The Cuban Model Does Not Work / Voices Behind The Bars / Pablo Pacheco

(“Photo taken from blogforcuba.typepad.com”)

The recent declarations made by former Cuban president Fidel Castro to the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg have started an international media commotion. Within the island, however, the repercussions remained virtually unknown to the population because, save for a few exceptions within the power nomenclature and a minimal number of citizens who have the rare opportunity to inform themselves, barely anyone has heard the maximum leader acknowledge, 51 years after his ascent to power, that “the Cuban model does not work, not even for us”.

It is interesting but I don’t understand it. Why such a commotion over a fact that has already been confirmed? The peaceful Cuban opposition has been stating this for a very long time now, and just for saying that same phrase the authorities sent 75 dissidents to prison in March of 2003, many of whom are still imprisoned, and not to mention the long list of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience that have passed through Castro’s prisons during half a century of totalitarianism.

This whole egotistical show put on by the figure who is still the First Secretary of the Communist Party simply means that only he can speak without censorship. From my point of view, I don’t think that the “revolutionary leader” regrets his sins and that he is starting to ask for forgiveness. His love of power and his need to “represent” are now leading him, senile and all, to make many errors, which luckily for us, display his true personality.

Now, the Cuban government has started to try to adopt measures that distance it from its usual and traditional leftist politics. What will happen now with the “Cuban model”? It’s difficult to predict. Cuban civil society needs free space, and perhaps Fidel’s words can serve as a point of reference so people could start demanding their freedoms. The everyday citizens, who are worn out by ideology and tormented with vital problems, need a viable model that would once again grant them a dignified way of life and would allow them to join global society. They are in need of a country where screaming out what their conscience feels into the four winds is not a penal sin. Those who still live off of the State, hanging onto its every word, have just received a warning. In reality, it wouldn’t cost a thing to toss this “utopian” and archaic Cuban model into the trash can, changing it for a new system where we would all have the access to rights.

Pablo Pacheco
(This essay was written by Pablo Pacheco for the newspaper “La Epoca”)

Translated by Raul G.

September 18, 2010

A Certain Bolaño / Luis Felipe Rojas

It often happens to me with good books the same thing that happens with the best dreams: when they come to me, they are here to stay.

Ernesto, a friend of a couple of friends, came from the warm city of Barcelona and brought this gift to my hands. It’s called The Unknown University, it’s the complete poetry of a complete novelist, the Chilean Roberto Bolaño, the one who surprised us all with the novel The Savage Detectives when we were just waiting for the death of a genre that deteriorated during the nineties to the point of stagnating as of late.

What happens with simple poetry is that it becomes a compass to find the right words. Bolaño’s poetry is exactly that: Ariadne’s thread in the middle of his life. The peculiarity of these almost 500 pages lies in the lack of a visible effort on the part of the author to find himself. Bolaño had a predestined route which was prose, as much in his plentiful novels (almost ten) as in his numerous short stories, and at the same time as a silent yet very visible scaffolding was erected for the seekers of novelty in new literature, he let his thoughts and the search for that other identity which is the human language, fall in poetry.

Poetry served Bolaño to cross the bridge between what is public and what is intimate. Even though some of his poems slipped into magazines and anthologies, at the end of his life, afraid it would get lost in the way, he put together, edited and corrected every page of his whole work, sometimes in prose, sometimes in the most pristine verses one could find. Here it is now, at least for us, readers from these parts of the hemisphere where books arrive several years after publication, the complete works of poetry of Roberto Bolaño, compiled in just one volume by Anagrama in 2007 and which today starts its voyage through the hands, the offices, and the benches where the readers of this island sit, to taste that unknown university that may be life or poetry

Translated by: Xavier Noguer

September 22, 2010

Margarita’s Rescue / Rebeca Monzo

She is not beautiful (at least not according to the canon of dogs), but she possesses the 3 key qualities that convinced me to take care of her: she’s female, flirtatious and abandoned. I could not leave her in the street, and she was interrupting my sleep. However, I could not take care of her and her puppy, because I already have a mini zoo in my house. I spoke to many people attempting to persuade them to keep the puppy, but was unsuccessful. Everyone is too worried about the food, and besides, here in my planet there is no culture of keeping pets.

Unfortunately, ever day one can find an abandoned pet. This pains me. It is also worrisome, that with time, these animals will become disease carriers.

