Mariela Castro in the Red Light District / Jeovany J. Vega

Towards the end of October, sociologist Mariela Castro Espin, Director of the National Center of Sexual Education of Cuba (CENESEX), while on a visit to this country, expressed her admiration for the “dignified manner” with which prostitutes uphold the value of their work in Holland.

But in these latitudes, whose Revolution since its first steps eliminated prostitution and where the sending of thousands of Cubans to the camps of the notorious UMAP* became so naturally institutionalized under the ethereal category of “improper conduct”, this being expressed by the daughter of our President, seen quite suddenly, takes some work to digest.

It is indisputable that Cuban society – not exempt yet from discrimination based on this motive – has become, for the good of all, more tolerant in everything relating to sexuality, including the more permissive modality with which the phenomenon of prostitution is perceived after the upturn in values made acute with the arrival of the 90′s, but it would be well to ask … will we see in 2012 the Director of CENESEX propose the structuring of a “Red Light District” in Havana? Would the “profession” be institutionalized as one more job alternative for the million workers finding themselves furloughed in the last few months? Will our picturesque Jineteras (prostitutes) count on a labor union of their own to represent them? Would they have base leaders, their meetings of associates, their union halls across the whole country? Would this Union be a part of the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (Cuba Workers Union) and as such be represented in their congresses? Would our government dare go so far?

Mariela Castro’s words, unsettling for some, surprising for others, are sufficiently eloquent: “I admire and respect the way in which [the prostitutes of the Red Light District] have found a dignified way of doing their sex work and made themselves worthy of respect. Really, it has been a pleasure to get to know directly how they do it … What I have enjoyed the most is seeing how they have known to create a process and dignify the way they make this work worthy, because it is a job. And, moreover, making their rights respected. That seems very important as much as the health care, protection from violence, protection from abuse in a broader sense.

Though she doesn’t clarify how or how much “directly” she knows how the licensed prostitutes “do what they do,” it is indisputable that much of the evolution in the way in which some part of Cuban society projects with respect to homosexual persons and transsexuals, is due in good measure to the work sustained by the CENESEX. Now then, along with this forward step, a different treatment is urged regarding the topic of prostitution and all of this only forms a part of the strategy that seeks to export to the world the mirage of the opening being extended to civil rights, it is a polemic that enters speculative terrain, something many here see as certain.

Not withstanding, today my neighbor Eva, the jinetera, with much faith, did her ministrations to Oshun and to Elegua so they give her her aché (life force), so they sweeten life a little and so that they blaze the trails, a little bit at a time.

*Translator’s note: UMAP (translated into English) stands for Military Units to Aid Production. These were labor camps established in 1965 where undesirables such as homosexuals, “bourgeois,” “counterrevolutionaries,” Jehovah’s Witnesses and others were incarcerated.

Translated by: lapizcero

November 28 2011

The Disappearance of a Myth / Fernando Dámaso

Photo: Revista Carteles

Cuba’s baseball team could not take the title in the recently ended World Cup, which took place in Panama, the honor going to the Netherlands. This is nothing new, as the same thing happened in the two previous Cups and in other events. Those times when the Cuban baseball team – always manned by professional players, whose only responsibility was playing ball and collecting their salaries (very meager) for it – defeated teams manned by students and true amateurs from participating countries, are gone. Then it was a contest of a lion against tied-up monkey, and we would boast proclaiming that we had the best baseball in the world, something totally untrue.

When the participation of professional ball players was authorized, even though the best never came – those active in the American Major Leagues – the myth of Cuba’s invincible team started to crumble.

It is symptomatic that once professional sports were prohibited after the triumph of the insurrection, for being considered not consistent with the new political postulates, soccer, basketball, volleyball, gymnastics, track and field sports and others, where professional teams and athletes participate are well promoted and even have fixed slots on television, radio and press, while professional baseball and its players don’t have the same coverage, and Cuban ballplayers are not allowed to play in teams in other countries, much less in the Major Leagues, the personal objective of any one of them.

