Breaking the Stigma / Miriam Celaya

JJ Almeida at graduation from the Blogger Academy

Just over 60 days ago Juan Juan Almeida started a hunger strike. His, in some ways, is the most solitary of strikes. It is true that many of us bloggers and his other friends have been aware of his condition and have followed the long-running saga of his pursuit of an exit permit to allow him to get treatment, not available in Cuba, for a severe health problem; it is also true that several digital sites have published his trials and tribulations (including his arrests) as he constantly pressures the authorities and demands his right to travel, to be reunited with his family, and to receive on-going treatment for his illness. But regardless, public opinion has not been sufficiently mobilized.

Reflecting on the crossroads where Juan Juan finds himself, I think of how difficult it is in his case and the stigmas he is burdened with at a time when he so greatly needs to rally support. First, because his fight, placed within the contours of a personal drama, lacks the heroic elements traditional solidarity demands; his dispute, according to some of the more ignorant, is not for Cuba and Cubans, but only to resolve a personal problem. Why don’t we just describe his drama as that of any Cuban, and therefore, of all Cubans. Second, because the most well-known and far-reaching of the international media pay attention to someone whose huge mustache or quantity of body-piercings earn them a Guinness record, but not to the tragedy of a lonely man who launches a desperate appeal to defend the right to freely leave and enter one’s own country. Third, the greatest stigma, is because JJ – as many of us call him – is the son of the Commander of the Revolution Juan Almeida Bosque, which brings with it a strong prejudice: being one “of them” and having enjoyed benefits and privileges that the most of us do not, he “deserves what happens to him.” A pattern repeated over and over when I’ve expressed JJ’s dilemma among friends, as if being born to someone in particular entails a curse, as if to each of us our parents were not always loved and lovable, or as if the coincidence of not belonging, as a birthright, to the anointed grants us some certificate of moral purity, without “the children of so-and-so” hanging over our heads.

For my part, I think it is precisely his origin that makes his struggle more difficult than mine. His rupture has been greater and the cost of his daring higher. From my vertical dissent I have not lost even one friend (in fact I have gained many new friends); I have had no ruptures nor family resentments, no one has separated me from my loved ones (neither living nor dead), nor have I suffered any rejection. This has not been true in his case.

I prefer to see JJ in another way: not as the privileged person that he’s not, but as another of my companions along the way. I choose to strip the name and pedigree from this man and see the human being who lacks the same rights we all lack on this Island – and as even some do who are outside of it – including the greatest right which is Freedom. This is a sick man who, thanks to his many friends who love him (but no thanks to the Revolution which, for some reason, detests him… and that makes him good in my eyes), has the chance to improve his health outside of Cuba; but the government prevents him from traveling and condemns him to die. This is a man prevented from being reunited with his wife and daughter for having committed the incredible sin of writing a book where he says what he knows, what he believes and what he thinks about certain topics that discomfort the warrior oligarchy, the master of all our fates. I choose to stand by this human being in whom I recognize so many gestures of solidarity toward others and toward us, the disobedient ones, with whom he has cast his lot.

Since August 10, 2010, Juan Juan Almeida has been hospitalized in Havana. His health has deteriorated and his body has been debilitated by the long fast. His demand to leave Cuba has ceased to be an individual claim; and although JJ himself has no pretensions of leadership or of carrying the flag, today he claims a right for all Cubans. We must not leave him to do it alone.

August 17, 2010

Translator’s note: JJ Almeida yesterday: Photos here.

A Court Summons the Minister of Justice / Laritza Diversent

On the 15th of July the second chamber of Civil and Administrative Law of the Provincial Court of the City of Havana summoned the incumbent Minister of Justice, María Esther Reus González, in the matter of the lawsuit filed by the Cuban Law Association (CLA)for denying their request for certification, a step that is indispensable for the legalisation of this organisation of independent lawyers.

The Cuban Law Association is an independent NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation). It was founded in October 2008 and provides legal advice to citizens on a non-profit basis. On three occasions State Security suspended courses on Cuban laws offered to the general public by the Association, which also seeks to increase the public´s awareness of the legal system.

The Registry of Associations at the Justice Ministry didn’t certify if there was another NGO in the country with the same name and purpose as the CLA in the time between April 2009 and March 2010. The independent lawyers brought the matter to the court after the Minister in charge of the Registry ignored an administrative appeal against its decision, made on the grounds of violation of procedure.

The lawsuit brought on June 24 was filed by the Court on the 29th. A week later the judge, Alfaro Guillén, and the lay judges Núñesz Valdés and Figueredo Ramos responded to the lawyers with a delay due to the Chamber´s excessive work load, demanding that they changed the wording of their motion´s terms.

The Court considered it inadmissible that the attorney Wilfredo Vallín Almeida, president of the Cuban Law Association, is acting on behalf of a legally unrecognised entity. The Cuban legal system considers any group not inscribed in the Registry of Associations of the Minister of Justice to be an “illicit association.”

As a matter of fact, the Associations Act (Law 54 from the 27th of December 1985) and its bylaws do not impose any formal requirements for the establishment of an association: the interested parties assemble in order to pursue a common goal and request their recognition as a legal entity by the State.

