Historical Revisionism and “Untouchable” Cubans

Bas-relief of Fidel Castro in the Plaza de la Revolución Ignacio Agramonte, in Camagüey. (Mi comarca / Aymee Amargós Gorrita)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 22 June 2020 — These are times of statues taken from plazas, of historical names questioned and of intense debates about the way we look at the past, but – as with so many other tendencies – these controversies that spread across the world barely reach Cuba. In a country with too many “untouchable” public figures, even to think about a process of reviewing the national events and subjects of the last half century sounds like a distant utopia.

We live in a nation where debate about the official faces and criticism of government decisions has been denied for so long that we are surrounded by issues frozen, enshrined and removed from any discussion on the part of civil society. Not being able to question, not even comedians can publish cartoons about party leaders, officials or ministers. Unlike what happens in other places where busts are removed, here we are surrounded by “living statues” that cannot be touched with even the hint of a critique.

However, this prolonged and obligatory silence on so many transcendent questions will not prevent these discussions from happening some day, and even the delay bringing them to light may be serving as a stimulus for controversy. One of the most intense, without a doubt, will be directed around the figure of Fidel Castro, who will be at the center of the diatribe in a future Cuba. There is no way he can be saved from the controversy and the contrasting points of view of his actions. All attempts to officially sanctify him to avoid scrutiny will do little good if democratic winds blow on this Island. continue reading

Perhaps because he sensed the public pillory that awaited him, Castro preferred to avoid statues, although he left several bas-reliefs with his face in numerous squares in the country. Therefore, his fate will not be the tearing down of a bronze figure but the historical judgment against an individual and a system. There will be no images of defaced sculptures, but very probably new editions of history books will be prepared, the academics will tear apart his political testament and even the progressives of that time will put a healthy distance between their postulates and those of the Commander. The discussion about the permanence of his tomb, so close to the remains of José Martí, will also come and stoke the passions.

The hardest blow will fall when in a fluid and natural way, in the conversations and memories, the word “dictator” slips in when talking about Castro, while “dictatorship” is used to name his time in power. Those terms, coined by popular usage, installed in memory and ratified by scholars, will be like thousands of hammers beating against the statue of his legacy.

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American Baptists Organize a Shipment to Cuba with Food and Hygiene Products

At the beginning of the year, a pound of rice could be bought in the free market for 5 Cuban pesos (CUP) and now has reached 50 CUP in the informal networks.(EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 15, 2020 — A family of evangelical parishioners from Waco, Texas, is organizing a shipment of food and hygiene products at the request of the Baptist Church in Cuba. According to Ken Camp, the publisher of a religious newspaper, Baptist Standard, L.M. Dyson, along with his son Peter, and Christian associations from other states, is coordinating a shipment to the Island of a 40-foot container (more than 12 meters, the largest in maritime transport), with beans, rice, dry soup, oil, diapers and non-prescription medicine.

The organizers of the initiative are hoping to send, says Camp, up to 18 containers with a total value estimated at a half-million dollars for the Baptist churches in Cuba to share with those who need it most. He is scheduling the first of these shipments to arrive at the port of Mariel on July 7.

The publication notes that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, around 265 million people in the world will suffer severe hunger by the end of this year, and that three-quarters of the food consumed by the 11.4 million inhabitants on the Island is imported. continue reading

The arrival of the pandemic in Cuba has aggravated the food-shortage situation, especially the supply of grains, oil and rice. On the informal market, this last product has multiplied in value by ten, and if, at the beginning of this year a pound of rice could be bought in the free market for 5 Cuban pesos, now it costs 50 in the informal networks.

Recently, the city government of Miami and the Foundation for Panamerican Democracy called on citizens to donate “staples” to help the Cuban people confront the COVID-19 crisis through the “Solidarity among Brothers” initiative.

The donations were collected in the Convention Center in the Winwood neighborhood, and it was announced that the shipment would be sent to Cuba and later distributed through a network of Catholic churches.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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Mexican Doctors “Vigorously Protest” the Contract for Cuban Health Workers

According to official data from Cuba, the export of professional services, almost all in the health sector, occupies first place in the Island’s balance of payments.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 14, 2020 — A dozen Mexican medical associations have signed a letter to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador stating their “profound disapproval and vigorous protest” about the arrival of Cuban doctors contracted to tackle COVID-19. It’s “serious misconduct toward health professionals,” they say.

The missive, to which 14ymedio had access, recognizes that in the framework of the pandemic, Mexico is legally permitted to contract professional health personnel trained in foreign countries exclusively for the duration of the health emergency. After authorization, the Mexican Government contracted with Cuba for 585 doctors and nurses, for a sum of 6.2 million dollars.

“The group of foreign doctors is composed mainly of general practitioners without a specialty, and they are placed in different hospitals or used only for consultations, infringing on the ability of the assigned hospitals to function,” warns the letter. In Mexico, all general practitioners and specialists have “documents and appropriate certifications,” a regulation that the signatories point out will be violated by permitting “medical staff without this certification to practice” inside the country. continue reading

“The colleges, associations and federations of specialists who have signed below, like other doctors in the country, hereby express our profound disapproval and vigorously protest against what we consider to be serious misconduct toward health professionals in Mexico,” they stress.

The doctors point out that “in this country there are doctors whose performance is endorsed by the universities of the Mexican Republic, trained fully in the needs and nature of the population.” Now they feel relegated, because the Government has “favored foreign doctors, disregarding the academic excellence of our universities”.

“It’s an injustice to prefer foreigners over Mexican doctors, who meet all the requirements established by the Law of Professions and the General Law of Health,” adds the text.

The doctors go one step further and say “It’s also a reason for indignation that they commit limited monetary resources and deliver fees to foreign personnel unfairly, paying them a salary higher than the one received by Mexican specialists in health-sector institutions.”

Recently, Diario de Cuba revealed that, on average, Mexican authorities and the Institute of Health for Wellbeing (Insabi) have paid Havana 10,693 dollars for each Cuban health worker that was contracted to deal with the virus.

The Mexican doctors say they require economic help “urgently, in order to fight the pandemic, such as quality personal protection equipment.”

The medical profession says that the agreement between its Government and Havana  “is to the detriment of professionals” as these foreign doctors don’t have the necessary competence, don’t have properly specified duties, don’t possess the requirements established by current law, and aren’t endorsed by professional schools.

The text concludes by saying that the intervention of Cuban health workers “provides no benefit to our population and is seriously unfair to the doctors of our country.”

“These are difficult times and we must join forces. We’re sure that Mexicans, supported by their doctors, nurses, and all health workers, will go forward and come out stronger as a nation,” concludes the letter.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, brigades of Cuban doctors and nurses have left the Island for more than 20 countries, adding up to some 2,000 health workers. According to figures from April 30, provided by the Foreign Relations Ministry of Cuba, dozens of them have been sent to Caribbean countries like Dominica, Barbados, Granada, Surinam, or Belize.

According to Cuba’s official data, exportation of professional services, almost all in the health sector, occupies first place in the balance of payments of the Island, coming before remittances from exiles and tourism. In the epoch of bonanza in Venezuela, income was more than 10 billion dollars. However, the last data available indicate that, in 2018, remunerations were depleted and were set at 6.5 billion dollars.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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New EU Human Rights report, a Step Forward in Approach to Cuba

The European report refers, for example, to the six month imprisonment of José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 June 2020 —  The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) believes that the chapter dedicated to Cuba in the Annual Report on Human Rights of the European Union (EU), released this week, is a step forward in the European approach to the situation on the island.

In a statement released Thursday, the OCDH highlights that the EU text emphasizes that in 2019, in Cuba, “freedom of expression, association and assembly continued to be subject to significant restrictions, with reports of numerous arbitrary arrests, as well as with the imprisonment of several prisoners of conscience designated by Amnesty International, including the prominent dissident leader José Daniel Ferrer.”

The European report, as the Madrid-based organization points out, also comments on the restrictions to travel both within the country and abroad suffered by independent activists and journalists, and on Decree-Law 370, the so-called “scourge law,” because “it could be used to restrict independent media.”

Furthermore, the report denounces that the defenders of voting no or abstaining from the new Constitution “were excluded from the public debate and discredited by the Government.” The new Constitution, which preserves the current one-party socialist system, is also criticized in the report.

The non-ratification by Cuba of the United Nations International Conventions on Civil and Political Rights, and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, as well as the concern of UN rapporteurs for the working and living conditions of Cuban doctors sent to missions abroad, are also addressed in the European report.

Another element that the OCDH highlights in the European document is that it does not classify Cuba as “a one-party democracy,” as was stated in the when Federica Mogherini was the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and although it refers to the “broadly positive record in terms of economic and social rights, particularly in health and education,” it acknowledges that currently “universal coverage is being eroded.”

With regards to this, it establishes at least three causes: “financial scarcity, economic inefficiencies, and the impact of the United States embargo.”

“We cannot subscribe to what is stated on that point, with respect to the supposed history, or that the current problem is only a coverage problem,” says Alejandro Rodríguez Raga, executive director of the Observatory. For him, “the causes are deeper, structural and not only temporary, and they have to do with the general failure of a system that has not placed the human being at its center and that is inefficient by nature.” However, he concludes: “We understand that the European document marks a turning point in the vision of social rights in Cuba, having previously found them totally idyllic and aligned with the official Cuban discourse.”

The OCDH presented last week the Second Report on the State of Social Rights in Cuba, whose data reveals that 80% of the Cuban population lives in a situation of serious economic crisis.

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Members of Cuba’s San Isidro Movement Arrested After Delivering Complaint of Police Mistreatment

Alcántara this Wednesday, when he was on his way to file the complaint. (Facebook / Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 17 June 2020 — Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara has been released after spending the entire day on Wednesday being held in the Villa Marista detention center. The artist had been arrested in the morning, when he went to file a complaint about the police mistreatment that he and rapper Maykel Castillo suffered last Thursday. According to what he told this newspaper, they told him that they had detained him because they thought that, in addition to delivering the document, he was going to stage a ’performance’ or provocation.

Curators Anamely Ramos and Claudia Genlui were also arrested and released. In addition, the rapper Maykel Castillo, who had been missing since Tuesday, was released.

“Anamelys Ramos, Claudia Genlui, Luis Manuel Otero and Maykel Castillo are missing, intercepted by State Security and taken to an unknown location,” wrote Michel Matos, of the San Isidro Movement, on his Facebook wall this morning. “The police infrmation numbers have no record or knowledge of these arrests. So, it is an enforced disappearance… there is no other name for it. My house is under surveillance, with warnings of arrest if I go out to file the complaint, and the homes of the rest of colleagues from the San Isidro Movement, are presumably under surveillance,” he concluded.

“I wake up besieged by the political police,” Alcántara had denounced this morning on his Facebook wall. “I will try to deliver my complaint for the police mistreatment suffered by art historian Anamely Ramos González, musician Maykel Osorbo and myself last Thursday. We will see what happens today.”

Alcantara and Maykel Castillo were detained by the police and imprisoned all night from Thursday to Friday. At the station, they were beaten by a dozen of them. Anamely Ramos, who approached the place to find out the whereabouts of both, was also attacked.

The visual artist had already been arrested on March 1 and released 13 days later, after an intense campaign that artists and intellectuals carried out for his release. At that time Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience, demanding his immediate release.

The artist faced two accusations: one for the crime of “damage” and the other for “outrage against the national symbols”; the latter was for using the Cuban flag in an artistic action. The first case was dismissed, and the oral hearing for the second alleged crime was scheduled for March 11, but was postponed until further notice “due to the country’s economic conditions.”

