Another Cuban Evil: School Violence / Iván García

The Cuban Ministry of Education prohibits teachers’ use of any punishment, whether verbal or physical, on students of all levels of education.

However, although the official media do not report it, through word of mouth from independent journalists, alarming cases of school violence have come to light. In almost all cases they appear to involve teachers with little experience as educators.

A decade ago, Fidel Castro himself made a crusade to produce teachers for the country. Urgently, and with accelerated courses, in one year they trained thousands of “emergent teachers” as they are officially called.

The aim was to overcome the deep crisis in which the national education system was, and is, mired. The low salaries of teachers in primary and secondary means they often spend little time in the classroom, quickly moving on to other jobs.

They desert their profession to work where they can earn foreign exchange, as porters at a hotel or cleaning bathrooms in a restaurant. Into one of these vacant positions 19-year-old Fernanda moved, as a teacher at October 10th Elementary School.

Fernanda lives with her family in an uncomfortable two room house, with three generations under one roof. Breakfast is almost nothing, when she even has it; her salary of 325 pesos (13 dollars a month), does not cover her expenses. She enrolled for a little excitement and to earn some money and become independent. But she doesn’t really have a vocation for teaching and the poor pedagogical skills she acquired don’t help her in her battle with some twenty children between six and eight-years-old.

In her case, as in others’, they often make up for their deficiencies with insults and profanity. And when they run out of patience, they try a smack of ruler or a stick on student’s head or shoulders to make them be quiet and pay attention.

A parent who requested anonymity said her daughter refuses to have anything to do with the teacher Fernanda and she had to take her to a psychologist. And that’s not an isolated case. Norge, 36, a father of two who are in the 3rd and 5th grades in another school in the city, said the verbal and physical violence is alarming.

On top of all this, there is the poor quality of the education. Parents pay between 10 and 20 convertible pesos (12 to 25 dollars) a month to retired teachers who give their children “refresher courses” so that they can learn something.

When a teenager finishes high school and doesn’t make it into the university, he has the choice of studying Teaching or Medicine, the least demanding of the courses of higher education. They’ve been devalued so much that they call them “junk careers” or garbage.

Violence on the part of teachers has led to tragic events. On February 1, 2008, 21-year-old Joaquin Torres, “emergent teacher” at Domingo Sarmiento secondary school, in the Lawton neighborhood of Havana, threw an iron chair at a 12-year-old student, Daniel Castaneda, killing him.

That same year at Antonio Aucar Secondary School in Santa Clara, the “emergent teacher” Yaniel Basail, punched the student Daniel Castellanos and kicked him in the face for refusing to eat the bread with mortadella and a glass of soy yogurt offered through the government’s “Battle of Ideas” program.

Not a few parents who have lost patience have taken justice into their own hands, and have gone to the schools to beat the young teachers.

On November 13, 2009, Leafer Perez reported on Cubanet, “School violence that shook up several secondary schools in the 10th of October Municipaility, has reached new levels, which worries the students’ parents.

“In the first days of November, a fight involved dozens of students at Cesar Escalante and Jose Maria Heredia schools. In the dispute, a teacher was wounded in the arm with a knife, and several students received grave injuries. It all started as a challenge between the two schools, which grew into an exchange of gestures and verbal insults, culminating in a huge brawl.

The school principals met with the parents to ask them to check their children’s backpacks, to make sure they weren’t carrying knives, awls and other aggressive weapons to school. Students who repeatedly resort to violence will be dealt with by officials from the Department for the Care of Children in the Ministry of the Interior.

“The addresses for these centers met with parents to ask them to check their backpacks, to prevent their children to carry knives, punches or other articles used for aggression. Students in violent repeat offenders will be treated by members of the Child Care Department of the Ministry of Interior.

“On the other hand, the boys say they have sex in the bathrooms, and the kids who are a part of the subculture known as “emos” get together during recess to cut themselves. They don’t cut their veins, rather they cut into their legs because they can cover the wounds with stockings.”

The Education Minister, Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, has not spoken publicly about the increased violence in Cuban schools. The official silence does nothing to curb the situation. On the contrary, it aggravates it. The government should take action on the matter. As soon as possible.