They say that we have a Pet Protection Society. The truth is that, like all of our other things, it doesn’t work. Sometimes I see modern cars with the Society’s logo, but when one calls to report an abandoned animal, they simply reply that there is no room for them.

Today, when I went to take her food, I learned that her puppy had died. I brought her to my apartment and before bringing her up we bathed her and removed all the fleas. My husband, having foreseen her arrival, made a little house for her. Margarita and my other dog Lucky (who came to my house under similar circumstances) smelled each other and barked at each other a little but soon enough it passed. Now they are playing together on the roof. Margarita seems sad, but grateful. She shows it in her body language. When we approach her she stands on her hind legs and wags her tail. I believe that soon she will feel at home, because this is the first time she’s had one. She was brought to the neighborhood by construction workers of energy efficient homes for medical personnel (microbrigades) to be a sort of night guard. She was baptized with that name. Once the project was completed they left and abandoned the dog. As of then, the neighbors began to take care of her.

On Monday the vet will come to vaccinate her and remove parasites. In the end, the pet is one more member of the family. Today I will sleep better after Margarita’s rescue.

Translated by: Lita Q.

September 18, 2010

Yesterday’s Homophobia / Regina Coyula

Several friends who follow the blog have asked me why I haven’t commented on Fidel’s statements about the persecution of homosexuals in an interview with the director of the Mexican daily La Jornada. My casual access to the web makes commenting on any current them delayed. But three years ago I followed with great interest the debate set off by the appearance on television of three officials who were responsible for political homophobia in the cultural environment. The “Little Email War,” called that because the controversy was carried out in emails, is considered the official end of the unsigned statement on behalf of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC).

The government took note of how volatile intellectuals can be. But despite this unusual protest, followed with careful attention by the majority of the debaters located in Cuba, angry and concerned by the reappearance of the visible face of repression; but taking care to mention the origin of that policy, as if Pavón, Serguera and Quesada, the Turkish heads of the Five Great years, the black decade or the dark half-century — if you prefer — were the managers of cultural politics, where the parameterization, UMAP, (the concentration camps for homosexuals and other undesirables), and the sharply focused search for “ideological deviations,” were only some of its manifestations.

Those who joined in the debate from abroad, feeling freer, pointed upward, and some even rebuked those here in Cuba for being cowards.

It was a space for catharsis, but many also saw in that Pandora’s box the possibility of a critical revision of the cultural politics of the Cuban Revolution.

Despite the fact that their ears must have been burning, having provoked the animated debate, Pavón, Serguera and Quesada had to remain, vilified, in the shade — whether to prevent an outburst, or through the instinct for self-preservation — where they escaped taking part in the “orientations.”

That was in 2007. Now, in 2010, Fidel’s statements appear. It is not good enough to say that he was very busy with some imminent aggression or with the many plans to attack him. It is an interesting approach to avoiding his historical responsibility. and to confront him with his own words, there are his speeches from March 13 at the closure of the Cultural Congress in Havana in 1968. It would have been better to have offered an apology, and not the cliched, “I didn’t know but as I am the boss, I’m responsible.”

This time there will be no electronic debate. Why? Perhaps some encrypted comment among those excluded back then, those suspected of collaborating with the enemy, today almost all are recipients of the National Culture prizes: some “language of the mute,” or those subliminal signals with which those who fear being monitored communicate.

I will leave you with an anecdote.

In my office there was a bookseller who allowed me to meet Luis Cernuda, Bulgakov and Kundera among others. There I also saw an example of Lezama’s Oppiano Licario. The bookseller, as you can already imagine, had “politically incorrect” works.

In 1988, the poet Delfín Prats from Holguin won the Critics Prize with his poetry collection, To Celebrate the Ascent of Icarus, and José Luis Moreno del Toro, a poet and doctor also from Holguin, who worked with me, on the night of the awards brought Delfín to my house. It was a time of celebration and joy, because the prize came to be a vindication for Delfín, a homosexual and poet from a provincial city. But it was also a trap. In the midst of the toasts, after he had inscribed to me a copy of his newly awarded book, I told him I had a present for him and put into his hands, Language of Mutes, his David Prize poetry collection from 1968. Delfín looked at me, looked at the book, and began to weep. It was the first time he had seen his book in print, because that notebook in a landscape format, never circulated, had been turned into pulp for containing homosexual poems.