The absurdity reaches the extreme of the banning coverage of the Major Leagues from local sports news shows and even from Telesur (a Venezuelan state-affiliated television station broadcast in Cuba), not allowing sports writers to speak or write about them, even of teams to which Cuban athletes living outside of Cuba belong, who are considered by the model as traitors to the Fatherland, when they should be the pride that were in previous times Adolfo Luque, Miguel Angel González, Orestes Miñoso, Conrado Marrero, San Noble, Adrián Zabala, Fermín Guerra, Sandalio Consuegra, Edmundo Armorós, Pedro Formental, Roberto Ortiz, Héctor Rodriguez. Willy Miranda, Camilo Pascual and others, who played in the Major Leagues and were also national champions, being part of the classic teams of Havana, Amenendares, Cienfuegos y Marianao.

clip image0061We Cubans have for years been prevented from enjoying the performances of Orlando Duke Hernandéz, Liván Hernandéz, Cansecu, Tartabull, René Arocha, Rolando Arrojo and others in the best baseball in the world, and our ballplayers have been mutilated in their development by not allowing their participation in it, as has happened to Marquetti, Vinent, Huelga, Mesa, Muñoz, Kindelán, Lazo and others who, once their active career is over, either have died or wander about making a living however they can, remembered only on some convenient date, without having been able to play in big baseball and make it to the Hall of Fame, which would have made them recognized world figures.

It would be convenient that, in the so-called actualization — or updating — of the model, we kept in mind to actualize also this erroneous policy, and our ball players could self-actualize without dogmatic and obsolete political meddling that, by the way, doesn’t apply to other athletes. Though soccer is considered a universal sport, in Cuba baseball is the national sport, and we Cubans have the right to enjoy the performances of our players, wherever they play and irrespective of the team they belong to, and not have to learn about their successes outside of Cuba in a clandestine fashion, as happened a few years ago with the music of the Beatles.

Translated by: lapizcero

October 19 2011

A Viewpoint Regarding Everyday Homophobia / Dora Leonor Mesa

The Motherland is joy for all, pain for all and heaven for all,
and nobody’s fiefdom or chaplaincy.
Jose Marti

In Cuba’s educator circles, the proper attention to the sexual orientation of students is lacking.

In my judgement we are a homophobic society whether in a conscious way or not. Matter of fact, some of the worst insults used against others are: “tortillera” (lesbian) or “pajaro” (gay). There were other times when other defiant expressions were “marimacha” for females, and “pato“, “flojo” or “loca” for males.

The few advances in the matter of sexual diversity that have occurred in the country are a function of several factors, some of them, inevitable. The population up to a point have gained some comprehension and interest regarding this matter, a change in postures towards homosexuality timidly comes forward.

It is not difficult for an experienced teacher to discern with much effectiveness the sexual orientation of pupils in an elementary school The attitude that teachers take, for lack of better strategies and training, swings between “alerting” the parents to “turning a blind eye,” in the event that the heterosexuality of the boy or the girl is not “properly defined”, only to be commented upon on later among the teachers themselves.

The theme of homosexuality has been taken up with more or less success by visual artists, film directors — the well received “Fresas y Chocolate” (“Strawberries and Chocolate“) is a good example — as well as intellectuals and writers. The climax arrived with Mariela Castro, director of CENESEX, The Cuban Center for Sex Education, and wide diffusion of her objectives. Other initiatives in favor of the rights of lesbians and gays gain strength. Among the most recognized is Observatorio Cubano de los Derechos LGBT (“Cuban Observatory for LGBT Rights”) directed by Leannes Imbert Acosta.

From my perspective on the matter, any citizen initiative in favor of minority human rights is valid. In the case of gays or lesbians it must pointed out that the suffering inflicted on them in the majority of classrooms is real. Any manifestation from an adolescent is to some extent emotive, but if the adolescent is gay or lesbian, it is qualified as exaggerated or indecent.

The cases of physical or psychological assault on both boys and girls in secondary and college preparatory education are not rare, coming from their classmates as much as from teachers. Some years ago I witnessed how the assistant principal of a secondary school humiliated a pupil on a daily basis while all of us fathers and mothers of students were almost convinced that the teacher was also gay. The attitude of the child’s family seemed inexplicable to me always. I learned later that the knowledge and courage required to come to the defense of someone has to wend its way through one’s own self-esteem and the laws or training related to conflict resolution.