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Cuban Doctors Will Extend Their Stay in Mexico if the Epidemic is Not Contained

A view of one of the corridors in the Juarez Hospital in Mexico City. (EFE/Jorge Nuñez/Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mexico City, 16 June 2020 — The 585 Cuban doctors who arrived in Mexico in May to, according to authorities, provide support for the emergency caused by the Covid-19, are scheduled to stay until July 31, but if the cases continue to rise, their stay could be extended. This was stated by the Mexico City Secretary of Health Oliva López Arellano in an interview with Reuters.

She also acknowledged that Mexico’s National Institute of Health and Welfare (Insabi) is paying 135 million pesos (six million dollars) for this medical mission, one of the largest that has left Cuba, which already has 35 health brigades and 3,300 healthcare workers around the world.

This weekend, a dozen medical associations in Mexico published a letter to President Andrés Manuel López Obrador protesting the hiring of Cuban health workers, which they consider “a serious offense against health professionals,” while denouncing that the Cubans are, in their majority, general practitioners without specialties.

Asked about this in a radio interview this Tuesday for MVS, López Arellano justified the hiring of Cuban doctors due to Mexico’s deficit of medical personnel and asked the associations that raised the protest to participate in the “wide calls” that the Government has put out since March to treat patients with Covid-19.

“Wouldn’t it be better to spend six million dollars on tests than to pay it to the Fidel Castro regime?” asked journalist Luis Cárdenas. The secretary replied that this payment corresponds to a “comprehensive collaboration agreement,” which includes advice, exchange of good practices, protocolization of processes, epidemiological and community work, and direct care. “They are misstating the accounts,” she defended herself; “It is not a direct payment to a worker, but a set of activities that are supported through an agreement with Insabi.”

Parallel to the letter addressed to the Mexican president, a Mexican, Miguel De la Rosa, initiated a petition on change.org addressed to the local Government of Mexico and Insabi to request that the hiring of Cubans be terminated and that of national professionals be activated. The initiative has already exceeded 42,000 signatures out of a goal of 50,000.

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What The Covid-19 Pandemic Has Taught Me

Father José Conrado Rodríguez, priest of the Catholic Church in Trinidad, Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre, Trinidad, Cuba, 24 May 2020 — When the Covid-19 pandemic was declared in Cuba, it was precisely in the city of Trinidad, where I lived and worked as a Catholic priest for just over seven years, where the epidemic began: three Italian tourists and one North American were the first affected. We already knew from the news of the serious situation affecting Italy and Spain and other European countries. Alarm took hold of the city. Perhaps the first to react were the owners of hostels and restaurants, especially threatened by their proximity to tourists. Before the government took the first measures, they closed their establishments. Some even wrote to President Díaz-Canel warning of the danger and demanding radical and urgent measures.

For this reason, when two officials from the Party and the Municipal Ministry of Justice visited me to explain the measures that would be taken, I told them that we were in agreement and would support them without reluctance, as we had already received the recommendations that they had prepared in this regard from the Vatican commission for divine worship.

To the officials, I expressed my surprise at the official delay in taking the measures, given the rapid spread of the serious pandemic. I even invited them to see how we had already taken measures in the church, separating the pews, placing chlorine-soaked carpets and directing worsipers to wash their hands with hypochlorite water, when entering and leaving the church. continue reading

Later I would learn that in Europe advertisements appeared in magazines and newspapers to visit Cuba as a coronavirus-free tourist destination with a good healthcare system. To a friend who called me from abroad, worried about the Cuban response in the face of Covid-19, I replied: “They will know how to do it. They are good at managing disaster. They have been doing it for more than 60 years. What they don’t know is managing prosperity.”

“They are good at managing disaster. They have been doing it for more than 60 years. What they don’t know is managing prosperity.”

When the radical restraining order came, at the end of March, this meant zero visits to rural communities and to families in the city that occupied a good part of my time and, in addition, the solitary celebration of the mass. One of the couples of the parish appeared with a huge plastic bag filled with rice, beans, and mutton.

It was the beginning of a continual arrival of the most varied things: fresh and canned milk and meat, fresh and canned fish, soup powder envelopes, dehydrated potatoes, and all kinds of food, vegetables and fruits, etc. My refrigerator has never been more full, nor has my table been so well served as in these days of the coronavirus. Thanks to the generosity of my parishioners and even of people who do not belong to the community.

I quickly realized that it was necessary to create a new routine that would guide everyday life. In my case, with a marked family tendency to obesity, and since I would not have the possibility of my usual exercise, visiting the sick and my parishioners, “exercising at home” was required. But my house is a barely more than a hut. The guest room: with two beds, a wardrobe and open shelving is the receptacle for how much is lost, suitcases, donation clothes, electrical equipment, tools… A true Pandora’s box!

My bedroom-office-living room: in a space of less than 10 by 11 feet there are the bed, the desk, a cabinet, an open closet and an armchair. The walls are upholstered with books, pictures and paintings that my painter friends have given me: three Broches, (an excellent Trinidadian painter and beloved parishioner), a Cuban landscape of Calzada, some sunflowers from my son and former parishioner, José Miguel Martínez, and a landscape of the Camaguey Montes de Oca.

Here I decided to put my daily gym, each time taking out the chair and the fan. Very early in the morning my day begins with dancing for an hour to the rhythm of Celia Cruz, followed by a bath and morning prayer time: lauds and the office of readings, which culminate with the celebration of mass at 8.30 in the morning.

After breakfast “the pastoral work on the phone” begins from my multi-use room. I have been at it for up to eight uninterrupted hours, literally hanging on the phone

After breakfast “the pastoral work on the phone” begins from my multi-use room. I have been at it for up to eight uninterrupted hours, literally hanging on the phone, and wanting to hang myself with it, if I am to be honest. A turning point for me was learning, in the same week, of the death, in New Jersey, of my friend Miguelina Rodríguez, the extraordinary mother of a family and a militant and committed Catholic, who made her life a gift of love for others.

And of Víctor Batista Falla in Havana! A great cultural promoter and patron, founder and owner of the Colibrí publishing house. Víctor was the uncle of María Teresa Mestre Batista, the archduchess of Luxembourg. For sixty years he remained outside Cuba, most of the time in Spain. He had told me that he would never return to the Island.

But like Heredia the 19th century poet, in the end nostalgia overcame him. A few days after arriving, the disease was declared. And he died. The death of these two great friends was a severe blow to me and a different way of perceiving Covid-19.

On the other hand, as the news of what was happening in Italy and Spain came, my anguish was growing. In both countries I have a multitude of friends, of whom I knew nothing. Although the slogan of Etecsa, Cuba’s telecommunications company, is “in war and in peace we will maintain communications,” for those who have tried to communicate with Cuba, or from Cuba, it is a risky adventure and not always successful.

When I tried to install their “Nauta home” internet service, it was denied because I am an institution, not a family home. On the other hand, my pastoral work with the exile was concentrated on my trips outside of Cuba.

But when I arrived here I did not insist on telephone or electronic communication, so as not to interfere with my pastoral work here, more than abundant with such an extensive parish, in the city and in the countryside. At last I discovered a thing called mobile data, which gives me access to the internet and allows me to communicate by WhatsApp, a fairly expeditious way.

This is how I found out about the illness of my New Orleans cousins ​​and my dear friend Miguelina Rodríguez from New Jersey. This is how I learned about my Madrid priest Jesús García Camón, my adoptive parents from Madrid, Papo and Nena Robles, Father José Manuel Sánchez Caro, my rector at the University of Salamanca, all safe and sound, and about my former teachers and colleagues from the University of Comillas, in Madrid. And so many others.

These solitary Masses allowed me to rediscover the Eucharist. Without an audience, I no longer had to worry about time

At daily mass I prayed for everyone. These solitary Masses allowed me to rediscover the Eucharist. Without an audience, I no longer had to worry about time. It was the Lord and me. My parishioners and friends were physically absent but my masses were pro vobis et pro multis: For you and for the mutitude. My Masses, without a homily, could last an hour and even longer.

In thanksgiving I would take my imaginary plane and tour my extensive parish, then all of Cuba, diocese by diocese, its bishops, priests, men and women religious, and laity. Later I went up to Miami, and from there, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Saint Augustine, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, New Jersey, New York, Boston, and from Boston Canada. There I prayed for the nuncio Luigi Bonazzi, Sara Olga, Rogelio, Evelin, and so many other friends. I returned to the United States through Wisconsin, Chicago, Kentucky and the south-central United States: Louisiana, New Mexico, Phoenix, etc. Then I returned west, from Portland, San Francisco, Sacramento and Los Angeles, entered Mexico, and then flew over Central and South America… to the Caribbean, the Greater and Lesser Antilles: Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Jamaica, the Bahamas … to Spain, Italy, France… my friends from Poland, Sweden, Germany, the Czech Republic, former diplomats in Cuba and those who welcomed me in those countries when I went to receive the Geremek Prize. The Middle East and Africa where so many comrades from Comillas and Salamanca, Africans, work today. Russia, China, Japan, Philippines, India, Vietnam. Until ending in New Zealand and Australia. That is, the wide world, without excluding anyone.

In these days I have discovered the truth contained in the title of that book by Congar: Wide world, my parish. Countries and Churches; Cubans, whom I carry always in my heart, wherever they are, Catholics or not, believers or atheists. My Cuba with a capital letter, even those who consider me their enemy.

Even those who I think are wrong, because they excluded and banished those who think differently: how to forget what the Master – José Martí – said, when he portrayed himself in those verses that we learned as children: “I want when I die, without a country but without a master…” But without chauvinism, without excluding those who did not have the happiness of being born on this earth and under this sky. Because they too, those who are not Cubans, are my brothers.

People have almost naturally understood Covid-19 as a deserved warning for what we are doing to God’s creation. Not so much in the key of punishment, but more positively, in the key of warning

What does God mean by all this?

I have been struck by the fact that here in Cuba, and from what I see in other parts of the world, people have understood, almost naturally, Covid-19 as a deserved warning for what we are doing to God’s creation. Not so much in the key of punishment, but more positively, in the key of warning. I have called it “the divine knock.” We cannot continue as we were.

Perhaps Pope Francis came forward with his precious encyclical letter Laudato si. The Pope, taking up a Franciscan inspiration and perspective, so in keeping with his name and program as a Pontiff, with the added value of being a convinced and convincing Jesuit. The Pope has helped us understand the responsibility we have with the world, this magnificent and beautiful gift, which does not exclude, but includes the one who is the summit and crown of this divine gift, the human being, humanity. We are singers and maximum beneficiaries of creation, the stewards and custodians of this gift that is life itself, as a mystery and as a task.

That is why I dedicate these reflections to our dear supreme Shepherd, sometimes as criticized as misunderstood, even from within the Church. So with these reflections, I am making public a letter that I sent to Pope Francis two years ago. I did not make it public because in those days, which coincided with his visit to Chile, the Pope was object of so much criticism and rejection by different sectors in that country, although that had been my intention because it was an “open letter.” Nothing is further from me than collaborating with that negative and gratuitous environment, giving rise to being put in the same bag as those critics of the moment. The Pope is a prophet, I perceive it this way, and for this I want to thank him, from this my lost corner between the hills of Escambray.

Christ came to establish koinonia, communion, which has a concrete and direct expression in the kiss of peace, the fraternal embrace in the liturgy of Holy Mass. Normally, I never get tired of hugging my parishioners before and after Sunday mass: young people, children, adults or the elderly.

Trinidad, an eminently tourist city, with about 2,000 families that rent to tourists, is full of these voluntary slaves to the “tourist-God.” “I had to make breakfast for my tourists” is an excuse that I hear more than I would like when people have missed Mass on Sunday

I believe that for the majority of my parishioners coming to mass on Sunday is a favor that they do to God. But how easily they leave the Most High planted. Nothing is said when business is involved. Trinidad, an eminently tourist city, with about 2,000 families that rent to tourists, is full of these voluntary slaves to the “tourist-God.” “I had to make breakfast for my tourists” is an excuse that I hear more than I would like when people have missed Mass on Sunday.