The writing of the judges demanded that the attorney Vallín bring the lawsuit as a private person and that the terms of the petition be changed to reflect the fact that the Justice Ministry has not responded to the request for certification. The judges declared the formulation “refusal to grant authorisation for the establishment an an association” used in the wording of the petition to be incoherent.

It is the the first time that a dissident organisation sues a representative of the government. This is an event without a precedence in the last fifty years of Cuban jurisprudence.

Laritza Diversent

Note: See also “The lawsuit is getting ahead”: La demanda prosperó.

Photo: The Cuban Minister of Justice during her participation in a session on human rights in Geneva, Switzerland.

Translated by: undef

August 14, 2010

Waiting to be Evicted by Force / Iván García

Right now, Teófilio Roberto López, age 66, is out of his mind. He ambles like a lunatic doing the paso doble along the edges of his farm, located a stone’s throw from the National Highway.

Lopez is on the razor’s edge. All of his possessions, erected with sacrifice and with the help of his eight brothers who live in the United States, are lost. Sitting on the large porch of his two-story home, rocking frenetically in an ivory-colored rocking chair, with a frown and a threatening gesture, he vented his ire.

“When the authorities enter my property to evict me, I’ll make a ruckus. All this” — and with his thick index finger, he signaled everything around him — “I built in 30 years, so that my family and I could live comfortably,” said the elderly Teófilo, a gentleman of medium stature, who speaks at the speed of light and with nervous movements of his hands.

The case of Teófilo goes back to July of 2009, when the minister of Finance and Prices, Lina Olidna Pedraza Rodriguez, ordered the Directorate of Housing of the municipality of Arroyo Narranjo, in Havana, to confiscate the belongings of the family of Teófilo, outlined in Decree 149 — the law against new riches — that permits the dispossession of properties of a person for “improper enrichment.”

Here began the ordeal of the Lopez family. If there’s one thing Teófilo has known all his life, it is work. Born in 1944 on a remote plantation in the province of Sancti Spiritus, 400 kilometers from Havana, he has labored hard to come out ahead.

In 1996, together with his son Antonio Lopez, age 40, and his wife, Elsa Avila, age 60, the Lopez Avilas began a small personal business. They established a small but successful roadside cafe.

Highly particular, the elderly Teófilo saved the receipts from the repairs to his home and those from the money sent to him by his brothers from Florida.

He saved all the documents regarding his properties in a file. “When I obtained this house as owner, it was a miserable shack. Thanks to our efforts, we constructed a spacious home and began to work the land,” recalls Teófilo.

The family farm was 0.6 hectares, and from a bird’s-eye view it was obviously well cared for, and one could see groves of mango, avocado, guayaba, orange, plantain, and dwarf coconut plants.

To this, Teófilo added pig breeding, and had obtained six cows that produced hundreds of liters of milk. In the best months of the farm and the cafe, the income exceeded 30,000 pesos (1,400 dollars). Along with the remittances sent to him from the north, he was able to build a residence that, by Cuban standards, was “luxurious.”

He even built a small swimming pool, to spend time with his family and his brothers, who visited the island up to three times a year. Teófilo knew he broke the law when his son Antonio began to rent the house without a license.

“We paid an outlandish fine, and they seized our house from my son. I believe this was my family’s only error. From that moment on, the authorities were out for me. They weren’t able to catch me in any more illegal activity. I have papers that attest to that,” noted Teófilo while he sipped from a cup of coffee.

The Lopez family has tried everything through legal channels. But they have not been able to stop the bureaucratic machine, which set the month of August as the date to kick them out on the street. In exchange, they offered the family a minimal house, cracked and damp, with only one bedroom.

In the deepest part of his soul, Teófilo considers that the state is acting against him arbitrarily. And he has considered the worst. From setting fire to his property, to setting up with a rifle in the middle of his plantation, refusing to abandon it.

After consulting with a group of attorneys from a firm on the margins of state control, he made up his mind. Laritza Diversent, one of the attorneys who helped him, believes that if, in Cuba, its own laws are respected, Teófilo would come out on top in this case, and the state would have to return what had been seized up until that point. And those were not little things: two cars, a motorcycle, and countless electronic appliances valued at two million pesos, according to official appraisers.

Meanwhile, while justice decides, with each dawn the Lopez family waits for the authorities, supported by the police, to evict them, by force, from their farm.

Whatever happens, Teófilo thinks that his biggest crime was to try to have a prosperous life. “This is not looked well upon, in Cuba,” he said, hanging his head. His eyes tear up. “I’m too old to try to start a new life.”

Iván García

More about this story in “Minister puts a citizen in defenseless position.”

Translated by: Gregorio

August 15, 2010

My Own Vindication of Cuba / Ernesto Morales Licea

I think of Martí this very instant. I remember his fired up words on that document he named “Vindication of Cuba,” where, in name of the voiceless, the Master answered a diatribe of The Manufacturer newspaper that accused us of being inefficient and soft, weak on the thought of establishing a true nation. It also accused us of laziness.