Several transsexual weddings have been celebrated in Cuba. Mere drops in the ocean of ignorance and disgust with which the majority of the citizens look at them. The scant information about the topic, the prejudices of centuries, add even more fuel to the fire of the difficulties that accompany this part of our Youth.

The Education Ministry in Cuba and civil society along with other entities, state or not, have talented professionals, ready to take an interest in this matter, and create proper communication. All it needs is space to work in peace and trust.

The State needs more people interested in being teachers or collaborators within the teaching system; as such, it should show the indispensable concern and generosity to help many more of the ones who today – lesbians and gays – are students and who tomorrow, who knows, may be highly qualified citizens, ceaseless workers, renowned scientists. They are Cubans, they are worthy of the full enjoyment of their lives and successes. The right to be proud of their sexuality belongs to them.

Translated by: lapizcero

September 29 2011

PEOPLE IN MEMORY: The Child and the Egg Bombardment / Mario Barosso

In vain I search my mind for the name of my favorite friend when we were in preschool and first grade, the passing of the years have totally erased it.  He was the tallest child in the classroom and he sat in the desk that was next to mine, he happily shared with me his lunches and would sharpen my pencil when the tip broke.  We laughed together during recess and we ran around each other while doing three-legged races.  He was probably the best friend I had during those two years of childhood.  The presence of my classmate every morning was an important part of my routine when I was a child and it made me feel fortunate, I would even say happy; in my infantile mind there wasn’t the slightest possibility that one day that child could disappear from my life, in a way that never again, to this day, I would ever see him again.

Sitting on the doorstep of my grandparent’s house who took care of me nights while my parents worked or studied, I saw a large group of people go down the street, shouting phrases and slogans as they went, much of what they said I am unable to remember at all, but the euphoric cries of: down with the worms, the lumpen, and the song of: down with Pin Pon, down with the worm farm, if I remember them correctly in my memory.  They would walk down the streets with lit torches in their hands, frightening me tremendously without understanding what was happening and making me run into my grandparent’s house’s to hide from the strange parade; when the mob went by, I came out, still not understanding precisely the meaning of all that commotion.

Next day I went back to school and was surprised by the absence of my classmate, I remember this day as one of the saddest in my childhood.  Between the events of the night before, the absence of my friend and the commentaries of those around me, I began to put together what was happening and only understood completely when I walked one afternoon by the boy’s house and saw it shut down, with a paper seal guarding the front door, the floor of the entryway littered with broken eggs and the green-painted masonry, splattered.  I drew the sad conclusion that the family had left the country through the Mariel Boat Lift and that they had taken my dear friend away with them, but sadder still was to understand that the wild mob that had scared me so much had been targeting them, hurling all kinds of insults, rejecting them as if instead of human beings they had been vermin and throwing at them, like bombs, the innumerable eggs.

Years later, during the nineties, when the economic situation in Cuba collapsed, especially because of the collapse of the European socialist camp that practically supported our country, during the terrible periodo especial (Special Period) that dealt blows to all of us, we came to cry in the midst of our need for an egg to satisfy hunger in our ruined stomachs and it was later that these repudiated Cubans were welcomed like gods, it would be they who, with their remittances and family assistance and friends, would substitute in part for European Socialism in supporting our sickly economy. I have always wondered if my friend has been among all these Cubans in exile that have returned to the country to visit their loved ones whose memory must keep like a stigma the act of repudiation that el pueblo enardecido (the inflamed people) dealt them, in which people he may have known since he was born participated, the chants and slogans that I am sure in that moment he did not comprehend and the egg bombardment with which they committed aggression against his home.