September 18, 2010

Saturday Night Fever / Regina Coyula

My friend Elena Madan has an employment contract with the National Ballet of Cuba in Guadalupe, a little island in the Caribbean, where she also teaches classes in water ballet and does administrative work at the office of the telephone company. It is a lot of work, and so Elena takes her vacations seriously, but as she has family in Cuba she ends upcoming often. On Saturday Elena invited my sister, my niece and me to a place called Jazz Café.

The first question was what would I wear. I don’t have any clothes, though later I realized this was an unnecessary worry. But we women usually get worked up on that subject. As it turned out, the place was informal and friendly, FRIGID!, nice waiters, and a varied cuisine. I enjoyed seeing live César López’s Havana Ensemble (the poet, not the other one), I shook my bones with the waka-waka, Charanga habanera y Kool and the Gang. At 54, I knew how I could spend a Saturday night with freely convertible money.

September 22, 2010

Mobile-Activism 2 / Yoani Sánchez


How do I connect a mobile phone to Cuban Twitter?

1. First you must connect to the Internet and and get an account at http://www.twitter.com

2. Keep the user name and password you are given in a secure place.

3. Add to your mobile phone address book a new contact named Twitter with the number 119447624801423.

4. Send four messages to that number. Each message will include a command and it is important that you send them in the order listed below, without spaces in front of or after the words, and without putting accents and “ñ”. If you make a mistake you must start again, from the beginning:

start
username
password
ok

5. Of course, where it says “username” put your Twitter username.

6. The four messages must be sent one after another. Before you begin you must verify that you have enough credit on your phone to send all four message.

7. As soon as you are done, you may send text messages (SMS) of no more than 140 characters to the number 119,447,624,801,423 which is already added to your cell phone address book.

8. Every text message sent to that number, once you have completed the procedure above, will be published on the Internet automatically.

9. Each text message sent to Twitter will cost 1 convertible peso, so prepare your wallet.

Source of text: http://twitpic.com/2pqj3q

September 22, 2010

Practical Instructions for Creating an Enemy / Ernesto Morales Licea

At age nine, a fall from a considerable height would give a resounding twist to his life. It would prevent him from ever walking again. He had to endure endless surgeries, which turned his adolescence into a cruel and painful time.

Despite all this, perhaps the God whom he invokes so frequently rewarded him with a spirituality strong enough to prevent his misfortune from ruining his smile. With barely any effort, now forty, he carries an undeniable distinction: enjoying, in his city, a much greater popularity than someone far from power or glory could be expected to achieve.
His name: Carlos Jesús Reyna. His house, located on one of the busiest arterials of eastern Bayamo, is a required meeting place for the most diverse and colorful characters of this city. His circle of friends and acquaintances range from respected doctors and lawyers, to criminals famous for their chronic misdeeds.
He knows that, after many vicissitudes, to be able to count on his legion of friends is an outright defeat for the system he suffered.

Because this man from Bayamos whose image could not pass unnoticed among the loftiest multitudes, with his long hair and his clothes which loudly declare him a fan of Argentine football, has, for almost two decades, suffered the effects of a political marginalization he never deserved.

BACKGROUND

– What was the origin of your political confrontation in this city?

Look, there’s a history to the fact that marked a before and after in that regard. It was a complaint that I made in 1993 against four police officers for abuse of authority.

Until then, I never had problems with any official body.

However, the nightlife I always had with several friends — we stayed until after midnight in some parks — attracted the arbitrariness of the police who, without any reasons or legal basis, expelled us from public places, supposedly because we were potential criminals.

Why? Because they said that someone who works can’t stay out late in the street. If we were out later than they thought we should be, we were antisocials. All of us were studying or working, but that wasn’t good enough for them. They came to arrest us and other times they fined us.

I denounced this situation, and two of the four that I accused were punished by military tribunals. However, as you will understand, with that I earned myself the eternal hatred of the police of this city. It was really a preamble to what would come some months later.

– The accusation of the crime of “enemy propaganda” …

Exactly. They hung me on the cross of being an antisocial who painted subversive anti-government posters.

– Tell me about that incident in detail.

– That was in the early morning of June 13, 1993.

Four of us friends had just arrived at Cespedes park, I think we had been sitting there some twenty minutes when someone called my attention to the benches, near us, where there were several signs written on the granite benches themselves in green crayon. The signs read “Down with Fidel” and “Down with the dictatorship.”