Today it is not The Manufacturer who marks us as lazy people. It is called Granma, and it is this country’s official newspaper. Whoever follows its pages daily knows what I’m talking about: the constant and increasingly more aggressive terms in which its journalist refer to an evident phenomenon in current Cuban society: all the willingly unemployed among a great part of the population, especially among the youth.

Paying attention to what our mass media proclaims, it looks like the offensive words of such newspaper are revealed in our current Cuba. What does this mean? That our most recent crusade undertaken by the Cuban officials is against lazy people, against whom even our Penal Code establishes measures under the title “Social Dangerousness.”

The Granma editorials say: “We have to eradicate them. We have to cut out the laziness by the root.” For my part, in order lay out my argument, I allow myself to demonstrate elementary concepts.

FROM THAT SIDE OF THE OCEAN…

If there’s something that this fertile land produces, aside from fruits, cigars and baseball players, it is working men. Men who, behind any adversity or impossible task, find the way to accomplish their endeavor, always with effort, always with work. We have a legion of laborers who get up from their beds every morning without knowing what they’ll be able to eat for breakfast, what they’ll leave for their children to have for lunch, on what transportation they’ll get to work on time, with what tools they’ll perform their functions during the eight or ten hours they must stay at their post.

And just like these, we also have another legion that got tired of that bitter litany and decided to test their luck in other shores at their own risk.

How many immigrants do we have scattered around the world? It is a figure we’ll never know with precision. But the undeniable truth is what no one, neither the journalist from Granma nor any executive dreamer can deny: the vast majority of Cubans who migrate live from the sweat of their hard work.

We receive them by the thousands, mainly newcomers from Miami. There, they leave an unstable job, a job they don’t know if they’ll still have when they get back. Most of them leave debts. But they live. They don’t subsist.

And they would live a lot better if they didn’t have family members here, that just like involuntary leeches need to suck a percentage of their income to eat a little better, to not dress in rags, or to give ourselves that handful of pleasures that are so limited they end up being exceptional.

What do those Cubans, sons of the same land that Martí vindicated with his prose do to sustain a lifestyle so superior compared to the one they would’ve had had they stayed in the island? Are they all mafia members who traffic drugs, fire weapons, or launch human beings from their prows of their speedboats? Do they all receive salaries from the CIA for planning terrorist attacks against countries or presidents? No. What they do is work. And as we Cubans say: they work like mules.

They work two or three jobs. With a tenacity and formality they never learned in their native country. If they don’t do it for love (which in many cases they do) at least they work with responsibility. They’re not “absent people” who take days off on their own, they’re not bad-tempered people who mistreat any client from their Olympian viewpoint.

And they don’t do it for two reasons: 1. Because they want to preserve their job, and 2. Because that job, even though is not enough in many cases, serves to satisfy their basic needs, including the ones of the family members in Cuba.

And I’m talking about the simple cases. I am not referring to the talented, the attorneys, the excellent engineers, the sportsmen, the businessmen who, without the obstacles of an economic axis centralized to point of asphyxia, are able to prosper at a surprising rate. I am not taking for as example the great economic success of the few who are not so few: I am talking about the honest work of many.

Because those are our family members. Not the millionaires, but the middle or lower class. The ones who come and with their presence, with their money and salary (citing Frank Delgado), fill their family member’s souls with joy.

What allows it, what brings them to Cuba like the Three Kings of Buenaventura, satisfying shortcomings, soothing necessities? Their jobs. The twelve or fourteen hours they daily dedicate to having a life from their own sweat.

… AND FROM THIS

OK, so let’s go back to the beginning: are we a lazy people? Are we that nation of incapable men that The Manufacturer proclaimed we are, or the society infected by incorrigible idiots that the Granma newspaper suggests? We are not. What we really are, with no room for doubt, is a country where work is only a decorative concept.

We are a country where no one, absolutely no honest worker is able to accomplish any level of quality of life with 300 pesos that is earned after a whole month of harsh work.

We are a country that has had to become thieves, ruthlessly stealing from each other (the chef steals the cheese and later sells it to the mechanic, the mechanic steals the parts that the dentist needs, the dentist then steals the anesthesia or the amalgam needed to be used on the grocer as dental filling…), everyone hustling and passing the money any chance they get because the salary received in more honest ways is not even enough to fill one’s own stomach.

Where does this bitter reality take us? It leads us to accept that in Cuba, the sense of ownership towards work is an idealistic dream. The ones who, instead of stealing from work actually live from the salary earned by it cannot profess any type of gratitude towards it.

Cubans cannot like working because they receive very little or nothing from it. The ones that sacrifice themselves the most hang their diplomas or distinctions on a wall or keep them in a drawer because they will never be able to use them to feed themselves or clothe themselves. The accomplishments acquired by their sleepless nights turn to food for the moths, to dust collectors.

That is why I not only don’t denigrate, but understand, so many young people and so many wasted fertile hands hanging around on the corner, in the parks, sitting behind a domino table or what is worse, attached to rum bottles. Those, have learned either by experience or intuition that they will have a better lifestyle by reselling items on at central plaza in their neighborhoods, earning ten convertible pesos for an occasional sale, rather than dedicating eight hours a day to a job that will give them the same amount, but in a month.

