Patients with HIV concerned about the new healthcare cuts / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

Campaign for the prevention of HIV / AIDS in Cuba
Campaign for the prevention of HIV / AIDS in Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, YOSMANY MAYETA LABRADA, Santiago de Cuba, 3 February 2015 — Concern has spread in recent weeks among patients with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in the province of Santiago de Cuba. According to a new “guidance” from the Ministry of Public Health, care of HIV-positive people will no longer occur in a specialized clinic, but rather will be handled at the regular family clinics in their neighborhoods.

The measure has been greeted with alarm by those who say it will result in a decreased quality of medical care, and who fear the loss of privacy over their status. In an environment where prejudices and fears still prevail continue reading

against people living with HIV, medical attention in the area where they live could cause neighbors and family members to reject them.

Several physicians who work in the family medical clinics, moreover, acknowledged in the meetings held to implement the new policy that they are not prepared to treat people with HIV. Until now, the monitoring and care of these patients has been in centralized clinics, handled by a medical doctor and a nurse specializing in the treatment of this virus.

However, the constant loss of medical personnel who leave to go on international missions, along with the apparent decrease in resources available for healthcare, have made it impossible to maintain the specialized clinics. A setback to which is added the recent cuts in the supplemental food received by seropositive people.

The constant loss of medical personnel who leave to go on international missions has made it impossible to maintain the specialized clinics

Prior to this guidance, many patients were already complaining about violations of the code of ethics on the part of the physicians and public health personnel, who revealed their disease to other people. Now, fears about possible indiscretions are growing. Given the more local and neighborhood character of the clinics, the problem could worsen in the coming months.

Otto Reyes is one of the many HIV patients who claims to have been a victim of an indiscretion on the part of a nurse who treated him, who revealed his HIV status to a near neighbor. An experience similar to that of Damaris Rivaflecha and Dulca Maria Benitez, who were extremely disgusted by how information about their illness was publicly aired; as a result of such carelessness they decided not to return to the clinic.

The situation is more dramatic among very young patients. A young man, 18, who prefers anonymity, said that he fears that people in his area will learn about his illness when he has to start being treated at the nearest family clinic. For him, “It will be like starting from zero,” and he says he will feel like “they gave me the diagnosis all over again, people will look down on me and what I’m most afraid of is rejection.”

Lester Acosta, who also lives with the disease, told this newspaper he had suffered discrimination for being HIV positive, including within his own family. He, who has experienced it firsthand, wonders what will happen now with the end of the specialized clinics. “What will become of those who don’t want their condition to be publicly known?” he laments.

Fewer arbitrary detentions but the “totalitarian model” continues (CCDHRN) / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 February 2015 – The number of arbitrary arrests for political reasons in Cuba declined during the month of January to 178, according to the latest report of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) released Monday. Despite one of the lowest figures in recent years, the organization “looks to the immediate future with extreme skepticism as long as the regime continues to impose a totalitarian model on pour people which is the primary cause of the poverty and hopelessness that plague the vast majority of Cubans.”

The report notes that, “despite possible changes in the geopolitical scenario, the situation of civil and political rights and other fundamental rights in Cuba remains the worst in the entire Western Hemisphere.”

During the first month of the year, the Commission also recorded 48 cases of physical assaults and 36 victims of various forms of harassment by the secret political police and paramilitary agents.
The organization describes as positive the releases of political prisoners in the framework of agreements between the governments of Raúl Castro and Barack Obama, but recalled that “dozens of political prisoners and thousands of innocent Cubans continue to languish in Castro’s prisons under generally inhumane and degrading conditions.”

Havana postpones visits by US congressional delegation / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 February 2015 (With information from agencies) — The Cuban government has canceled the visit of the US members of Congress that were scheduled for this month in connection with the resumption of bilateral relations, as reported Thursday the Associated Press. US sources consulted by AP say that the travel plans of several congressional delegations are postponed until at least mid-April.

Among the lawmakers who were planning to travel to Cuba, are Democratic Senator Nancy Pelosi and Republican Senator Jeff Flake, a promoter of removing the ban on US travel to Cuba.