One of the first who noticed them, out of nervousness I think, started trying to erase them but the crayon wouldn’t come off easily. So we decided to leave, knowing that it could create serious problems for us.

– You went to your homes?

– No. It was Saturday and we went to the party at some other friends, not far from there.

I don’t think we had been there ten minutes when a police operation, with three patrol cars and several cops in uniform stopped the party. They arrested everyone, including those who hadn’t been anywhere near where the signs were painted.

For me, because of my physical condition, they sent for a separate patrol car. They took us to the station and put us in the cells without even asking for an explanation. When we asked them, the only thing they said was, “You know why you are here.”

The next day, Sunday, they took us to another station, highest security, underground, where they investigated all os us and processed us for crimes against State Security.

Because of my condition they locked me in a cell for women, because it was the only one that had a mattress. In the others there were only cement beds. In fact, I had spent the previous night in my wheelchair because where they detained us there were only cement beds and to put me there wold have certainly caused me to have sores.

We were in this other station almost 72 hours. They didn’t give us reasons, we had no lawyers nor laws involved. They kept telling us to confess, that we knew what we had done. They interrogated us about every hour, without letting us sleep or rest. They tested our handwriting; we had to write “Viva Fidel” and “Viva la Revolucion” about 700 or 800 times on pieces of paper.

After the third day they themselves feared for my physical state, because I said I wasn’t going to eat or drink water. By the way, I remember that before that, there was a day I asked for a towel to dry my face, and they gave me, like a joke, a rag for cleaning the floor. Then, because of my strike, they took me home, in a kind of house arrest. The rest had to stay there as prisoners for a week.

In those days no one could visit me, no friend nor family member: only the officials who came to interrogate me almost nonstop.

Until one day they found the real author of those posters who had nothing to do with us and confessed his guilt form the beginning. At that time they decided to release all the detainees and declare us innocent. The same State Security decreed us innocent.

– But what was this “decree”? Was it written?

No, they had meetings in the neighborhoods where each one lived, except in mine, to clarify that they had been processed by mistake and that they were innocent.

– What about you?

I was the only one they didn’t do this “act of reparation” with. They apologized to my parents, and to me, but nothing in public. We thought it was all over, when the truth was the real consequences were yet to come.

THE STREETS BELONG TO THE REVOLUTIONARIES

– What were the consequences afterward of that incident on you?

Then real police war against me started. There was a hostility that affected me in everything having to do with public life.

As a result of my complaint against the four officers, I became known among them, because it is rare here that anyone would dare to charge them, so they seized the excuse to discredit me socially, and to keep me in a state of unbearable social pressure.

They threatened anyone who came near me. If a girl stopped on the street to talk with me, they came up and in front of me asked her for her identification, and they told her she was having a relationship with someone cursed and she could be judged for that.

To give you an idea: I couldn’t go to the movies, nor the nightclubs, under the ridiculous pretext that I could provoke an attack in these public places. They would come and take me out of the movie theater with this pretext. Also they wouldn’t let me enter some places where food is sold…

– Such as?

A hamburger joint this city had at the time.

As it was in the middle of the Special Period, the lines to buy hamburgers were endless and the police were needed to organize them.

One of those days I was in the line and an official called Adis Zamora, who is still a policeman today, took me out of the line and publicly embarrassed me saying that I had no right so even eat a piece of bread produced by this Revolution.

Another day, in the Sierra Maestra Hotel, another official also still active, named Rafael Varela Luna, told me I could never enter this hotel. That the streets and all the places on them belonged to the revolutionaries.

Any time I left my house, without five minutes there would be a policeman controlling where I went and who I talked to. They publicly humiliated me: they told me I was crippled, they offended me.

– And at some point this situation started to change?

It changed because of a letter I sent to the Council of State in 1994, asking for a writ of protection from the President of the Republic because in my city I had no constitutional guarantees. My life had no sense or protection, because any officer could threaten me with total impunity.

I wrote another letter to the Commission for Human Rights in Cuba. I even remember that the preist who officiated at that time in Bayamo, Father Palma, prayed for me publicly, and let the Cathedral know about my case.

I began to take on the connotation of being a leader which I had never wanted. I was simply a citizen who wanted his constitutional rights to be respected.

– And was there a response from the Council of State?