We are one of the very few countries in the world where unemployment is not an issue. Our issue, is that employment doesn’t help.

That is why the media gets angry: it so happens that those lazy people are a genuine product of this very society, not reminiscences or a surplus.

UTILIZE YOUR THUMB, NOT YOUR INDEX FINGER

No Granma newspaper, no National Television, we are not a lazy people nor social scum. We don’t need to undertake new bloody crusades with police operations that imprison whoever doesn’t have a stable workplace, nor launch harassment campaigns: we have already experienced that and know it doesn’t work.

Beforehand, it is necessary to ask ourselves what is really happening, why young people on this side of the ocean don’t think about working, why they want to move to another country, why they’d rather steal or traffic, why they choose the uncertainty of not knowing what they will earn daily in their juggling instead of the stability and security of an honest salary at the end of the month.

The complicated thing is looking at our entrails. It is easier to utilize our index finger than to appeal to our thumb. The complicated thing is to answer for ourselves those questions that underlie each accusation that the official media publishes or the leaders prefer, the answers that they all know none of them want to hear.

This time, it is not about vindicating Cuba. Before defending the physical and geographical platform, it is only fair to defend the truth of all Cubans. And overall, with the same dignity with which Martí reduced to ashes a series of slanders, and with his limitless honesty remembered:

“Freedom is the right that all men have by being honest, and to think and speak without hypocrisy (…) A man who hides what he thinks, or doesn’t dare to say what he thinks, is not an honest man.”

August 11, 2010

And Presenting the Names of Some Cubans / Iván García


My grandmothers were called Carmen and Andrea, and my grandfathers, Jose Manuel and Rafael. Names are given according to the era. My uncles and aunts were given common names: Luis, Mario, Candida, Teresa, Maria, Dulce, Augustine, Maximus, Adelaide, Victoria, Milagros, Lidia… The exception was Avelino, no longer in use, and Veneta, of Italian origin.

For siblings, cousins and nephews, the tradition began to change: Tamila, Yaricel, Himely, Yuri, Yania, Mathew … Of the six mentioned, three are written with a Y. A boom that began in the 70s and still continues, as with the names of stars. The most popular, Maikel, is for Michael Jackson, a national idol.

It has become common to “nationalise” foreign names. So, for Ricardo, they say Richard; Billy for Guillermo, Robert for Roberto; Tony for Antonio; Maggie for Margarita; and Elizabeth for Isabel, amongst others. We gave my daughter the name Melany, from the French Creole version of Melanie.

Many parents opt for combinations like Sarim (Sara and Manuel), Leidan (Leida and Daniel), Franmar (Francisco and Marina) and Julimar (Julio and Maria) of endless possibilities which sometimes seem like trademarks. There are some who have wanted to be more original and have given their children the name of the parent reversed: Legna (Angel), Anele (Elena), Oiluj (Julio) and Otsenre (Ernesto).

Some recall characters and conflicts in other places: Lenin, Yasser, Indira, Hanoi, Libia, Nairobi, Namibia … Some are geographic: Israel, Argentina, Africa, Asia, America … Or planetary: Luna, Sol, Venus …

Soap operas have had an influence, too. In 1984, when the Brazilian serial started, a woman was called Malú, and many girls (and also dogs and cats) were given the name Malú. Others got the nicknames of the soap opera of the day. Like Dondita, a girl whose true identity nobody knows.

Even though in Cuba you can go to the civil registry and file a change of name, those who do not like the label given them by their parents tend to change it on their own, without wasting time on paperwork. This is the case with Yanet who hates the Yanci of Charity which she is registered as. When the mail carrier changed, the new one did not know that the correspondence directed to Yanet was for Yanci.

Amongst athletes born since the 1980s, there are many names beginning with Y: Yan, Yipsi, Yadel, Yumisleidys, Yoroemis, Yunel, Yoennis, Yargelis, Yannelis, Yunidis,Yeimer, Yuniseski, Yuriorkis, Yormani, Yoerkis… And a few rare ones: Jonder, Dayan, Level, Vismay, Gelkis, Uziel, Erislandy, Salatiel, Vicyohhandri, Osbiel, Roidel, Asniel, Edisbel, Leovel, Mijaín, Idales, Eglys and Arasay, among others selected at random from a long list.

In 2004, in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, they gave the example of Rayni Rodriguez, then 11 years old, whose parents gave him the name because he was born one rainy morning: Rayni is a variation of Rainy in English. The boy confessed that he would have liked to be called David, after Bisbal “a singer whom I admire a lot.”

In that report are mentioned other cases of Cubans with unusual names: Evergreen, Mylady, Sugarcandy, Geisha, Danger, Alien y Usnavy. Perhaps none is as bizarre as Yunaiestei. It only lacks the addition of “of America.”

Iván García

Photo: Yargelis Savigne (Guantánamo, 1984), gold medalist in triple jump, World Athletics Championships Berlin 2009 .