October 13, 2010

An Odd Anniversary / Fernando Dámaso

  1. Yesterday, October 10, was the 142nd anniversary of the Cry of Yara. The Cuban flags, so plentiful in government buildings, and also in the facades of some slogan followers’ houses, during days of celebration of the Socialist Calendar, were conspicuous by their absence. It seems this date, just like February 24, fundamental in defining our national identity, has lost its relevance, ceding its place to more important ones.
  2. It was a day like any other, only highlighted on the official media with a few news-flashes and some images, while most time and space was dedicated to other matters.
  3. It is true that, in the face of predicted ecological and political cataclysms, historical reenactments, necrophilic remakes, announcements of massive layoffs, increases in the price of products and services, and other misfortunes, there’s not much to celebrate.
  4. I remember my mother, on a day like this, trying to coordinate the colours of the flag in her clothes, and pinning a flag-coloured badge to the collar of her blouse. Those were different times, when civic pride was a fundamental part of life, without the need for decrees, instructions or slogans to honor the nation, its founders and its acts.
  5. Maybe a few years from now, when the 150th anniversary of the Cry of Yara comes and some things might have changed, we’ll adorn our houses with the national flag again, feel proud to be Cubans and celebrate this holiday, the most important, along with February 24, for the Cuban Nation.

Translator’s note: This date marks the beginning of the Ten Year’s War.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

October 11, 2010

Repressive Machine Without a Counterpart / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo:  Luis Felipe Rojas

On Saturday, I was finishing telling my friends over the phone to upload this post onto my blog, and on Sunday, the 10th, two political police officers show up to my house once again to take me to San German police station.  Like always, the reasons for this detention are unknown to me, and the accusations and threats will swell the “invisible archives” of this “very transparent” region.

Amid detentions, threats, and other coercions from those who wish to oppress me, I did not have enough time to take my complaints to the Provincial Office of Holguin.

On the 22nd of June, as stated on the document I’ve attached to this post, I decided to sue the officials who detained my family and myself by surrounding us with various soldiers and political police officers for 6 days during the month of May.

On July 2nd I went before officer Captain Juan Carlos Laborde to give more details about my accusation.  He told me that I should wait until the investigation was concluded.  On August 2nd I was once again cited and had to wait until 6 pm under the scorching sun since that office is closed off by a grating of bars. There, they checked me before going in, searching for some sort of recording device.  I had to listen to a military officer — who is supposed to serve as the counterpart of the repressive G2 apparatus — tell me that the soldiers had only acted on orders; in other words, they could handle my case without counting on any orders and interrogate me without any official citations.

The argument of this young soldier was based in the fact that “mine” is a national security case, so they have that prerogative.  Basically, this means that if they have to question an assassin, a rapist, or a corrupt functionary, then they would abide by the norms established by the Diligence of Citations and Detentions. The way in which they interpret the law according to ideological or political conditions keeps the Military Office from acting against officials, if the case deals with a dissident or social nonconformist.

The worst part is that this official admitted that yes, it was an irregularity, but that it is the common procedure in regards to a case of hostility against the Cuban social model.  This was all a prelude to what happened next: on Tuesday, August 3rd, one of the largest waves of repression against activists in the Eastern region of the country got underway.

That is their method.  They gave me no written records of these experiences, so for now I will have to continue denouncing this before international organizations — with luck they will believe my words, and believe that I did everything legally in my country, the same country in which, if you are considered “ideological filth,” you don’t have any rights to denounce the crimes committed by those in power.

The oppressive activities targeted and detained 28 people, some of whom already had previous detentions during that same week.

Here is the document:

San German, Holguin, June 22nd 2010
To: Military Office of Holguin
Subject: Denunciation

Through this letter, I, Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal, adult Cuban citizen, inhabitant of 20th Street No. 1303 between 13 and 15, San German, Holguin, and with ID No. 71022122865, with all my mental abilities intact, go before you to expose the following:

ACTS COMMITTED

– On numerous occasions I have been cited by the police authorities, especially by the instructor Luis Quesada and Majors Charles (who claims to be chief of the operational group DSE in the municipalities of Cueto, San German, and Cacocum) and Rodolfo Cepena Hernandez (who claims to be the head of DSE in San German).

– These men completely ignore the formalities that, for citations, are established by current Law of Penal Procedures which clearly states that any violation of these legal requirements goes directly against the rights provided by the document.

– On various occasions we have been impeded from attending weekly religious services which my wife, my two kids, and I are accustomed to attending. Among the impositions and restrictions of movement which are imposed on us, exists one on going out publicly accompanied by some of my family.

– My 6-year-old son has noticed and resents the strict police vigilance of our family. Other kids ask him why the police watch our house and on multiple occasions he has come home from school in tears.

– On December 25 and 27 of 2009 I was arrested at my house and in no instance did the police officers or the Majors Alberteris or Cepena ever hand me an official citation or arrest warrant, claiming that in such instances none of those documents were necessary.

– On February 21st of this year (2010) I was interrogated by Major Alberto Alberteris who did not show me a single arrest warrant or citation. Similar acts have been repeating themselves for 5 years now without the presence of any legal documents.