They sent two colonels sent to my house to talk to me. They investigated, they found that my report was true, and took some measures with those principally responsible. They guaranteed me that this police harassment was going to stop right then and there.

But by then I had expressed my complete distancing from the organizations such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), I had decided not to vote in the elections, because I considered myself betrayed and unjustly punished by all the official bodies around me.

I remember that I was no longer afraid of going to jail for expressing my disagreement publicly, because I was being held prisoner on the street just as if I was in prison.

They forced me to confront the system directly. Before they had built this story I was an ordinary citizen and although I had my own ways of seeing what was going on in this country, I didn’t express them publicly.

But when you see that you are attacked and charged with no justice of any kind, and that all the “factors” of society are against you, it becomes impossible to maintain a position far from complaint and confrontation.

BRIEF EPILOGUE

We began our friendship about five years ago. A closeness based on affection, solidarity and mutual interests: music, football. I don’t exaggerate if I say that he is perhaps one of the most original and admirable people I have ever met.

Not only because from his suffering he has built an amazing personality, which appeals to the engineer as much as to the alcoholic, but because he has succeeded, through sheer dignity, in deflating this explosive defamation campaign that had been launched against him.

Most of all, his real merit is shown in that those around him disregard those allegations. Because being true, I must say it: Carlos Jesús Reyna was never able to be the same guy from Bayamo who previously went through the day, in his wheel chair, just like any other regular citizen.

The first time I was investigated myself in the neighborhood where I live, had its origin in my friendship with him. When another friend we have in common was the boyfriend of the girl who is today his wife, they called the mother of the girl to tell her, “Be careful, your daughter is now the girlfriend of someone who goes around with a boy who paints signs against the Government.”

He knows it. We all know it. At this point it is simply material for jokes. Fortunately, as Mahatma Gandhi once said, tyranny and evil never have the last word.

September 20, 2010

Administrative Silence on the Judicial Route / Laritza Diversent

Article 63 of The Constitution of the Republic of 1976, revised in 1992, provides that “Every citizen has the right to address complaints and petitions to the officials, and to receive the appropriate attention or responses within a reasonable time, according to the law.”

Article 63 of The Constitution of the Republic of 1976, revised in 1992, provides that “Every citizen has the right to address complaints and petitions to the officials, and to receive the appropriate attention or responses within a reasonable time, according to the law.”

What happens if the authority remains silent before a protected citizen request in exercise of the right of petition?

The interested party can understand his request to be refused, by administrative silence (negative silence).

Administrative acts resulting from silence may be appealed through both the administrative agency and the courts. They take effect upon the expiration of the deadline for decision and notification (or attempted notification) of the specific ruling, as if it had actually been issued.

The deadlines for filing appeals are to be calculated from the expiration of the deadline for decision and notice.

The Law of Civil Procedure, Administrative and Labor, in effect in Cuba since 1977, recognizes the right of citizens who do not receive a response to bring suit against an administrative official who does not resolve any petition within the legal deadline. Interested parties may consider their applications rejected, and take appropriate action against the refusal.

But the procedure is virtually obsolete on the island, resulting in part from the legal ignorance that Cubans suffer from, and because few lawyers dare to pursue a lawsuit against a government representative.

Note: To proceed on the judicial route it is necessary to exhaust the administrative remedies (appealing all issues at every available level).

September 10, 2010

Legal Representative of the Minister of Justice Appears in Court / Laritza Diversent

This past August 10th, Dr. Diego Fernando Cañizares Abeledo, a specialist in the Legislative and Advisory Directorate of the Ministry of Justice (MINJUS), appeared before the Second Civil and Administrative Chamber of the the Havana Provincial Court, representing Justice Minister Maria Esther Reus González on the administrative claim filed by the attorney Wilfredo Vallín Almeida, based on the silence of the Administration, asserting the right of appeal recognized in the Constitution of the Republic.

In his brief, the Minister’s lawyer described the claim as “nonsensical.” In his opinion, the plaintiff, Mr. Vallín Almeida, chose “a legal wrong way. We do not know for what specific purpose,” he argued. In his view, the President of the Cuban Legal Association should try to gain legal recognition through the Associations Act, without the Ministry of Justice being required to issue anything in writing.

On April 7, 2009, The lawyer Wilfredo Vallín Almeida, president of the Cuban Law Association, a union of dissident lawyers, on behalf of his organization, had asked the Registrar of Associations of MINJUS to certify that there was no Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in the country with the same name and purpose as the association of attorneys.