Things haven’t changed that much, Cuban emigrants have multiplied since the time I reference until today, it being difficult to find a family in Cuba where at least one of its members doesn’t live outside of the country, it’s good that the times when they were repudiated through mass action have gone away.  I just hope that in a not too distant future the acts of repudiation cease against other Cubans who have not decided to leave but rather to stay within our borders to confront the same regime that governs us since ’59, and that the people of Cuba in their totality roundly refuse to participate in these low and immoral acts, showing themselves to be a people that is coherent, dignified, truly respectful of differences, which is the only way possible to march together towards a tomorrow better than that yesterday and than this today all of us Cubans live.

Translated by: lapizcero

October 28 2011

Cut Cut Cut (Irregular-Mimetic Verb) / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

We cut. We fell. We tear down. It’s called suburban development. It’s called for show, so nothing obscures the new paint of CUCs (Cuban convertible pesos) on our facade. It is called cyclone prevention, some or another expert must have said on camera that any tree is a mortal peril. It is called telephony and electricity without ecological interference. It is called sanitation against disease. It is called sunlight. It is called liberty on an island where that word is scarce. It is called power. What the fuck…? I cut it down because it is on my land and it was I who rented the saw…!

Nonetheless, to fell is an act of charity. At the base and in one fell swoop. Havana of the 21st century does not deserve these republican trees with more than fifty years of life.

But, unfortunately, the majority do not dispose of the resources required to hire a good executioner, be it private or state. Then the people of Cuba show off their studies in Elementary Botany. And they grab and barely peel the bark of the tree (even a child could do it at his height, so that he learns early the art of clearing ground).

It is enough with a few centimeters of wound all around. It is enough, according to the tele-lessons of Universidad Para Todos (University for All). The rest is only rings of dead wood. It’s just under the bark that the tree sends up and down nutrients and wastes. This is its vital sap, its blood, suddenly spilt for no apparent motive. As it turns out, with a little skinning we condemn them to a very slow death, a very virtuous one, like an irreversible hunger strike, even if we later regret being so cruel.

And the tree dies. It dries up. Mute agony of weeks and months. Down to the last drop of chlorophyll. But they don’t fall. They die on their feet. And they continue to be a danger and a terrible interference, but at least they are dead, those tricky bastards who almost destroy the house, beyond their attracting lightning. First, to the scaffold; then we will see. Maybe a small brigade of Comunales comes to turn them into splinters for the benefit of the neighborhood artisans. For the moment, we can breathe easy. Fewer leaves, less bird shit, less humidity for asthmatics and rheumatics, fewer pests in their roots, ever so ready to destroy sidewalks that without this much effort the Revolution was already destroying. Less olive green (that would be the only bad thing, but it is compensated by more and more official graffiti on the walls of our city).

Sometimes I think that it is part of a deferred vengeance against the government. A way of protesting against despotism (you coerce me, I cut you). By the time this resistance triumphs, we will live in a country without trees. We will have to reforest. Not through postures but with people. Nothing comes to mind that can grow and cut off spaces. We only pretend to open spaces around us. Watch the other from afar. Take things off our heads. We are more lonely in the planet. We may even be right. Let us, for God’s sake, mold in the dark our empty biographies. Enough troubles hang overhead for us not to execute our meager quota of death, maybe as training for the day when the dismal idea of the Transition arrives.

Translated by: lapizcero

October 26 2011

Another Look at the Grito de Yara* / Fernando Dámaso

Archive

Nobody can deny the foundational importance of October 10, 1868 for the Cuban nation. Though twenty years before Narciso Lopez had, for the first time, unfurled the national flag calling for combat against the oppressor, though his voice was not listened to then, the opposite occurred in Yara, when Cubans, conscious of their nationhood, responded to the call of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes.

This historic feat, praised and respected by all generations, is generally presented only from the point of view of the heroism and selflessness of its protagonists, ignoring the economic interests, which had a fundamental role and that should not be forgotten. Many of those who rose in arms that day, maybe most of them, were rich landowning Creoles who for some time had been conspiring against Spain, as their interests in expansion clashed with the restrictive policies it ordained, that constrained their development.

They, other than their national sentiment, which without a doubt they possessed, needed to throw off the Spanish yoke that smothered their businesses and, as a result, the garnering of profits, needled by what was happening further North, where the United States was rapidly becoming a world power, with a regime of liberty and rights, that constituted the example to follow.

