Of Princes and Beggers 1 / Rafael León Rodríguez

From http://www.todocoleccion.net/

My neighbor is a retired woman of the ’third age.’ Her last fixed job was at a tourist hotel on the beach. Now, despite the infirmities of old age, diabetes, and the orthopedic disorders she suffers from, she collects discarded aluminum cans on the beach try to balance her basic expenses with her income. Empty cans of soft drinks, canned beer and malts, abandoned and thrown everywhere, are the object of her search and collection for which she uses a small two-wheeled contraption and a sack of plastic fibers; she bends over, picks up the container, then places it in her sack and walks on, this is the routine of her new job.

The Raw Material Recovery Business pays eight Cuban pesos for every kilogram of aluminum, which is 72 empty cans. So to collect 24 Cuban pesos, one dollar or Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) — which is the same — she needs 216 cans, which is a very serious task for someone approaching old age. Ah! But not only that, she’s required to crush the cans in order to sell them to the raw materials place, so my neighbor, which is a stone that she has to take between both hands for lack of a better took, crushes them one by one on the balcony of her house. But what is surprising is that she is happy in her new deal, because it allows her to survive.

To work most of your useful life, providing goods and services, contributing to retirement funds, and then have these payments be symbolic, is widespread in our everyday labor market. You only hear or read about it in the media when they are talking about other countries, with regards to our own they remain silent, becoming silent accomplices, and as payment, they are the potential victims in the future. When we see old people in our environment searching the garbage cans, looking for something; when we see them selling trinkets or grocery bags in the corners, we should have the courage, all of us, to speak out and to demand attention to this injustice.

13 June 2013

Galiano Street / Rafael León Rodríguez

From: http://cubalpairo.blogspot.com/

It extends straight between Reina Street and the Havana Malecon. I remember it from my childhood with its large and polished doorways, with its beautiful display windows of clothing stores, jewelry stores, toy shops and establishments of all kinds. There were several important intersections with other streets also engaged in trade and services in the center of the city with Zanja, San José, San Rafael, Neptuno, Virtudes and San Lázaro. La Plaza del Vapor, an ancient two-story building and a block area completely dedicated to retail stores selling hats, fabrics and textiles, signaled the beginning of Galiano as a commercial artery.

After being demolished at the beginning of the Revolution, with the pretext that they were going to build a residential building, the land was turned into a park. The most famous department store in Cuba, El Encanto, occupied one of the four corners of San Rafael, which it shared with the Flogar Store, La Moda furrier and the Ten Cent store.

After a fire caused by an act of sabotage, in the month of April 1961, the land occupied by El Encanto became another park. Two hotels are located in this major thoroughfare in the capital: the Lincoln and the Deauville.

Even a Catholic church shares space along Galiano between Animas and Virtudes: the Monserrate. The America apartment building with two movie theaters, and the Fin de Siglo and Epoca stores; glassware, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, banks, in short, one of the most important shopping streets of the city of Havana.

In Havana nights it was a pleasant to walk along Galiano, looking at the storefronts or windows, as they say here, under flashes of neon signs. At Christmas, the change of seasons, or just for entertainment, strolling through along Avenida de Italia, Galiano, was a party.

After half a century of Real Socialism everything changed. The lights and glare of Galiano are gone; apathy and chaos are enthroned on their sites as in the majority of the urban landscape of the capital. Now they are finalizing a capital restoration plan for this artery of the city. Paved roads, new lighting, projects to restore the water, sewer and gas; rejuvenated facades, and resuscitation of existing commerce.

But the main thing is still missing, the soul, which gives interest and real value to the property, movable and immovable: the owners. Those who are interested in maintaining, developing and advancing their businesses. They are the very essence of the market, and so, without any capitalist merchants there is no real interest in commerce.

Time will pass and, if small and medium private enterprises are not created, truly independent of the state, the Galiano recovery project will swell the list of failed experiments. It will not be alone there, after a few decades of doing the same scale of work on other commercial streets in Havana, such as Belascoaín and Monte, and, within a few years, everything was gone again. These experiences show that real changes that are necessary, not cosmetic ones, or we will continue on the dry wheel of absurdity.

14 May 2013

Cuba 360 / Rafael Rodriguez

Civic political project “Cuba 360”

For years we have we have been getting on with the opposition movement and we have never left off giving our support, however modest, to the cause of the democratisation of Cuba. It is a constant focus maintained by all those who are involved in the destiny of our country, in spite of the multiple difficulties we have to deal with in developing our work.

It is evident to us how slow it is for our work to actually germinate as a result of the continuous boycotting by the political police, but even so we never stop fertilising and watering our seed for the good of the nation. this time we are drawing up a programme with a multidimensional architecture with the aim of achieving the intercommunication and respectful debate between Cubans and the sustained and total articulation with the civil society in general by way of the executive project “Seedbed”.