“Right now are not ready for our visit,” said Republican Senator Jerry Moran. “We do not know the reason. The Cubans have informed my staff that they can’t coordinate the meetings they want us to participate in. It could be a matter of reprogramming, but I don’t know.”

AP notes that Havana’s decision has raised questions about the willingness of Raul Castro’s government to receive investments from the US.
The trip cancellation occurs in parallel with a series of hearings in the US Congress on the rapprochement between the two countries following the announcement by President Barack Obama last December of an end to five decades of estrangement.

“In Cuba we have learned our duties very well, but not our rights” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Tania Bruguera

Tania Bruguera (14ymedio)
Tania Bruguera (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 February 2015 – This coming February 22 Tania Bruguera should be in Madrid to present one of her works at the ARCO International Contemporary Art Fair, but she knows she isn’t going to make it. Trapped by Cuban justice since last December 30, when she was arrested during her performance #YoTambienExijo (I Too Demand), the artist remains in Havana hoping to resolve her legal situation. We talked with her about this, her artivism, and the future of Cuba.

Sanchéz. What is your current legal and immigration situation?

Bruguera. I am waiting for a prosecutor to reduce the charges against me. I have been advised by several attorneys, such as Laritza Diversent from Cubalex, and also René Gómez Manzano, from Corriente Agramontista [both independent legal groups]. They have told me that in this case there are at least three possible outcomes: one is the dismissal of the case, which could be temporary or permanent. Another is that they could impose an administrative measure, which carries a fine. The detail with this option is that I would have to recognize my guilt and accept the charges and accusations they’ve made against me, and I don’t think this variation is just. The third possibility is that it will be taken to trial continue reading

, although that seems unlikely to me.

Sanchéz. You are trapped in the intricate mechanisms of Cuban justice…

Bruguera. Throughout this process, I’ve come to realize that there is a very strong vulnerability for citizens who find themselves in similar situations. For example, it has been very difficult for me to find a lawyer who wants to take on my defense. They only allow attorneys “in the system” to represent a defendant, so the independent lawyers can advise me but they can’t represent me.

The few who have agreed to represent me have warned me, as of now, that the solution is to accept everything because the situation is over and to try not to go to trial, because the day that we get in front of a court, the sentence will have been decided before the first word is said. We will have lost before we start the defense.

Sanchéz. Among the worst nightmares of many Cuban emigrants is that of visiting the island and then their not letting you leave. Do you experience this?

“Only lawyers “in the system” can represent me, so the independent lawyers can advise me but they can’t represent me”

Bruguera. For me it’s the opposite. My nightmare is that they let me leave but they don’t let me return. Indeed, if tomorrow they return my passport, which they confiscated, I will not go. I need to be completely sure that there will be no bitter surprises like not being able to return.

Beyond that, what I have experienced in the last weeks has changed my life. I will never stop being an artist, but maybe now I have to be here. They have to understand that they cannot throw out of the country everyone who bothers them.

Sanchéz. Can you say Tatlin’s Whisper # 6, both in its first version in Cuba in 2009 as well as in this attempt now, is it a work that has marked your life?

Tatlin’s Whisper #6. With English subtitles. Tania Bruguera’s performance art which took place at the Wilfredo Lam Center in Havana at the 2009 Bienniel.

Bruguera. The performance of December 30 had its antecedent in Tatlin’s Whisper #6 realized in 2009 at the Wilfredo Lam Center, which also profoundly marked my professional life. I didn’t know at first, because it wasn’t public, but I was banned from exhibiting in Cuba.

I began to realize it because no one called me to explain here, which I assume was because they were trying to protect… something natural in the system. However, the same people who censored me at the time a posteriori, and who are censoring me now, want to use the realization of that performance as an example of tolerance… and it wasn’t.

Sanchéz. Why do you think that at that time it was possible to open the microphones to the public?

Bruguera. What happened at that opportunity at the Wilfredo Lam Center was because of the particular conditions that came together. It was during the Havana Biennial, a space which in itself is more tolerant, there were a lot of press and foreigners present, I was the guest of Guillermo Gómez Peña, the special guest of the Biennial, plus it was within an art space with an audience the majority of whom are intellectuals. Afterwards, there indeed was a punishment.