– On May 11th, I was arrested in my house once again by Major Charles, who refused to give me a citation document, and when my family demanded one he then alleged that I was not cited but instead that I was ARRESTED. He continued by saying that for an arrest, no document was necessary. In this case, my house was subjected to a public and humiliating surveillance carried out by police officers, state security officials (Cepena, Charles, Captain Otamendi, and members of the Quick Response Brigade (Gimon, Maikel Rodriguez Alfajarrin, the social worker Pedro Capote, and others).

BASIS OF RIGHTS

– Penal Procedure Law in articles 86 and 90.
Everything that I sign and mention here.

Attentively,
Luis Felipe Rojas Rosabal

Photo: Luis Felipe Rojas

October 10, 2010

In Praise of Vargas Llosa / Regina Coyula

A laconic note in the newspaper Granma on Friday brought me the news of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2010.

Of course I have not read his complete works. If I’m not mistaken, aside from his story, The Puppies, published by the Casa de las Americas in the sixties, the work of Vargas Llosa remains unpublished in Cuba. A few titles of his massive production have come my way, although not in the order they were published, and not all of equal importance, but I always derive satisfaction from his clean prose and a well-told story. One that made a particular impression on me was Captain Pantoja and the Special Service, the first of his novels that fell into my hands, along with The Feast of the Goat, for its dissection of tyranny, but above all Conversation in the Cathedral, a novel that ranks among my top ten, along with The Tin Drum and The Sound and the Fury.

The note in Granma warns us that because of his political position, if the people had a chance to vote he would have won the Anti-Nobel. A nice touch from the scorpions at Granma.

You see, people better informed than I have told me that Vargas Llosa said that he was reading the Cuban Alejo Carpentier’s Explosion in a Cathedral when he got the news of his award, and had even made a commercial for that novel. I very happy for Vargas Llosa. It’s a triumph for my culture.

And changing the subject, here we have China with the Nobel Peace Prize.

October 12, 2010

Cuba Will Have to Put Its Dreams of a Nobel Prize on Hold / Iván García

Communists or dissidents, famous or unknown, Cubans love awards and competitions. Of all kinds, national and foreign. They delight in being chosen and enjoy the glory they feel when they win.

It doesn’t matter if the prize is a diploma or a work of art. The money, yes. In pesos, it’s not bad, but in foreign currency, it’s ideal. If the money is enough, it can resolve a thousand personal and family problems.

Three Cuban writers have won the Cervantes Prize: Alejo Carpentier (1977), Dulce Maria Loynaz (1992) and Guillermo Cabrera Infante (1997). The athlete Javier Sotomayor was awarded the Prince of Sports Award in 1993. The list of musicians and composers, living on the island or abroad, who have earned a Grammy is longer: Celia Cruz, Bebo Valdes, Israel ‘Cachao’ Lopez, Gloria Estefan, Paquito D’Rivera, Arturo Sandoval, Chucho Valdes and Omara Portuondo, among others.

Since its creation in 1901, no Cuban, in any category, has been awarded a Nobel Prize. One of those who deserved it was Dr. Carlos J. Finlay, the discoverer of yellow fever.

That was in the twentieth century. In the twenty-first, with the stagnation of the economy and scientific and social research, due to the perennial economic crisis in the country, where Cuba has a chance is in the Nobel Peace Prize.

It is unknown if ultimately the Ladies in White candidacy when forward, and whether they were one of the 38 organizations nominated in 2010. It is not the first time that Cuban dissidents have dreamed of the prestigious award and its monetary support, amounting to one million euros.

In other years opponents like Oswaldo Payá, Oscar Elias Biscet and Marta Beatriz Roque have been proposed. Both in Norway and Sweden, the two countries that annually award the Nobel, they look kindly on fighters for freedom and democracy. In recent years it has been awarded to four prominent dissidents and human rights activists: the Russian Andrei Sakharov in 1975, the Polish Lech Walesa, in 1983, the Burmese Aung San Suu Kyi, in 1991 and the Iranian Shirin Ebadi, in 2003.

Nor is it known if Fidel Castro appears among the 199 personalities nominated in 2010. Acceptance of course certainly lends itself to self promotion. An interest in winning the Nobel Peace Prize explains his emphasis on speaking and writing about wars and nuclear threats. That’s one way to draw the attention of scholars in charge of evaluating the dossiers submitted.

According to rumors, on more than one occasion the comandante’s name has reached Oslo. And no wonder. Stalin was twice nominated in 1945 and 1948. Earlier, in 1939, Hitler had been proposed. This ‘select’ list was inaugurated by Mussolini in 1935.