It is not surprising then, that even Carlos Manuel de Cespedes, in the beginning, supported annexation to the American Union, though he soon gave up on that idea, focusing his efforts on obtaining Independence. It must also be pointed out, if we are to be one with historical truth, that the initial call for emancipation of the slaves included indemnity for their owners and their incorporation into the uprising’s army as condition of their liberty, something that was only eliminated months later in the Assembly of Guaimaro, where the total abolition of slavery was decreed.

As can be appreciated, historical facts are not simple and crystal-clear, as they are sometimes presented. They are influenced by interests of a different nature, material as well as moral, that far from diminishing their value, make them more real, and illuminate their protagonists not as gods of purity come down from Olympus, but as mere mortals, with light and shadow, that sometimes are right and sometimes are mistaken, but that are capable of imposing themselves over their difficulties and reaching their objectives.

On October 10, 1868 patriotic and economic interests conspired. The same has happened in other historical moments of the Cuban nation, up until our days. Today, the same as in 1868, the political and economic chains imposed by the model, hinder the development of citizen initiative and that of its the productive forces. To overcome this anachronistic situation is everybody’s obligation, so that the country can advance, eliminate the accumulated misery and take its rightful place among free nations, a place it once held thanks to the work of all her children and that, because of erroneous policies, it lost.

*Translator’s Note: The Cry of Yara.

Translated by: lapizcero

October 13 2011

Mural / Regina Coyula

While there are great Mexican muralists with their everlasting and marvelous works, we have our small muralists.

This one, along with the star and the five little heads, irreconcilable by the way, must have been painted by a “spontaneous” who offered himself to decorate some walls in his workplace, the wholesale food store at Connil and Linea with Fidel Castro, right here, close to my house. The result, I don’t know whether to take it as a total lack of talent or a practical joke.

Translated by: lapizcero

October 14 2011

Guilty of Spreading the Word / Ernesto Morales Licea

The starving girl Kong Kyong in March 1993 in Sudan. Photographer Kevin Carter

A terrible phrase summarizes the maxim: “Within you, a voice exclaims: ‘My God!’. But its time to work. Deal with the rest later.” The phrase is from Kevin Carter, author of one of the most famous and controversial photographs in the history of the genre: that in which a vulture stalks the agony of one who, it later became known, bore the name Kong Kyong, who was a boy, not a girl as was thought, and who despite the famine that ended thousands of lives in Sudan, survived.

The photograph got two things for Kevin Carter: First, the Pulitzer Prize of 1994. Second: the merciless vilification by those who went as far as to accuse him of being the second vulture, for capturing the image instead of helping the dying child.

Carter took his own life a year later. His acquaintances affirm that it was not exclusively because of the media bombardment that he received as a result of his photo, the accusations of being evil and callow, but also emotional disorders that had always traveled with him

Kevin Carter’s case is the most notable case. Unfortunately it is not unique.

La triste y célebre foto de Frank Fournier: la niña Omayra Sánchez mira a su lente poco antes de morir

The sad and celebrated photo by Frank Fournier: the girl Omayra Sanchez looks into his lens a short time before dying.

In 1985. the Colombian volcano Nevado del Ruiz erupted and took the lives of more than 25 thousand people.

The photojournalist Fran Fournier documented the disaster in Colombia with a meticulousness that chilled the bones. But he did something more: he aimed his lens at the precise angle required to turn a scene into History: the girl Omayra Sanchez clinging for dear life, holding on to a tree branch, while she struggled to escape being swallowed by the tide of mud and quicksand.

The image is painful by itself. To know that the attempt by rescue workers to save her did not bear fruit, and the girl died, transformed the photo into a heart rending testimony. And its author, for many, into an immoral character.

Fournier was not Kevin Carter: he did not take his life, and was able to struggle against the accusations of those who berated him as a cruel opportunist, even if, at the instant when he pressed the shutter, it still looked possible to save the valuable life of Omayra Sanchez. But his snapshot placed him in the center of an ethical-moral debate that is not over to this day.