The state agency never issued the certificate, a document which is essential to continue the legal procedures for setting up the union. In March 2010, the group reiterated its request and received no response. The lawyers, on administrative appeal to the Minister, Reus González, lodged a complaint for breach of the required legal formalities, which was also ignored.

The Law of Civil, Administrative, and Labor Procedure (LPCAL) provides that if the administrative authority at any level of the hierarchy does not resolve an appeal by the legal deadline, or after the expiration of 45 calendar days, then the application shall be considered rejected, with the effect of establishing that implied rejection for the subsequent appeal.

Cañizares Abeledo, appointed by Ministerial Resolution No. 215 on August 6, 2010, alleged that it was impossible to deliver to the court the applicant’s government record, and the administrative decision of the head of Justice relating to the matter raised by the plaintiff, Mr. Vallin Almeida, claiming that the agency had no documents regarding the matter.

Translated by: Tomás A.

September 9. 2010

Stories of My Neighbors (I) / Ángel Santiesteban

Photo: Alejandro Ascuy

ALL NIGHT I LISTENED to my neighbor’s wife weeping. At intervals she claimed to be tired. Very tired, she insisted. Most of the time her husband wouldn’t respond, but when he did, he agreed: me too. Then she would moan, in a choking way that called to mind the crying of childhood. My anguish grew and dreams escaped me. I got used to it. The lament came to seem like inevitable music.

In the morning the sound of hammers makes me look out the window. My neighbor, the husband, with his two teenage sons, is making a raft from several empty tanks. I looked on the roof and they no longer have anything to store water. The wife spends the whole day shut in the house. She doesn’t open the windows, clearly so as not to watch the preparations for the family’s escape.

By the afternoon they already had the vessel ready. A refrigerated truck came to collect the raft. The three men went into the house to say goodbye, one by one. They came out even more sad, as if it were possible to increase the burden of so much anguish.

Before closing the refrigerator door they looked back at the house, perhaps hoping to see her one last time. But she didn’t look out. They gave the money to the truck driver, who then counted it and they took off. When the neighbors saw the dogs running behind the truck they couldn’t understand their desperation.

Long days passed and she remained shut up inside her house. From time to time worried neighbors called on some pretext, but she didn’t answer.

A sister who came from the countryside broke down the door. The doctors assured them that her family still hadn’t put the raft in the water and that she had been poisoned.

September 20, 2010

Doctrine, Cradle and Bread / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photos/Luis Felipe Rojas

A few days before the start of the new school year I was browsing my son Malcom’s school books and it seems to me he is going to have a heavy weight to struggle through. My wife and I bought colored jackets and cut our pieces of nylon to cover them, and pasted some little figures on them so they would look better. But what worries me is not the outsides, but rather the venomous burden he will receive in the next ten months.

His second grade reading book is infected with cartoons with militias, photos of Camilo Cienfuegos and Che Guevara, an Abel Santamaría, the Moncada barracks, a high contrast black splotch that must be Fidel Castro jumping off a tank at the Bay of Pigs… and a thousand more slogans.

In the ruckus of the mornings to come his teacher will inject him, as if fulfilling a sacred duty, what she herself was injected with over nearly half a century of existence: hatred of the enemy, love of the leader, attachment to an ideology that at his age he can’t evaluate as optional.

In the middle of the new school year, the textbook — “which, as a sign of revolutionary benevolence, they have not made us pay for” — we see the lessons for April (a month that reminds me of the flowers the poets talk about), in which my son will have to forcibly repeat that yes, he wants to be like Che Guevara, while he salutes with his open hand to his forehead. Also, in October he will have to complete the Camilo-Che Lesson, where they always talk more about the latter.

It is a trap against the innocence of his nearly seven years. Banners with images of “The Five,” spies imprisoned in the United States, the television jingles that are not commercial but ideological, in short, a fence that it will be very difficult to escape from without a scratch. It will be up to us at home to speak of spring and winter, the pollen of the flowers and the stars of the night. Similarly we will have to bring him down to earth to teach him to plant the trees that will give shade, flowers and fruits tomorrow, and to try by any means to teach him to be a good man. It will be a long and thorny road.