Being the good partner of China that Cuba is, the rulers of the court and their spokespeople have been going crazy since the Nobel Peace Prize fell into the hands of Liu Xiaobo, an imprisoned “criminal.” Nor have they applauded the Literature prize being given to the “apostate from the left” Mario Vargas Llosa.

When the bearded ones came to power in 1959, Vargas Llosa was one of Latin American intellectuals who supported Fidel Castro and his revolutionary project. In 1965 he traveled to Havana to serve the jury for the Casa de las Americas Prize. So far so good. But when the Cuban poet Heberto Padilla was arrested in 1971, with wide repercussions in Europe and Latin America, the Peruvian writer decided to break with the Castro and his dictatorship.

Since then, Vargas Llosa swells the blacklist of “enemies of the revolution.” A list that now includes the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

October 11, 2010

Havana Underguater, interview with Erick J. Speck / Claudia Cadelo

When did you get the idea of imagining a world in which the Russians won the Cold War?

A long time ago I was thinking of a hypothetical society that would correspond with the aesthetics of Cyberpunk but that wouldn’t carry the almost Baroque burden of neon, Japanese corporations and yakusas. I wanted to do something different and at the same time something I identified with. And I thought, “If the Cyberpunk movement emerges as Utopia counter to capitalism, I, being Cuban, am forced to make a dystopia of socialism. Oh, and it can’t seem like 1984.” Then the idea occurred to me of a dystopic Soviet society, a “mega-Special-Period” and a Havana-Cyberpunk. Right now I can’t imagine a Havana with another kind of anti-Utopia within the sub-genre. Nor did I have a neon corporate Havana. Mine was one with a dozen plants and Russian trucks. I consider just writing about things that have a benchmark I can identify with. I can’t write about an alternative NY or Tokyo. I simply can’t.

I’ve heard that in your case, unlike what one might imagine, before the novel you weren’t particularly interested in Russian culture and the history of Communism. Tell me a little more about what you had with the story of the former Soviet Union, that now will be the three part Havana Underguater.

The truth is I was never interested in the Soviet aesthetic or the Russian language, beyond enjoying (in some cases developing) the animated Eastern European cartoons. When I designed the universe of Habana Underguater I was thinking specifically about a mega-Special-Period. The old science fiction phrase, “what would have happened if…”, if when we broke relations with the Russians instead of twelve plants there were eighty plants. If instead of the old Russian cars, the Ladas 2106s, we had Lada Blizzards V8, and a crisis like the one we lamentably call The Special Period. This is basically Underguater. I couldn’t write it without knowing, at least, phrases in Russian, the makes of cars and trucks, technical data about Soviet weaponry, or the list of the first secretaries of the Communist Party. I had to do my homework and study a society, one that I lived in during my childhood, from another point of view.

As during the missile crisis, Cuba is once again the center of the world: an island divided by the guerrillas and ideologies, talk to me about that scenario.

It is always tempting to conceive of a story or novel that begins and ends with Cuba, despite the fact that the name Cuba never appears in the novel. I conceived the scene as an island divided into three powerful city-states: Autonomous Santiago, Santa Clara and Autonomous Havana. Havana is the center of the first trilogy because it is a chaotic place that works like any Cyberpunk. Urban guerrillas like the guerrillas of Fanguito. Religious organizations that do not work as such, but rather as a kind of organized crime. A hitman named Acer and hackers who “ride” on the Orishas — Santeria deities — on the Global Web (who control the Soviet States of Space, of course); that is Havana Underguater. A scene where several social and political fears (either a kind of Marxist-Leninist globalization or a cyclone destroys Old Havana and floods part of Central Havana and Vedado) are recreated, but all this is a justification to have our own cyberpunk far from Los Angeles or Tokyo. A Cyberpunk or techno thriller that every Cuban anywhere in the world can genuinely enjoy.

How do you see the development of science fiction in Cuba?

Science fiction in Cuba has survived thanks to a specific editorial policy, a matter of state policy or a group of writers who simply want to make art (or money). Cuban science fiction has survived because of its readers. For a enormous share of the people who read it, from Isaac Asimov to Robert Heinlein, and who consume audiovisual from The War of the Galaxys to the Night Patrol, from Aladar Mézga to Akira. There is a public eager to read science fiction and that’s why science fiction writers have not disappeared despite the different editorial policies or any kind of government support. As for talk of a development, that seems too strong a word for our science fiction has sinned, mostly by always being a copy or an echo of science fiction from other countries. I think that very few Cuban authors (as in the case of Michael Collins in the 1960s and ‘70s) are worried about making their own science fiction without having to mimic the North American, European, Russian or Japanese aesthetic models. Science fiction, in my opinion, has merely survived rather than thrived. I have confidence in a development of science fiction, for me as if it starts tomorrow, but I do not think we are now able to speak of that.