Two months ago the tourists left but my parishioners have been left without the Sunday mass… and how much they yearn for it! In the city, nervousness is felt due to the lack of food, the endless lines and the growing lack of money, and it has everyone crying out for God: “How long, Lord, will you keep forgetting us… How long, Lord, will you hide your face!”

And I myself how many times did I cowardly fall silent without telling them what I clearly perceived as failure of my sheep! Many years ago, at a mass celebrated in Santa Teresita, my parish at the time, my dear Archbishop Pedro Meurice attacked the half-heartedness of our faithful. So strong was the rebuke that I felt compelled to defend the people by reminding my archbishop in the middle of mass of the difficult life they led. My wise father-bishop, when I finished speaking, said to me: “José Conrado, do not defend them. They, you and I, are lacking God. We are responsible for the tenderness with which we serve the Lord, who gave everything for us on the cross, do not feel sorry for them, because the day will come when they, and the two of us, will be judged as lukewarm, if the Lord does not spew us out of his mouth before: Revelations 3,15-16: I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.

I fell silent and sat down. Ashamed, because I realized that Meurice was absolutely right. We were the sentries, the guardians of the flock, but how many times had we forgotten the first reading of his bishop’s ordination and my priestly ordination: “But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the LORD.” (Jer 1,7-8, 17).

Cowardly shepherds of a cowardly people. Where are we going to stop? The story says that Seneca, the Stoic Roman philosopher, told his former disciple, the Emperor Nero: “All your power over me is based on the fear that I have had for you. That power will vanish when I stop fearing you. And, in right, I’m not afraid of you anymore.” Nero sentenced him to death but Seneca was free at last. Free from the fear and abject life of those who sell their birthright for a plate of lentils.

“Without country, but without master.” The mission of the Church is to help people lose their fear

“Without country, but without master.” The mission of the Church is to help people lose their fear. Christ said so many times to the apostles: “Do not be afraid… The truth will set you free.” The “learned helplessness” or induced hopelessness, as I explained in my thesis for the degree in journalism, is the weapon that allows the powerful of this world to take from us the responsibility, the awareness of our dignity, that is, our ability to tell the truth and do good. Because “freedom is the right of every man to be honest, to think and speak without hypocrisy” as Martí taught children in The Golden Age.

Lichi, the son of Eliseo Diego, expressed it in this dilemma, which he took from the character of a story by Horacio Quiroga. “The peon, scared to death but ready to die with dignity, shouts to the foreman of the hacienda: That he does not obey you does not mean he betrays you.” Lichi goes on to say: “The currency could be flipped: that I obey you does not mean that I am loyal to you. Today I shield myself in Quiroga’s chest,” concludes Lichi, “to say that fear can explain much of what happened in my country.”

This strange introduction serves as an preamble to my final reflections, or rather to my final experiences. As I said before making the most drastic decisions regarding the coronavirus pandemic, I received a visit from two officials, one from the Party and the other from the Ministry of Justice. And I promised to support the measures already contemplated in the guidelines issued by the Holy See and other countries. So I did it. But in the following weeks I received several visits to find out if we were abiding by the measures. Apparently, the open doors of the church, although the bars, which prevented the entrance to the church, were closed, and my long daily masses, sung, made them suspect my failure to do so. I had explained to the congregation that they could spiritually join the celebrations from their homes.

On April 26, (we had more than 45 days without cases of Covid-19 in the city) four people asked to please participate in Sunday mass and were allowed. On Sunday, May 3, 11 people came. All distancing measures were taken (five yards, with facemasks and previous washing of hands and shoes, when entering and leaving the church). That week I received a visit from both officials to complain about the presence of those few faithful. I told them that next Sunday we would not let the faithful enter. But I had not realized that it was Mother’s Day Sunday, very important for us Cubans. On Mother’s Day we let twelve people and two technicians come in, who arrived early to make an urgent fix of an electrical problem in the parish house. But at 9 o’clock the gate was closed so that no one could pass.

I went out to greet the “companions,” who, quite upset, began to argue with the faithful. The response of the faithful was forceful: before coming to the church they had seen the people clustered in lines, without protection measures and without police to organize them, unlike what happened in the church. Marta, known for her revolutionary commitments since the citizen resistance to the Batista dictatorship, was the first to speak: “Be careful not to touch the father. He did not invite anyone to come. We are here because we felt like it and the measures of protection we have had here I have not seen them anywhere.”

She told them, “Go take care of the lines where they are not keeping their distance, nor are they protecting people. They need you there.” When they asked for the card – allowing people to circulate – only a faithful had it. But Martica said: “I didn’t bring the card, but I know the number by heart. If they fine the brother, let them fine me too.” In the end, only Albertico was fined: 100 pesos out of the 350 of his monthly retirement. (We plan to collect at one peso per person, to pay Albertico’s fine).

When at the peak of the discussion the compañera from the Ministry of Justice said that she was following orders, and that she had received them from Caridad Diego who had called her from the Central Committee, it was I who jumped

When at the peak of the discussion the compañera from the Ministry of Justice said that she was following orders, and that she had received them from Caridad Diego who had called her from the Central Committee, it was I who jumped up. “Wait a minute, this discussion is not caused by the pandemic. This is what they want to turn into a political issue. Please tell Doña Caridad that I am not afraid of her. If she is behind this, it is for a personal matter. Because 25 years ago, when I wrote Fidel Castro a letter about the desperate situation in the town, that lady has had it in for me. She should obey the deceased commander, who back then, when she asked him for instructions on the measures they would take against “that ungrateful priest who dared to confront our commander,” Fidel said to her: “Leave the priest alone.”

In the end, we agreed to have a meeting the next day with the municipal official responsible for hygiene and epidemiology. In a climate of respect and understanding we had that meeting. I explained that if I did not reject the 12 people who came that Sunday it was because I realized that they were stressed, because the press was talking about the failures that the attention to the pandemic had in the United States and that they had their children and grandchildren and other relatives in that country. And they came to pray for them. Based on the measures we had taken in the parish, I knew that they would be out of danger here. (At some point the day before, one of the officials suggested that I was not interested in the safety of my parishioners, without taking into account that people can also die of stress, of anguish, not only of the coronavirus). A guide, political or religious, has to take those factors into account, I say, because “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”

I looked at the televised mass on Sundays: up to 15 or more people in a space one fourth the size of my parish church

I looked at the televised mass on Sundays: up to 15 or more people in a space one fourth the size of my parish church. On the other hand, I had known of other parishes that had had masses with some faithful, even more than those who had come to Paula these four Sundays, without being questioned or threatened by the authorities. Even at Easter! All this led me to think that I could open my hand a little to help people who needed it, without creating major problems or posing a threat to people. But the truth is that I have always been a fairly naive man. What I did, whatever it was, would always be misinterpreted by the authorities.

The following Sunday, May 17, there were only four people at mass. I had fallen asleep and they were already in the church when I came down. It is very hard to expel people who come desperate. The fifth was followed, from his home to the church, by a car driven by a soldier in uniform. To this lady, the only one who asked if she should stay, I said: “Go home. I don’t want them to think that we are provoking you. That is not our intention.” This time the cordon, official or unofficial, was greater. They sat in the park waiting for the end of mass. But this was so long and with so many songs, that in the end they left. When they were leaving mass the few faithful who had participated in it told me that the park was empty, I said, laughing, “There is no doubt that the mass has the virtue of scaring away demons.”

Despite this humorous phrase, I want to make it clear that I detest the demonization of the different, the one who thinks differently or belongs to “another Church.” The uncritical posture that forgives everything to those who think as I do, and who attacks the enemy on the side, seems to me one of the greatest miseries of the time in which we live. When I told my Spanish son, Felipe Ronda (whom I call “Felipe I of Spain,” since the King is Felipe VI, and may the Crown forgive me if I offend him with that!), he said: “Old man, politicians manipulate and want to take advantage of even pandemics. Everything turns on propaganda and power management. Here in Spain they are doing the same thing.”

That is why I deeply admire my friend the Argentine-Jewish journalist Andrés Oppenheimer, who has written so much about corruption, both in the US and in Latin America, the same on the left as on the right. He won his first Pulitzer for his research on Iran-Contra. I am very honored by the words he wrote in his book Chronicles of Heroes and Bandits about corruption, that of politicians and the military as well as of businessmen and intellectuals… although in his book he speaks not only of corruption, but of the virtues and good examples of men and women, who, whether lowly or from the stage of power, are good examples to follow: “For José Conrado, whom I deeply admire, among other things, for his courage to denounce bandits. Your friend,” Andrés Oppenheimer.

I always like to talk “of right and wrong.” It seems to me that the most divine attribute of God is that he can bring good even from evil

I always like to talk “of right and wrong.” It seems to me that the most divine attribute of God is that he can bring good even from evil. How he manages, don’t ask me: my theology doesn’t go that far. In these months a cartoon went viral showing God talking to the devil: the latter, rubbing his hands, said to God, “Did you notice how I closed all the your temples with one stroke?” While God, smiling peacefully, replied: “Did you notice how I have turned every home into a temple?”

The Coronavirus has become a tough but perhaps necessary lesson. We must return to the essential. Put aside foolish pride, blind ambition, empty vanity and discover that God has left us two great sacraments of his presence: the Eucharist and human beings: especially the one most in need of our solidarity and love. Both sacraments must be appreciated in all their value. Let us not forget that the sacrament is not only a sign, but an instrument: it realizes what it means. When we can neither embrace those we love, nor celebrate the living presence of God in his Eucharist, it is when we better understand its value because “nobody appreciates what he has until he loses it,” as the saying goes. Amen.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Agriculture: A Chain of Inefficiency, Bureaucracy and Corruption / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 4 June 2020 — After the 1959 “accident” occurred, Cuban agricultural production, which had been prosperous and efficient, ensuring the population with an adequate food supply, began to plummet.

Two agrarian reform laws — the second one took away what the first had provided — were carbon copies of the failed Soviet system of cooperative farms, agricultural conglomerates and machinery depots.

Large estates were broken up, creating one large state-owned estate spanning the entire country, and private property was eliminated. These and other absurd measures were the coup de grace from which Cuban agriculture never recovered.

Multiple initiatives — different types cooperative farms, agricultural conglomerates and production units, all controlled by government authorities with no autonomy — led to failure after failure. Today, almost 90% of everything consumed on the island must be imported. in 1958 only 28% was imported and 72% was produced domestically. The numbers speak for themselves. continue reading

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, there are four million hectares (58% of the country’s land mass) of farmland, though only 23.2% of it is considered very productive or productive. 76.8% is deemed to be underproductive or very unproductive. Three million hectares require treatment due to problems such as invasive marabou weed. In recent years 2,225,000 hectares were set aside for private farming though 350,000 of these have yet to be handed over to farmers. All of them are on land with unproductive to very unproductive soils, many covered with marabou and rocks, forcing their tenants to do a lot of arduous work before they can be farmed.

Of the 887,049 people working in agriculture, 23% are women. Only 7.4% of farmland is irrigated. Due to shortages, there is only enough fuel, pesticide, fertilizer and seeds in 2020 for 28% of crops (tobacco, rice, potatoes, tomatoes for processing). Though the state owns most of the country’s arable land — 77% is publicly owned, 23% is privately owned — it produces only 10% to 12% of the nation’s food. 88% to 90% is produced by privately owned farms or by the 242,000 farmers who lease land from the state. But there’s more to the story. No farmer, whether a private landowner or a member of an agricultural production entity, is really independent. Ultimately, the state is always in control.