I propose projects to Cuban cultural institutions and they always tell me no. Something very unfortunate happened, which was a trip I made with my students from the French École des Beaux-Arts during which we wanted to visit the Superior Art Institute (ISA).

Then from ISA they sent a pretty clear and direct letter to the director of the school in Paris saying they couldn’t accept this visit if I would be leading the group and they should send another professor, because I was a person with whom they had no professional relationship, ignoring of course that I graduated from this school and was a professor there for a few years.

On this same trip, when I got to the airport, I was met by a representative from the National Arts Council and a person dressed in civilian clothes who never identified himself. Both let me know that I wouldn’t be able to do anything with the institutions and tried to tell me that there were problems with my passport, with the permit, trying to block my entry to the country, but I was able to prove it was all in good standing under the new travel and immigration law.

“If some foreigner asked about me, I was a valued artist, but if I proposed to do something in the institutions they wouldn’t allow me to”

On a subsequent trip to Cuba, I asked for an appointment with the Deputy Minister of Culture, Fernando Rojas, to deal with my case. Also attending this meeting were Rubén del Valle, president of the National Arts Council, and Jorge Fernández, the director of the Havana Biennial.

I explained everything that had happened to me and they responded that none of this would have occurred if I hadn’t been provocative in the 2009 Biennial and they weren’t going to forget about and I wouldn’t have any more expositions in Cuban institutions.

I could see then that there was a clear double-standard policy against me; if some foreigner asked about me, I was a valued artist, but if I proposed to do something in the institutions they wouldn’t allow me to.

On that occasion, I remember that the deputy minister told me that the fact that I was there meeting with them indicated that they wanted to redefine my relationship with the institution and I told him I could see that, but I was an artist who dissented and criticized what didn’t seem right to me, and I had done it here and wherever I did my work and that wasn’t going to change.

Well, today we know the result of that cultural policy with those who return: bring us your money and your prestige but not your criticisms.

Interview: Yoani Sanchez and Tania Bruguera (14ymedio)
Interview: Yoani Sanchez and Tania Bruguera (14ymedio)

Sanchéz. How did you get the idea of repeating the performance, this time in the Plaza of the Revolution?

Bruguera. I was in Italy, at a performance festival I’d been invited to, and on Wednesday, 17 December, I traveled from Venice to Rome to participate in a Mass of Pope Francis.

When it was over, I returned on the train and my sister called to ask me if I had seen the news about the announcement made by the governments of Cuba and the United States. It was very powerful news emotionally, as it was for any Cuban. It was a surprise that shook the foundations underlying the entire Cuban identity. The answer to this emotion was to write a letter.

I wanted to look him in the face, Raúl Castro, and ask how he could explain so many years of confrontation. While I was writing the letter, a phrase started to emerge, “as a Cuban I demand that…” And in that I was putting all my doubts, all my unanswered questions, about a future that wasn’t clear, about an idea of a nation that was redefined without a good look at where it was going.

Then I sent it to my sister and a friend who answered, “I also demand.” So I also sent it to the newspaper Granma and this paper [14ymedio] where it was finally published. It was a very nice experience, because it was something I did spontaneously… I’d never published anything like that, but immediately many people started to say “I also demand” and even created a hashtag on social networks. I was very excited to see so many people get involved and I must confess that I remembered my time with Occupy Wall Street.

Sanchéz. The energy of spontaneity?

Bruguera. Yes, the strength that comes from the enthusiasm that something can generate. Here the cultural and political institutions want to own the enthusiasm of Cubans, they believe that enthusiasm is only legitimate if it is something that is consistent with the interests of the State.

“The cultural and political institutions believe that enthusiasm is only legitimate if it is something that is consistent with the interests of the State”

Sanchéz. Did you expect the reaction from the cultural and official institutions?