Have you received feedback from readers? How have they embraced the novel?

Those who have read it have told me that they liked it. As an author I can not be more pleased.

Why not be published Havana Underguater in Cuba? How do you feel after being censored, did it affect you? Or is it simply one possibility?

In all honesty the only attempt I made to publish it was sending a collection of short stories to a contest. The result was in part as I expected along with comments about how unacceptable what a “bleak” future is for our country. It was a possibility from the beginning but still, it affected me. I see science fictions as art and not politics. I am not going to tell anyone what the future should be like, and Soviet science fiction is there (published in Spanish for those who want to read it) to show how to create a “hopeful and politically correct” future, recreated in very bad novels (which does not include the Strugaski nor Lem). Nevertheless two stories have been published, one as part of a collection and one in an anthology. Clearly, they are stories that do not speak of the pilgrims going to the Holy Sepulcher of the Guerrilla in Autonomous Santa Clara. Anyway, I’m still writing and I do not care what the publishers or the officials say. I concentrate on making science fiction.

You are beginning the third part. Can you give us a preview?

I just finished the second part, which is an old dream of mine, to do a long novel. It is titled The Russians Themselves and focuses more on a description of the Yoruba elements and the Artificial Intelligence Dissidents in cyberspace. In this novel I delve more deeply into the politics of the Soviet States of Space and the Guevarist Church in Santa Clara. I had fun writing it, people who read it have the last word. Now I’m writing the first drafts of a third (I still have not published the second but I keep writing). I can not give you any preview because the idea is still in my head … and well, it is a chaos of loose ideas. I run the risk of telling you something completely different from what I will later write. And this is not fair.

You can buy the first book in Havana Underguater here

October 11, 2010

Pros and Cons of Self-employment / Laritza Diversent

According to the newspaper Granma, starting in October you can work for yourself in 178 activities. In 83 of them you can hire a labor force. Seven have been added to those previously authorized, and 29 of 40 once prohibited activities are now legal. In nine the ban is maintained because of the lack of a legal market to obtain materials and supplies.

In general terms, self-employment will continue to be a complement to State-run enterprises. Also the regimen of violations will be maintained as will the system of inspections and routine visits from the authorities. The widening of the activities does not include the authorization to buy raw materials wholesale, which will limit the earnings of those who work for themselves, plus with the new regulations they will also have to pay taxes.

Self-employed were obliged to pay taxes on their personal income and to pay registration fees and license renewal fees every two years. With the new regulations they will have to pay sales tax, taxes for public service, employment taxes and social security.

The self-employed, as a general rule, are required to offer their services to individuals in national money, that is Cuban pesos rather than convertible pesos. In reality, they will have to acquire the means to carry out their work and raw materials in the established network of state enterprises, which sell in convertible pesos, and which recently have been very short of supplies. (1 Cuban peso ~ 24 convertible pesos.)

Also, the self-employed must keep official receipts when they buy supplies or the means of production, to demonstrate their legality. According to the Economy Minister, Marino Murillo, at least for the coming years, there will be no wholesale market selling to the self-employed.

Private workers can only trade in their own products. They are prohibited from reselling industrial products or food products that are sold or previously prepared in established state enterprises serving the culinary and food network.

Nor can they prepare or sell milk or dairy products, except if they acquire these products in the established sales network in convertible pesos, and are able to provide invoices and receipts proving their origin.

The new regulations, despite the widening list of activities and the elimination of prohibitions, some of them criminal (hiring labor), are tied to the free trade and demand of the non-State market. These limitations, along with the stepped-up state supervision and inspection, will limit future possibilities for operating a small business.

October 10, 2010

Speaking of Homeland / Fernando Dámaso

  1. According to the dictionaries, your homeland is the country where you were born. Thus, it’s determination rests on a high dose of chance. Starting from here, come all the meanings the word has been given, including its sacredness.
  2. For some, country is humanity. For others it is their family, friends, or the house where they were born; and also the neighborhood, town or province. For others, more romantic, they think of their homeland as sunsets, starry nights, the ocean, a river, the forest. Some see a homeland as the place where they triumphed, where they have accomplished things, or where they fell in love. And there are some for whom their country is a source of pain, others for whom it is a joy.
  3. As we see, there are as many concepts of country as there are individuals and all are valid and respectable. There are countries for every taste and feeling. Homelands have nothing to do with politics or ideology. They are outside of all that.
  4. To speak of a socialist country is as absurd as speaking of a capitalist, feudal or slave country, which never existed and which, fortunately, no one ever thought to designate as such.
  5. Although, historically, this practice has been repeated in the name of all kinds of interests, it is not healthy to manipulate so casually something that is intimate and personal.

