructions.” continue reading

“Our work day begins at five in the morning. At that hour we have to go wait for the truck that brings the merchandise from the towns. Those who transport the products are the ones who negotiate the price with the farmer, and we negotiate with them. Sometimes people don’t understand the high prices, but it’s because everyone needs to eat,” says Maria Elena.

The self-employed woman is 53-years-old and her son is 19. They have chosen this way of earning a living because, as they say, “working for the State does not provide.”

“Sometimes the inspectors come and fine us because we are stopped in a place. Of course, you can always resolve it with some little gift: some cucumbers, a pound of tomatoes…everyone has needs,” she says.

CTC leaders have found in these problems the breeding ground for promoting membership.

“The street vendors have basic problems with the inspectors. The advantage of belonging to the union is that if they unfairly fine you, the workers can come to our offices and have the situation analyzed. If they show that the sanction has been unjust, we can intervene for its dismissal. Belonging to the CTC, you are protected,” says a union member who prefers to not give his name.

According to the vendors, the union have been inviting them for months to become part of the Agricultural Workers Union. “We don’t understand why, but it seems that they want everyone to be unionized,” says Enrique, who also says that, “it does not solve anything for the people.”

Several leaders of the CTC consulted by this daily said that more than 80% of the self-employed people in this area are enrolled in some union.

Union dues vary between two and eight pesos according to the worker’s earnings, although the majority of self-employed pay the minimum. The members also have to pay “My contribution to the homeland,” an update of the concept of “día de haber” – the “voluntary donation of a day’s wages to the Territorial Military Troops, to be spent to acquire weapons for the “defense of the homeland.”*

“People are not much interested in unionization, they do it simply so that they don’t get screwed by them,” explains Roberto, a man self-employed as a scissors and nail clippers sharpener.

“Sometimes they fine us just for the fact of remaining a long time in the same place selling. What happens is that these days there is so much sun that we have to take refuge under a shrub for a while in order to sell, and there the inspectors fall on you. Since our license is issued for mobile vendors, we cannot spend too much time in the same place,” says Enrique, who believes that the self-employed workers are the most vulnerable.

“You can be fined about 700 pesos for selling too much on one corner. But what’s a reasonable time that you can be in that place is not noted on any official document, it is at the complete discretion of the inspectors who take advantage of any reason to impose a sanction,” he says.

Although the Government promotes its organizations by all means, barely 48% of membership attends union meetings in Cienfuegos, as recognized by the official press. Independent union organizations exist in the country, like the Cuban Independent Union Coalition, heavily harassed by State Security. However, none of the self-employed consulted for this report say they are familiar with them.

The southern city’s statistics reveal what is a fact at the national level. After some first months in which the self-employed were left alone, the CTC encouraged carrying out “political work” in order to make them enter the ranks of the organization. According to their numbers, more than 400,000 “self-employed workers,” of the 500,000 registered in the country, belong to the official organization. For the moment, the creation of a union just for the self-employed continues to be a project “under study.”

“There is no other option, in the end we will have to join like everyone else, so that they don’t classify us as disaffected and rain more blows on us. We have to keep fighting, because we have to resolve it,” say the self-employed who prepare to end their day at eight at night, counting their meager earnings.

*Translator’s note: The so-called “día de haber” was initiated by Fidel Castro in 1981, requiring workers to “donate” a days wages to the military. The program was later renamed “día de la Patria,” meaning ‘One Day’s Work’ for the Homeland. The custom (and name) goes back to the Cuban independence struggle of the 1800s.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Cuban Opposition Deplores Secrecy of Cuba-EU Negotiations / 14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart

Conference on European Union-Cuba relations held this Tuesday at the European Parliament in Brussels (ALDE)
Conference on European Union-Cuba relations held this Tuesday at the European Parliament in Brussels (ALDE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Felix Lleonart, Brussels, 1 June 2016 – Cuban representatives who participated in the conference in the European Parliament held last Tuesday in Brussels about relations between the European Union and Cuba were skeptical about the cooperation agreement that will be signed by both sides at the end of the year, or at the latest, at the beginning of 2017.