Bruguera. I never thought it would generate such a disproportionate response. Most significant was that of the president of the National Council of Arts himself, Ruben del Valle, who told me after two lengthy meetings that he washed his hands of what might happen to me legally… or anything else.

On the other hand, the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) published a rather aggressive statement, and I am a member of that organization, and they didn’t even call a meeting with me beforehand, without inquiring or investigating. They simply judged me and questioned that what I tried to do was art.

The Cuban cultural institutions judge instead of creating a space for collective debate about the culture, when things like this happen. Because of this I returned my National Culture Award and resigned my membership in UNEAC.

Sanchéz. Some artists in the country have supported you in the past few weeks, as is the case with the painter Pedro Pablo Oliva, while others like Lázaro Saavedra criticized aspects of the performance, and the great majority have remained silent. How do you view the attitude of the Cuban intellectual and artistic world toward what happened?

Bruguera. First it is important to say that everyone has the right to react however they want and not to be judged for it. Now, well in Cuba we know that there is a cultural policy of many years with certain invisible boundaries that people know they should not cross because there will be consequences, and it is also true that in a place where they pressure you to define yourself, at times silence is the most articulate argument. I have had a very warm response and support from many artists and people on the street whom I don’t even know.

Sanchéz. Were you willing, at some point, to change the location of the performance and not to hold it at the Plaza of the Revolution?

Bruguera. Even for me, the location in the Plaza was problematic from an aesthetic point of view. I had problems with the Plaza of the Revolution because on a symbolic level it’s exhausted, it is a symbol that has been overused… that doesn’t even represent ordinary Cubans, but rather the great powers of the government. Doing it in the Plaza, I wrote in the letter addressed to Raúl and published in 14ymedio on 18 December, was more like a metaphor.

I also imagined a place like Old Havana where there is every type of person, where the people are. I proposed other locations, like the street in front of the universal art of the Art Museum and the space between the National Belles Artes Museum and the Museum of the Revolution, but they weren’t accepted.

Sanchéz. What was the proposal of the National Arts Council?

“Ruben del Valle insisted that the right of admission had to be controlled, so they wouldn’t let in ‘the dissidents and the mercenaries’.”

Bruguera. They proposed to do it inside the Belles Artes Museum in the Cuban Art Building. I told Rubén del Valle no, in the first place because of the aesthetic problem. I didn’t want to repeat the same work from 2009, so I said that five years later it wouldn’t be inside the institution where something like this has been done, rather it had to conquer the streets.

I proposed then that we do it on the stairs at the entrance to the museum, but he insisted it has to be inside and that the right of admission had to be controlled, so they wouldn’t let in “the dissidents and the mercenaries.”

He boasted that the opposition only represented 0.0001% of the Cuban population, to which I responded that I was often 0.0001% of something and it was very good, because it is also necessary that there be minorities.

Sanchéz. They are waiting for you in Madrid to present a work in ARCO 2015, but you probably won’t arrive in time. What will you show there?

Bruguera. It is like so many projects that are now halted and won’t be realized, something that was coordinated over many months, almost a year. It is a work I did in Cuba when I saw myself like a Nkisi, an African religious icon that people put nails into to make a wish. In return, they promise something to the icon and they have to keep their promise, if not the spirit will collect on the promise. People have a lot of respect, because they feel that it is a very strong spirit.

In 1998, dressed like that, I went out into the streets of Old Havana and it created a kind of procession. I wanted to represent, then, the idea of promises made to the people and never kept. The suit ended up with residue on it and there is a gallery in Madrid that I had planned to have repair it, before the show, because it was damaged in transit. But I know now that I won’t get there, I have asked the organizers to invite the spectators to the show and they themselves can repair it, putting nails into it and making their requests.

Sanchéz. ¿Artist or artivista ?

Bruguera. I make political art. For me there is a clear division in art, on one side that which is a representation because it comments, and on the other, art that works from the political because it wants to change something. I make art that appropriates the tools of the political and tries to generate political moments, an art through which one speaks directly to power and in its own language.