October 9, 2010

Full Sun / Rebeca Monzo

Today, with the sun cracking the stones, I went to Old Havana for an appointment at the Commerce Market with the Spanish Foreign Ministry, to start the paperwork for my naturalization as a Spanish citizen.*

Since they called me three weeks ago to set up the appointment, I started to worry and speculate. They never tell you by phone what they need from you.

This time the line, more organized every day thanks to experience (it’s going on the second year now), went faster.

When my turn came, the clerk, certainly very friendly, handed me the paper with the request. It confirmed my suspicions. They are asking for the same thing as last time: A paper proving my grandfather came to Cuba. In early June I requested that document from the National Archives. (See the post: Search For Your Grandpa in the National Archives.)

I called the Archives again (as I do every week) before going to the embassy, and the answer was the same: “Mami, we still haven’t done the research,” the bureaucrat told me. The saddest part is that it’s already paid for because they charge in advance.

On returning home, overwhelmed by frustration, I remembered that a reader of my blog asked me for a photo of the El Template (The Temple) restaurant, so for him and for you. I am including photos of it, and also of the famous Temple with the well-known Ceiba tree.

Translator’s note: Spain has offered citizenship to any Cuban who can prove a Spanish grandparent.

October 1, 2010

Fulfilled What? / Voices Behind The Bars / Pedro Arguelles Moran

My sister in the civil struggle, Marta Beatriz Roque, commented to me that the Spanish foreign minister, Miguel Angel Moratinos, had recently declared in New York that Cuba “had fulfilled” its promise. And now, I ask myself: did the totalitarian Castro-ite regime honor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Did Cuba fulfill the observance of international economic, social, and cultural pacts and the civil and political pacts which it signed nearly two years ago but has not yet ratified in the State Council nor put into practice into the Socialist Cuban Constitution? Did the regime in Havana adhere to documents which it signed during the Ibo-American Summit? Did Cuba respect the principles highlighted in the UN charter?

In sum, did it fulfill the implementation of democracy, respect for rights, and social justice in Cuba? And if Mr.Moratinos said this in reference to the exile of the majority of my brothers from the group of the 75 to Spain, then I should remind the chief of Spanish diplomacy that each one of us are all prisoners of conscience, so declared by the prestigious NGO Amnesty International, which means that we should have never been kidnapped as hostages of the communist Cuban regime in the first place. And, much more important than our immediate release, I’d like to remind him that what is necessary is the unblocking of our rights and freedoms which are inherent to all members of Cuban civil society.

Mister Moratinos: We are peaceful fighters and social communicators who, peacefully, try to upheld rights and freedoms to be respected equally for all Cubans. We are not secret agents of foreign countries, and we are not mercenaries at the service of any nation. Our noble and dignified struggle only aims to bring truth, freedom, justice, and love to the largest of the Antilles.

Translated by: Raul G.

October 11, 2010

Crazy Glue / Yoani Sánchez

Photo: Orlando Luis Pardo LazoPeople are shouting from balcony to balcony and at first I think they’re insulting each other, but that’s not it. The woman from the building on the corner tells another woman that they have Crazy Glue at the little shop at Boyeros and Tulipán. Both are wide-eyed, gesticulating, “I thought it was gone forever,” “There’s been none anywhere,” they say. I chuckled while looking at the tip of my shoe, greatly in need of this instant fixative that the neighbors are announcing as if the ration stores had gotten a delivery of beef. If I get there in time to get a tube of the magic glue, I could fix the computer key that’s been flying off, and also the doorbell, which you can barely hear when someone rings it.

Surrounded by my list of broken things, I start to wander if there will be statistics on how much crazy glue is used each year on this Island. It is not a basic product, but I sense that there is a relationship between the need to repair our belongings and the seriousness of the country’s economic crisis. If not, why is the whole world running after an adhesive that is advertised as able to reassemble everything. Often I have bits of glue stuck to my elbows or on my clothes after making one the repairs I’m faced with every day. The last time I focused on these tasks I ended up with my thumb and index finger glued together, until hot water managed to separate them, taking off a piece of skin in the process.