Translated by: CIMF

August 16, 2010

Raul Castro, On the Fence / Iván García

General Raul Castro is trying to give shape to the land he’s promised. El Dorado, the “Cuban socialist paradise,” requires time and patience. And confidence in the old leaders who have ruled the destinies of Cubans for 51 years.

The Castros want to dance the old-style danzón. No reggaeton. Farewell to emergencies and haste. The changes will be controlled and jealously scrutinized under a magnifying glass.

In the latest speech of the Cuban president, as is usual on the island, there are hidden meanings. Subtle codes. Political carpentry. But then you dismantle all the artifice of the partisan jargon, the veiled threats to dissenters and the tiresome slogans, and you note that in the words of Castro II there are two speeches.

One holds everything we read in the press. The other, what isn’t said. Up to a point I understand the Creole mandarins. It’s hard for them to speak frankly about the failure of the economic model and the innumerable disasters committed by Fidel Castro in the administration of the country.

Then he gilds the pill. But when you deconstruct the words of Raul you come to a logical conclusion: the transformations promised to us by the government are the same neo-liberal shock therapy applied by any capitalist country when it enters an economic crisis.

And worse. In capitalist societies there are pockets of unemployment. The island’s government has promised to be more severe with those who hang around in the streets. It’s rumored they will only be paid 60% of their salary for one month. Then, they can get by however they can.

To offset the rising tide of the unemployed, which will exceed a million people, they will expand the rules for self-employment.

But this remains to be seen. Look, in moments when the rope tightens around their neck, the Castro’s often give way. Then, when they get some oxygen, they tighten the rope and return to paralysis, the preferred rhythm of the Havana regime.

On the street, there are more doubts than hopes. It’s good to work for yourself, make money and improve the quality of your life. But it’s not easy. If the government doesn’t lower the taxes, call off the inspectors, and ease up on the constant obstacles in the way of private work, Raul’s announcement won’t be effective.

To establish a private cafe or restaurant in Cuba isn’t always possible. First: where do you get the money. Second: on the island the banks don’t offer credit nor lend money. Third: with regards to getting money, people wonder if the government won’t continue to look askance at it.

Because to have a business and prosper is something that doesn’t appeal to the Castro brothers. For the simple reason that every person that stops living off the State’s tit and manages to become independent, will always constitute a threat to the regime.

Money engenders power, influence and the desire to change the rules of the fame. The Castros know this. So they have always been afraid of private employment. Their interest is that those who don’t work for the State may look for a few pesos, but only enough to eat and little else.

The Castro brothers don’t want any new rich. And the ordinary people are aware of the danger of prospering. They know that hundreds of the paladares (private restaurants) were closed and that people were even imprisoned, accused of “illicit enrichment.”

When self-employment surged in 1994, the majority of those who accomplished it had family or friends abroad.

To establish a decent restaurant that will give a return on the investment requires no less than $8,000 dollars. Do the math. Buying the utensils, stoves, refrigerators, food and paying two or three employees. If, as Castro II said, one can hire workers, then it follows that one could establish small or medium-sized businesses. What worries a certain segment of the population is whether there will be a hook at the end of the line, as has happened at other times.

In any event, the good news from Raul’s speech was the reference to self-employment. The negatives were the threats to the opposition. His message was clear. If you believe the government will compromise on political questions, you’re mistaken. The jails will remain open and the laws allow the imprisonment of a dissident or journalist for 20 years or more remain in effect in the Republic.

It remains to be seen if they were empty words and typical bravado to pacify the Taliban frightened of change. Otherwise, it has been demonstrated that closed system need prisoners as a currency of exchange for any situation that arises. Now the prisons may be emptied. Will they be filled again?

Iván García

Photo: AFP

August 8, 2010

Thanks For Your Comments / Iván García

Once or twice a week, I connect to the internet from a hotel in Havana. Connections from Cuba tend to be very slow, and the time gets used up trying to send in my work. When I have a few minutes, I go to the blog, but I can hardly ever read and respond to comments.

Thank you for being regular readers of the blog and for leaving your opinions.

Sincerely,

Iván García Quintero

Translated by: CIMF

Beyond the Horizon / Laritza Diversent

The comment by a reader of mine, Sergio, attracted my attention. He asked: what is the reason that keeps preventing the opposition in Cuba from growing strong?

According to his writing, Sergio left the island a short while ago and still has fresh memories of the disagreements and fears here. He thinks that the people are still being paralysed despite recognising that the political and the economic systems are failing, because they dread something worse. Just like the popular sayings: “To jump from the frying pan into the fire” or “Better the Devil you know than the one you don’t.”

The commentator asserts that the historical leadership is still in power, firstly because the opposition cannot offer a model for the future development of Cuba, and secondly, because the malicious propaganda machinery, the indoctrination and the disinformation have demonised the concept of capitalism to the point that it is perceived as the apocalypse, exemplified by the social model of North America: “TOTAL liberty, the State is not responsible for exercising control… and things work if they are private.”