These examples by themselves would fill a volume with the names of the slandered, both of the photographers who filmed scenes that may have been avoidable if they had left their equipment sitting on the ground, and of the journalists who narrated live an execrable event of which they were the immediate witnesses.

Tough profession. Tough inner conflict for those who, obeying the maxim to spread truths, realities, facts, keep at bay the screams of horror in their throats, and do their jobs. They click the shutter. They hold the camera steady. They narrate the facts for all to hear. They remember that through their eyes, their voices, their lenses, the world will find out what is happening. And they do not care what comes later. “Deal with the rest later,” as one who could not do it would say.

True journalism, that which respects itself, that which responds to iron precepts, the same way that medicine bends to its Hippocratic oath; journalism that knows who it works for: those who otherwise wouldn’t know that things like this happen in far away places, is without a doubt one of the most necessary professions among all that exist, and honestly, one that receives one of the worst shares of gratitude in return.

When Kevin Carter was horrifying a well-fed world with that image, when he was improving the angle and the position of the light instead of waving the buzzard away, he was doing something more important than saving that life: he was saving, perhaps, tens of thousands. There was no better way to denounce the Sudanese tragedy than to grate on the nerves and sensitivities of the world with such a scene.

Cuatro estudiantes asesinados por la Guardia Nacional de Ohio. Al menos una de estas muertes, fotografiada por John Paul Filo, sirvió para vengarlas a todas. Filo ganó el Pulitzer.

One of the four dead at the University of Ohio, photographed by John Paul Filo in 1970.

When John Paul Filo captured the choleric scream and pain of that young woman before one of the victims at Kent State, shot miserably by the National Guard while they protested the war in Vietnam, instead of succoring the bullet-ridden, he was doing something that perhaps no one else could have done: pinning the image on the historical memory of that country so that crimes such as these, violations of freedom of expression such as this, would not happen ever again.

There is a reason why dictatorial regimes, satraps the world over, those who love doing and undoing to their heart’s content, eject or jail authentic journalists.

There is a reason that some of the best exponents of this Fourth Power have paid with their lives for the arrogance of shouting with no limits about what was happening in Pinochet’s dungeons, what is happening in the narco-violence infected streets of Mexico or in the human experimentation laboratories in North Korea.

Too many responsible for not allowing crimes to exist with impunity, violations without denunciation, catastrophic events without aid, left this world not receiving in return the most deserved prize that humanity can bestow: gratitude. It is not too late to think about them, those who, between bombs in Afghanistan, dangerous conflicts in Libya, Syria and Egypt; those who amid savage butchery in Mexico or cruel state repression Cuban, Venezuelan or Ecuadorian style, commit their lives to tell the facts, to spread the word.

Translated by: lapizcero

October 24 2011

Antics of the New Class / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado

lecciones.btiburrillo.net

It is nobody’s secret that we Cubans are comiendo el cable (“eating the cable”).  This is an expression of the popular argot in Cuba used to allude to a person or group that is going through a hard time, that feels itself to be a victim of neglect and that accumulates many unresolved needs.  Many cannot visualize a horizon where satisfying their needs doesn’t entail moving beyond our borders; others, have the luck of belonging, maybe even from a seminal accident, to the olive-green royalty, and enjoy the benefits that their relatives or contacts trained in the ideology of the chat in time and the public and opportune praises for the historical leader can allow them.

They are the children and grandchildren of the so called Revolution, the paragon of “those who don’t traffic in influences” nor do they stoop to oligarchic behaviors to establish their own — because it would be immoral to practice that which led them to armed struggle first and then to power; those who are models of loyalty and its problems, as long as they haven’t committed a disloyalty or problem of principles, who minimize themselves through a thoughtful gift and stereotype it as an antic, never as corruption.

They are the descendents and unconditionals of the sharks who fear freedom of information, those called to work side-by-side with the foreign investors, those enabled to occupy a position that results in juicy returns with “enemy money” in the accounts that they probably have overseas providing for the inevitable change, while Cuban workers are exploited with symbolic salaries and a currency turned evil.