Given all this, let us assume that farmers form the basis of Cuban agriculture. They could be the landowners before the “experiment” (a few), landowners after the experiment (a handful) and the tenant farmers of recent times. What they all have in common is that they depend on and are controlled by state-run “production bases” operating under the Ministry of Agriculture in conjunction with a some type of cooperative or other organizaiton. Without this connection farmers can neither plant nor sell their crops.

These entities decide what will be planted and what price the state will pay to farmers. In high-priority crops such as rice, corn, beans, soybeans and sugar, farmers receive (buy) “technological packages,” which include seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and fuel. The packages do not always arrive before the scheduled start of planting or in the necessary quantities, forcing farmers to choose between trying to find these supplies on their own or loosing their crops.

When the inefficiency and bureaucracy that characterize these state-run systems causes them to fail, opportunities for corruption arise. Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Association of Small Farmers, production bases and cooperatives — mainly the top executives appointed by the ministry itself — prioritize and allocate resources to those whom they favor or who will pay them off.

The harvested crops are supposed to be delivered to Acopio — a conglomerate of thirteen state-run food procurement and distribution companies — whose transport and storage facilities, known as collection centers, are located throughout the country. Though Acopio is technically in charge of distribution, in practice this is handled by agents from the production bases, who deliver it to collection centers.

In addition to delays in paying farmers for their crops, which are common throughout the agricultural sector, adequate packaging and transportation for crops are often not provided. The state also often refuses to purchase quantities of certain products, claiming there is no market for them.

In general, the prices farmers receive for their crops are based on three classes of quality: first, second and third. When making purchases, Acopio almost always rates products second or third class, rarely first. However, when it sells these products, which are purchased primarily by the tourism industry, it rates them first class, reaping profits that producers never see.

The collection centers are usually where the greatest corruption occurs. These are where products are diverted to the so-called illegal market, where surcharge payments are made and false sale and transfer documents are prepared.

In 2018, 549,512 tons of sweet potatoes were produced. However, in all the retail produce markets supplied by Acopio, only 34,622 tons (6% of the entire crop) were sold. It is unclear where the remaining 514,890 tons (94% of the crop) went. Was is consumed by farmers themselves. Did it go to social service centers, hotels or public dining halls? Or did it simply go to waste?

For decades Acopio has been responsible for the loss of crops due to its failure to pick them up on time and its terrible distribution system. In spite of having such a poor track record, it remains in operation, with plans to keep it going indefinitely.

Although allowed to set aside a portion of their harvests for self-consumption, these discrepancies are an indication that farmers are not reporting all their projected production figures. They retain some of their crops for sale through intermediaries, even though the practice is illegal and they risk being penalized.

To get away with this, they must bribe a link — a go-between — in the chain of control. Intermediaries must transport the goods using their own or rented vehicles, bribing authorities at control points along the way so that the goods are allowed to pass without being confiscated.

In the past a bribe would cost five convertible pesos (CUC). Now the price is at least 20 CUC. As previously indicated, Acopio is part of this corruption scheme, providing false invoices and transit permits. Once a transfer is successfully completed, the paperwork is destroyed, both by the person to whom it was issued and by the issuer.

At the produce market, the final transfer point for the products, the situation is not much more transparent. The courier must present the legal documentation showing that the merchandise has been received. Sometimes the documents are fake since, in general, more merchandise is delivered than an invoice indicates.

The idea is to sell the extra produce to those willing to pay a higher price. These buyers are typically the produce market’s own vendors or pushcart vendors, who get there early in the morning.

A current practice is to transfer the goods in vintage 1950s cars or some other type of vehicle to previously determined locations such as garages or patios. Not surprisingly, all these products are of better quality and more expensive than those for sale at the various produce markets.

Because of the complexities and risks involved in harvesting and storing them, onions, garlic and some other products are no interest to the state. Their production is entirely in private hands and, therefore, they command high prices. Potatoes, by contrast, are entirely in the hands of the state. The production and sale of them by private producers is prohibited. These are some incomprehensible absurdities of Cuban agriculture.

This unproductive, bureaucratic and corrupt chain ultimately impacts the consumer, who is forced to suffer the consequences of shortages and high prices, even when the product is not of the best quality or presented under the most sanitary conditions.

The Importance of Calling Himself Alejandro

Fidel had in mind the Greek king who conquered an empire starting from the insignificant Macedonia.

14ymedio bigger
Néstor T. Carbonell, former VP of Pepsi Cola for many years, has published an extraordinary book on the Island: Why Cuba Matters. In the book he reviews the stormy relationships between Fidel Castro and the twelve tenants who have been in the White House. From the first, Ike Eisenhower, to Donald Trump, through Barack Obama, who made all the concessions to Havana, without any gesture of democratic reciprocity, violating the only common strategy of Republicans and Democrats for more than 60 years.

In that long period of coincidences and disagreements, genuine “hawks” like Ronald Reagan and even soft “pigeons” like Jimmy Carter had been at the helm of the American power, but all were convinced that any transaction with the Castros should include a verifiable withdrawal of Cuba’s international role as a pro-communist and “anti-Yankee” beacon in Latin America and Africa, although notable incursions into the Middle East were not lacking, as was the case with a 22-tank brigade operated by Cubans during the Yom Kippur war, fought between 1973 and 1974.

The problem, really, was that the Castros saw Cuba only as a base of operations to act in the international arena against Washington and against the hated “capitalism.” That was their leitmotif. The Castros, and especially Fidel, did not see themselves as the leaders of a communist revolution carried out on a poor sugar-producer island in the Caribbean, but rather as leaders of a political empire under construction. Not for nothing Fidel, at 18, changed his middle name, Hipólito, for “Alejandro.” He had in mind the Greek king who conquered an empire starting from the insignificant Macedonia. continue reading

Thus, his first triumph in Latin America was Chile, and it did not occur according to Castro’s script, but as a consequence of the Chilean electoral peculiarity. Salvador Allende was elected in 1970 with just over a third of the votes, and the Chilean parliament, being able to choose one of the other two parties, selected this Marxist physician, after forcing him to sign a document in which he promised to safeguard freedoms, something he only partially did.

The thesis behind Carbonell’s book is that democracy and freedoms have a magnificent side (the type of societies they foster), but they have another disturbing feature: the tendency to belittle the economically and technically weak adversaries who oppose them. They did it with Cuba and today they do it with Venezuela, Cuba’s protégé, without realizing the danger that this means.

Cubazuela, as the two countries are called in the neighborhood’s political jargon, have turned to crime to sustain their precarious power. Cuba provides Venezuelans with intelligence, military control, and support networks built over the years, while Venezuela pays Cubans with its own or Iranian gasoline, and with the little money it can spare from drug trafficking or the sale of illegally obtained gold. Meanwhile, Maduro, born in Colombia, is neither Venezuelan nor Colombian. He is a Cuban who owes his position to the Castros. He has discovered ideological citizenship.

Cuba was already a danger, but not having eliminated that infectious focus allowed it to metastasize to other nations, such as Venezuela, and there’s a risk that it will continue to expand to Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia, all countries of the Andean arc. To avoid this immense damage, opposition politician María Corina Machado proposes a “multifaceted peace operation.” Venezuelan professor Carlos Blanco, in an excellent article, adds that it could be “an operation led by the OAS, based on the TIAR.” TIAR is the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance.

So far, Washington has limited itself to imposing sanctions and showing its fangs, but Latin American countries have no foreign policy, except Cuba and Venezuela, and I don’t think they will change.

I would start by lavishly giving Carbonell’s book to the Americans of the establishment. There you will see the immense mistake made by Republican Eisenhower and Democrat Kennedy for not having liquidated the communist revolution when it was in its cradle. Likewise, after the disappearance of the USSR, in the time of Bush (father), when another golden opportunity arose, for having assumed that the regime would “fall” by itself, as a result of lack of resources, without understanding the internal strength of dynastic communism, as has been verified not only in Cuba, but also in North Korea.

The regime not only did not fall: it had time to contaminate Venezuela and infect a good part of Latin America, prolonging the agony of our societies. If it is not eradicated it will be another immense error that we will all pay for, including the United States. That is very clear in Carbonell’s book.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Last Day: Countdown To Get Nowhere

Infanta street in Havana is returning to its usual activity, despite the fact that the Covid-19 is still present. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 June 2020 — On television they say that Cuba is heading towards reopening, a curious word for a country with so many political borders and so many economic dams. “If they say it, they will know something,” says a neighbor who, by dint of passing needs, now entrusts his hopes in “we can only get out of this hole, we can no longer fall any further.”

A few days ago they announced that we will soon be in phase one of the de-escalation and I feel that an eternity has passed since the first case of Covid-19 on the Island.

Although the pandemic continues to haunt our lives, most of the people I meet on the street have already put an end to any type of confinement and the sidewalks of my neighborhood are once again full of neighbors who come and go looking for some food to buy. The nearby Rancho Boyeros Avenue, which in the first weeks after the suspension of public transport, was deserted, now roars from early on with vehicle traffic, many with the sign “Vía libre – Coronavirus,” which allows those vehicles to travel anywhere, any time, regardless of restrictions that apply to others. continue reading

Although the Ministry of Public Health has released low numbers for the Covid-19 contagion in recent days, Cubans intuit that beyond the disease, the peak of the economic crisis is yet to come. September, with thousands of students returning to schools, seems to be the time when the needs curve will escalate. After months without tourism, with difficulties in traveling from one province to another, with many private businesses operating at half-capacity, and even the informal market hard-bit, that first day of school will be a challenge for many families.

“If right now I had to pay 10 CUC (roughly $10 US) for a package of detergent, how much will it cost when people have to wash their children’s uniforms every day?” reflects a friend who advises me to prepare for “the hardest summer of the last two decades.” Even the announcement that national tourism will be restored and that, perhaps with the drop in the arrival of foreigners, Cubans can access cheaper recreational offers, does not excite my friend. “Who can think of going to a hotel to spend what little money they have?”

Contrasts also arise. A friend who lives in Batabanó has called me to tell me that he has been practically eating “lobsters and shrimp” for several days because from his fishing village in southern Havana, which has traditionally fed shellfish to the black market in the capital, merchants who now can’t distribute the product due to the cuts in transport and to the reinforcement of the vigilance on the highways. “There is no rice, no soap, no oil, but there is no lack of lobster,” he says ironically.

Although such delicacies could be seen as a sign of luxury on a Cuban table, my friend knows that his current abundance is a bad sign. “This town lives on this because we supply not only Havana, but also all the private restaurants and the private houses in Viñales, Soroa and the tourist areas of Artemisa, Pinar del Río and Mayabeque,” he adds. “If in those places the economy sinks, here we’ll be buried.”

It is curious that in many of the phrases I hear, it is perceived as if life had taken the form of a line that sinks when access to resources, well-being or hopes is dealt with and dramatically rises when measuring crisis, scarcity and uncertainty. A sharp curve that, to flatten it, requires bold and urgent decisions that the ruling party, however, delays.

My friend has made a decision. “As soon as they open, I’m leaving, I’m not going through a second Special Period here.” In the countdown to escape are thousands of Cubans right now, standing another line, the one that separates them from the outside.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuba’s Ministry of Commerce is “At the Service of the Coronavirus”

“At the service of the coronvirus,” it reads, with an unforgivable misprint to top it all. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 9 April 2020 — With each official event or prominent date, it is common to see state vehicles on the streets of Cuba with a “via libre” pass attached to the windshield. Thus they are able to circulate without restrictions, whether it’s during the May 1 parades, emergency situations caused by hurricanes, or carnivals. Now Covid-19 has readjusted the priorities and the signs in the windshields mention the pandemic, but without changing the structure of the sentence.