With this project we try to outline to people what is our constructive and legitimate message – like all democratic opposition tries to do – to demonstrate to them the different alternatives of hope and reconciliation which exist in and for Cuba.

One option for Cuban society is  simulation, indolence, emigration and irresponsible obedience and, as we indicate in the project, another is the ambitious objective of “transforming each subject into one who acts out his own personal and national destiny.”

Here I leave you with the link to read the promotional brochure of “Cuba 360.”

Translated by GH

1 May 2013

Satellites / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

Image from: http://alt1040.com/

Last week Ecuador placed into orbit its first satellite, named Pegasus, from the Jiuquan launch center in China. Both the design and construction of the nanosatellite were undertaken by Ecuadorian Civilian Space Agency. With a weight of 1.2 kilograms and a dimension of ten cubic centimeters,  the device will transmit images and videos in real time from outer space for educational and scientific purposes.

This step adds Ecuador to Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela and Chile to the Latin American countries that, since the late twentieth century, began getting involved in orbiting satellite technology and launching various numbers of units per country.

Cuba, which pioneered in outer space with the flight of cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo in September 1980, the first Latin American to orbit our planet, so far as we know has no satellites in operation. Spatial collaboration plans between the Soviet Union and the Caribbean island collapsed with the Berlin Wall, proof that they were more political than scientific. Now the Russians travel to Cuba as tourists, to do business and collect debts. Unfinished tasks of Cubans including recovering our freedoms and lost time and, why not, hoping to some day, to proudly put our own national satellite into orbit.

30 April 2013

The Nature of Socialism / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

The “handpicked” successor of the late comandante Hugo Chavez was elected and is not the new president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro. Starting off, his first statements addresses the aim of radicalizing the revolutionary process. On the one hand he showed his fist and on the other he spoke of peace. All that was missing were the doves.

Later we will surely hear about the imperialist enemy, the assassination attempts, the bourgeois press, the economic sabotage, the counterrevolution, etc. etc. etc.

Any resemblance to the tactics of the Cuban Revolution to install “the dictatorship of the proletariat” is not a coincidence. But these are other times. A great share of the Venezuelan people know where they’re trying to take them and made their rejection clear in the recent elections. One can assume that half the population, or perhaps more, voted for liberal democracy. It is going to be very difficult for Maduro and his team to overcome the popular Venezuelan antipathy for totalitarianism.

In Cuba, at the beginning of the process, events were handled very discreetly, until control of the military, politics and the media was total. Then, then the convenient enemy was used even directed. The rest is history.

The point is that between the seven years of the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista from Banes, and the 54 years of that of his neighbors from Biran, we have now had 61 years of oppression, poverty and despair.

Attempts to revive the economy through the so-called Guidelines, don’t appear to be having the promised results, in the face of the generalized corruption and the apathy of the majority of the people.

In many cases, it’s a return to the stages of the early years of the Revolution; but now without the material resources available at the time of the triumph, which were the result of a productive and prosperous capitalist system of production.

It’s like returning to the starting point, where on arrive we realize we have lost time. So it is with the new travel/immigration law. People have gone abroad and returned who, under the previous regulations, would have been forbidden to travel. And what happened? Nothing. The country is the same.

Years of restrictions, violating people’s rights on a whim, a caprice, or because it is the nature of the system called “real socialism.” And the inertia of that nature is so strong, that they still deny the rights of some citizens to travel.

Among these are many living abroad whom they group into different political categories. It’s so obvious that those people who have a judicial debt to the authorities are not going to travel here to face them, that it is absurd to maintain the requirement for a permit to enter the country for Cubans living abroad.

But it is also absurd to deny Internet access to citizens on the Island. As is discriminating against them for thinking differently. Or for the color of their skin. Or for their sexual differences.

There is the key: As long as they don’t respect differences, all of them, we will not begin to advance in a promising direction toward the future.

23 April 2013

Venezuela II / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

Nicolas Maduro, photo from http://www.m-x.com.mx/

The Venezuelan opposition, led by Henrique Capriles, surprised us on Sunday April 14, and according to figures from CNE, the National Electoral Council, almost defeated the Chavista candidate Nicolas Maduro. The margin of the declared winner of the elections was narrow: 50.75% for the government candidate and 49.07% for the opposition. As the government authorities apparently expected, Capriles did not accept the results declared by the CNE and called his followers to express their disagreement with the banging of pots and pans and street demonstrations. On Monday the situation remained complicated and Telesur reported moderate disturbances in several states.

If, despite the emotional toll of the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, the official government candidate got this poor of a result, you can almost predict an uncertain political future in the short term for the Venezuelan nation.

