A Stone in the Shoe / Laritza Diversent

I don’t intend to persuade anyone that Cuba is some kind of hell. Nor to change the mind of those who imagine that it’s a paradise. But it still bothers me to read in the national press that Washington is taking measures to tighten the embargo.

I’m not a politician, but every morning is filled with problems, with transport, with food, with medicines, etc. Everything is a problem and I don’t think that it is because of the US embargo, although it’s the perfect excuse.

After 50 years, the US measure became a matter of policy, and it is a political measure, not an economic one. In the currency collecting shops there are US products and Cuba also imports food from that country. Nevertheless, things are still bad because of the blockade, at least that is what we read daily in the national press.

On the other hand, the man in the street doesn’t notice the embargo despite the propaganda on the hoardings that reminds him that, in one week without a blockade, it would be possible to buy 11 railway engines. All this is immaterial when you are looking for something to eat, or trying to avoid political persecution, for a pound of coffee and two pounds of cheese.

There is a single truth; the embargo has not brought down the communist regime and its removal wouldn’t end all the social problems. The sad thing is that both governments treat it as war of attrition, and others have to pay the price.

U.S. contractor Alan Gross,expressed his desire to improve communication between Cuba and other countries, a gesture that is both valued and appreciated. But that is not enough when facing a sentence in Cuba. This is an outcome of the political dispute between Cuba and the United States.

If you want to know what I think, I am in favor of the elimination of the embargo or at least the more detrimental parts of it. I consider it to be an ineffective measure, though I recognize that the people whose properties were confiscated by the government deserve fair compensation.

It’s time to put forward ideas and to negotiate, if we are truly interested in the future of Cuba. This is the moment, and the opportunity. The popularity of the charismatic leader is very low, the socialist economy is bankrupt and they is no way to deal with the needs of society.

It just needs the “threat from outside ” to disappear for Cubans to act for themselves, not conditioned by hunger. Those who believe that a tightening of the blockade will bring us out on the streets beating cooking-pots are wrong. If it didn’t happen before, it certainly won’t now.

It’s true. Possibly, after a hypothetical elimination of the embargo, the government will continue to require travel permits to leave the island, will deport easterners from the capital back to their provinces, and will not allow us to invest in the economy on equal terms with foreigners.

Nor will it stop repressing anyone who opposes its policies. That is, there will no more freedoms. However, the information blockade might disappear, Cubans could have more contact with other countries and, above all, there would be no justification for those leaders who have spent 50 years blaming the blockade for their own failure.

It’s time to think, with our feet on the ground, and especially those who live across the sea, in democracy. It is wrong for them to play politics with our misery. The embargo is a stone in the shoe, for the transition.

Translated by: Jack Gibbard

September 18 2011

The Government Considers Abolishing the Invitation Letter as a Travel Requirement / Laritza Diversent

The streets of the island were full of comments after, around the middle of the month, the government brought out a paper with the debates of the congress, and a leaflet with the ideas that were passed, confirming that Cubans will be able to sell their houses and cars, and in the future to travel as tourists.

In the 60′s the revolutionary government, for political reasons, empowered the Ministry of the Interior to decide which Cubans could enter and leave the island. In 50 years the motives for emigrating have changed, but the controls and the bureaucracy involved haven’t.

At the moment Cubans cannot make international trips as tourists. The Law on Migration only allows people to leave Cuba on official business or to visit friends and family. Those who travel for private reasons have to show a letter of invitation.

“To consider a policy which permits Cubans resident in the country to travel abroad as tourists”, says the final line of decision number 265, passed in the communist congress, and intended to be carried out during the current five year period, which began in January 2011.

“Pack of lies, imagine waiting till 2015 to hear the results of the study, that there will be no entry or exit permits”, said Juan after buying the pamphlet. This man, about 40, wanted to check for himself the rumours that began to circulate the second week of May, when it went on sale.

The document must be applied for and issued in the country of residence of the inviting person and must be legalised through the consulates. It is valid for one year and is issued to a single invited person, for a single journey.

Its removal means the disappearance of one of the most troublesome pieces of bureaucracy which Cubans have to pay for in order to travel, and, as well as the visa of the country they want to visit, they also need to get an entry and exit permit.