Despite the official excessive secrecy that they have turned into tradition, by different means the comments of a new scandal of corruption reach them, associated with the higher echelons and reliable businessmen installed by the nomenklatura in mixed enterprises and foreign corporations.

The fiber optic conduit that left Venezuela, arrived in our territory in February this year, and should have been operational in July, but it was a disaster because those chosen by the authorities were so busy planting dollars in their own financial grove, that they bought the cheapest technological cable, one without the shielding required to protect against bites from sharks that inhabit the Caribbean.

Hasn’t it been a policy directed by the caste of the country that products be acquired elsewhere so we can save our currency reserves? There is also talk about the abduction of funds destined for the cable’s activation, that have frozen its implementation.  I don’t know if this is real or if it’s an information cocktail that they allowed to filter to continue violating  Cubans’ rights to the internet.

In any event, any skullduggery by the state elites and their partisans is credible when they train their chosen in the practice of their capitalism.  It is also rumored in Havana that the media grave weighing in this matter is due to the lineage of those involved and their hangers-on, and that soon they will get the blow required in such cases.

To simple citizens, we who know of unripe and ripe, we get spoiled and it looks as if we continue to be witnesses to the crumbling of this deja vu dictatorship and the immobility they hold on to, like the chrysalis of rock discordant with the modern world’s democratic symphony

Our anguish to scream sticks in our throats; but the death rattles of the model are so evident that the opportunists of the upper class leadership risk exchanging their Communist party red cards for green paper money, and we wonder how many more of these are hidden, still shouting out empty slogans in exchange for favors, which is to sin against ideology. While these hindrances of a discredited system fatten their personal fortunes with their influences and their false doctrine, we ordinary Cubans the true sharks that for these last few decades eat the cable of hope, and of undelivered promises that, in a model like this, will never come.

Translated by: lapizcero

October 4 2011

Potatoes with Police / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado

Image from stockphotos.com

I heard it when I was in the patio taking in some clothes I had washed because it looked like rain.  I don’t know who shouted to someone on the block that there were potatoes with police. I perked my ears because, like the smartest of the bunch, I was intrigued by this pronouncement.  The person addressed asked and got an explanation that there were potatoes in the store, but they were only giving ten pounds of potatoes per person, and that the queue and order were being controlled by the police.  In Cuba, the same way that what the authorities call liberty and democracy aren’t, ten pounds aren’t ten, because the scales are damaged by the corruption that gangrenes at almost every level.

We Cubans are accustomed to persuading our young children of the importance of eating “la papa” — potatoes — to grow strong. For the Cuban adult population, not only has this staple disappeared for five decades, they have been weakened by being made to run from one place to another in our country in the search for food,but their time and energy has been diverted to prevent them from using it to think about other topics.

If a product is scarce for many years, as has been the case with this root vegetable – and for most everything in Cuba – it’s natural that people want to buy the largest quantity permitted by their budgets, so as to guarantee variety in the diet of their family for a greatest number of days.  Others, perhaps, place it on the table as the only option, but we would all like it to be on sale all the time, accessible to whomever wishes to consume it, in the amount desired and not when the authorities want or direct it.  But we are a country blocked by inefficiency, incompetence and lack of order.  These, among others, are some of the prejudicial signs that cause the necrosis of our economy.

I started fantasizing during my domestic chores and imagined how my city should be in this 2011; without piles of garbage in the corners, without rats and other disease-carrying vectors running through it, with houses with a coat of paint (not only the facades), with gutters also dressed up and with well executed ramps to prevent handicapped people from encountering architectural barriers; children reciting childhood texts and not poetry about a soldier who died firing his weapon for the politicized morning school assembly; a press that is free and truthful  – reliable rather than “realigned” – unions equally free, trade associations, political pluralism, a civil society that is independent from the state, monitoring and observance of human rights and fundamental liberties, where people aren’t jailed for wanting to promote democratic change by peaceful means, where all Cubans can enter and exit our country freely, independent executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, a mixed economy, etc.

I was also of a mind to solve, also in my imagination, Cuba’s food problems when the strident voice of a street vendor – not mindful of grammar – returned me to my routine:  “Sponge mops, sticks to hang clothes, floor mopppps …!”