“Via,” it says in large letters a paper pasted in a car belonging to the Ministry of Internal Commerce (Mincin), which, on Thursday morning distributed instructions to various food service venues in the Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución municipality. But underneath the three-letter word, a written phrase was very disturbing: “At the service of the coronvirus,” it reads, with an unforgivable misprint to top it all.

“They are at the service of the coronavirus instead of being at the service of the population,” said a neighborhood resident near Tulipán Street, who found that the state cafe in the area has not sold alcoholic beverages to the public since Thursday. “My daughter is 15 years old today and I had been dreaming about this party for years. We decided to just have a family meal and I came to get some cold ones for the adults,” she said. continue reading

The last time there was a dry law in Cuba was at the death of Fidel Castro in November 2016. This Wednesday, the Cuban authorities announced that the sale of beer and rum for consumption on state premises was canceled, but they left the door open for purchases to take home. “Today we have been guided not to sell anything with alcohol, not even to take away,” explains an employee of a bar on the corner of Factor Street on Thursday. “They collected everything: rum, brandy and vodka.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Chicken, Cuba’s National Obsession

Getting a whole chicken could take hours or even days in line. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, June 11, 2020 — Products such as pork, eggs and beef, frozen chicken may be in short supply but chicken is one of the few animal proteins that finds its way to the island’s tables. This has led to the bird becoming the great national obsession. Cubans wait in line to buy it, government ministers talk about and economists analyze it.

Amid the difficulties that the pandemic has made worse, the good news seems to be that the authorities have increased chicken imports from Brazil and the United States in recent months to supply the domestic market. According to official Brazilian data purchases from that South American country alone grew 87% between March and May of this year.

“Traditionally, Brazil has been Cuba’s second biggest supplier of chicken, normally well behind the U.S,” stresses Pedro Monreal, an economist who points out that Brazil exported 2,456 tons to the island in April while the United States exported 16,560. continue reading

Monreal explains that since February 2020 sales of the product internationally have increased “though still at levels lower than those of mid-2019, which explains the current scarcity.” The shortage has led to rationing, limiting how much customers can purchase even in free market stores.

With locally produced pork virtually nonexistent in retail shops and the black market for fish and seafood operating at half-capacity due to the suspension of inter-provincial transport, long lines form outside stores in Havana where there are rumors that chicken will soon be available. The average wait to buy a package is between five and six hours, although it can also go on for days.

Last April Cuban authorities took advantage of a lower prices for U.S. chicken to buy more from that country. In March 15,276 tons of chicken meat was delivered to the island at a cost of 14 million dollars; in April 16,560 tons were imported but cost less than 11 million dollars according to the charts released by Monreal.

“In April 2020 the price per kilogram of chicken meat exported from the US to Cuba had a sharp reduction of more than 24% compared to the previous month and was the lowest price in the last 12 months,” the economist points out.

However, among home-delivery businesses that are still open, few are offering chicken dishes. “We offer pasta, pizza, sandwiches and some pork when we can get it, but we can’t guarantee we’ll have chicken. Who could right now?” explains the chef of a privately owned restaurant who advertises on a well-known online shopping site.

“Right now we are putting together a Father’s Day menu and we’ve been able to get the ingredients for roast pork, baked fish and lasagna with ham, but we haven’t been able to get what we need for a chicken option because we’ve barely seen any at all,” he adds.

Many in the food service sector point out that it is not enough to increase poultry imports; it is important to get enough of the right parts. “The only things you find in stores are leg and thigh packages, which won’t work for certain recipes, though, of course, you could always try,” says the owner of a prepared food business which has gained a lot of customers during the pandemic.

“We sell food that is almost ready to eat. We prepare our empanadas, croquettes and fried dishes so that the customer can finish cooking them at home,” he explains. “Until recently, our popular item was breaded chicken cutlets, stuffed with cheese and ham or cut into strips. But we haven’t been able to offer those because there aren’t any chicken breasts or whole chickens to be found anywhere.”

The owner masterfully explains how to debone a drumstick or thigh “with a very fine knife and an attentive eye” in order “create a filet that can be used in more complex recipes.”He acknowledges, however that when he does manage to find thighs or drumsticks, he prefers to fry or roast them. “Customers practically grab them out of our hands.”

Classified pages have dozens of ads for “boxes of whole chickens.” This became a popular option in 2016 when packaged chicken in bulk was first promoted to retail customers, a trend that was reversed even before the pandemic began due to the island’s liquidity problems last year.

Domestic chicken production is very low. In 1989, the best year for which data is avaiable, 73,300 tons were produced. In 2018, however, the figure was just 8,200 tons.

Just over a year ago, it was considered an almost “plebeian” product. Fried chicken was the most common menu item at carnivals, state-run eateries and outdoor festivals, but in recent months its value and status have risen sharply.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Medications Crisis in Cuba: Rationing vs. Reasoning / Miriam Celaya

Pharmacy in Cuba (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 June 2020 – Another hot summer day has barely dawned in the city, but dozens of people are already gathered in the vestibule at the Carlos III Pharmacy in Central Havana. The day before, the drugs were “unloaded” and since quantity and variety of the assortment never meets demand, exactly every ten days an anxious human conglomerate fills the area and its surroundings for several hours.

In the past three to four years, drug shortages have become an increasingly tricky topic at this medical powerhouse. The impact of the crisis is such that neither the pharmaceutical industry nor the importing companies -both monopolies of the State- are able to insure even those drugs assigned to patients with chronic diseases, acquired through the Controlled Medicines Acquisition Card, popularly known as “the big card”.

“I warn you that only part of the Enalapril arrived, and antihistamines or dipyrone, medformin, or psychotropic drugs didn’t arrive either, so those who come looking for this already know it, and don’t bother to line up!”, warns one of the pharmacy employees, who has come out to face the crowd like a gladiator before lions. The answer, in effect, is a kind of collective roar. Discontent spreads. continue reading

Moments later the same employee returns to the crowded vestibule to report, with the same subtlety, about the great “solution” that pharmacies are going to apply to the shortage of medicines: “Shut up and pay attention here, so you can’t later say that you didn’t know!” Right after that, he makes an announcement that only half of the dose prescribed by the corresponding doctor will be filled for each card. And he ends with an absolutely irrational warning: “So save [your medicines]!”

The supposedly altruistic idea is that with this rationing of what has already been rationed, a greater number of patients have the possibility of acquiring part of the medicine that is required to treat their ailment. The bad news is that, in practice – and by the grace of the authority of the administrators of destitution – what this achieves is the multiplication of the number of people who cannot duly comply  with what is indicated by a trained physician, and consequently, the risks of health complications that are derived, increase.  Numerous of these cases include extremely serious events, such as cerebral or cardiovascular infarctions, hypercholesterolemia, hyperglycemia and kidney problems, just to mention a few.

Thus, the alternative to these shortages ignores such a basic principle that can be stated simply and mathematically: consuming half the dose equals twice the risk for patients. Because it so happens that there are no half-hypertensive, half-cardiac or half-diabetic cases. Health problems cannot be adapted to the inadequacy of the medicine market.

If it were not for the highly vaunted benefits of a Revolution that leaves no one helpless, we could imagine that we are witnessing a scenario of neo-Malthusianism, where the excess of population added to the increasing scarcity of resources imposes an inevitable socio-demographic selection: the weakest, the old, the ones with lowest incomes and the sick will be the decimated sectors and only the most solvent, strong, young and healthy will survive without further damage, be it or not- or not necessarily-  a State policy.

It is obvious that, despite the accelerated aging of the population in Cuba and with that the increase in chronic patients with diseases related to advanced age, an effective government strategy was never devised to alleviate the stumbling blocks of the fragile national pharmaceutical industry or to protect the so-called “pharmacological groups by control cards”.

Going back in time and appealing to the long history of shortages on the Island, there are numerous drugs that have disappeared from the shelves since the 1990’s, never to return. Even those that were once available over the counter began to be sold by prescription only, a situation that remains to this day. Pharmacy supplies have never come close to what it was until 1989, despite frequent official promises for improvements or recovery of the industry.

Furthermore, the crisis has become so severe that eventually the official press has been forced to bring up the matter. Thus, for example, on 3 February 2018, the article On the Pharmacy Counter (by Julio Martínez Molina) appeared on the digital page of the State newspaper Granma, reporting that in 2017 dozens of shortages of drugs had been reported in throughout the country that year, and the persistence of “the absence of high demand pharmacological items” had been acknowledged, among them hypotensive, antidepressant, anti-ulcer medications and many more.

The BioCubaFarma association reported that the instability in drug deliveries was due to “the lack of adequate financing to pay suppliers of raw materials, packaging materials and expenses.” There was no lack of the favorite “blockade” among the causes for the pothole, which forced “the use of third countries to acquire equipment, American-made spare parts, chemical reagents, etc.”

Other data pointed to interesting figures: of the 801 drugs that make up “the basic picture” of Cuba’s drug demand, BioCubaFarma was responsible for 63%. In total, 505 medicines were produced by the National Pharmaceutical Industry and 286 were imported by the Ministry of Health (MINSAP); while of the 370 lines that were distributed to the pharmacy network, 301 were domestically produced and 69 imported.

Despite everything, explained authorities in the pharmaceutical industry, the critical situation “would change gradually” (would improve), up to the recovery of the production and distribution of medicines, which should take place around the first quarter of 2019.

But BioCubaFarma officials also suggested that the doctors carry some of the responsibility for not being sufficiently informed about the supplies of the drugs they prescribed to patients. “If the doctor has the correct information about the difficulties of a certain medicine, he should avoid prescribing it.”

The real problem, beyond this colossal simplicity, was, and still is, the almost absolute shortage of entire groups of medications, including antibiotics to fight infections or analgesics for pain relief which has caused many doctors – at the risk of being penalized – to recommend to their patients to arrange for their own medicines through family or friends overseas.

In 2018, during a presentation before the National Assembly, the then Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales Ojeda, beckoned to “combat the misuse of medical prescriptions”, an exhortation that automatically led to the rationing of the doctors’ prescription books. After that, they would receive a limited number of these in order to tackle mismanagement among corrupt doctors and medicine smugglers, a business that had been confirmed for years and that grew in direct proportion to the decrease in supply in legal networks.

This was the rampant official strategy designed to eradicate the wide and deep hole of illegal maneuvers that let medicines slip through pharmacy networks, aggravating shortages and feeding the informal market. Simultaneously, a limit was also placed on the number of medications that could be indicated in each prescription, which – oh, paradox! – forced doctors to issue a greater number of prescriptions to each patient.

The result of so much nonsense was immediate: the drug smugglers diversified their strategies, but survived, while the insane rationalization of prescription books had a null, if not counterproductive effect, in the control of medications.

Meanwhile, more than two years after BioCubaFarma’s triumphant promises, and far from improving, the shortage of medicines in Cuba has deepened and is headed to getting even worse. Because at the end of the day it is not a medication crisis but a system whose disease has no cure.

Just around noon, the Carlos III’s Pharmacy had run out of medications. The line scatters, among whispers, complaints, and resigned faces. The curtain falls on a scene that will repeat itself in exactly ten days.

Translated by Norma Whiting

From the Gulag to the UMAP: Official History and the Control of Memory

The U.M.A.P: Where Work Makes the Man

Abel Sierra Madero, Hypermedia Magazine, 15 May  2020 — Yuri Brokhin, a Soviet filmmaker who defected in 1972 and settled in the United States, described his experience trying to purchase a Volga automobile in the late 1960s. In all of Voroshilovgrad, Ukraine, there were only twelve of these cars available for sale to the public, but they were already reserved for soccer players. One police commissioner, who wanted to “enter” History, told Brokhin that if he made a film about his department’s accomplishments, he could help him with the matter of the car.