He suggests to the dissidents that if they propose “the American way” they will find it hard to convince the rest of the Cubans, “who don’t want to shift constantly from the extreme Stalinist left to the far ‘Republican’ and neoliberal right… Cubans want the best of capitalism and the best of socialism.”

To illustrate his thoughts he presents two proposals and economic models for the opposition groups:

His first proposal: “We are THIS group, here is my programme: Once democracy is achieved we want a liberal Cuba where the free enterprise and market forces set the guidelines of the society, the government lets the market operate on by its own rules, everyone has a health insurance if he or she wants medical care, and everything or almost everything is private property, because the State is not competent.”

Later he asks: “What do you do if you don’t have enough to pay for your father’s cancer treatment?” “We know that health is the one most precious things and therefore it is what concerns people most,” he argues. On this point I agree with Sergio, in a future full of changes not all of us are going to be prosperous entrepreneurs.

I agree once again when he claims that “the opposition has to focus, and each group, independent of the common goal (the end of the dictatorship and establishment of democracy) has to present its own detailed plan.

Unfortunately, the majority of the opposition groups within the Island do not seem to grasp the idea of a political programme, occasionally they don’t understand what this is. It is also hard to know for sure what is the ideology they profess. Sometimes I have the impression that they associate the term liberal with liberation, hence it is difficult to know what is the model or alternative for the government that they offer to the Cuban public.

Second proposal: “We are THAT OTHER group and this is my programme: When Cuba is to be free we want full liberty and support for the free enterprise, but subject to economic, financial and fiscal regulations that prevent those unbalances in the system that end up with the taxpayers footing the bill. There will be a serious fiscal system in order to create a social security covering the basic needs: labour rights, free and universal medical care, education facilities. The State will cease determining the degree entrepreneurial activity…, but it will never let the course of the country’s economic development to be set by the market alone. We’ll have a sober economic planning based on industrialisation and R&D (Research and Development) as a guarantee for sound and sustained economic growth… and independent of cyclical activities like the real estate business or tourism that are a feast today but famine tomorrow.

Sergio insists on the need to explain that “there is a form of capitalism that respects the right of the people to have their business, from a cafeteria to a designer company and even a multinational metallurgical enterprise… to earn millions of euros and to be millionaires…, and all of this being Cubans in Cuba, achieved with their ingenuity and work, at the same time enjoying guaranteed free and universal medical care and education for their whole family… and everyone pays into social security… and moreover, a right to attend colleges and universities and private health care for those who wish it.”

The commentator does not believe that wrongs in Cuba are due to socialism, but rather to FIDELISM. “Our problem is Fidel and his dictatorship, the dictators are neither communists nor capitalists,” he argues. He doesn’t like the American model either and thinks that it is time for the Cubans to “look closely at well developed models that are socially fair if not egalitarian.”

He advises the dissidents to “PULL THEIR HEADS OUT OF MAIMI and take a look at Germany and the rest of Europe (excluding Spain, Portugal and Italy), it does not matter whether the government is left or right, it still makes some difference, but to a great extent they have reconciled very well liberty and economic development with a high standard of welfare and social justice.”

“If there is a group out there that has a programme with these ideas… I’ll sign up together with my family, otherwise I support them regarding the common goal to get rid of the Castros… but I will give them my neither my vote nor my confidence… and I think that the majority of the Cubans in Cuba will feel this way,” he finishes.

I also think that from now on it is necessary to explain WHAT DOES THE OPPOSITION OFFER TO CUBANS. The economic model ought to be chosen by all in free elections and will be put in place by the political group that manages to see BEYOND THE HORIZON.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: undef
undef@rocketmail.com

August 15, 2010

Earning a Living / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

He arrived at G on Friday to join the crowd of other young people watching the wee hours of the night pass waiting for better times. For some inexplicable reason the police would only allow them “to be” on one of the two sidewalks of 23rd and having made an appointment earlier to meet a girl in the “prohibited zone,” decided to run the risk rather than lose his chance of the night.

The risk turned out to be higher than he’d calculated – naïve and crazy kid: an official welcomed him with a shove and asked for his ID card.  Not producing it fast enough, they handcuffed him and before he could ask why he was already in the back of the patrol car.

He was thrown in a dungeon at 21 C. He thought he had forgotten to let go of the wrists. However, a look around allowed to check two things:
– All the detainees were handcuffed.
– There were many detainees.

They threw him in a dungeaon at 21st and C. He thought they’d forgotton to free his wrists. But a look around informed him of two things:

— All the detainees were handcuffed.
— There were a lot of detainees.

As he wasn’t even twenty yet, he was terrified. He didn’t know anything about his rights nor was he going to risk the night by defending them. Then again there is always a third option.  He managed to whisper the magic words to an officer:

“Hey pal, I have fifty pesos. My mother is sick and I can’t get home too late.”

Half an hour later he was home. He summarized the story for me with a moral: “They made a lot of money Friday, we were a ton of people. Next time I’ll give them the money in the patrol car.”

August 14, 2010

Customs Back in Action / Laritza Diversent

Postal and Shipping Customs, part of General Customs of the Republic (AGR), imposed an administrative penalty against me, through Confiscation Order No. 978, issued on June 8, 2010, for a shipment sent from the United States of America.