In many stores, when this contact cement comes in you’d think they were having a big sale. People buy dozens of tubes, as if its great adherent power could glue together a reality cracked by frustration. We are not an excessively austere people, who can’t stand to throw out useless things, but we find it difficult to pay attention to the expiration dates provided by the manufacturers. When we break something, we rarely have a substitute. So I will leave this post here, and go and buy my share of crazy glue, my necessary dose of that instantaneous mender. Perhaps a few drops will help me to gather the pieces of that future we’ve dropped on the floor, smashing it to smithereens all over the place.

October 10, 2010

Like Rabbits / Ángel Santiesteban

Photo: Yoandri Jiménez

A JOURNALIST FRIEND FROM Bayamo told me that in 1990, when he was six, he was walking to school and his mother told him about the Special Period. Somehow, she was trying to prepare for the challenge to come. Later she confessed she had no idea how far it would go and how severe it would become. She never imagined she’d see and do what later faced Cuban society.

My journalist friend remembers his father and older brother, a graduate in engineering and computers, when they biked 25 miles just to pick up some yucca roots for the rabbits they had gotten in exchange for a television. His dad told him the soap opera wasn’t as important as nutrition. His mother closed her eyes and bit her tongue. My friend, from his childish point of view, protested and demanded his cartoons. His old man answered him that their food supply was more important. At that time, he thought his progenitor was unfair, because his hour of TV adventures was more important to him than food. After picking up the roots, they rode back another 25 miles, this time both carrying the weight of the bags on the bike rack.

Fortunately he doesn’t remember the canvas shoes his mother sewed, but he can’t forget the smell of the rice and tomato the family ate in order to save, for him, the last egg from the ration.

He also remembers the discussion between his father and brother, who got all worked up demanding the right to hide, in the sack with the roots, some pieces of yucca abandoned in the fields after the harvest. His dad angrily refused him: in my house we do not steal, dammit. His brother said that then he had no other choice but to leave and kissed them all, though his father did not return the gesture.

They thought that at most he would leave the house for a few days and then return. And the first days passed. Every time someone knocked on the door the old man signaled to open it, but he preferred to remain in his place and let another do it, he would stammer.

Then came the telephone call to the house of the neighbor. “Hurry up, it’s long distance,” they shouted.

“What’s that boy doing in Havana,” he grumbled. And he rejected the urge to run over and ask him when he was coming home.

My friend remembers that his mother came back crying. His dad protested, “We only cry for the dead,” he said.

“Almost,” said his mother.

His father tensed, something had happened in his family.

“Our son is in Miami,” she said.

My friend remembers that his father started to cry like a baby, and nothing could calm him. They started to slaughter the rabbits because the old man lost the will, the strength to go the distance.

Now my friend is a journalist, he went to the University in Santiago de Cuba, and thanks to the economic help of his brother he could support himself in this unknown city without any family to support him. He has a computer. Clothes and money in his pocket.

“Thanks to my brother,” he told me. “What I can’t understand, or forgive, is that if we are both professionals, why do I have to live on his money?”

October 10, 2010

Chavez’s Defeat and the Economic Reforms in Cuba / Iván García

Maybe he was surprised that Chavez was defeated in the popular vote. In Havana alarms went off. The unstoppable South American Santa Claus is a very valuable asset for the Cuban political strategy. He is its strong man.

He’s also fundamental for supporting an economy that is foundering. The frenzied Chavez offers the oil the island needs, to avoid slipping into and age of darkness, at rock bottom prices.

That’s why the leaders pamper him despite his drivel and verbal incontinence. Maybe his political mentor, Fidel Castro, is upset because of the Caracas autocrat’s mania to hold elections every time he feels like it.

It’s a known fact that Castro does not believe in that damaging vice called democracy, nor in holding referendums. Even less in holding a referendum just to lose it. Tough guys like the mythic bearded one only hold elections if they know for certain that they’ll win more than 95% of the votes.

That strange habit of the swarthy caudillo’s trying his luck at the ballot, keeps the island’s rulers on their toes. It’s a known fact that the fall of the Soviet Union threw Cuba suddenly and without warning into a crisis which has lasted for 21 years, and which in its darkest days took us close to the stone age.

Castro knows that the Cuban government can’t allow another violent worsening of conditions, with food shortages and 14-hour blackouts. That could be the end of his revolution. Already, advisers are looking through their files for contingency plans, just in case Chavez loses power in 2013.

To stop being the beggars of the Caribbean, living off the resources of another country, it’s urgent to get the weakened internal economy rolling again. This is the time for the fans of the Chinese Model. They’re probably on edge.

They think this is the time to speed up the reforms and economic openings. It’s a task for titans. And there’s little time. The red commander could lose his post in three years. There aren’t many options at hand. The most feasible is to bet on the market economy but keep a tight hand on the reins of power, like China does.