The Island’s delegation – Rosa Maria Paya, promotor of the Cuba Decides campaign; Pedro Fuentes Cid, spokesman for the Historical Center of Political Prisoners; and the author of these lines, a Baptist pastor and manager of the Cuban National Conference – lamented that civil Cuban society has not been taken into account in the negotiations for the agreement that will substitute for the European Union Common Position which, since 1996, has delineated relations of the twenty-eight EU countries with the Island. continue reading

Also present at the meeting, organized by the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), were Ben Nupnau, official from the European Foreign Service Division for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and Pavel Telicka, vice-president of ALDE.

Nupnau expressed Europe’s good intentions for the positive effects that the cooperation agreement could have on democratization and respect for human rights in the Cuba. Nevertheless, the Cubans present argued that the Island’s government had not given the EU any expectation of guarantees about human rights and democratic freedoms, given the persistent signs of verifiable repression in 54 Sundays of harassment of the Ladies in White and the monthly statistics of arbitrary detentions produced by Cuba’s Human Rights and National Reconciliation Commission.

The Island’s delegation pointed out the secret character that so far tarnishes the agreement and questioned the fact that neither European nor Cuban citizens had been able to express opinions about its contents.

The delegation also encouraged the EU, if it is in competition with the United States with respect to Cuba, to also compete in support of civil society. The panelists emphasized that, in spite of pressure by Cuban negotiators, the US had not given up doing so, while the EU only supports civil society as conceived of or endorsed by the government in Havana, the very one that has tried to muzzle it.

The EU, according to participants in the meeting, must be aware of the close relations that the Cuban government has with enemies of Europe and of democracy such as North Korea, Russia and Belarus.

The Cuban ambassador in Brussels, Norma Goicochea Estenoz, declined the invitation to participate in the meeting and sent an email to explain that she could not meet in the same place as “mercenaries.” The diplomat acted consistently with the intransigent position of the Cuban government, capable of sitting down to negotiate with the biggest powers, even when, as in the case of the United States, it has to do with its historical enemy, but refusing to engage in dialog with its own people, whom it thus insults and denigrates.

On Wednesday, the official presented a complaint to the European Foreign Service about the ALDE conference. Some supposed that it was going to make clear that its embassy had nothing to do with certain attendees who took advantage of public intervention time in order to question the legitimacy of the panelists, matching the views given in her email. It is supposed that those who suspect that may be right, given that the reason for her urgent visit to the European chancery was to again lash out against the panelists and, in turn, also against Telicka and ALDE.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Soldiers in Business: Bad Deal / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Soldiers in the economy: A bad deal (photo EFE)
Soldiers in the economy: A bad deal (photo EFE)

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 30 May 2016 – The survival of the Castro regime increasingly appears to be in the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR). And not only because of the generals who run some of the most important ministries but also because of the general-businessmen of the Enterprise Administration Group (GAESA).

GAESA, whose managing director is Colonel Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, father of one of Raul Castro’s grandsons, invoices more than a billion dollars a year. It has sugar plants, the TRDs (Hard Currency Collection Stores), Caribe and Gaviota, which impose abusive taxes on commodity prices, the Almacenes Universales SA, farms, mills, telecommunications and computer industry, trade zones, etc. And if that were not enough, having most of the hotel and marina capacity, it governs tourism, one of the country’s main sources of foreign income. continue reading

Some things borrowed from capitalism have functioned successfully in FAR’s enterprises.

At the beginning of 1985, after the shipwreck of the Economic Planning and Management System copied from the Soviet model, FAR implemented the Business Improvement System on a trial basis in the company “Ernesto Guevara,” in Manicaragua, Villa Clara, the largest facility of the Military Industries Union.

The experiment was supervised by General Casas Regueiro, who kept General Raul Castro, then FAR Minister, regularly informed about the matter.

Two years later, the experiment was extended to the military industries throughout the country.

The Business Improvement System (SPE), which Raul Castro called “the most profound and transcendent change to the economy,” copied capitalist forms of organization and administration: corporations, joint stock companies, management contracts and partnerships with foreign companies.