On July 13, I received an envelope sent by the Customs authority through the Cuban Postal Service, which contained the order and four Records of Retention and Notification. The documents included a list of the items seized.

In the order, Raimundo Pérez García, Customs Enforcement Inspector, confiscated the items – mostly cleaning, toiletry, and office supplies – claiming that upon physically inspecting the shipment, he found that they offended the general interests of the nation, constituting a violation of the provisions of Resolution No. 5-96 of the Chief of the General Customs of the Republic.

Among the products mentioned were an MP3, a camera, water purifiers, a pencil sharpener, balloons, pens, pencils, markers, several note pads, crayolas, laundry soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, towelettes, antiseptic and sanitary pads, elastic bandages, and rolls of tape.

These are widely-used, everyday domestic products, and are on sale in state-owned commercial establishments and hard-currency stores within the country.

The customs order issued by Pérez García, Customs Enforcement Inspector, is arbitrary. This official did not explain what criteria he took into account to determine that the items seized offended the general interests of the nation.

Resolution No. 5 of the AGR, in force since 1996, allows the application, within the national territory, of the International Convention on the Suppression of the Circulation and Trafficking of Obscene Publications and traffic.

It prohibits the importation by shipment of “any object whose content is considered contrary to morals and good customs or that goes against the general interests of the nation.” It further provides that the seized products be delivered to the appropriate agency of the Ministry of Interior.

The government regulation was used in previous months in the seizure of shipments from abroad to various dissidents, including Aini Martin, the independent press correspondent, Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, the wife of the physician and prisoner of conscience Darcy Ferrer Dominguez, and Yoani Sanchez, the author of the blog “Generation Y”.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: Tomás A.

August 14, 2010

Fidel Castro Threatens with “The Strategic Victory” / Katia Sonia

Like a birthday present to himself, the Cuban ex-president Fidel Castro launched a book in which he narrates as episodes his experiences in the Sierra Maestra during the fight against Fulgencio Batista.

In this memoir narrated in epic tones, he deletes all those who then didn’t see clearly the destiny they’d been fighting for and separates them from the so-called Revolution Triumphant: we do not find anecdotes of Huber Matos, nor of Mario Chanes de Armas and many others whom, for more than fifty years, he has tried to silence with his twisted arguments.

After four years out of the game and his role in the leadership of the Revolution, a little more incoherent, Fidel Reappears to minimize once again the figure of his brother who, by his order, replaced him as dictatorial ruler; he called a special session of the “Cuban Parliament,” no, that is not a typo, it is how to recognize the Cubans of the National Assembly of People’s Power; everything’s OK, you have to keep fighting…

There will be twenty-five chapters numbered after the fashion of Castro, who will torture the nationals with the endless round tables, headlines and a great reduction in the insufficient production of books and school supplies for the school year 2010-2011, because all the printers are working overtime to guarantee the release of “Strategic Victory.”

These 84 threaten more of the same, fifty years of badly told stories that express the extreme will of the author; so come on down, here comes the cake.

August 12 2010

Fidel Castro, Present and Past / Yoani Sánchez

Fidel Castro’s return to public life after a four-year absence provokes conflicting emotions here. His reappearance surprised a people awaiting, with growing despair, the reforms announced by his brother Raúl. While some weave fantasies around his return, others are anxious about what will happen next.

The return of a famous figure is a familiar theme in life as in fiction — think Don Quixote, Casanova or Juan Domingo Perón. But another familiar theme is disappointment — of those who find that the person who returns is no longer the person who left, or at least not as we remember him. There is often a sense of despair surrounding those who insist on coming back. Fidel Castro is no exception to this flaw inherent in remakes.

The man who appeared on the anniversary of “Revolution Day” last week bore no resemblance to the sturdy soldier who handed over his office to his brother in July 2006. The stuttering old man with quivering hands was a shadow of the Greek-profiled military leader who, while a million voices chanted his name in the plaza, pardoned lives, announced executions, proclaimed laws that no one had been consulted on and declared the right of revolutionaries to make revolution. Although he has once again donned his olive-green military shirt, little is left of the man who used to dominate television programming for endless hours, keeping people in suspense from the other side of the screen.

The great orator of times long past now meets with an audience of young people in a tiny theater and reads them a summary of his latest reflections, already published in the press. Instead of arousing the fear that makes even the bravest tremble, he calls forth, at best, a tender compassion. After a young reporter calmly asked a question, she followed up with her greatest wish: “May I give you a kiss?” Where is the abyss that for so many years not even the most courageous dared to jump?
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A significant sign that Fidel Castro’s return to the microphones has not being going over well is that even his brother refused to echo, in his most recent speech to parliament, the former leader’s gloomy prognostication of a nuclear armageddon that will start when the United States launches a military attack against North Korea or Iran. Many analysts have pointed out that the man who was known as the Maximum Leader is hardly qualified to assess the innumerable problems in his own country, yet he turns his gaze to the mote in another’s eye. This pattern is familiar, with his discussions of the world’s environmental problems, the exhaustion of capitalism as a system and, most recently, predictions of nuclear war. Others see a veiled discontent in his apparent indifference toward events in Cuba. Yet this thinking forgets the maxim: Even if he doesn’t censure, if Caesar does not applaud, things go badly. It is unthinkable that Fidel Castro is unaware of the appetite for change that is devouring the Cuban political class; it would be naive to believe that he approves.