September 19, 2010

Layoffs and Privitization / Claudia Cadelo

Working for the state is an ordeal: the wages are not nearly enough, productivity is zero, accountability is chaotic and worst of all you have to put up with the torpid meetings of a union which represents anyone but the worker. There are, however, those who have accepted all these conditions stoically and have endured years and years of state control in their jobs. It is not masochism that ties them to the apron strings of the state bureaucracy, but rather the little faith that a private investment will see them into their old age.

This isn’t the first time the government has decided — with a rope around its neck — to allow citizen initiative to sustain the national economy. We already saw, in the nineties, the emergence of private restaurants — los paladares — B&Bs, taxis, and little jobs in food service and household help. Today there is little left of that explosion of the self-employed. That is the problem: for how long will they let you keep your business?

To launch a restaurant, rent a room, or sell pizzas is not a short-term investment. People want to see the fruits of their efforts but the likelihood that the bureaucracy will, one day, knock on your door to take away all your permits has cycled through the history of the Revolution. I have a friend who had been operating a fairly popular restaurant for two years, when one afternoon an inspector came and took her papers to “verify them.” She is still waiting for them to be returned and in the meantime she cannot open the doors of her restaurant. She has received no explanation. She committed no crime.

September 20, 2010

The Claria, From the Rivers to the Sewers / Yoani Sánchez

Excerpt from documentary by Fabian Archondo and the
Foundation for New Latin American Cinema.

My son is at that age where he could eat the columns of the house if we didn’t keep an eye on him. He opens and closes the refrigerator door, as if he believes that this appliance could produce — just for him — food. His appetite is so insatiable and so difficult to satisfy, in the midst of shortages and high prices, that we’ve nicknamed Teo after that voracious fish, “La Claria.” His ravenousness reminds us of this species which some bright person brought to our country to promote fish farming, and which is now a pest in our rivers and lakes. Of course this is just a family joke, because even our fretful adolescent is incapable of wolfing down the things that enter the mouth of this walking fish.

Blue-gray, with a pronounced mustache and the ability to survive up to three days out of water, this African Catfish has already become a part of our country, both rural and urban. One of the few animals that can survive in the polluted Almendares river, it has managed to displace other, tastier, specimens in the fishmongers’ freezers. Not even its ability to adapt, nor its ugliness, however, have aroused as much alarm as its extreme predatory nature. Clarias eat everything from rodents and chickens, to puppies and every kind of fish, frog or bird.

As a solution to the food problems of the so-called Special Period, after the collapse of the Soviet block, our authorities imported this foreign species and so precipitated colossal damage to the ecosystem. Similar irresponsibility had already occurred with the introduction of tilapia and tench fish, but the results were incalculably more dramatic with this dark and elusive creature which today reigns in our waters. Whether nestling in the mud, emerging from a manhole in the middle of the city, or crawling along the side of the road, its spread demonstrates the fragility of nature when faced with ministerial directives. I have no doubt that this fish will be with us for a long time to come, long after those who introduced it into the country are only a memory, as fleeting as crumb in the mouth of a claria.

September 20, 2010

Cuban Teachers Desert An Increasingly Despised Profession / Yoani Sánchez

Exclusive to the Huffington Post

For a long time when I heard the word teacher, it brought to mind the word respect; it was one of those unconscious associations from which the psychoanalysts draw surprising conclusions. I associated the noun that indicated this profession with the names and faces of all those who taught me from elementary school through the university, men and women endowed with patience and wisdom.

Now in Cuba, the word teacher calls forth other associations. I read in the newspaper Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party, that an official from the Ministry of Education said, “As parents we want the best teachers for our children, but we don’t like the idea of their deciding to be teachers themselves.” The fact is that the shortage of teachers has become a real crisis at almost all levels of education, due to the growing desertion of those who hold these positions and the reduction of those who enroll in schools of education. The problem has become so bad that the State has now created a class of what is called “emerging teachers,” who train to be the teachers of other children starting in the 11th grade, at age 16.

There are many causes that have led to this crisis and so far the solutions applied have only served to exacerbate the loss of prestige of this noble profession. The secret is that almost no one in Cuba lives on the salary they earn, but must rely on what they can find to steal, what we call “the diversion of resources,” from their workplace, be it time, materials or equipment. Teacher have no chance to earn some extra money this way and their salaries do not differ from others who do.

Now, when I hear the word teacher, what I feel is pity for those who are educators, for their students, and for the future of our country.