“We must show the Soviet people…. what a modern correctional camp is like,” he recommended. [1]

Lights, Camera, Action…

Given the enthusiasm with which the police commissioner described it, Brokhin said, it was possible that the Soviets were choosing their vacation destinations wrongly. It was much more pleasant to go to a forced labor camp.

When the crew arrived at the Voroshilovgrad Oblast gulag, which was dedicated to building boilers for locomotives, they found at the entrance, tied to the barbed wire fence, a sign with the inscription: “Labor turned the Ape into Man – Friedrich Engels.” [2] The filmmaker was astonished, but his thoughts were only of his Volga. continue reading

Since the idea was to show the “miracle” of the forced labor camp, they filmed several detainees, including Sidorov, who was charged with armed robbery. In a colorful and romantic scene, Sidorov stopped working and greeted the commissioner with a warm handshake. Immediately, he and other inmates protested and asked why they had not received additional ideological materials to read, for example, the five volumes of speeches by Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Supreme Soviet, and more books by Marx and Lenin.

The film crew also took some shots of the residential area of ​​the camp. In these scenes, some barracks looked impeccable, its lawn green and freshly trimmed. It was likely, Brokhin reflected, that the facilities were in good shape because there were no political prisoners, or perhaps these were set for propaganda and public relations purposes.

In the film one of the wardens introduced on-camera the enthusiastic comrades, who spoke of the miracle of re-education. Among them was Savchenko, a.k.a. Pot, who was announced as an “ex-thief and active homosexual.” “Citizens, for the first time in my life, I understand what a collective is. Thanks to the collective, I have become a changed man,” said Pot. [3] According to Brokhin, several around Pot muttered, “Yes, yes, he’s changed from active to passive.” [4]

Other speakers criticized US imperialism and called to increase production levels. The film ends with the hymn, “The Party is our Guide,” by the Soviet composer Vano Muradeli. The police commissioner kept his word, and by the end of 1967, Yuri Brokhin was driving his Volga.

A still from Solovki, by director Aleksandr Cherkasov, Sovkino, 1928.

Yuri Borkhin was not the only one involved in the project of changing and exporting a positive image of the gulag, even Eisenstein himself participated as well as other artists, photographers, painters and writers, including Maxim Gorky.

In 1934, the playwright edited – along with S. G Firin (Semen Georgievich) and Leopold Averbach, a critic who was shot in 1938 – Belomor, The “Stalin” Channel Between the Baltic and White Seas: An Account of Its Construction. This was a volume commissioned by the secret police (GPU) to produce a positive memory of the gulag. Several writers and inmates participated in the project, which, in a tone of self-criticism, praised the policy of reeducation and the role of the political police.

But the representation of the gulag as a resort had already been attempted in Solovki, a 1928 picture directed by Aleksandr Cherkasov, whom the GPU had commissioned to produce a propaganda film. The material was part of a strategy to counter the allegations of Sergei Malsagov, who had escaped from the Solovki prison camp and was making statements to the English press.

The vision of Cherkasov’s film has nothing to do with horror. On the contrary, in it the filmmaker portrays a “model” camp, in which the viewer can appreciate comfortable accommodations, delicious food and even cultural attractions: theater, variety shows and concerts. The Solovki gulag portrayed in the film also boasted a museum, a newspaper, a school, and a library. And, of course, we can also see young people taking a dip in the lake after work or playing sports.

A still from Solovki, by director Aleksandr Cherkasov, Sovkino, 1928.
A still from Solovki, by director Aleksandr Cherkasov, Sovkino, 1928.

The Solovki, or Soloviets camp was located in the premises of a former cloistered monastery. At the entrance was a banner with huge letters, which stated a cordial welcome: “With an iron hand we will lead humanity to happiness.” [5]

Cherkasov’s film is at once pleasing and terrifying, with a clear, example-making message for the enemies of the Soviet state. The film narrates the tortuous and long cycle of rehabilitation. “Spies, speculators, thieves, bandits, those who disturb order, and counterrevolutionaries are sent to the Solovki Islands, in the White Sea,” explained the written narrative of the film. [6] According to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, religious envoys, including Orthodox monks, prostitutes, and intellectuals – such as Dmitri Likhachov and Pavel Florensky – were sent to Solovki. [7]

The camp’s mission, as clarified on a poster, was to “create work habits and re-educate socially harmful persons to turn them into useful members of society.” [8] Some administrative details are given in the film. “Those who resist education through work are transferred to a punishment section on Sekirnaya Mountain,” it warns. [9] In a military-type formation or parade, inmates are ironically described as the “trash” of society, term proper to communist biopolitical jargon.

The scenes depicting the massive transfer on trains of people escorted by the military with long weapons are overwhelming. The choreography of inmates in a boot factory, the composition of machines, forges, lathes, and agricultural laborers picking and shoveling amid the speed and quietness of “silent” cinema, create an even more oppressive ambience. A herd of aligned pigs became the image of the inmates.

The UMAP We’ve Been Taught and the Control of Memory

In Cuba, the history of the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) has also been camouflaged and distorted by official narratives. But unlike the Soviets, who saw cinema and literature as instruments to wash the memory of the gulag, the leaders of the Cuban Revolution did not take such risk. The installation of those infamous forced labor camps, between 1965 and 1968, was managed as a state secret. But when the atrocities and abuses began to generate an international panic over the authoritarian symptoms that the Revolution was showing, the strategy changed. Then a policy of damage control was developed, aimed at constructing a different public memory of the concentration camp.

I will not dwell on the details of the structure, design and organization of the UMAP, nor on the punishments. This essay has a different objective. In 2016 I made a couple of contributions to the topic that readers can access. These are “Academies to Produce Macho Men in Cuba,” an article that was published by Letras Libres magazine, and “‘Work will make you men’: National masculinization, forced labor and social control in Cuba during the sixties”, a slightly longer essay published in issue 44 of the academic journal, Cuban Studies.

The government’s damage control policy toward the UMAP, was based on the construction of narratives about economic success and the “miracle” of forced labor camps as an educational model. Adelante, the newspaper of the province of Camagüey, was one of the platforms from which attempts were made to manage the memory of the UMAP. It was in that region that most of the units were installed.

The campaign began on the recommendations of Raúl Castro himself. On April 9, 1966, a few months after the camps were put in place, Castro visited Camagüey and spoke with some journalists. “I don’t know if you will have time to do a little reports on the UMAP out there.” [10] Immediately, a journalist alleged: “The problem is that there is no authorization to report about the UMAP.” [11]

In the photo, Captain José Q. Sandino, one of the officers in charge of managing the forced labor camps. Verde Olivo, Year VII, No. 23. Havana, June 12, 1966.

Apparently, the journalists received the authorization, because the “little reports” that Raúl Castro requested started coming out a few days later. On April 13, 1966, the journalist Luis M. Arcos published in the pages of Adelante a pamphlet in which he affirmed – using language typical of manuals of Marxist-Leninist philosophy – that the UMAP had a formative, educational character, and that they played “a very important role in the radical transformation of the nation.” [12] He also said that the camps had been created for the welfare of society, and that they were the subject of “continuous speculation by counter-revolutionary elements.” [13]

These contents, published in the state-controlled media, are far from a model of investigative journalism. They are generally written for propaganda purposes. The curation of the images and quotations tacitly support the official account.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and its press organs also sold the idea that inmates with high productivity in cutting sugar cane were rewarded with material goods. On October 30, 1966, Verde Olivo magazine published a note with some photographs, which gave the assurance that the “comrades” had been compensated with motorcycles, refrigerators, radios and watches.

It is likely that the awards ceremony was a staged as public relations event. The text quoted a short speech by José Q. Sandino Rodríguez, chief of the UMAP General Staff, in which he assured that the ceremony “once again disrupted the string of lies rolled out by the enemies of the Revolution”, who tried to present it as a “punitive institution”. [14]

In one of the passages in his book, After Captivity, Freedom: A Real-Life Account of Castro’s Cuba, Luis Bernal Lumpuy refers to the disguise exercise the guards carried out in the facilities of his unit, when they expected visits from the press. He also talks about the “performance” that they were forced to do every time this happened.

In the spring of 1966, Bernal Lumpuy wrote that they received a visit from Commander Ernesto Casillas, then head of the UMAP General Staff, who came with journalists and cameramen. They brought baseball gloves, bats and balls, and distributed them among the inmates. “They had such a hearty lunch that it later affected the health of the starving prisoners, and they prepared an event in the camp for the commander to speak.” [15] Casillas promised family visits, “as if that were a generous act of the Revolution, and he even lied when he said that we would be given permission to go to our homes that month, which did not happen until months later.”

They had arranged, concludes Luis Bernal Lumpuy, for the cameras to capture “the enthusiasm of some who lent themselves to the propaganda game.” A few days later “the press, radio, and national television showed groups of youth from the UMAP carrying Commander Casillas on their shoulders as though he were a hero.” [16]

As part of the campaign that I have been describing, the Army decided to choose some of the inmates and grant them military ranks. They were awarded the title of “corporals”. This strategy sought to establish in public opinion the notion that the UMAP were not concentration camps, but rather military units. According to the testimony of José Caballero Blanco, some commanders “were abusive in exchange for perks. This is nothing new, if you consider that there are jails that use some prisoners to repress their colleagues.” [17]

Indeed, in other concentration camp settings, it was very common for the wardens to use inmates to suppress their peers and do the dirty work. In Nazi camps, for example, there was the sad role of the Sonderkommandos: Jews put in charge of aiding the machinery to exterminate their own people. However, the category of Kapos (or Funktionshäftlinge), is more in line with the squadrons that were created in the forced labor camps in Cuba. In the gulag they were known as “foremen” (nariádchik).

Within the CENESEX, everything – against the CENESEX, nothing

I have explained this on several occasions, but I think it is necessary to say it again. For some years now, we have seen a series of mutations taking place in the Cuban regime aimed at guaranteeing the continuity of the system and erasing the past. I call this process of political shapeshifting, “State transvestism” and it consists in a readjustment of Cold War revolutionary rhetoric – using the notion of diversity in an instrumental way to offer an image of change for foreign consumption – when in fact very few changes have been made. [18] This strategy began to be tested a decade ago by the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), directed by Mariela Castro Espín, the daughter of General Raúl Castro.

The notion of “transvestism” is based on a reading of the State as a porous, fluid body, and not as a rigid and immovable structure. I use it mainly to describe the masquerades, camouflages, and appropriations that official institutions make of the practices and “performance” of the transvestite and their milieu. “State transvestism” is, therefore, a project of de-politicization and assimilation, aimed at producing certain bodies and subjectivities, as well as controlling their political and cultural history.

This project, besides testing new modes of political control, promotes an amnesic transition, a washed-out national memory, and the rewriting of History. The idea is to rearrange and rewrite certain historical processes that connect the Revolution with discrimination and homophobia.

For decades, homophobia in Cuba was a state policy that legitimized the purges of homosexuals from institutions and the establishment of forced labor camps, designed to build the communist “new man”.

Mariela Castro has tried to minimize the scope and dimension of the UMAP in the History of the Cuban Revolution. She even promised an investigation on this topic. We are still waiting for it. Since then, the director of CENESEX has stated in many appearances and interviews that the UMAP constituted an isolated error and were not in any way forced labor camps.

Mariela Castro recently did it again and provoked in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, multiple and bitter controversial reactions. It occurred during an online broadcast, where she used biopolitical terms and the language of animality against critics, calling them “cheap trinkets” and “tics”. One more term to add to the large repertoire of hate and intolerance discourses designed to attack and dehumanize those who dissent or think different.

Comments on social media exploded instantly. “Everything within CENESEX, nothing against CENESEX,” some answered, in frank allusion to the 1961 speech delivered by the late Fidel Castro, which became known as “Words to the Intellectuals”.