Translated by: lapizcero

October 27 2011

Sugarcane Flower / Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado

Ecuación gráfica del daño ocasionado con el cierre de las dos terceras partes de los centrales en Cuba.

(diagram)  Closing of sugar mills >> reduces direct employment of workers in the sugar agro-industry >> diminishes planting of sugarcane >> reduces production of derivatives of sugarcane >> depresses services and production related to the sector >>  impoverishes the quality of life of communities of farm workers >> affects in general sugar production >> hurts the country’s economy.  (end diagram)

As if we were dealing with an erotic passage, each day, the arbitrary and improvised nature of the system or policy of prices in Cuba gets undressed.  Like the policy itself – being designed by the pyramid of power, we find it capricious and illogical sometimes – permeates all societal strata and impacts the actions and speech of diverse aspects of our reality, including household finances.  Like a well established culture of sultanístico volunteerism, many prices seem to be determined from the fly of the pants of some leaders, independent of the law of supply and demand; even more, after a process as long as the Cuban, January 1 of 2012 will mark fifty-three years of doing and undoing at the whim of the original “guides”.

I say this because after “digesting”and concatenating certain news offered in different occasions by the newspaper Granma, mouthpiece of the Communist Party, regarding the sugar cane agro-industry, sugar cane itself, the mills and the equipment required for its exploitation, I reflect on this important sector which for centuries was the fundamental industry of our country.

The problem is not simple, happening first because a bad decision to close two thirds of the sugar mills in Cuba with the consequent decapitation of the economic activity of the sugar mill communities and the whole infrastructure created around the mills, affecting other rural communities that exist around these agro-industrial centers; which led to a reduction in the number of jobs in planting and harvesting of the cane, depressed production of syrups, electric energy and other derivatives of sugarcane such as alcohol, animal feed, waste for furniture making, etc.

It may be central to the economy to diversify agricultural production, but fighting the monoculture should not be accomplished by destroying the sugar industry, but rather through the creation of other productive sectors or agro-industrial bases so as to avoid dependency on a single product.  The bad decision to close sugar mills occurred in the very moment when it was booming and expansion of ethanol in an international scope was occurring; which suggests a lack of foresight and resulted in the lack of one important source of income for the country.

The economic determinations of a state should be subject to satisfying the needs of citizens and always oriented towards that purpose, it is not fair or smart to subject them to the irresponsible or irrational whims of one person or group of them in detriment to the well-being and quality of life of the majority.  Another element of importance is evidenced by the potential loss of sugar traditions by reducing the number of employees involved in agricultural industry; moreover, the waste of the resources invested in developing intangibles over the centuries to foment sugar culture.  Equally it seems they forgot or ignored the importance of multiple sugar mills to insure sugar culture areas that are as near as possible to the mills.

In the newspaper they also pointed out the reduction in price for inputs and the doubling in what independent producers are paid for a ton of sugarcane. Here I go back to the old proverb “better late than never”, but why did we wait this long?  It would be good if the population knew who sets the prices for plows and other agricultural implements.  The extinction of the Sugar Ministry transpired as well and the creation in its stead of an Entrepreneurial Group of the Sugar Agro-industry.

In the same way, they mentioned the deficiency in diverse aspects in the Ministry of Agriculture and “(…) the approval of instructions from the President of the State Council and the Ministers to shed light on the general policies and work plans of the entities, Organisms of the Central Administration of the State, other national entities and the Local Administrations of Popular Power.”  Isn’t it the excessive centralization that has damaged ostensibly their development and prevented the positive functioning of Cuban society in the economic, political and social realms?  So many contradictions persuade us that we cannot advance with the controlling way of thinking of the mega-proprietors of a country.

Production is stimulated precisely by decentralizing and interesting workers in a common project, and in the results of their labor, the opposite of what they have done for more than 50 years and apparently intend to continue doing.  If they are unwilling to institute the foundation so society grows and develops healthy in support of better individual and collective productive yields, it is time for a real liberation of mindsets and a transition towards more just and efficient models for the development of Cuba.

Translated by: lapizcero

October 4 2011