The problem then would be that the State would give an entry permit to someone who, under whatever conditions, would be a potential emigrant. Ecuador abolished the visa requirement for Cuba. Since then thousands of Cubans, legally or illegally, are looking to legalise their situation in that country.

Undoubtedly it will still take a lot to abolish the system of permits and discretionary powers which the government has to issue them. In these proposals there is a lack of precision — the word freedom is also missing — and, whatever it says, few Cubans are hopeful of travelling as tourists some day.

Translated by: Jack Gibbard

May 26 2011

Cuban Justice has the Gift of Second Sight / Laritza Diversent

The court of Camagüey sentenced Delvis David Peña Mainer to 40 years in jail, for the brutal murder with a machete of 23-year-old Yeinier Moreno Leyva and his wife, 17-year-old Yuliet Urquiz Batista.

Peña Mainer, 44, pleaded not guilty. According to the court, the assessment of the available evidence against him was “exhaustive, objective and above all based on scientific principles” which turned out to be consistent and “which lead inevitably to the conviction that the accused is guilty of the crime.”

The tribunal accepted unreservedly, “because of its scientific rigour”, that the “psychological autopsies” of the victims of the crime, which it described as “effective and true instruments”, because “they are in agreement with the real characteristics of the subjects”.

Yeinier, the murdered young man, “was essentially an insecure character, lacking confidence, who made sex a priority”, the sentence claimed. This circumstance showed, firstly, the motives of the accused based on the existing comments, and secondly, that he went to meet him because he knew him and they were friends.

The couple moved away from “Tiempos Nuevos”, a neighbourhood in Vertientes, in Camagüey, but it was rumoured there that Yeinier was having sex with the daughter of his neighbour, David, and also with his wife.

Peña Mainer “decided to avenge the insult that he was being subjected to, physically removing it”, the court confirmed, describing the man as obsessive and hysterical. A psychiatric examination and a graphological analysis were carried out on him, which stated that “he was capable of carrying out this horrific crime”, according to the court of justice of Camagüey.

Peña Mainer had no criminal record but, at the trial, several witnesses “described him as a violent, untrustworthy man who was always ready to use the machete to sort out any problem, however unimportant”.

Specialists from the Meteorological Centre of Camagüey confirmed that on the night of the murder, there was natural light. The report showed that Yuliet, the murdered woman, identified Peña Mainier during the attack, and so, having been discovered, he decided to kill her.

A psychological autopsy was also performed on the citizen Francisco, a neighbour, who, after the murders, committed suicide. The evidence showed that he “gave priority to his work, was a quiet man who valued friendship and had a great sense of shame, so that his way of life can be classified as acceptable”.

“The analyst could not say that his death was not related to the events, but he stated that, judging by these aspects of his personality, he was not capable of committing a crime of this nature”, declared the sentence of the court.

The Court of Camagüey, with Sentence number 57 of the 30th March 2007, showed a new kind of power in the Cuban justice system. Not only does it uphold the law, rigorously and severely.  It also abuses its skill at fortune-telling. It communicates with the spirits of the dead to conclude with absolute certainty that Peña Mainer is guilty.

Translated by: Jack Gibbard

May 12 2011

The Day Orlando Zapata Died / Iván García

Photo: Laritza Diversent. Symbolic vigil at Laura Pollán's house, 23rd and 24th February 2010.

An event of such magnitude always leaves its mark. The death of Orlanado Zapata Tamayo, at the age of 42, is indelibly engraved on my memory.

In the afternoon of 23 February 2010 I was at the home of the independent lawyer and journalist Laritza Diversent, reviewing some legal cases which might be of journalistic interest.

I already knew about Zapata’s hunger strike. About the physical abuse he had suffered. About the reports that spoke of his rapidly deteriorating health, after more than 80 days without food.

My mobile phone didn’t stop ringing. On the 20th of February, three days before his death, I got a text message from another informant, letting me know that Reina Luisa Tamayo, his mother, had been summoned urgently to Section 21 of Cuban Intelligence. They wanted her to talk to her son to get him to give up the hunger strike.

The sequence of events was very rapid. That Tuesday, while I was discussing work matters with Laritza, I received a deeply moving text. It was from the blogger Claudia Cadelo. She said that at 3:27 in the afternoon, in the hospital Hermanos Ameijeiras, Orlando Zapata had died.