A few days ago, Mariela Castro was invited to La tarde se mueve [Afternoon Moves] a show hosted by Edmundo García on YouTube. The activist is known for his affection for the Cuban regime, even though he lives in Miami. It is not by chance that Castro Espín used this platform to talk about the UMAP. Her statements coincided with the fact that the documentary, Pablo Milanés, produced in 2016 by Juan Pin Vilar, became available to the public. The film was censored in Cuba and was restricted on Vimeo until now. There, Milanés talks briefly about the UMAP, where he was sent in 1966, when his musical career was taking off.

“Although there is no comparison, I can tell you that I was at Auschwitz and the facilities were better than those of the UMAP (laughs). The facilities were scary,” he said. Auschwitz is a superlative representation of horror that ex-UMAP inmates have used repeatedly. However, this analogy has produced serious consequences for the legitimacy of their narratives, because, among other things, there were no crematoriums or gas chambers at the UMAP. This exercise must be understood within a strategy aimed at locating their experiences within a universal story, on a global map of concentration camps.

In the film, Pablo Milanés says that while in the UMAP, he suffered from Stockholm syndrome. Along with the actor Ricardo Barber, a play was produced and performed in their unit. This is how he describes it: “We did a work that favored those who had sent us there and blamed ourselves for having gone there. We felt guilty, because every day they told us, ‘you are trees that have grown crooked’.” Apparently, the guards were pleased and proposed that we perform it in other camps. “Barber and I tore up the play and said we didn’t remember it and that we didn’t want to do it anywhere. We had been rendering tributes to those who sent us there,” he concluded. Ricardo Barber left Cuba in the 1970s and went to New York, where he died in late 2018.

For some time after leaving the UMAP, Pablo Milanés became one of the icons of the Nueva Trova movement. His songs, along with those of Silvio Rodríguez, among others, formed the soundtrack of the Revolution that influenced millions of people. Although in Cuba it was an open secret that Milanés had been sent to the concentration camps, Pablo waited several decades to discuss the matter.

Until Juan Pin Vilar’s documentary came out in 2016, the singer-songwriter had limited himself to giving just a few details to foreign journalists who interviewed him during his international tours. The few bites of information he provided regarding his experience in the UMAP always coincided with the promotion of his concerts in Latin America.

It is possible that the Stockholm syndrome of which Pablo Milanés speaks has affected him for a long time. In 1984, almost twenty years after leaving the UMAP, he wrote, “Cuando te encontré [When I Found You]”, a love song to the Revolution that advocates: “It would be better to drown in the sea than to betray the glory we have lived.” In addition, there are indications that in 1980 he participated, along with other members of the Nueva Trova, in a repudiation rally against his colleague Mike Porcel.

“The release of this documentary and the statements of Mariela Castro Espín in La tarde se mueve are connected. In what seems like a response to Pablo Milanés, the director of CENESEX tried to downplay the UMAP. To give it a little opacity, she said that the UMAP is an “exaggerated and distorted issue.” Although she acknowledged that “the process of arresting civilians was terrible,” she justified the settlement and installation of the forced labor camps: “There were people who were totally distanced from the country’s problems and did not want to do their bit.”

In addition, for obvious reasons, she blamed the raids and arrests on the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and not on the Ministry of the Armed Forces (FAR), an institution that her father, General Raúl Castro, was then leading. “That was a job that was done from the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), it was not compatible with what the Armed Forces had decided,” she assured. This way, she not only deforms collective memory, but also exempts the culprits of the experiment from responsibility.

According to Mariela Castro, the experience of the inmates in the forced labor camps depended on the circumstances of each location. “At the UMAP there were “managers” [officers] who were not homophobic, and who treated their people well, and who were understanding,” she added. I will return to this later.

In another part of her remarks, the chair of CENESEX continued the practices of accommodating traumatic experiences and the falsification of History. She referenced the Escuela al Campo [Schools in the Countryside] program developed by the revolutionary leaders in the mid-1960s. “We went to Schools in the Countryside. Was going to a School in the Countryside the same as being in concentration camps? We certainly learned a lot and we had a lot of fun and we questioned everything. We had a great time…” she said sarcastically. If these discourses are accepted, it is possible that in the near future we will see the UMAP represented in school textbooks and in the public sphere as simple summer camps or vacation destinations.

As is known, the “Schools in the Countryside” program, begun in 1966, was connected to the project of creating the “new man”, and thousands of children and adolescents were sent to work in agriculture on a compulsory basis. While intensifying pedagogy of indoctrination, the state seized the workforce without providing any economic compensation. This policy was extended across the country for several decades, until the official press announced its end in the summer of 2009.

When I was a teenager I went to a School in the Countryside where I worked the fields and no, it was not a pleasant experience. I always saw it as an absurd, authoritative, and not at all fun imposition. Standards had to be met, and I often felt the hardship of hunger. There were consequences if I refused to work, and I immediately fell under suspicion. The allocation of scholarships or university admissions was subject to my performance as a farm worker.

Castro Espín’s comments try to connect that experiment to a field of affect. Within this logic, forced labor was a kind of carnival, a space of entertainment. We had already seen this type of gesture in the music of singer songwriter Frank Delgado. In the song “Maletas de Madera” [Wooden Suitcases] (2007), the Schools in the Countryside program is represented in a nostalgic dimension, and those years are made into an object of desire. This gaze has consequences for the memory it generates. The latrines, the red soil, and hunger, gained very positive connotations and depoliticized the experience itself. The catchy tune went something like this. “Vamos a formar, una conga, con maletas de madera, tomando agua con azúcar encima de una litera” [“Let’s make a conga with our wooden suitcases, let’s drink water with sugar on top of our bunk beds”].

The most problematic area of ​​Mariela Castro’s comments in La tarde se mueve has to do with her concept of History. According to Castro Espín, historians must stop “picking through the garbage with bad intentions.” This eschatological notion deployed by the director of CENESEX represents researchers as ill-intentioned “garbage collectors”, and History as a discipline that belongs exclusively to the past. It is aimed that the official History of the Revolution be established as a fixed and incontestable narrative. But as writer Reinaldo Arenas would say, Ah, how the shit sizzles when it is stirred. [19]

“The Hour of the UMAP”

State transvestism as a political strategy is also based on the creation of spaces for controlled criticism in which certain discourses are tolerated, as long as they do not endanger the hegemony of the State. These spaces are used systematically to promote certain narratives about the Revolution that guide how some complex historical issues, such as the UMAP, should be read and assimilated.

In November 2015, on the fiftieth anniversary of the installation of these forced labor camps, the Christian Center for Reflection and Dialogue-Cuba, an institution that seeks to reform the battered Cuban socialism, held a meeting in Cárdenas, Matanzas province, of ex-inmates from the UMAP to discuss the subject.

Several of those attending the event recounted details of their experiences in the forced labor camps and referred to the mistreatment and abuse to which they were subjected by the guards. “I felt disgust for my country,” said Moisés Machado Jardines then. [20] “Because of having been in the UMAP, I was marginalized from my old job and others that I tried to get when I got out, and I even lost my wife, who left with my two children.” [21]

Rafael Hernández, director of Temas, a Social Sciences journal that functions as a space for controlled criticism “within the Revolution”, also participated in the Cárdenas meeting. His contribution was aimed at accommodating and diluting the injustices of the UMAP within Cold War rhetoric. “It is not just about evaluating the justice or effectiveness of those measures, but remembering the historical context in which they were developed,” he said. [22]

Days later, in the Temas blog Hernández published: “The Hour of the UMAP: Notes for a Research Topic”, where he proposed a very particular reading of the forced labor camps in Cuba, and set forth how they should be investigated. For the intellectual, the UMAP were a sort of “re-education schools” – or at the least, “punishment camps” – but not forced labor camps.

At a certain point, he recognized that, given the structure and discipline implemented, the UMAPs were closer to prisons than to military units. At first, he adds, the camps were made up of “antisocial and habitual loafers of military age – that is, people with criminal records or considered pre-criminal.” [23] Here he reproduced the criminological jargon that justified, precisely, the persecution of citizens and the establishment of forced labor camps, without questioning in the very least the biopolitical nature of the Revolution.

By publishing this article in Temas, one of the very few academic journals on the Island, it gave the text an aura of legitimacy and independence from the State, which it does not possess. As I mentioned before, Temas is a space for controlled criticism and ultimately responds to government institutions. Hernández’s work falls within the official History of the Revolution rather than accomplished an investigation done with historiographic rigor and archival research. His text is designed, above all, to detract from the strength and scope of the testimonies produced by Cuban exiles about forced labor camps.

Rafael Hernández’s argument about the testimonies of Cuban exiles is ideologically biased. According to him, these accounts were exaggerated and described only “extreme situations”. On the other hand, those published in Cuba – by some evangelical churches – present a more unbiased and humanized vision.” [24]

Hernández uses as an example of this type of writing the book Dios no entra en mi oficina: Luchando contra la amargura cuando somos víctimas de la injusticia (2003) [God doesn’t come into my office: Fighting bitterness when we are victims of injustice]. This is an autobiographical book written by Alberto I. González Muñoz, a seminarian who was sent to the UMAP. Unlike religious exiles – who were seeking the denunciation of the Cuban regime for establishing the forced labor camps and to spark a debate on public memory policy – González Muñoz urges the reader to not take the book as an “accusation”, because, he suggests, ultimately the UMAP experience was not as horrific as other models of forced labor camps. [25]

The author tries to detach himself from the Auschwitz analogy, the most powerful representation of the concentration camp and totalitarian power, used repeatedly by Cubans who have decided to testify about their traumatic experience in the UMAP. Auschwitz is the image of horror, dehumanization, and perversity of biopolitical power to a superlative degree. The grisliness of that experience makes other models of concentration camps and forced labor, such as the Soviet Gulag, or the UMAP, seem not so terrible.

Alberto I. González Muñoz’s text is inscribed within this logic, it goes so far as to say that he felt “privileged” to have been sent to the UMAP, because he learned more about human nature and about himself. In this book, the design of the institution and the severe punishments appear as “errors” and not as systemic strategies of the apparatuses and control mechanisms established by the Cuban government at that time. [26]

When presenting Dios no entra en mi oficina as a model for “objective” writing, Rafael Hernández overlooks the fact that Alberto I. González Muñoz received privileges from the guards and corporals. As a result his experience in the UMAP was not so tortuous. This particular case cannot be used to minimize the hardship to which thousands of men suffered.

In short, just like Temas, Rafael Hernández’s UMAP text is part of the authorities’ exercises and political strategies aimed at producing certain frameworks of interpretation on the Cuban reality. It consists of a project aimed at erasing and assimilating collective trauma using specific languages and spaces of remembrance, in order to dictate what and how Cubans should remember.

These mechanisms, of course, have repercussions on spaces of memorialization of traumatic events. In literature, for example, it has had a great impact. We have seen how writers, even those who do not depend on Cuban cultural officials to be published, accommodate the past and treat certain events with the same tools of representation used by the State.

Totalitarian regimes tend to produce narratives that dilute repression to distort the scope of tragedy. Wipe the slate clean, some say. The Cuban model is not an exception. In this process, even the victims of the system themselves produce stories that try to accommodate the traumatic experience within a framework of political correctness and forgiveness.

With Dios no entra en mi oficina, Alberto I. González Muñoz constructs a story that in the end absolves those responsible for this atrocious experiment, while distorting, diluting and closing the debate of the politics of memory and the future administration of justice.

This book seeks not only to freeze the past, but also to establish a direct relationship between traumatic experience and the discourses of healing. At the end of the introduction, the author urges those who lived through that nightmare to channel their wounds, pain, and sense of loss through faith and hope. It is the “wisest and healthiest decision,” he says. [27]

Alberto I. González Muñoz insists that the history of his experience at UMAP belongs entirely to the past. “It is useless to raise accusations and condemn what no longer exists, precisely because in due course, it was recognized as wrong and was shut down,” he states at the beginning of his book.