SPE permitted the Cuban army to ride out the worst years of the Special Period. If it was not introduced on a national level it was for fear of its consequences, which would have been worse than those of shock therapy.

In 1994, Fidel Castro, pressured by the deteriorating situation, agreed that a group of businesses from the Basic Industry Ministry would enter the SPE on an experimental basis. Later 100 more businesses were incorporated.

In 1997, the Fifth Congress of the Communist Party adopted the SPE as an economic strategy. After Raul’s succession, the extension of business improvement to the entire Cuban economy was conceived as a long-term strategy for preserving the status quo.

At the end of the last decade, when more than 400 businesses that implemented SPE were the most efficient in the country in terms of costs and results, it seemed that the Cuban economy was beginning to move to general application of that system. But it was a too-artificial model to extrapolate it to the rest of the national economy. To begin with, the unaffordable and disastrous enterprise system in Cuban pesos was not compatible with business improvement in dollars.

With SPE, the military men played the economy to advantage. Their businesses bore fruit in a greenhouse environment. They did not have to face labor or capital competition, they had unlimited access to state resources and benefitted from disciplined labor accustomed to obeying orders. Production factors, prices and marketing were at their disposal. Investments were provided by foreign businessmen prepared for unscrupulous deals in exchange for a minimum participation in the businesses.

Although they have had relatively modest success, there is not much to learn from the FAR businesses. And that is because a nation is not governed as if it were an armored division.* War is one thing, and managing a country’s economy efficiently is something else, although both things use bellicose language interchangeably.

FAR, dragging its old slogans and obsolete Soviet weapons, also reflects the system’s wear and tear and the distortions of current Cuban society.

Military men crammed into businesses can become problematic in the not-too-long term. Distanced from the interests of the people, they contribute to the system’s continuity. But they will always be stalked by temptation. Contact with foreign capitalists foments greed and corruption. This has been happening for some years.

When they feel their privileges and properties granted by the proprietary state threatened, their loyalty to the bosses or their successors will be put to the test. We will see what will happen then.

About the Author: Luis Cino Alvarez

*Translator’s note: An allusion to Cuba’s hero of independence José Martí’s words to General Maximo Gomez during the independence struggle: “A nation is not founded, General, as a military camp is commanded.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

“I Am Prepared To Go to Prison Today,” says Berta Soler / 14ymedio

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, during the art exhibit by El Sexto in Miami, Florida. (14ymedio)
Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, during the art exhibit by El Sexto in Miami, Florida. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 May 2016 – From early hours Sunday a major police operation surrounded the headquarters of the Ladies in White in the Havana neighborhood of Lawton, according to denunciations by several activists from that organization. At least “13 women and four opponents were brutally intercepted outside the house” and forced into police cars in the last 13 hours, dissident Luisa Ramona Toscano Kendelan said by telephone to 14ymedio. continue reading

The group that surrounded the property included, as has become customary, a conga line with music through powerful speakers and signs that use the opposition campaign slogan “We All March” together with the phrases “with Fidel,” “with the Revolution” and “with socialism.”

At several points in the city similar operations prevented the women who form part of the human rights organization from reaching Santa Rita Church. Several on-scene witnesses report that at least two Ladies in White had managed to reach the vicinity of the parish on the western periphery of Havana.

Minutes before her arrest and in statements to this daily, Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, declared that she was ready to confront the risks of leaving her organization’s headquarters in order to exercise the right of “peaceful demonstration.” She explained that she was prepared to go “to prison to await the trial” with which they threatened her last week for a charge of resisting the authorities.

“I am prepared, I have my blood pressure monitor, my pills, shots, personal hygiene articles, flip flops … I carry it all. I am again going to commit the crime they accuse me of, so I expect to end up in the Manto Negro women’s prison.”