Laritza and I were dumbstruck. Then, everything happened very quickly, like scenes from a video clip. I tried to get a plane ticket for Banes, a town in the province of Holguín, more than 700kms from Havana.

José Martí airport appeared to be under siege. A foreign journalist told me that he had not even been able to get a ticket by bribery. Incredible for Cuba. Politely, the woman at the information desk gave out that there would be no tickets for Holguín for a week.

An airport worker called me to one side and told me in a whisper, “Brother, this is a tough one. You won’t get a ticket for a thousand dollars. Some guys from Security said that if you get on a plane, all of us who work this shift will be sacked.”

I tried to get a bus ticket, I worked out that the journey would take 14 hours, but I couldn’t manage that either. All the options were closed.

I don’t want to be self-important and imagine that Security was responsible for my not being able to get to Banes. The opposition leader Martha Beatriz Roque, and Laura Pollán one of the leading members of the Damas de Blanco, hired a car to Holguín, but when I called Martha, they had already left.

I felt beaten. As a journalist I couldn’t get the latest news out. And as a man, I wanted to be at his family’s side at that terrible time.

Walking through the city with Laritza, we met the independent journalist Jorge Olivera, one of the 75 dissidents jailed in the spring of 2003. Olivera told us stories about Zapata, they were together in some godforsaken prison, and he said that at Laura Pollán’s house, on Neptune Street, a book of condolences had been opened.

It was almost twelve midnight when we reached the house, headquarters of the Damas de Blanco. Next to a Cuban flag and a photo of Orlando, around twenty people were gathered in the small room.

There we spoke with members of the movement that Zapata belonged to. Outside the house we could see the political police.

When I arrived home at about 4 in the morning I was nearly exhausted. Before I was overtaken by sleep, I went over the notes I had taken that day about Orlando Zapata Tamayo. We had a great deal in common. Our love of baseball, and our race. I wish I had known him.

Photos: Laritza Diversent. Symbolic vigil at Laura Pollán’s house, 23rd and 24th February 2010.

Translated by: Jack Gibbard

February 24 2011

Healthy and Patriotic Regrets / Antunez

I’ve lost count of the number of phone calls, text messages and remarks passed on by others, from friends wishing they could have taken part in last Friday’s march. Why didn’t you let us know? Hey, man, we missed it! Tell us next time? These are some of the words and messages I’m hearing over and over.

I don’t know how many times I’ve had to explain that we didn’t have enough time to prepare the action as we’d have liked, or the chance to tell people in other provinces and organizations.

Even the important opposition leader Heriberto Liranza, one of the particpants, said that there wasn’t enough time to coordinate an action on this scale. Sara Marta Fonseca, pillar of the Front, is very upset because at the last minute she had a family matter arise. From Holguín, Marta Díaz and Caridad Caballero complained that they hadn’t been informed in time. We all greed with the leader of the Eastern Democratic Alliance, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina that, had he been contacted, the East of Cuba would have been rocked by the march.

Let the oppressors get ready! They’ll end up sick of the Front, and its protests in every corner of the country. Let them know this is just the beginning, because in the end they know what’s coming and they can feel it approach. They won’t know what’s hit them! The Orlando Zapata Tamayo National Front for Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience will make them pay a high price for the murder of Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

Translated by: Jack Gibbard

Spanish post

November 18 2010

The Front: A New Nightmare for the General-in-Chief / Antunez

For several months now the forces of repression have suffered the daily nightmare of having to face a new phantom, the “National Civic Resistance and Civil Disobedience Front Orlando Zapata Tamayo”, an initiative born inside Cuba as a result of the need to join forces and take action on a national scale. Inspired by the teachings of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, the members of the Front arrange throughout the country actions of public protest and civil disobedience, which work to awaken the conscience of the citizens and achieve engagement and systematic communication between geographically distant leaders and organizations and above all to demand, with one voice, respect for the human rights of Cubans.