For example, I had a school (Cátedra Arte de Conducta / Behavior Art School) for seven years because education is one of the long-term pillars of politics, and I also did a newspaper twenty years ago (Memoria de la Postguerra / Postwar Memory) to “take” the media like they do, and now I take to the streets, the plazas and the places they create that belong exclusively to power.

“Artivisim” is a variant of political art which I ascribe to that tries to change things, not satisfied with denouncing, but rather trying to find solutions to change, a little bit, the political reality in which we live.

Sanchéz. Do you think that after December 30 Cuba is closer to an Occupy Wall Street?

Bruguera. That is what they fear most. Even in the various meetings I had with the cultural authorities and officials they told me I wanted to do here the same thing that had happened in the streets of Ukraine. That’s their great obsession.

The irony is that they felt Occupy Wall Street was nice when it happened over there, in the United States, but they make clear that they will not allow the use of plazas for something like that here.

Sanchéz. Some saw in your call to the Plaza an act that could impede the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States. Did you feel that? What do you think of this process?

Bruguera. It is very contradictory, because on one hand the authorities here tell me that what I do does not matter to anyone, and on the other hand they accuse me that my actions will ruin the country’s future. They make you feel like you don’t matter, but also that you carry the weight of the blame for what happens.

It is very naïve to think that some negotiations between two governments for 18 months, with so many interests involved, are going to be ruined by a performance… I don’t have such a disproportionate ego.

“It is very naïve to think that some negotiations between two governments for 18 months, with so many interests involved, are going to be ruined by a performance”

Personally, I think all that is peace is welcome. The problem is just making political headlines in the short-term and not legislative policy in the long-term. Everyone wonders whether the “blockade” will be removed and that is very complex process in which many details, and techniques, need to be negotiated.

For me, what is important are the possibilities that exist today, because they have started to restore diplomatic relations and there is a serious debate about the “blockade,” to rethink the project of the nation from a collective space where all Cubans participate, and that is what #YoTambienExijo is about.

It is time to ask for a decriminalization of opinion differences, to create another policy with the press and the media, to legalize civic associations and political parties, to revise the Constitution, to allow Cubans to be active citizens and not just aspire to be passive consumers.

And we must also ensure that the benefits reach everyone. Cubans are very defenseless, especially those who remained in Cuba. Without revising and changing the laws, without a civic literacy program, without institutions beginning to respond not to the government but to the interests of the members of their organizations, without non-institutional critical spaces… it is not possible to prevent the coming, for example, of a huge transnational that mistreats the workers, that doesn’t pay a decent wage, and that doesn’t allow unions to protect them.

It is the government’s responsibility to prepare citizens for what is coming and to provide laws that protects them, but they seem so focused on keeping themselves in power that they can’t see how important it is to empower ordinary Cubans. In Cuba we have learned our duties very well, but not our rights. The time has come for ordinary Cubans to demand their rights.

Without Confidence in the Money / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Cuban 20 peso note signed by Che
Cuban 20 peso note signed by Che

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 3 February 2015 – Any day can be the eve of a celebration or a disaster, as much for those who hurried to exchange their convertible pesos (CUC) to Cuban pesos (CUP – also known as moneda nacional, or “national money”) as for those who are purchasing foreign currencies or who are trusting enough to think that everything is planned and calculated so as not to cause anyone any harm. Although its proximity can almost be smelled, the “final battle” of the end of the dual currency system continues to be a mystery and the present lack of transparency can endanger its presumed strategic objectives.

Those who have a good memory or who have dedicated time to digging through our recent history know that the Law 963, passed on 4 August 1961, established the “obligatory exchange of currency” for bills of a new design. That surprising operation took place on Sunday the 6th and Monday the 7th of August 1961. No one was able to leave or enter the country on those two days. Each family unit was only allowed to exchange up to 200 pesos. Of the 1.187 billion Cuban pesos considered circulating in the country, only 724.9 million were exchanged. The rest lost its value, vanished.

Some naïve people who had their savings inside banks trusted that their money would be exchanged in its entirety. However, the government decided to only hand over one thousand pesos annually, in the form of 100 a month, for ten years, even if people’s accounts contained hundreds or thousands or millions of pesos. Many of those affected by such a drastic measure committed suicide. Such a disastrous exchange process annihilated in one single blow not only the part of the creole bourgeoisie that still remained on this Island, but also the entire middle class. It ripped to shreds people’s life work and savings and also that of past generations.