In the morning hours in the Matanzas province, Lady in White Leticia Ramos Herreria, who urged agents to take her directly to prison to await trial, was detained. Nevertheless, the State Security officers responded to her that “it was still not time.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

The Language of the Enemy / Cubanet, Camilo Ernesto Olivera

One of the urinals is "clouse" (photo: Camilo E. Olivera)
One of the urinals is “clouse” (photo: Camilo E. Olivera)

Decades of stigmatization of the English language weigh on Cubans’ collective unconscious

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro, Havana, 27 November 2015 – It was Saturday night at a restaurant located on the downtown corner of O Street and Avenue 23. The bathroom was closed but, at least not completely. A sign, placed on the door to one of the available toilets, announced that it was out of order. As the Hotel Saint John is very close by and the restaurant is in a tourist area, whoever placed the sign tried to write it in Spanish and English.

But where it meant to announce closed was written “clouse.”

Imperialism talked and sang in English

After 1972, the Russian language requirement became widespread at various levels of education.

For years, repression of Anglo music, especially rock, marked more than a generation of Cubans. According to the regime, imperialism spoke and sang in English. As a result, classics of Anglo Saxon rock and pop from the sixties and seventies were known in Cuba through Spanish versions by groups from Madrid and Barcelona. Or there emerged on the island musical duos like Maggies Carles and Luis Nodal, “translating” into Spanish songs that were originally from Britain or the United States. continue reading

Ten years later, in some urban schools and high schools, English classes were offered using the Spectrum manual. This coincided with the period that followed the first Cuban law of foreign investment in 1982. The 1990’s marked a radical change after the end of the Soviet Union. In the midst of the crisis, language schools were filled with Anglo Saxon language learners.

The Americans come. The Cubans go.

This time the US invasion seems to be serious. They are not the “assassin marines” that, like the famous “Coco” of the horror stories for children, the regime showed in its political cadre training schools. The blondes do not disembark with M-16 rifles; they arrive with sunglasses, cameras, dollars and an almost insatiable curiosity.

In the capital’s private inns and restaurants knowledge of the language pays well in order to cater to those potential visitors. Few reckon that, when the current US president leaves the White House – Obama has been the main promoter of rapprochement between the two countries – things could take another turn between the two shores. A Republican leader, winner of the November 2016 elections in the US, would have the option of reversing the current process of detente.

Nevertheless, the perspective plans for “Yuma tourism” grow in the minds of the small business owners. The closest thing to the fable of the shepherdess and her jug of milk.

Meanwhile, other Cubans offer to sell their homes, cars, bodies, whatever will bring them money. The first step is to fly to Ecuador, then begin the odyssey en route to the United States which, recently, has taken on dramatic overtones on Costa Rica’s border with Nicaragua.

Talk to me in English

English language proficiency is essential for entering the US labor market on good footing. Weighing over thousands of potential Cuban emigrants from several generations is ignorance of that language that opens doors and opportunities. Others reject it being in Cuba.

Arriving in the north, they need to double their effort in order to adapt to another way of life which includes the need to communicate in the language of the host country.

Misnamed a thousand times in Cuba as “the language of the enemy,” it is the most important commercial language in the world. The greater part of music, movies and popular culture in general that is produced and consumed at a worldwide level is of Anglo Saxon origin. Cognizance and observance of federal laws of the United States and of each state also require knowledge of English.

The United States has not only been the refuge for those who flee the Cuban regime but also a challenge to creativity and self-improvement for those who arrive from the Island. And the English language forms a logical part of that necessary challenge.

camilo-ernesto-olivera.thumbnailClick name for author bio: Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro

 

 

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Any Day Is A Bad Day To Die Alone / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas
Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas (14ymedio, Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 23 October 2015 — The National Funeral Home, nine at night. In one of the rooms only one person is found. A woman is rocking in the chair furthest from the coffin. She’s filing her nails. “Who was the deceased?” asks someone from the doorway. “I don’t know; I’m here waiting for my daughter who went to the bathroom,” she answers. When she gets up and leaves, the casket is left alone. No one has come for the final goodbye.

The image of a society where families take responsibility for grandparents until the end of their days has shattered in recent decades in Cuba. The aging population, economic problems and high rates of migration among the young are some of the reasons that many elderly people find themselves without family support or company. continue reading

“You can plant a tree, raise a child or write a book, but that does not mean you won’t be alone when the reaper comes,” says Manolo, 81 years old, who lives in a rooming house in the Los Sitios neighborhood of Havana. A retired engineer, he has lived alone for more than 20 years since his son left for the United States during the rafting crisis. Among his greatest fears are dying with no one nearby and “that they find me because of the stench,” he says ironically.