The journalist Raúl Luis Risco Pérez in Pinar del Río; Sara Marta Fonseca Quevedo, Heriberto Liranza Romero, Hermógenes Guerrero Gómez in the capital; Juan Francisco Sigler Amaya and the patriots of the Alternative Option Movement in Matanzas, as well as Francisco Rangel Manzano, Caridad Burunate Gómez and Ernesto Mederos Arozarena; in the southern province of Cienfuegos, Alejandro Tur Valladares and Ricardo Pupo Sierra; Idania Yánes Contreras, Yuniesky García López, Yris Pérez Aguilera, the veteran Blás Augusto Fortún, in Cuba’s most central province; in Sancti Spiritus’ territory Adriano Castañeda Meneses who is one of the most enthusiastic pillars of the Front; in Ciego de Ávila, Julio Columbié Batista, Plinio Cruz Tamayo; in the historic Agramontina territory Virgilio Mantilla Arango, Julio Romero Muñoz, Yoan David González Milanés, Belkys Bárbara Portal Prado among other important leaders honor us with their presence and that of their respective groups in the Front. The eastern part of Cuba tops off our Front with the strength and representation that deserve prestige and among the women Caridad Caballero Batista, Marta Díaz Rondón, Gertrudis Ojeda Suárez and Reina Luisa Tamayo Danger, mother of the martyr Orlando Zapata Tamayo; among the men, what to say about the brothers Néstor and Rolando Rodriguez Lobaina, Cristian Toranzo Fundichely, Raudel Ávila Losada? How do we not feel honored with the militancy of Yordis García Fornier, Enyor Díaz Allen, and other eastern patriots? That is the Front.

Members speak for themselves, with their own voice, and activism is the response to as many questions as may appear.

Translated by: Jack Gibbard

November 18 2010

Concern About the Media Comeback of Luis Pavón / POLEMICA: The 2007 Intellectual Debate

For more information about this series of posts, please click here.

From Jorge A. Pomar

Are the intellectuals waking up?

Everything in Cuba is as rotten as in Hamlet’s Denmark. It all stinks. Even the Horaces of the UNEAC (Cuban Writers and Artists Union) stink. Yet another proof of this is the electronic call to arms just emitted by Desiderio Navarro in Havana as a result of the unexpected resurrection of Luis Pavón, once powerful, if not all-powerful, President of the National Council for Culture, via the programme Impronta (Imprint) on Cubavisión. Auturo Arango and Reynaldo González have already broken a lance on his behalf in what has become a promising campaign. Whatever the objections of those of us who are not on the inside — and it will be seen that mine are many and forceful — we should not only welcome the initiative of the combative as ever Desiderio, but also support it wholeheartedly, heaping fuel on the fire of good faith; that is, with the intention of forcing them to draw conclusions and see themselves as others see them.

But it is no less true that the arguments made leave a lot to be desired. Which is partly explained, of course, by the risk that they are running by sending such a protest on the Intranet. What is not easily explained is what can be inferred from their captious arguments, the implications and underlying meanings derived from their words.

According to all three — who have signed up to the ideas of the so-called ‘criticism tsar’ in Cuba, Ambrosio Fornet — Pavón and a couple of minor civil servants (among them Lisandro Otero, who they are careful not to mention as he is currently fashionable in the vile on-line literary magazine La Jiribilla, but he was Pavón’s second-in-command) were responsible for an unfair cultural policy (1967-1971), now happily left behind. In their eyes, with the public reappearance of Pavón the shadow of the Leviathan of the ‘Pavonado’ can be seen again, threatening the freedom (?) of the ‘true’ creatives.

It is a version of the tale of the noble king applied to his majesty Fidel Castro, who in half a century has never shown signs of acknowledging the corrupt actions of his evil ministers. In fact, the ‘silence and passivity of almost all of them’, the ‘complicity and opportunism of many’, which Desiderio puts in brackets, are still characteristic of the attitude of the Island’s intellectuals today. The troubles of writers and artists did not finish in 1971, as Fornet would believe, or have the rest of us believe.

Pavón, who was certainly no angel, he has been the favourite scapegoat since 1971 of those who, rightly or wrongly, like to think of themselves as his victims. It would take a casuistic analysis, a task in which I have no interest, to determine the role that each played then, or plays now. However, Pavón’s offence consists, no more and no less, in having been the figurehead, the instrument of the Revolutionary Government which carried out mercilessly the cultural policy of a Revolution which the members of the UNEAC applauded, and still applaud in their show of protest — rapturously at a time of jails bursting at the seams and firing squads overburdened with work. Those ‘plentiful 60′s’ of which Desiderio speaks were, in fact, the cruelest years of Castro’s rule.