In another passage he says that the closure of the UMAP “in itself was an act of social justice and thus must be historically recognized.” [29] It is worth clarifying that González Muñoz lives in Cuba. I have explained this several times: authors who write from the Island are very careful with their political positions.

The Ethics of the Witness

This accommodative approach is very problematic because of the type of memory it creates and promotes. It is a kind of “fetish memory”, as Isaac Rosa would say. That is, a memory articulated in the anecdotal, the sentimental, rather than one that generates an ideological discussion, a debate about responsibilities and justice. [30] However, at the same time it can be productive to think the different positions of subjects regarding an event, and the witness ethics – of which Giorgio Agamben speaks – when narrating an experience. This ethic is crossed by a kind of moral code that shapes the testimony into a constitutive relationship with politics.

González Muñoz’ witness ethic is based on what he claims as “objectivity”, regarding his relationship with one of the guards. The passage reads: “Listening to him, I comprehended that although he was part of the re-education machinery, he was also a victim like any of us.” [31]

At another point, the author goes further and says that some of the officers “showed sympathy, compassion and affection to the inmates”, to later add: “Many tried to be fair, humane and positive in the midst of the negative circumstance that enveloped them. The experiences with Rosabal, Concepción, Marrero, Zapata, Rojas and others, in addition to mitigating my anxieties in the Military Units to Aid Production, taught me lessons that I urgently needed. Lessons that gave a new dimension to my life”. [32] This statement raises several questions.

Are victims and victimizers in similar positions?

What are the consequences in the construction of public memory when oppressors are portrayed as victims?

What are the tools generated by this argument that can help future processes within the administration of justice?

Here, I consider it opportune to include Primo Levi’s ideas on the role of the witness and the representation of concentration camp wardens. In an appendix he added to the 1976 edition of If This is a Man (1947), Primo Levi clarified that he used the “moderate language of the witness, not the regrettable of the victim or the angry language of the avenger”. [33] The distinction between victim and witness is fundamental to this discussion. Levi thought that his word “would be more credible the more objective and less passionate it was; only in this way does the witness in a trial fulfill his function, which is to prepare the ground for the judge. The judges are you”, he concluded. [3. 4]

That position could be problematic, Levi knew, because the search for a more complex and encompassing “comprehension” of events somehow implied some justification. This is how he put it: “Perhaps everything that happened cannot be comprehended, or should not be comprehended, because to comprehend is almost to justify. I mean: ‘to comprehend’ a proposition or human behavior means (even etymologically) to contain it, to contain the author, to put himself in his place, to identify with him”. [35]

Although in Dios no entra en mi oficina there are no references to Primo Levi, the memory project in which Alberto I. González Muñoz is involved, leads me to think about the notion of “gray zone” outlined by Levi himself. The “gray zone” has to do, precisely, with the act of narrating the experience in an “objective” way. The intention is to “comprehend”, also, the position and subjectivity of the victimizers.

However, that process inevitably leads to the humanization of some of the oppressors. As is known, Levi came into contact with some of the officials of the Nazi extermination machinery when he began to publish his texts and become a public figure. One of them was Ferdinand Meyer. Thanks to the biographies by Ian Thomson (Primo Levi: A Life) and Marina Annissimov (Primo Levi: Tragedy of an Optimist), we know of the correspondence that Primo Levi established with Meyer. Levi made it very clear to him that although he did not feel hatred, he could not forgive either. This exchange allowed the witness to approach those who participated in the Nazi system, without being vile or infamous, as “gray” subjects. In this way, Levi tried to break the binary framework between “good” and “bad”, to assign full responsibility to the system and not to specific subjects.

This position earned him much criticism, including from some who suffered the same fate in Auschwitz, such as Hans Mayer, who wrote, under the name of Jean Améry, At the Mind’s Limits. According to Levi, Jean Améry considered him a “pardoner”, perhaps because his search for “comprehension” somewhat overshadowed the dimension of the tragedy and the responsibility of the guilty.

Miami and Resentment

Améry’s contributions to the debates on forgiveness are important to think the place of justice in the reconstruction of the past and in the imagination of collective memory. In At the Mind’s Limits, Améry states that those who forgive their victimizers, consent to the erasure of their individuality, and are capable of conceiving themselves as part of a collective. [36] That is, one who accepts himself “as a de-individualized and interchangeable piece of the social mechanism”, is diluting the traumatic experience and the figure of the witness, in a collective and accommodative narrative. [37]

For Améry, this process is part of the languages of the oppressor; hence the calls for reconciliation are always suspicious because they impinge upon History itself. He explained, “It seems logically senseless to me to demand objectivity in the controversy with my torturers, with those who helped them, and with the others, who merely stood by silently. The atrocity as atrocity has no objective character”, he explained. [38]

He positioned himself as a witness from a place of “resentment”. The oppressor has to be forced to face the truth of his crime. [39] In his argument, Jean Améry charged against the psychology that constructs victims as sick and disturbed subjects; also against Nietzsche, who in his Genealogy of Morals had spoken of resentment as a category tainted by revenge and lack of integrity. “Thus spake he who dreamed of the synthesis of the brute with the superman,” Améry replied. [40]

In the Cuban case, the notion of “resentment” has generally been associated with the languages ​​of exile. It is a category loaded with a pejorative sense. Within this logic, Cuban exiles are nothing more than spiteful beings, mobilized by revenge, because they have not been able to “overcome the past.”

However, as Améry demonstrates, the notion of resentment does not necessarily have to be associated with revenge, the affective sphere, or the psychological, but rather is, above all, a political and philosophical category. The challenge is to turn resentment into a productive space of memory and not into a repertoire of empty notions of the Cold War. The idea is to convert the act of resentment into a process of updating the past, making memory a space not only of archive, but of critical thought.

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others

Notes:

[1] Yuri Brokhin: Hustling on Gorky Street: Sex and Crime in Russia Today, The Dial Press, New York, 1975, p. 103. The translation is mine.
[2] Id.
[3] Ibid., p. 105.
[4] Id.
[5] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Archipiélago gulag (1918-1956), Tusquets Editores, Barcelona, ​​2002, p. 321.
[6] Aleksandr Cherkasov: Solovki. Solovki. Campamentos de Solovki con propósito especial, Sovkino, 1928, minute 3:40. https://youtu.be/_IAthUIjJtk. I thank my mother, Noemí Madero, for the Russian to Spanish translations of this film.
[7] Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Op. cit., p. 25.
[8] Ibid., Minute 12:45.
[9] Ibid. minute 18:55.
[10] “Brief conversation with Commander Raúl Castro”, in Adelante, April 9, 1966, p. 1.
[11] Id.
[12] Luis M. Arcos: “UMAP. Donde el trabajo forma al hombre”, in Adelante, April 13, 1966, p. 5.
[13] Id.
[14] Juan Armas: “Premios en las UMAP”, in Verde Olivo, year 8, no. 43, October 30, 1966, p. 15.
[15] Luis Bernal Lumpuy: Tras cautiverio, libertad. Un relato de la vida real en la Cuba de Castro, Ediciones Universal, Miami, 1992, p. 62.
[16] Id.
[17] José Caballero Blanco: UMAP: Una muerte a plazos, Dhar Services, 2008, p. 65.
[18] Abel Sierra Madero: “Del hombre nuevo al travestimo de Estado”, in Diario de Cuba, January 25, 2014. https://diariodecuba.com/cuba/1390513833_6826.html
[19] Reinaldo Arenas: El Central, Seix-Barral, 1981, p. 87.
[20] José Jasán Nieves: “El silencio que no entierra a las UMAP”, OnCuba Magazine, November 30, 2015. http://oncubamagazine.com/sociedad/el-silencio-que-no-entierra-a-las-umap/
[21] Id.
[22] Id.
[23] Rafael Hernández: “La hora de las UMAP. Notas para un tema de investigación”. Temas. Cultura, ideología, sociedad, December 7, 2015. https://www.temas.cult.cu/node/2027
[24] Id.
[25] Alberto I. González Muñoz: Dios no entra en mi oficina: Luchando contra la amargura cuando somos víctimas de la injusticia (2003), ABG Ministries, Frisco, 2012, p. 12.
[26] Ibid., p. 21.
[27] Ibid., p. 22.
[28] Ibid., p. 12.
[29] Ibid., p. 13.
[30] Isaac Rosa: El vano ayer,  Seix Barral, Barcelona, ​​2004, p. 32.
[31] Alberto I. González Muñoz: Op. cit., p. 140.
[32] Ibid., p. 293.
[33] Primo Levi: Si esto es un hombre. Translated by Pilar Gómez Bedate. Muchnik Editores, 1987, p. 303.
[34] Id.
[35] Ibid., pp. 340-341.
[36] Jean Améry [Hans Mayer]: At the Mind’s Limits. Contemplations by a Survivor on Auschwitz and its Realities.  Translated by Sidney and Stella P. Rosenfeld. Indiana University Press, 1980, p. 71.
[37] Id.
[38] Ibid., p. 70.
[39] Ibid., pp. 67-68.
[40] Ibid., p. 147.

The Majority of Cubans Trapped in Moscow Can’t Return Home Because of the Cost of the Ticket

The Cuban authorities have announced the return of those stranded in Russia, but the volunteers maintain that they have not cooperated in the departure of the most affected (Cuban Consulate in Russia)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 June 2020 — The flight announced organized by Russia, by which Cubans stranded in the country could return to the Island, arrived in Havana last night, but only 23 of the 83 passengers who got off at José Martí International Airport were trapped tourists. The bulk of the group was made up of 43 Cuban students with scholarships in Russia and another 17 were civil servants. At least 60 people remain in Moscow without finding and solutions to return home.

The plane, which left this Wednesday from the Russian capital to Havana, later left for Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile where it left the rest of the passage and picked up the Russians who remain in Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

Later it will return to Havana for the 70 Russians who are still stranded on the Island since the partial closure of the borders that came into effect on April 2 — as part of the measures to stop coronavirus infections.. The trip will culminate on June 6, with the aircraft landing in Moscow with 200 Russians on board.

The consul in the Russian capital, Eduardo Lázaro Escandell, said that a hundred Cubans requested to return but not all of them were able to pay for a ticket.

The price of 43,726 rubles (about $ 630) has been an insurmountable obstacle for many of those wanting to return home.

Russian Anna Voronkova and Pedro Luis García from Havana, already known as the angel of the Cubans in Moscow, mobilized to achieve the return of the islanders. “The Cuban authorities are not helping their citizens in any way. We are the volunteers, the Russians and foreigners, who are concerned about the Cubans,” Voronkova told 14ymedio.

The young woman contacted Veronika Birman, a Russian  businesswoman who works in tourism, with whom she tried to find help, but there was no collaboration from the Cuban consulate.

María Zajárova, spokesperson for the Russian Foreign Ministry, was the one who made her team available to the volunteers to advance their exit, according to Sputnik, and managed, after many efforts, to get three of the four humanitarian passages, at half price. They focused on people with chronic diseases and a pregnant woman.

Birman acknowledges that the support of the airline and Anastasia Dyumulen, director of the airline’s information and communications policy department, was essential.

“We tried to get those 4 and even more to go. The company and the Russian Foreign Ministry were willing to consider the possibility of giving some free humanitarian places, but it was not possible to coordinate in time due to misunderstandings with another party involved,” explained Voronkova to Sputnik.

But they still have at least 60 pending cases.

The Russian government sent a batch of 15,000 tests for the detection of the coronavirus to Havana to contribute to the fight against the pandemic, according to a statement from the Cuban Embassy in Moscow.

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