For years, so many lives and livelihoods have hung on the gestures of his hands, the way he raises his eyebrows or the twitch of his ears. Fidel watchers now see him as unpredictable, and many fear that the worst may happen if it occurs to him to rail against the reformers in front of the television cameras.

Perhaps this is why the impatient breed of new wolves do not want to stoke the anger of the old commander, who is about to turn 84. Some who intended to introduce more radical changes are now crouching in their spheres of power, waiting for his next relapse.

Meanwhile, those who are worried about the survival of “the process” are alarmed by the danger his obvious decline poses to the myth of the Cuban revolution personified, for 50 years, in this one man. Why doesn’t he stay quietly at home and let us work, some think, though they dare not even whisper it.

We had already started to remember him as something from the past, which was a noble way to forget him. Many were disposed to forgive his mistakes and failures. They had put him on some gray pedestal of the history of the 20th century, capturing his face at its best moment, along with the illustrious dead. But his sudden reappearance upended those efforts. He has come forward again to shamelessly display his infirmities and announce the end of the world, as if to convince us that life after him would be lacking in purpose.

In recent weeks, he who was once called The One, the Horse or simply He, has been presented to us stripped of his captivating charisma. Although he is once again in the news, it has been confirmed: Fidel Castro, fortunately, will never return.

Originally published in the Washington Post, August 5, 2010.

August 13, 2010

A Caribbean Tunisia / Miriam Celaya

For a few moments, while looking in astonishment at my television screen, I assumed that some paramedics would show up and, straitjacket in hand, definitively remove the decrepit orator from the scene, as happened years ago with Habib Bourguiba in faraway Tunisia. It was Saturday, August 7, and I could not believe that Mr. F, in a public speech broadcast live and addressed to the full Cuban Parliament, unleashed the greatest avalanche of nonsense that has ever been spewed, with complete self-confidence and without a single one of those present daring even to cough. After half a century of an absurd and vivid unreality, I haven’t lost the ability to be amazed. I confess that, much to my regret, I felt badly, a kind of guilt by association simply from watching the magnified ridicule of others. I also imagined the discomfort of the most clearheaded of those spectators (deputies, they say) pretending to take seriously the embarrassing errors flowing from an already too deteriorated brain. But many of them were shameless enough to applaud, ask questions and even flatter the orator. It was the biggest farce I have ever seen. However, despite the exaggerated shows of submissive support (or perhaps because of them), never did F seem to me so lonely and helpless.

Only in the opening minutes did the loquacious octogenarian manage to refer to “the Soviets” (who “are working” to avoid the nuclear conflagration that is coming) and the “Soviet Union” (which currently has serious problems with forest fires), with a present conviction as if twenty long years had not passed since the total collapse of that socialist monstrosity known as the USSR. The blunders of the old man followed one after another with complete impunity. Thus, F included new scientific evidence such as “Evolution began about 4,000 years ago…” or “18,000 years ago there was only fire on Earth…” and even some otherwise sage advice, “We already know that the sun will go out one day…” My anxiety grew as time passed and I started to bite my fingernails, but no paramedics appeared with a rescuing straitjacket. This time, definitely, it was not only F who was the victim of his proverbial arrogance… it was obvious that some elements of the higher-ups had a particular interest in publicly exposing this speaker’s remains.

I couldn’t stand the pain and turned off my TV, convinced that this country is sick. Since then I’ve been overwhelmed by a strange feeling encompassing shame, helplessness and anger. For the first time I excuse (partly) F for what is happening now; he is nothing more than an old man who suffers from the mental incapacity to critically distinguish reality from his own delusions. Perhaps he no longer has the lucidity to pay for his numerous crimes. But that huge hall was packed with other culprits; there was the president of this country and the president of the parliament, there were the more than 300 deputies and guests of the occasion, a whole herd of rip-off artists who continue to thrive in the shadow of the benefits they receive for their symbolic jobs and for their merits as active participants in the collapse of Cuba, while society is increasingly submerged in the worst of its permanent crises. They are also responsible for what happens in the future.

What interests are in motion through this lamentable theater and what perverse strategy is capable of supporting a farce like that orchestrated on Saturday the 7th, even at the risk of provoking greater instability than that in which we already live? Only THEY know, but I suspect that today we have more reasons for alarm than for laughter. If the factions vying for power in Cuba are divided between a deceitful and slow reformer and a deranged druid with messianic manias, we’re in real trouble. In the meantime, this Island has neither helmsman nor leader. How much would I have given that Saturday morning so that we Cubans, who do not have a real parliament, would at least have had some paramedics as timely and efficient as those in Tunisia!

Luis Orlando Photography

August 12, 2010