After swallowing all this rubbish without complaint, after condemning like Cain colleagues who fell from grace every time they were asked to do so, and above all, living rather better than the great unwashed thanks to the subsidies in dollars (now CUCS) of the UNEAC, likewise the prizes and the trips abroad etc., I fear it will be sufficient for the charming (with the literati almost always) “comrades” of State Security to give them clip round the ear, if they haven’t done it already given the gravity of the situation, for them to start to walking crab-wise again. It would be a pleasant surprise for me to discover that I am wrong. Clearly, they do not feel any guilt, educated Little Red Riding Hoods from the story of the good king, constantly misinformed. however, their greatest merit in the end of the Five Gray Years (which is now a “Dark Half-Century”) has been to live with their backs to the national drama, shut in their ivory towers during the three ashen decades of the wolverine Pavón.

On the other hand, they know very well the price of protest. That’s why, out of an instinct for self-preservation, they have never dared do it. When, to take one example, in 1989 I protested about the upcoming execution by firing squad of General Ochoa and his company during a plenary session of the UNEAC, they all responded with silence. “You’re crazy! and immediately, by order of Abel Prietrio, who was chairing the session they moved on to the matter which really concerned them: How to pick up a few dollars making some artistic or literary contribution to the then resurgent tourist industry?

Willingly or by force, far from supporting it, they signed the UNEAC’s 1991 official protest against the Letter of the Ten, a range of moderate reforms which attempted to reduce the misery of most Cubans. In contrast, they didn’t oppose the execution in 2003 of those three young, impoverished black men, who were only trying to get away from the paradise famed in so many poems and tales. And of course they kept very quiet about Raul Rivera and those condemned in the Black Spring. The list of their public silences (in private they sometimes dare to express their condolences), complicities and collaborations could go on indefinitely.

Why not, then, give Luís Pavón, who in 30 years could well have reconsidered and be a different man, the benefit of the doubt? Any court would consider his crime “spent”, and in any case, no life was lost. Not so the pristine Reynaldo González, who makes no bones about bringing up the “Nazi Holocaust of the Jews”. Incidentally, anticipating a possible return of the ‘perestroikist’ (let’s not forget, please) Carlos Aldana, he encourages the fear that “the tough guys” might return. Reynaldo, get this for once: “the tough guys”, with a healthy bunch of opportunists and social climbers of all kinds, now have a stronger than ever grip on power and “among the indolent curled up at their posts” the more intellectuals gather, the more they keep their heads down. Not all of them, of course. Quality counts too.

The “Cuban intellectual field”, Arturo, has not “become over-complicated”; rather it has been corrupted to the core. The “luck of the revindicated blacks”, and of those who demand nothing, is still as black as their skin. On the television they are only given roles as slaves, guerrilla fighters and beggars; in real life they are forbidden access to management posts in the dollar economy. Ask “Ambia”, who I heard tell the story again in a video filmed in his lovely Parque Trillo. Homosexuals have made some progress but, outside the world of culture, they are still stigmatized. Tolerance is not the same as acceptance. The “belligerent right” and “passive pragmatists” you speak of, what are they, if not the eloquent result of the “success” of the current culture policy? Give them their full names, if you would. As for the rest, no one thinks, or disagrees, “from the left and from the revolution”. It is good enough to do it with the brain, which is divided in two hemispheres for a reason.

To state that Fidel, with his sadly famous “Words to Intellectuals”, was trying to dispel the fear of “those creators who are neither revolutionaries nor counter-revolutionaries” (Desiderio mentions Heberto Padilla, whose name he doesn’t use, as it’s taboo) seems to me if not an act of political procurement, at least an extravagant piece of deliberate nonsense. It’s laughable. The leitmotiv of this speech, plagiarised from Mussolini by the way, leaves no room for doubt: “Within the Revolution, everything; Against the Revolution, nothing”. Tutto nello Stato, niente al di fuori dello Stato, nulla contro lo Stato, declared Il Duce on 28 October 1925. Translate. You’ll remember, nostalgic Desiderio that, after listening to Fidel in the Function Room of the National Library in June of 1961, Virgilio Piñera took the floor and mumbled, “I am very much afraid. I don’t know what I am afraid of, but that is all I have to say”:

And so, if our ineffable ‘creatives’ protest now, about this televisual trivia heavy with bad omens, it’s more because of their simple professional selfishness. The privileges and cash benefits which, in order to keep them onside, their cultural paymaster Abel Prieto has granted them with the blessing of the Great Leader. The suffering, the deprivation, of the vast majority of the population, doesn’t seem to matter to them in the least, outside the world of literary fiction. Although we know that, inside, they too suffer, From bad conscience.