According to official figures, 18.3% of the Island’s 11.1 million residents are over age 60, and by 2025 it is estimated that the elderly will exceed 25%. Cuba could become the most aged country in the Americas. The situation presents not only a challenge for the health care infrastructure and social security system, but also for family organization and humanitarian agencies.

Although it is still common to find grandchildren, parents and grandparents under the same roof given the serious housing problems, the cases of old people who live alone also have increased in recent years. According to the 2012 census, in 9% of Cuban homes at least three generations live together, but in 12.6%, old people live alone.

Every day, those people have to overcome the obstacles of solitary old age. Low pensions or lack of family affection are among the reasons that they do not spend their last years in the material comfort and affection that they always dreamed of. Instead, they have to take care of themselves, appealing to neighbors in search of support or asking for help from humanitarian organizations.

Laura, 64 years of age, is one of more than 3,000 volunteers from Caritas who assist some 28,000 people, especially the elderly, throughout the country. There is a lot of work given the increase in the number of people who are growing old alone. She believes that in a few years she, too, will need help because she never had children and she was widowed five years ago.

“I give food to some because they have problems getting around, while others I keep company on one afternoon or another, and I talk to them,” explains this retired teacher who lives on the outskirts of the city of Ciego de Avila. Based on her experience, “there are more old people living alone because many of their children have left the country.”

Across the hall of the rooming house in Los Sitios, where Manolo lives, an old woman has just been taken to the hospital. “Her daughters do not know, because we have to wait for them to call from Spain in order to give them the news,” he says. Nevertheless, the man believes that once admitted she is going to be more careful because they cannot keep taking care of her.

Bedridden, the woman needed her neighbors to help her bathe and eat. “Everyone living here is old, and we can no longer carry her to the bathroom,” the old neighbor worries. “The daughters send money for disposable diapers and skin cream, but they are not here to help day in and day out,” says the old man.

However, the Public Health system does not seem to be prepared to deal with the marked aging of the Island’s population, either. Of the more than 83,000 doctors in the country in 2013, only 279, some 0.33%, were specialized in Geriatrics and Gerontology.

In rural areas the phenomenon of old people living alone seems to occur less often, but it is still worrisome. “The youth don’t want to learn about the countryside, and they leave, so that this has turned into a town of old people,” says Maria Antonia, 69 years old and resident of Vertientes, Camaguey. One of her sons is working in Veradero in a construction crew, and the other “joined the military, and they gave him a house in Havana,” she explains.

The woman has a surprising routine for someone her age. “I get up before five to brew the coffee that I later go out to sell in some places.” She can be on her feet three or four hours in the morning to offer her merchandise. “When I return home, I am in a lot of pain,” she says. “But what am I going to do?” she asks resignedly.

“I only have neighbors when I am in pain and need to go to the doctor,” explains Maria Antonia, who suffers from heart disease. Nevertheless, she says she prefers her current situation of solitude to ending up in a nursing home. “No, that would kill me; I need to be active,” she says. For months she has not been able to clean because of arthritis in her hands, and she pays a woman to clean her house. “I’m fading little by little,” she explains uneasily.

More than 142,000 senior citizens reside in Camaguey province, but there is a capacity of only 911 beds in 13 nursing homes plus 24 daycare centers for the elderly. In statements to the local press, Doctor Jesus Regueira, head of the Elderly, Social Assistance and Mental Health section of the Provincial Public Health Department, has lamented that the availability of beds does not correspond “to the potential demand.”

However, most of the elderly consulted for this article say that the lack of family affection is the greatest problem of living alone. “Sometimes I spend days without talking to another person,” says Maria Antonia. “What I fear most is leaving this life without anyone knowing; it scares me that there is no one to close my eyes.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Laughing at the Castros, a Mortal Sin / Cubanet, Victor Manuel Dominguez

Eleuterio
Eleuterio, character in the play “Crematorium” (archive photo)

For the Cuban government, when satire is against the “enemy,” it is useful and refreshing. Otherwise it is subversive

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Victor Manuel Dominguez, Havana, 15 October 2015 – In a country where joking, sarcasm, satire, mockery, in sum, any kind of humor, are more daily than our stunted, acidic, furry and greenish daily bread, the authorities become tense and wage war on any joke large or small that unleashes laughter.