Such a disastrous exchange annihilated in one single blow not only the part of the creole bourgeoisie that still remained on this Island, but also the entire middle class.

They say that that new currency came from Czechoslovakia, camouflaged in large wooden boxes since the use of metal containers wasn’t common in those times. The signs on the boxes and the customs declarations indicated that they contained spare parts for Czech-made Zetor tractors. Two days before the exchange, the boxes were opened in secret and the new Cuban peso was distributed to banks throughout the country.

Fifty-three years have gone by and anyone could argue that this is not the same country as that from 1961. But the fear lies in that it is still governed by the same people from before, who still invoke the same “stern slogans.”

Front page announcing currency exchange in 1961
Front page announcing currency exchange in 1961

The uncertainty is not only founded on reminiscences from the past; it has solid contemporary motives. No authority has pronounced itself officially on what will be the level of parity of the surviving currency to foreign ones and it isn’t even known whether, in the near future, it will be possible to exchange the CUP for dollars or euros. It is also unknown how much the State will pay for each CUC handed over by citizens once that currency stops circulating.

Until now, the only visible advancement toward the end of monetary duality has been the possibility of paying with CUP in stores that previously only sold products for hard currency (the official name of which, TRDs, stands for “foreign exchange collection stores”).

In the beginning of 2015, a worker with a 480-peso monthly salary (without access to remittances and without any other chance of getting CUCs) would have to work 23 hours to buy two pounds of powdered milk in one of those markets; 18 hours for a three pounds of chicken drumsticks; another 18 hours for a pound of grams of spaghetti and 19 hours for one quart of cooking oil. Thus, in order to pay this small bill at the current 1-to-25 exchange rate, he will have to work a little over ten 8-hour workdays.

A worker with a 480-peso monthly salary will have to work a little over ten 8-hour workdays in order to buy powdered milk, chicken, spaghetti, and cooking oil on the current 1-to-25 exchange rate.

In the event that the illusion becomes a reality and the CUC comes to cost 20 Cuban pesos, the worker from our example could get all that and a little more with just over a week of labor, and if the miracle occurs that it come down to 15, he would get everything with fewer than 5 workdays.

It is not necessary to be an economist to realize that the country is in no condition to turn that dream into a reality. At least unless delirium reaches the point of fantasizing that, from the secret tunnels where today they keep the old soviet armaments, hundreds of containers of goods surface to furnish the stores that would no longer be called TRDs, because they wouldn’t be collecting any foreign currencies at all, and standing before whose cash registers wouldn’t be today’s nouveaux riches, but the joyous working class, living decently from their salaries.

Jumping over our chimeras, other distressing questions remain: will there be a limit to the cash that can be exchanged? Will cash be worth the same as the money in savings accounts? No one has clarified this and the lack of a commitment to these guarantees makes insecurity and distrust mount even higher.

In workplaces where perks are received in CUC, beneficiaries are asking themselves if this “stimulus” will keep the 1-to-25 exchange rates in the national currency. In markets where the elevated prices were once justified as a way for the government to “collect” foreign currencies, clients wonder if now goods will cost what rationality suggests should be their price. Will taximeters need regulation? Could ticket purchases on international airlines be made in the new currency?

The secrecy that surrounds the end of the monetary duality won’t be able to be delayed for much longer

Parallel to the eventual disappearance of the CUC, there exists the possibility that all the CUP bills circulating today will be “demonetized” and new issues of 1, 3, 5, 10, 29, and 50 pesos be created to match the recently-introduced 200, 300, 500, and 1000 pesos bills, which make counterfeiting more difficult. The latter are already in circulation and nowhere can anything along the lines of, “Guaranteed by international standards of free exchange” or “Can be freely exchanged for foreign currencies at the Central Bank of Cuba” be found, which is currently the case for each CUC and which could also be seen on the bills that premiered in the summer of 1961, signed by the person who, at the time, was the president of the Bank, a man who had the effrontery to sign the currency of the Republic of Cuba with his nickname: Che.

The secrecy that surrounds the end of the dual currency system attempts to justify itself with the same arguments as always: above all, we can’t trust in the enemy. However, it won’t be able to be delayed for much longer because even in Cuba, where it has been demonized for decades, money continues to be something that is essential and part of its value lies in the trust it is accorded.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

The Immense Distortion of Martí / 14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea

José Martí in a photo from 1891. (University of Miami)
José Martí in a photo from 1891. (University of Miami)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Havana, 28 January 2015 — It is true that in the writings of José Martí one can apparently find the justification for political aberrations like those we suffer since Fidel Castro took off his democratic and legalistic mask in mid-1959. And I highlight here the word “apparently.”

To achieve a sufficient understanding of the thinking of any intellectual or political figure, it is imperative to search for his or her life’s purpose. That of José Martí’s was none other than the constitution of an independent and sovereign Cuban Republic continue reading

that, through the exercise of its civil virtues, would propel a hemispheric, or even global, renewal of the republican-democratic forms. The man we call the “apostle” of our independence was able to rid himself of all dimensions of human life not having to do directly with the labor of that self-imposed apostolate.

Now, like any other thinker in the mise-en-scène of his life’s purpose, José Martí understood he was obligated to respond to minor problems. Responses that were almost always rushed and that, with the passing of years, would lend themselves to be used by others to justify their aberrations, like in the abovementioned instance. Only through this magnification of what is secondary in José Martí’s thinking could a democrat of his caliber be transformed into nothing more than an intellectual antecedent to the profoundly antidemocratic forms imposed on Cuba by the despot Fidel Castro.

Only through this magnification of what is secondary in his thinking could Martí be transformed into nothing more than an intellectual antecedent to the antidemocratic forms imposed on Cuba by Fidel Castro.

An example of this error can be found in a well-known series of Latin American essays published by Martí between 1889 and 1890. A hurried researcher will only see the obvious. Martí, disabused, distances himself for a moment from Cuban affairs to focus on others within closer reach: the OurAmericans, or los Nuestroaméricanos (title of the most important work of those in question). The reality is, nevertheless, another.

These essays were written with no other objective than to manipulate the fears of certain political elites within Latin American republics in an attempt to win them over for the cause of Cuba’s independence. Those days, Martí, a man not inclined to such behavior, did not dedicate his time to mourning bitter disillusionments. And so his life’s purpose develops fully and fruitfully like few times before or after. During those days, in the Pan-American Conference which he attends as representative of various Latin American republics, he insists on one of the most important and least known battles of his life: the fight to prevent the sale of Cuba to the United States that several Our American foreign ministries supported.

Taking these essays as a base, without considering the vital circumstance under which they were written, it has been attempted to change his arguments in order to convert Martí, the Latin American that best understood and admired the United States in his time, into an anti-American who took after an Italian conspirator of the romanticist style. This restructuring of his line of argument, by the way, serves to make us swallow the absurdity of presenting him to us as the great intellectual justifier for the return to the political forms he fought against: those of the besieged fortress, of thuggery, in other words, those that, under its firm boot, Spain subjected us to from 1837 until the end of the Great War (1868-1878).

In essence, it’s not Martí we should get rid of; instead we should dissolve the hagiographic vision that has been imposed on us by the majority of his interpreters, for whom the scope of the greatest Cuban of all time was so superior to their limited senses that they have restricted themselves to reducing him to a managable virtuous caricature. Martí was not a fanaticized follower of some inflexible principles that prevented him from compromising to achieve his objectives. On the contrary, Martí the politician understands that it is essential to give way in order to attain what is hoped for.

It’s not Martí we should get rid of; instead we should dissolve the hagiographic vision that has been imposed on us by the majority of his interpreters

The art of politics should not reside in absolute imposition or in relinquishing the least possible, rather, in the long term, whatever is relinquished can be used to achieve the original plans, or at least what doesn’t hinder them. If one tries to diminish the support of Latin American republics for the aforementioned plans of cession to the United States, one must incite their fears of a possible European re-colonization, which was not such a far-fetched idea at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.