The television programme given over to Pavón does, at least, break the routine of the usually yawn-inducing schedules in which an important place is given to the self-promotion of the victims of that bête noir of Cuban culture. At last something worth seeing on Cubavisión, among all the usual ritual, triumphalism, creole tradition and 19th Century art! Even though it’s just to work up some alarm, like Desiderio and company. Alarm that I share, since it is very clear that behind the grandiose demands of Pavón lies the hand of the Raulist generals. Bad omens for art during the approaching handover of power. With all this, as far as I’m concerned, I would consider it acceptable as long as it ended the misery of the population and, above all, doesn’t last longer than the biological clock of the Castrist old guard. Art can wait. That’s how direct and right-wing I am.

Besides the reservations I’ve set out, I shall not hesitate a moment in supporting a protest that, although it strikes me as timid, wet and confused, could be the trigger for a far-reaching political and ideological debate. My respects to Desiderio. Congratulations! Our intellectuals have to start somewhere. In the end it might be that minimalism works better in politics, which tolerates it more, than in literature, where it requires higher levels of excellence. If only this unpleasant media event might serve to waken the intellectuals from their long, Sleeping Beauty-like, slumber, and give them courage to include all Cubans in their fair demands and, using their energy for nobler causes, finally start to play their proper role in an Island that is at the most important crossroads in its history, but doesn’t appear to know where it’s going. About time. Now we must hope they don’t disappoint yet again.

Jorge A. Pomar

Germany

Translated by: Jack Gibbard

January 2007

Initiative for the Abolition of the Death Penalty on the Island / IntraMuros

Press release

(Miami-Madrid-Warsaw, 10 December)- A group of Cubans celebrates the International Human Rights Day by launching a campaign to abolish the death penalty on the Island.

It is an initiative of the Christian Democrat Party of Cuba, based in Miami, which already has the support of the group Convivencia Cuba (Pinar del Río), of the Federation of Cuban Associations, the Cuban Human Rights Observeratory (Madrid), and the Cuban Workers Council. It has also received the backing of the former prisoners of conscience José Luís García Paneque, Víctor Rolando Arroyo Carmona, Pedro Pablo Álvarez Ramos and Alejandro González Raga, all part of the “Cause of the 75″.

The campaign seeks to start a national debate on the need for the death penalty to be removed from the Cuban criminal code.

The organizers maintain that respect for life should be encouraged in Cuba and they call on all Cubans, both on the Island and in exile, to choose life, opposing the damage caused by so many decades of “Socialism or Death”. They believe the initiative is also in line with the challenge of making changes in Cuban society through justice and reconciliation, not by vengeance.

Cuban society has, for decades, been taught not to value life, but to pay homage to death: ‘The Fatherland or Death’, ‘Socialism or Death’ have been the most important slogans. We have gained nothing by following that path; let life, and not death, be the cornerstone of our future.” (Campaign message).

The opening text of the campaign reminds us that the death penalty still exists in Cuban criminal law. It acknowledges that the regime has, in practice, suspended the use of the death penalty in recent years, ‘but this is due to tactical convenience and not to doubts about the morality of it‘. And it recalls that the death penalty was applied in 2003 after several years in which it had not been used. ‘All Cubans, especially those condemned to death, know that the regime retains this terrifying power and that it may use it at any time‘.

Against this fact, they declare that the free and democratic world is more than ever aware that the death penalty must be abolished in all countries.

Any person or group who wishes to express support for the position of this organization can do so at the web page: www.nopenademuertecuba.com, where they will also find a box for suggesting other initiatives which could help in the campaign.