Apparently, political and economic control, leftovers for citizens and other deeds by a Revolution in power, prevent them from chuckling, laughing or even cracking a smile that allows them to resemble a human being and not the miserable lout who fears a raspberry more than the Devil on the cross. continue reading

According to the article, A Very Serious Joke, published in the State newspaper Granma by Sergio Alejandro Gomez, the Office of Cuban Broadcasting (OCB) from the United States, is prepared to finance an act of subversion in Cuba, in the form of a satirical program.

Mocked Mockers

For the information and serenity of the “de-humarized” spokesman, if “humor is the gentler of despair,” as Oscar Wilde said, we Cubans are the friendly gentlemen of the joke, the courteous knights of mockery, and the attentive guests of parody, in a country where one laughs in order not to cry.

And if not even Jorge Manach himself, with his Investigation of Mockery, could prevent us Cubans from laughing at ourselves, still less will a bitter dictator be able to do it, a lap dog with an anemic smile or anyone who publicly censors humor because of fear and locks himself away in order to laugh.

Besides, there is no one like the Cuban authorities for inciting mockery as long they are not mocked. From the beginning of the Revolution, the magazine Mella and the Juventud Rebelde supplement, El Sable, began to satirize the American people, their government and their way of life.

Marcos Behmaras, in his Salacious Stories from Reader’s Indigestion and Other Tales mocked them with “a fresh and suggestive humor, a tone in keeping with our character, but always provoking reflection by means of accurate, witty satire through a sense of humor that always attacks deeply, not remaining on the surface,” according to “joke-ologist” Aleida Lilraldi Rodriguez.

Which is to say that when satire is directed at the other, the enemy, it is useful and refreshing. Otherwise, it is subversive. If Marcos Behmaras had trained his satirical guns at olive-green prudishness and excessive modesty, the salacious stories would have fallen on him like a flood of party membership cards.

His brilliant satirical articles Is It Worth It Having Money?, Those Happy Ones Dead from Hunger, by “Miss Mona P. Chugga” Eisenhower’s Trip: Failure or Triumph? by “Mary Wanna,” or Are You a Potential Psychopath? by “Doctor John Toasted” would have gotten him condemned to death for joking.

A Hanging Offense

To illustrate even further what a joke, satire or any other kind of humor costs when it is aimed at a totalitarian regime, let’s remember, incidentally, that The Joke (1961), a novel by Czech writer Milan Kindera, was described as “the Bible of the counter-revolution.” Another of his works, The Book of Laughter and Forgetfulness, got him stripped of his nationality. Tolerant, no?

But Cuban rulers do not lag far behind. Like imitators of any system or religion, they consider laughter a relaxation of good customs, a lack of seriousness and from other priestly poses that bring on death by boredom, they contribute their grain of bitterness against humor.

In the 1960’s, the comedy duo Los Tadeos was expelled from Cuban television and exiled for the simple crime of asking on a live program: “What is the crowning achievement for a president?” and answering: “Starving people to death and giving them a free burial.”

Around the same time, but in the Marti Theater, a comedian as great as Leopoldo Fernandez (Three Skates), in a scene where he had to hang several paintings of famous figures on the wall, on seeing that one was the image of Fidel, he pointed at it with his finger and said: “Look, I hung him.” It was the last straw.

That joke sufficed to have him shut out of the theater, and the humorist had to leave for exile or starve at home. And although other cases right up to today attest to the rulers’ fear of mockery or satire, none remained in the popular imagination like those.

All except for a popular and prescient joke that was attributed to Cataneo, a singer with Trio Taicuba, who on seeing the Caravan of Liberty with the bearded ones pass along Havana’s Malecon on that distant January 8th of 1959, he was said to say: “Only those who know how to swim will be saved.” And so it was.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel