Farewell, Adolfo Suarez / Rosa Maria Rodriguez

Adolfo Suarez, Spanish lawyer Catholic politician, finally extends his hand in a physical goodbye. From now on we will resort to memory, photos and audiovisuals to see him greet us with his amiable gesture of unwavering gallantry in the fight for democracy in his country. History records him as the architect of the Spanish transition. For me, he is the foundation and the pillar itself of the magnificent bringing in of democracy and the entire process of political development that happened after the death of Francisco Franco.

As a public man and a decent statesman he worked for the reconciliation of Spaniards, to eradicate the vestiges of dictatorship in Spain, and to help lift his country, not to bring it to its knees it as dictators and their partisans in uniform usually do.

The warm smile of this kind man – a leader without rancor who didn’t hide behind the knife of vengeance, but offered the embrace of reconciliation – earned him the love and respect of the entire world. He starred in the development of a democratic monarchy and gave lessons in respect for the institutions and laws which with the transfer of power have been maintained from 1976 until today.

We Cubans, who suffer from 55 years of a dictatorship that defeated another one of seven years to remain in power and ruin Cuba, value the moral stature of politicians who serve their countries and their societies, rather than those who use a pedestal, as José Martí said, to rise above them.

I remember during my childhood how the Cuban dictator criticized the caudillo of El Ferrol for his years in power and, with the passing of time, he himself broke the record for the most years in power in Cuba.

Democratic societies are mourning today for the eternal loss of this citizen and politician who showed the world that intentions are demonstrated with acts not with words. May this illustrious son of Spain, an exemplary example of a democracy, rest in peace.

27 March 2014

Offering Fish At Your Door? Be Careful! / 14ymedio

Tending their nets (14ymedio)

Tending their nets (14ymedio)

Rosa Lopez, Havana, 17 July 2014, 14ymedio — Many Cubans opt for the informal market instead the high prices of the products in hard currency stores. Who among us has not bought cheese, ketchup or milk in illegal trading networks? However, when we acquire something in secret and do not know the seller, the chances of being scammed or buying spoiled merchandise multiply. The greatest danger, however, is to buy a product that damages our health, hence it is important to be careful with certain foods.

Every Cuban adult has some experience to tell about a fish sold as red snapper and it was actually tench, Claria or barracuda. With the fish slickly packaged and displayed furtively, the trader assures us that it is ” good, white with few bones.” Later, in the pan or dish, frustrated, we discovered the deception.

Some customers claim to have a good contact to buy seafood that so far has not failed them. Lucky them! By contrast, the vast majority is supplied by an illegal and unstable market whose providers change frequently. The fish markets under state management offer little variety and high prices, not to mention the long lines that sometimes form in front of their doors.

It is easy to think that living on an island we can have our tables filled with seafood, oysters, sardines and other sea delicacies. Nothing is further from reality. In Cuba it it easier to find turkey hash “made in USA”, than a good marlin steak or grouper head soup.

The restrictions imposed on both private fishing and the sale of fish push us to the black market when looking for a good product. The species may have been caught in oxidation ponds belonging to factories or industries, and could introduce chemicals into our bodies that bring negative short and medium term effects.

On the island there are many reservoirs and coastal areas that contaminated by discharges from industries and settlements. Fish that live in those stretched should not be used for human consumption. An example is Havana Bay, whose waters are polluted by oil, sewage and other waste discharges.

Another threat is ciguatera, a food poisoning that is endemic in the tropics caused by eating infected fish. The fish afflicted with this disease cannot be identified by smell, taste or color.

If a stranger knocks at your door offering a tempting fish filet or steak, be careful. It may not be what they say, or in the worst case, it could damage your health.

“Unusual Provocation,” Fidel Castro blames Kiev for the crash of the Malaysian Plane / 14ymedio

Buk missile battery, similar to what might have shot down the plane of Malaysia Airlines

Buk missile battery, similar to what might have shot down the plane of Malaysia Airlines

14ymedio, 18 July 2014 — Former Cuban president Fidel Castro published one of his “Reflections” today in Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) in which he bluntly accuses the government of Ukraine of the crash of the Malaysian Airlines plane that caused the deaths of 298 passengers in the air space over Donetsk.

Without providing any evidence or reasons for the suspicion, Castro ended the first paragraph suggesting that the plane “had been hit at 30,000 feet flying over Ukrainian territory on a path under the control of the war mongering government of the king of chocolate, Petro Poroshenko.”

Continuing, the leader of the Revolution recalled the friendship between Cuba and Ukraine and the island’s support after the Chernobyl disaster (in the north of the country, then belonging to the Soviet Union), but argues that he cannot fail to condemn “the action of such an anti-Russian, anti-Ukraine and pro-imperialist government.”

As of today it has been a week since the last public appearance of Fidel Castro, when he met with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The relationship between Russia and Cuba, which has historically been excellent, has become even closer in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, the Russian Federation ratified the cancellation of 90% of the enormous debt of the government of Havana the former USSR, some $30 billion dollars. During his visit to the island, Putin demonstrated that both parties are working on a program of economic, commercial, scientific and technical development until 2020 and their “business advisors” remain active.

Russia also counts on its ally in the diplomatic arena. In the United Nations the Cuban government votes with the Federation.

Raul Castro’s Plans for Venezuela and Russia / Juan Juan Almeida

The grass, the cows, and the man; in the food chain every species expects a greater predator. International politics works in the same way. The government of Venezuela, for example, manipulates world, regional and even local opinion, publicizing the work it does in the Barrio Adentro, Milagro, Sonrisa, Negra Hipólita, José Gregorio Hernández, Moncada missions, etc, etc, etc.

Seeming to clean the castle but in reality they market popular health as if it were a pedestal, in order to save the King and to entertain the country. Using their own sick people to bring the country to its knees, to divide it into tribes that confront each other, to denigrate the spirit and to darken the pride of millions of Venezuelans.

It is a tragedy for many is fortunate for a few. There is nothing of altruism, much less of kindness; it is simply a crime that, given the necessity, becomes socially acceptable but continues to be exactly like any criminal.

Continue reading

There Is None So Blind As He Who Refuses to See / Rebeca Monzo

For several days now I have not published a post, despite my desires to do so and the nagging thought that it wasn’t getting done.

It is true that the World Cup robbed part of my attention, but that was not what impeded my writing. Rather, it was all the tasks that were piling up in relation to an upcoming exhibition of my works. Preparing for this event takes a lot of effort and dedication, as does the negotiating required to obtain adequate materials.

Even so, with all due respect, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the recent visit of Dr. Margaret Chan, General Director of the World Health Organization, and the statements she delivered in the University of Havana’s Grand Hall, during the unsuitably named magisterial conference. Dr. Chan expressed that, thanks to the Cuban government, our people do not eat junk food. She also praised the work of our public health.

I really do not comprehend how these people, who occupy such relevant posts in the United Nations (UN), take at face value the reports provided by totalitarian regimes, without taking the trouble to check the facts through other means and compare other data.

Most of us know that these people are hosted in our country by high-level officials, and that they are taken over and over to the same places, which obviously are set up for such purposes, e.g.: a certain floor of Almejeiras Hospital, the Biotechnology department, and the La Castellana special school for differentiated teaching, among others. In addition, the visitors are customarily taken down 5th Avenue in Miramar, and they never stop at locations that aren’t set up for these political purposes.

How is it possible that the supreme body that oversees all of these organizations — the UN — has yet to take the trouble to look into these matters more deeply?

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

15 July 2014

An Inexplicable Explanation / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

The inside of a traveler's suitcase arriving from Miami (14ymedio)

The inside of a traveler’s suitcase arriving from Miami (14ymedio)

Customs restricts imports even more

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14ymedio | 14 July 2014 – On the occasion of the latest customs regulations that further limit the products that travelers can bring to the island, a group of officials from the General Customs of the Republic of Cuba (AGR) held a press conference to respond to some concerns of the population. Among the pearls exposed there, it’s worth nothing an argument put forward by Idalmis Rosales Milanes, deputy chief of the AGR, where she tried to equate these actions with what happens outside of Cuba. “All countries,” she said, “regulate non-commercial imports to their territory.”

And it’s true. What this official didn’t say is that in all countries there are other regulations for commercial imports to non-state entities. If this weren’t the case, I would have to believe two things: that in the rest of the world all the stores are state-owned, or that the goods for sale in them are produced entirely in the country in which they are located. It gives the impression that this precision is for idiots, because it’s so irrational it’s embarrassing to have to clarify it.

The absurdity is normal only if the entire environment is also absurd. Whoever developed and approved these resolutions was personally persuaded that commerce is a crime unless it is performed by the only state monopoly that they themselves control.

Instead of developing a list detailing how many razors, pairs of shoes or fake nails can be carried in your suitcase, it would be much more useful to allow the importation and sale of whatever merchandise (non-lethal) is produced in the world, and to promote its free trade by private individuals who would be those who would assume the risk of being left with them in their shops if they weren’t able to sell them.

The law should allow the owner of a restaurant to import, in his condition as a private businessperson, the wine, pasta and cheese consumed by his customers. The seamstress should also have the right to bring fabric and dyes from other countries with which she designs her clothes, and the small trader must be able to count on the possibility of bringing the instant glue, the sponges for cleaning, and the hair dye, from other latitudes to the island. All this, backed and supported by commercial permits and import licenses… in the hand of the non-state sector.

That theses commercial imports are on a list of prohibited products, that there is a limit of the number of admissible pieces, that a diversified tax is imposed according to the article… all this would be almost comprehensible and, especially, debatable. What I can’t make heads nor tails of is this “dog in the manger” conduct, which neither eats nor allows others to eat, and in this case neither imports nor allow to be imported; neither trades, nor allows others to trade.

The Ochoa Case: A Point of Inflection / 14ymedio

IGNACIO VARONA, 14ymedio, Havana, Cuba | 13 July 2014 – The Cuban government’s support for the Soviet tank invasion of Czechoslovakia, the failure of the 10 Million Ton Sugar Harvest, the case of Heberto Padilla, the repudiation rallies of 1980, and Cuba’s Black Spring are chief among the breaking points for many who at one time backed the Cuban Revolution. A political process that at its beginnings more than a half century ago enjoyed strong approval inside and outside the island has become increasingly characterized by deception. This persistent flux from believing to not believing has made critics out of former sympathizers, and antagonists out of those who once gave ovations.

Inside Cuba, one instance of major fracture in the support for the revolution was the execution of General Arnaldo Ochoa. This event took place on July 13, 1989, exactly 25 years ago. Along with him were executed three high-level officials of the Ministry of Armed Forces (MINFAR) and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT). A military court found them guilty of — and condemned them to death for — the crimes of drug trafficking and high treason.

Never will it be known the true extent of the disillusionment caused by this event in many communist militants as well as the rest of the population. The disappointment amongst the people that emanated from the so-called “Case Number 1″ of 1989 fed the decision of many individuals to take the step toward dissension. Numerous dissidents cite this judicial process and its extreme sentences as the moment when they broke with the party line.

The 1990s could not be understood without the precedent of a televised trial that riveted millions of Cubans to the small screen, as if to the most impelling soap opera. After long days of hearing allegations and accusations, a bond was established between the TV audience and the figure of Ochoa that nobody could have foreseen. This “connection” consisted of a combination of respect and pity, to which was added the silent hope that the sentences requested by the prosecutors would not actually be applied in their full severity.

“I sat in front of the television set believing in the system, and when I arose I no longer believed in anything”, said María López, who at that time belonged to the Young Communists League (UJC). A few months after “El Indio” (“The Indian”) — as Ochoa was popularly called by some — Maria turned in her UJC membership card. “I could not tolerate such cruelty, besides which it always seemed to me that what came out in that trial was not the full truth,” she concluded. Like her, an unpublicized number of other militants distanced themselves from the organization, severing their ties or assuming a less aggressive stance.

The “Balseros” (Rafters) Crisis that would occur five years later was comprised of individuals who, besides suffering the miseries of the Special Period, had lived through the trial. Part of the disillusionment that would manifest in fragile vessels crossing the Florida Straits emanated from that event. Although hunger and the lack of prospects where the primary goads toward the exodus, for many of those who launched themselves to the sea, the death of of Arnaldo Ochoa had contributed to severing their emotional ties to the system.

“It was the moment in which totalitarianism removed its mask”, noted Ezequiel Méndez, who is now based in Los Angeles, USA. On that July 13, Ezequiel had guard duty in the unit where he was serving his compulsory military service. He remembers seeing the “long faces of the officers, which gave us to understand that something was going on”. Within the army, the execution of these four military men was especially disturbing, but fear and silence were the major expressions of this emotion. “In the mess hall, when the TV set was turned on for the broadcast of the trial, nobody said a word…everyone was very, very quiet”, recalls Ezequiel about those days.

A quarter century after the effect of those executions, the disappointment has not diminished. Rather, other disappointments have been added to it. The government was never able to recapture lost sympathy, and the days are over when military feats produced heroes.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

There You Go Again / Fernando Damaso

Often the resolutions of the United Nations’ Committees are worthy of laughter.  So it happens with the recent resolution by the Decolonization Committee, ratifying the right of Puerto Rico to self-determination. The initiative was presented by Cuba, with the sponsorship of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia and the intervention of Syria. Birds of a feather flock together.

Maybe this Committee is unaware that the Puerto Rican people have voted repeatedly about this, always defeating the independence option with a minimal (4%) vote?  Is it unknown that in the last referendum, the majority voted for annexation to the United States as the 51st State, unlike previous votes where there was a tie of 48% who preferred the current status and those who opted for annexation, for a grand total of 96%, against 4% who wanted to be independent?

Of course the Committee and its members know all this, but they entertain themselves in continuing to waste time. It is said that it is the 33rd time that a similar document was approved. How many times is it necessary to trip on the same rock? They also confirmed the Latin American and Caribbean character of Puerto Rico, which, due to obvious geography, no one denies. But also Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Granada, Aruba, Grand Cayman, Guadalupe, Virgin Islands, Martinique, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, etc., are Caribbean, united by the language, history and traditions of Great Britain, France, Holland, and the United States, and no one questions them.

Perhaps it is intended to include Puerto Rico, against the desires of the majority of its citizens, in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States?  Who thinks the Puerto Ricans are going to trade for a pig in a poke?

If the Committee has no work to do, because they no longer have anyone to decolonize, it is better that it disband, and its members can dedicate themselves to something more useful.  Thus they would at least help reduce the high costs of the United Nations.

Translated by mlk.

30 June 2014

Streetlamp / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Rebeca

The concern Cuban authorities show for the protection of the global environment is striking. Declarations and denunciations fill the pages and airwaves of government’s media outlets, assuring participation in any UN event dedicated to this topic.

It is a shame that the same concern is not directed at solving the serious environmental problems in this country. The city of Havana has become a showcase for assorted ruins, decrepit streets and sidewalks, comatose buildings on the verge of collapse, widespread filth, effluent spewing from open sewer lines, watermain leaks, abandoned, sick and malnourished animals, rats and vermin, and mountains of unsanitary conditions. The same situation is replicated in other cities and towns.

One could continue to blame the embargo, as is routinely done, for the lack of resources. But after fifty-six years of repeating the same line, it is now time to own up to the obvious inability to solve problems of one’s own making, problems which did not previously exist.

Neither Havana nor other cities and towns in Cuba used to be dirty, unsanitary, dilapidated, with decrepit streets and sidewalks and ruptured sewer lines. On the contrary, they served as examples for many countries of the world.

When mayors and councilmen, who in general used to be longtime residents of their districts, had some control over the fates of their municipalities as well as a significant portion of the funds they generated, such problems got resolved. If they did not, then these officials were voted out of office.

All subsequent governmental reorganizations — from the commissioners to the presidents of the municipal and provincial People’s Power administrations — have failed. This is simply because none of the people running these communities are natural leaders, but merely appointed officials without any ties to their constituencies.

The case of former Havana mayor Manuel Fernández Supervielle, who committed suicide because he was not able to resolve the problem of the city’s water supply, is unthinkable today.

Promises come and promises go. Officials also come and go, without anyone remembering them. But problems remain unresolved and over time grow worse. Responsibility is not demonstrated by working to commemorate some historically important date but by addressing the day-to-day concerns of every citizen. When this happens, we will truly begin moving forward instead of marching backwards into history, which seems to seems to be what has been happening in our country.

14 July 2014

“I owe to my father the hatred of authoritarianism that he embodied” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Mario Varga Llosa

Mario Vargas Llosa at his home in Madrid (14ymedio)

Mario Vargas Llosa at his home in Madrid (14ymedio)

The writer Mario Vargas Llosa discusses literature, democracy and Latin America in the second part of an interview with 14ymedio. First part of the interview: “The myth of Cuba has been cut to shreds”

Yoani Sánchez, Madrid, 15 July 2014 – During my conversation with the writer and Nobel Prize Winner in Literature Mario Vargas Llosa in his home in Madrid, we spoke about his passion for Cuba and his disappointment with the revolutionary myth, as we reflected yesterday in the first part of this interview. Today I share with our readers the rest of this dialogue, centered on democracy, literature and Latin America.

Question: How do you see the health of the democratic model and civil liberties in Latin America?

Answer: If we compare it to the ideal, of course we get depressed. But if we compare Latin America from a democratic point of view looking at the last few years, there has been considerable progress.

When I was young, Latin America was a set of dictatorships and the democracies, such as Chile and Costa Rica, were really the exception to the rule. That has changed radically today, there are virtually no military dictatorships. There is one dictatorship, which is Cuba, one quasi-dictatorship, which is Venezuela, and beyond that some democracies that are far from perfect. There are varying degrees of quality and there are some Latin American democracies that are very basic and others that are more advanced. However, the democratic trend predominates over the authoritarian tradition that was so strong in our peoples. Continue reading

Are Anguish, Bitterness and Loneliness Only Names of Havana Streets? / Angel Santiesteban

A voyage to the end of all things.

By Antonio Correa Iglesias, June 6, 2014

Angustia (Anguish), Amargura (Bitterness) and Soledad (Loneliness) are not only names of Havana streets. They also are discovered feelings that seize and condition that which we call Cuba, the infinite island, which Abilion Estevez and Virgilio Pinera call the fate of being cursed, a portion of earth that floats in the sea, a sea that is the beginning and end of everything, where weightlessness and drifting are forms of keeping afloat.

But the island is also longing and folly, desire and debauchery, hatred for those who have made Cuba a prison of 111,111 square kilometers, as Reinaldo Arenas reminds us in his Leprosorio. The island and its agony accompany us each morning when we prepare coffee, a coffee which reminds us where we came from, and by those smoky silhouettes of a woman we remembered the amazing knitting grandmother who  helped the homesick and the spoiled greet the dawn. How Cuba hurts, and hurts much more when we find in a literary exercise a daily reality like that which Angel Santiesteban Prats describes for us in a clear and visceral voice. Continue reading