Contact details:

Marcelino Miyares
Phone: 001 3057783977
miyares@pdc-cuba.org

Translated by: Jack Gibbard

December 9 2010

An Odd Kind of Tribute to the Flag / Fernando Dámaso

  1. A few months ago, amid a great fanfare of propaganda, the ashes of Emilia Teurbe Tolón were brought back and placed in a monument, built on land to the side of the main chapel in the Colombus cemetery, in the city of Havana. It was Teurbe Tolón who, in New York, towards the end of the first half of the 19th century, made the first Cuban flag, our national symbol since the Constitution of Guáimaro in 1869. Later she continued to work for the independence of Cuba. This tribute is well-deserved; it’s good to acknowledge our history.
  2. The odd thing about this recognition of the flag is that it was restricted to the person who made it, while the man who designed it, ordered it to be made, brought it to Cuba, unfurled it for the first time in Cárdenas, Matanzas (19-May-1850), fought for it, and died for it by the garrote in Havana (1-September-1851), was ignored. I refer to General Narciso López.
  3. Narciso López, of Venezuelan origin, who married in Cuba and lived there and in exile in the USA, has been a divisive figure in the history of Cuba. Both praised and criticised in the time of the Republic, depending on the political swings, during this extended period of more than 50 years he has been: either completely forgotten as a patriot or demonised as a supporter of annexation.
  4. The interesting thing about Narciso López is that, although he lived in a time in which the desire for independence was not supreme, but rather the demand for annexation and reform, he was not an annexationist, and no historian, of the right or the left, has been able to show that he was with any credible evidence.
  5. There is something which should not be forgotten: Narciso López, Venezuelan born, trained as a soldier in the Spanish army, he planned and fought for the independence of Cuba, (he was a pioneer in this, 20 years before Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and the Cubans took to the hills), he raised on Cuban soil, for the first time, the national ensign, and he gave his life for her bravely. He was a man of his time (1798-1851) and he deserves honour and glory, and to take his rightful place in the history of the Cuban nation.

Translated by: Jack Gibbard

November 18, 2010

Would Communism be Good for Cubans? / Iván García

In theory, to live under communism should be a nice little number for Cubans. As money doesn’t exist, you don’t have to pay bills for rent, electricity, water or the phone. If we had internet connections, they would be free, too.

If you’re hungry, you go to the supermarket and fill a trolley with groceries. No check-outs or security cameras. If you get tired of your old American car, you pop down to the showroom and swap it for a Russian or Chinese model.

In practice, the idyllic communist society that we’ve had to listen to them banging on about for half a century is completely crazy. And unsustainable. An incredible dogma. A trap to catch out the gullible.

Religions involve individuals. But the worst thing about the theories of Karl Marx is that they involve the society as a whole and condemn it co-exist with dictators, tyrants and patriarchs who, with a firm hand, are meant to lead us to a system in which everything is free. Quite a tale!

The reality is very different. To achieve unanimity, laws are made which send those who disagree to prison. Parties with other shades of ideology are forbidden. And those who defend the Western lifestyle are contemptuously called ‘unpatriotic’.

In closed regimes, the clever people insist that socialism, the prelude to communism, is better than capitalism. So far no one has been able to prove this. Look at the case of Cuba. An island with an unstable economy that lives like a beggar, going cap-in-hand around the world.

The worst thing is that after 50 years of deprivation the local ideologues tell us that with the new policies of sackings, private enterprise and the removal of state subsidies, now, really, truly, we are going to start… the construction of socialism!

A bad joke. The US embargo of Cuba is no excuse for the fact that fruit and vegetables have disappeared in this country. That the fields are filled with the invasive marabou weed [Dichrostachys cinerea- a plague in Cuba]. That the cows give little milk and the hens have gone on strike.

The leaders in Cuba survive with the millions sent back home by emigrants and with the dollars and euros spent by the capitalist tourists. With this ‘enemy’ money they want to build their communist utopia.

They’re stubborn. Not even the example of the late USSR — which fell after 74 years of gross stupidity and brought the Berlin Wall down with it — makes them doubt Marxism.

Iván García

Translated by: Jack Gibbard

November 21, 2010

The Showcase of Cuban Education is Showing Cracks / Iván García

When, on the 6th of September, more than two million children, teenagers and adults began the new school year in Cuba, for their parents it meant yet another problem.

The youngest of them carry schoolbags weighed down with water, buns, sweets and soda. And even food. They look like mountain climbers. As the mid-morning snack and lunch given to primary children is usually little more than garbage, their parents have to spend a considerable part of their salaries buying food for them.