Nor did the material promises of every kind, which ranged from wage increases to plans to construct housing, Nicolas Maduro managed to motivate the citizens of Venezuela to support him. And 14 years of Chavism, with forecasts of a new socialism, a 21st Century socialism — which no one actually knows what it is — has been more than enough for the Venezuelan people.

The Real Cuba is very close, and surely, even those Cubans who have been there on “foreign missions” have told them. The fear of losing freedom first, and everything else later, have been the main protagonists of these national election campaign results. Neither leaders nor oligarchies, nor dictatorships, seem to have a future in our America.

16 April 2013

Elections in Venezuela / Rafael León Rodríguez

Capriles, the opposition candidate in Venezeula

If any country in our region has stood out in recent times for its election practices, the country is Venezuela. The Venezuelan people are now engaged in another election process to decide the their political direction that, supposedly, the majority determine.

The campaigns of the two main adversaries are seasoned more by diatribe and disqualification of the other, than by promotion or critical discussion of the sustainability and viability of their programs.

Capriles, the candidate of the opposition, points out in his speeches the inability of Chavismo without Chavez to resolve the problems that the winner will have to have. The grave challenges of citizen insecurity, the galloping economic crisis, and the the interference by the Cuban government in Venezuelan matters, are his principal arguments. continue reading

For his part, president Maduro has publicly imitated even to the song of a bird, assuring his listeners that Chavez’s spirit is close to him. The nagging accusations of the aggressions of the right: attempted assassination, coup d’etat, oil strike, a  referendum of revocation, etc., which marked Chavez’s time as Venezuelan president, form the base of the Maduro’s discourse about his electoral platform.

With regards to the mass rallies with the Chavista governors participating, populism overflows, approving emerging site plans, infrastructure projects, social benefits, housing construction, etc., like at a Christmas Fair. And he is always accompanied by three icons: God, the Bolivarian Constitution of the Republic, and Chavez’s family.

It is true that our Latin roots favor the family as the one uniting and central base of society. When it comes to scenarios of power, these concepts are revealed in public. Historic examples abound in our own backyard. Now Venezuela reaffirms this practice, legitimated by the legacy of the late president. The vice presidency, several governorships and other important government positions are held by the Chavez family. On the election of Maduro will enable the continuation of this state of affairs. Hence the unity of populist politicians of the left, with the heritage of Chavez.

In the upcoming April 14 elections to be held in Venezuela, Cuba without a doubt is betting on a win-win. Of course, the candidate of continuity, Maduro, accuses the opposition of trying to withdraw from the electoral process to sabotage the elections. Of preparing a charge of fraud to election authorities so as to not to recognize the results of the vote count.

In recent days they have declared they discovered a plot to assassinate the Chavista candidate. Maduro is likely to win this election, thanks to the emotional burden that the tragic events of the death of Chavez give to the present time; and as for the next, if they are still in power, the people here and over there, certainly they will put into practice, thanks to the cooperation of Cuba, and for the misery of Venezuelans, the method used in Cuba at the beginning of the Revolution called dictators here: Elections… what for?

9 April 2013

The Resignation / Rafael León Rodríguez

From “es.paperblog.com”

This past February 2013 the world was universally surprised by the resignation of His Holiness Benedict XVI from the papacy, an event that hasn’t happened for six centuries. Joseph Ratzinger, the successor of John Paul II in 2005, will retire in Castell Gandolfo with the aim not interfering while the process of a conclave to elect the new successor of Peter goes forward..

February, februarius in Latin, was regarded in ancient times by the Romans as the month of purification and also of the dead. In Cuba could be considered the month of resuscitation. And, along with the visit of Russian President Medvedev the last week of that month, the issue of debt to the former Soviet Union returns. It seems that an agreement was finally reached between the two governments: Cuba will pay a part of this and Russia will write off the rest. The figures discussed are thirty billion dollars owed by the island. Something like what people say is the famous Cuban debt to Paris Club: $ 30.471 million. And one wonders, well, what where has all that money gone, where are the economic results of these loans? Will we Cubans know someday how this national economic disaster was funded?

It must be because of this, among many other questions, that the news of the public ratification, during the meeting of the new National Assembly and the new Council of State, of General President Raul Castro’s agreeing to reside over the dictatorial regime for only five more years. As if half a century was too little time, to prepare a transfer.

The outgoing vice-president relinquished his post; the Minister of the Interior seconded it. Thus the permanents succession within the spheres of power is ensured and set a precedent. Nothing but resignations and… resignations.

5 March 2013

Korea vs. Korea / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

Image from Wikipedia Kiwix (offline)

Historical documentation depends on both the perspective and the interests of the writer, and the interpretative convenience of the reader. The last war on the Korean peninsula is no exception to this thesis. From the left they say: The Yankee imperialists invaded the north to take the entire peninsula and pressure the People’s Republic of China.

From the right the story is that: The Chinese Communist army, after its victory over the Kuomintang, invaded the south, to control the entire territory.

The fact is that as a result of the Second World War, first, and the Cold War, later, the Korean Peninsula remains divided into two antagonistic states, one south of the 38th parallel and the other north.

South Korea, after the 1953 armistice that ended the fighting but not the war, became the thirteenth largest economy in the world, a world leader in the shipbuilding industry, production of electronics and telephones, the country with the third highest number of broadband internet users per capita, in short: the fourth largest economy in Asia.

North Korea, meanwhile, created the fourth largest army in the world: 45 soldiers per 1,000 inhabitants and armed itself with nuclear weapons. The south is now a democratic country. The north an oppressive family dynasty now headed by the government of the grandson of Kim Il Sung, founder of the North Korean state.

The continuing tensions between the two Koreas; between the north and neighboring Japan; between Korea and the United Nations on nuclear proliferation; have marked the last 60 years since the signing of the armistice. Lately it seems that the new dictator is proving to his people their willingness and ability for conflict and and has put the world in a dangerous situation of nuclear war.

This is not the first time this has happened; the first fruits of that nonsense that corresponded to the Cuban dictatorship during the so-called Caribbean Crisis, in October 1962. Let us trust, once again, that the objectivity and prudence of governments of the countries involved, meeting at the United Nations, will manage to deter this new bellicose challenge that nobody in their right mind wants.

2 April 2013

The 3rd World Baseball Classic / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

From http://deportes.terra.com.mx

The Dominican Republic team will lead off this Tuesday, March 19, in the Baseball World Championship against Puerto Rico, as the favorite to win. The AT&T Park in San Francisco, California, will host the game. This time the champion will be a Caribbean country.

Cuba failed to advance to semifinals. Despite being first class, the Cuban team was tense, visibly playing under pressure and sometimes misguided. Contributing to this was a technical direction that, instead of calming the players, increased the tension, using expressive forms altered during the conduct of the games.

To this we must add the political charge, with all this implies in the milieu where our athletes perform. To participate in an event of this category is, for Cuban athletes, like marching into battle, a military confrontation. They are the torch-bearers in the Plaza of the Revolution, before the Jose Marti monument. Judges individually and as a team they struggle to fight for the victory and to perform at the level this implies.  Which means, also, they will return to the fatherland, with the shield or without the shield; only that is missing.

To our players we must recognize them, first, as victims of discrimination victims that prevents their playing in professional leagues, as players from all the other countries of the area are able to do, regardless of ideologies of their governments.

The lack of suitable terrain in our backyard to develop their athletic skills and many other unresolved material needs. But, the most significant thing to begin to reverse this situation is; Separating sports and politics, let each of them play in their separate arenas. Then we can aspire to be champions again.

21 March 2013

Hugo Chavez / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

Photo from “twitter.com”

Since Friday, March 15, the body of the elected president of Venezuela, Rafael Chávez Frías, has rested at the Montaña Barracks in the city of Caracas. His state funeral lasted for ten days during which time his followers, admirers and representatives from all over the planet came to pay their respects and show their solidarity.

The ones not at rest are his successors, who seem concerned about the possible outcome from upcoming presidential elections in April. Without Chávez it is unlikely that chavismo can survive. For the designated candidate, Nicolás Maduro, to win, he will have to overcome the challenge of governing a country plagued by violence and social insecurity, and threatened by a serious economic crisis.

For us Cubans the path the next Venezuelan government takes will undoubtedly have an effect on the period of political transition lying dormant in the heart of the nation. Cuba must not continue to be the anti-democratic exception among the peoples of the Americas. Being named to the presidency of CELAC* should have motivated Cuban authorities to adopt pluralism and to recognize political alternatives in Cuba. We trust that the current rulers of the island have at least taken note of the electoral practices of the late Hugo Chávez. May he rest in peace.

*Translator’s note: Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States).

21 March 2013

Latin America / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

Image from http://www.tumblr.com

Latin America remains in the news these days. A bishop from Argentina was elected pontiff. The new pope took the name Francis. For the first time in history a Latin American will be St. Peter’s successor at the Vatican.

In Cuba the authorities officially recognized March 29 of this year as Good Friday. The text of Resolution no. 12/2013 from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security stipulates how administrators are to compensate workers who take the day off.

What is interesting about this bit of news is that the official press neither explains nor offers any details as to why the highest branches of government and the state decided to declare this day a holiday. The inertia of state-run journalism is an expression of fear, looking the other way when it suits them. Or could it be a display of due obedience?

21 March 2013