Playing two cards. Capitalism on the outside and socialism on the inside. Of course, that needs improved relations with America, and Obama lifting the embargo.

The wise make their estimates. Maquiladoras — cross-border factories — would come by the dozen, and the hundreds of thousands on unemployed would work for a pittance. Like the Asian Giant, Cuba offers a cheap, docile workforce, with a union that will not encourage them to protest or strike.

In that economic model, with the worst of wild capitalism, fans may forget a little detail. Cuba is not China. It doesn’t have an internal market of a billion people and Cubans do not work like slaves.

Whatever it is, something must be done to take the local economy out of its slump. Chavez is no guarantor. Maybe it’s time to speed up the changes. It would also reveal if the policies of the Castro brothers are aligned or not.

If stagnation continues, it would risk their continuity in power. And that is a powerful incentive to speed up the reforms.

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

Coffee Without Milk / Iván García

In this Cuban autumn of 2010, with memorable rains in the center and east of the Island, we breathe the air of pessimism. A new crisis. Another one. Fed up with material and spiritual shortages. We are one of the countries of the world best prepared to suffer. A benefit of the Castro brothers’ revolution.

Before going to school, children under 7 drink a glass of milk; up to that age it is guaranteed by the rationing system. The older children, unless their parents have money, plain coffee or whatever they can get for breakfast.

Milk is a luxury in Cuba. Cows are a luxury in Cuba. The alternative, for those who can afford it, is powdered milk, at 5.25 CUC for just over two pounds (about $7 U.S.). Or on the black market, 30 Cuban pesos ($1.25 U.S.) for a pound. When you can find it, which is almost never.

Now, according to the shopkeepers, the State proposes to eliminate coffee from the ration. No big deal. Some ten ounces a person, of horrible quality, every two weeks.

But it’s the breakfast of choice of ordinary Cubans, it’s all they have. Even coffee off the ration is in danger of extinction. It we believe the official press. Cuba had to spend 40 million dollars to buy coffee on the international market.

So, there have to be cuts. And as it’s always the people who suffer the consequences… goodbye coffee. In the 1960s, Cuba produced 60 million tons of coffee. In the 1940s Cuba exported coffee.

Forget Fidel Castro’s outlandish idea of growing coffee the length and breadth of Havana so the capital could become self-sufficient. The problem is, anything he touches disappears.

And he turned his hand to coffee. So it is starting to become scarce, we have to have hard currency to buy it. Who can do that. But what with the poor people, without access to dollars or euros, drink when they get up in the morning? Maybe hot water with lime or something like that. Or “rooster soup” (hot water with brown sugar).

I’d like to know if the black nectar has also disappeared from the offices of the Communist Party Central Committee and the other senior agencies, where the leaders take a little cup of the brew and save the rest in their large imported thermoses.

Strong coffee, good quality. Of course the bosses don’t have to cinch in their belts. They’re the leaders. They’re different.

Photo: Inflekt, Flickr

October 9, 2010

Woman and Sagittarian / Juan Juan Almeida

My name is Rosalba Susini, I was born December 5, 1974 in Old Havana, and today I am an American citizen.

I studied at the teacher’s training college of Cojimar, East Havana. I graduated in 1993.

I Cuba I had no problems until, like all families, mine also split up. My father came here when I was 6. He returned in 1994, and have a huge hug, I breathed deeply and called forth all my courage and whispered in his ear what all kids tell their parents, even today, “I want to go.”

Imagine, my mother there, my father here, and me, a young girl. At that time people were leaving Cuba through a third country. We tried to go to Panama but that was frustrated because my mother would not give me permission to leave, she worked in the hospital at La Covadonga.

In 1996 I had the chance and I threw myself on a raft. The trip was horrible, I don’t even like to talk about it; but I can tell you that if you were born in the same circumstances, living without freedom, you would have done exactly the same thing.

It was hard, very hard, 8 years without my seeing my mother until I could bring her over. More than once I asked permission to enter my country but I always got, from the Cuban authorities, the usual response with no explanation: “Your entry permit has been denied.”

I have been here 14 years, the punishment is indefinite, and when you ask for a reason, everyone looks away. My grampa died, I couldn’t see him. My grandmother lost her mind, she doesn’t know who I am. My aunt us very old. It is not fair to have to ask permission to enter your country.

Havana is my obsession. I frequently dream I travel there without telling anyone and that I land at the airport and go straight to my house, stand at my door and people start screaming, “Rosabla’s here! Rosalba’s here!…” I don’t know if it’s the excitement or for the block party; but my dram is over. I wake up. In my dreams I always go… but I never arrive.

October 9, 2010