Those who have hard currency can give them something fairly substantial. Bread and tuna, ham or pork. Natural fruit juice and yoghurt. The ones who really suffer are those who receive a salary in pesos, and struggle to make ends meet.

Carmen knows this well. She’s divorced and has three children of 6, 9 and 12. “Their father is a worthless type. He’s never bothered about his children. I don’t have enough money. Every day is a problem. I make them bread with catfish dumplings, but they’ve had them so many times that now they can’t stand them. If I have eggs I make them omelette. To drink there is only squash or sugared water. Sometimes they have nothing”, says Carmen, clearly stressed.

School uniform is another problem. The disgusting state bureaucrats have decided to provide one uniform per child every two years. Just imagine. Many children grow quickly and can’t wear the uniform the following year. Their parents have two choices. Either they buy one on the black market, at 5 convertible pesos (6 dollars, half the minimum wage in Cuba) or they go to school without a uniform.

The other major complaint of parents with children in primary and secondary schools is the standard of the teachers. Their training is abysmal. They are usually young people between 16 and 20 without adequate knowledge or a vocation to teaching.

This means that some families have to pay extra money. There are parents who choose to pay private teachers. And for 15 or 20 dollars a month they reinforce the learning of their children.

Technology and pre-University students are a little better off, as they have older, more experienced teachers. And now they aren’t sent a long way from home, where they had to work on the land and the food was scarce.

The level of education in Cuba is very low. It is fallen alarmingly in recent years. If you are in any doubt about this, ask our teenagers and young people about history, politics or culture and you’ll be surprised by the high level of ignorance. To this ignorance must be added the poor and inappropriate use of the Spanish language.

Fidel Castro can still be very proud of education in Cuba with its more than a million University graduates. This is worthy of high praise.

But we’re going downhill fast. Many people are trying hard not to notice that the showcase of the revolution is beginning to show cracks.

Translated by: Jack Gibbard

September 17, 2010

Fidel Castro in his Element after Half a Century / Iván García

On the overcast morning of September 28, the historic leader was in his favourite environment. Public events. The adulation of the masses. His natural state. It is in big gatherings where Castro has given speeches of up to 14 hours, true Guinness records, and where he whipped them up into a state of delirium.

The 50th anniversary of the CDR (the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution), an organization he founded, on the 28th September 1960, on returning from a 10 day trip to New York, where he had attended the 15th group of sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations, was a date that the old warrior could not let pass unmarked.

The CDR is one of his monsters. Created originally to keep an eye on people labelled “worms and counter-revolutionaries”, it has lasted five decades. As well as having a social function, its prime purpose is still the same: to watch out for dissidents.

The balcony was installed in the old Presidential Palace, today the Museum of the Revolution, 300 m from the Havana promenade, on one side of the Spanish Embassy. Castro spoke after the national coordinator of the CDR, Juan José Rabiloero, had read an inflammatory text in which he warned that the “counter-revolution would not be allowed to take over the street, squares and parks”, in a veiled threat to the Damas de Blanco.

Beforehand, the singer of the moment on the island, Haila María Mompié, sang one of her hits, and as she finished, she wished him good health, said she loved him, and kissed him. Then the aged leader, in his trademark clothes — the olive green jacket and starred cap — read for 42 minutes excerpts of the speech given 50 years ago on the same spot.

Seeing that the heat was not overpowering, Castro spoke on what has become one of his favourite subjects, the possibility of nuclear war. Local observers had hoped the occasion would be an opportunity for a U-turn in his political discourse.

Up until now his public appearances have always been about international matters. Some predicted he might speak about the failure of parliamentary elections in Venezuela, or about the new economic reforms already under way, which require a great sacrifice for the average Cuban, with a million workers unemployed and high taxes for the self-employed.

But it was not to be. In this, his second outdoor appearance, he went on raving about things that were of no interest to Cubans who have only coffee for breakfast and eat one hot meal a day. Those who hoped for a dynamic Castro were disappointed.

For the sole Commander the harsh reality of the country is an insignificant matter. Somebody else’s problem. He holds himself to be above right and wrong. And that’s how he behaves.

Translated by: Jack Gibbard

November 21, 2010