A culture is a weight that can’t be cast aside with such ease, or without harmless effects. In the case of Martí, what we should in fact do is study his work, paying close attention to his vital circumstance, until we can organize his thoughts hierarchically and clear up Martí’s argument without any preconceived notion other than that that we are not dealing with a saint, only with a human being of unusual intelligence who was able to subordinate his life to a task that he imposed on himself. A task of which we are to a considerable extent the result.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

What Will We Do With the Hope? / Yoani Sanchez

An "Esperanza" (Hope) grasshopper. (Silvia Corbelle)
An “Esperanza” (Hope) grasshopper. (Silvia Corbelle)

“Any frustration is the daughter of excessive expectations,” I shared my concern with the U.S. members of Congress who visited Cuba in January. The phrase was designed to stress the flow of illusions that has been let loose in the population since December 17. The announcement of the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States has provoked a resurgence in this country of a feeling lost for decades: hope.

However, the expectations that have been created are so high and so difficult to meet in the short term that many may feel disappointed. There is no way that reality can satisfy such extravagant fantasies of change. The level of deterioration in Cuba needs enormous resources and urgent transformations continue reading

to be overcome. Time is of the essence, but the Cuban government still has shown no real political will for the new scenario to benefit a wide spectrum of Cuban society.

Before December 17, each person had been focused on aspirations in his or her area of interests and needs. An old locomotive engineer, who saw the dismantling of the railroad of which he spoke with great pride, now says, “You’ll see… we’ll even have a bullet train.” If you ask him the source of such a conviction, he assures you that, “When los yumas – the Americans – start to arrive they will improve transportation and surely bring us investments to improve the lines and buy the latest generation cars.” His dreams take the form of an iron serpent, brilliant and fast, crossing the island.

The expectations that have been created are so high and so difficult to meet in the short term that many might feel disappointed

There are others whose illusions take on the lightness of a kilobyte. A young man, 20, who only know the Internet through a few hours of slow and expensive connections in a Nauta Internet room, says that before the end of the year, “We will have data service on our cellphones.” His certainty is not born from any classified information to which he has access, but because, as he explains, “Obama already said so, the telecommunications companies can negotiate with Cuba, so what’s lacking for me to connect to Facebook and Skype all day long, it’s nothing… nothing.”

The great national obsession, which is food, also has had a space within the imaginative dreams of recent weeks. A housewife, who defines herself as “sick of having to cook the same thing, because there is nothing else,” has projected her illusions on the arrival of goods from the north. “Some lost products will return and the stores won’t have empty freezers like now.” Her perspectives are direct and clear, experiencing the lost taste of beef, the texture of oil and the smell of an onion browning in the pan.

Small private entrepreneurs are not far behind. For the owner of a luxurious private restaurant in the Vedado neighborhood, hope takes the contours of a ferry connecting Havana and Florida. “It will come soon and then we can bring cars, large imports and fresh food for our menu,” he explains with a conviction that provokes a certain anguished denial. He gives the impression that a full lounge, with drinks, bottles of wine and dimmed lights, will cross the water and arrive at the new place he’s building right next to his restaurant.

While expectations grow like a balloon about to burst, others contribute to them with projections from the artistic and creative field. A friend, a private film producer, believes that shortly, “Hollywood could be filming here and Cuban film talent could finally have the resources to do big productions.” For this celluloid artist, “What’s missing is a starting bell to authorize independent productions and allow us to have investors from the United States.”

Among the dissidence and civil society more than a few are preparing to legalize their groups or parties at the least opportunity. Among the hopeful, they are the most cautious because they know that the spigot of political liberties will be the last to open… if it opens at all. They project their own transition from the “illegal, clandestine and heroic phase” to the stage of a “legal, public and intelligent opposition.” Nor should we discount the illusions that have reached Cuban academia, the schools and other official institutions, where people are dusting off their old ideas of jumping into the arena of politics when the single-party system is a bad memory of the past. 

When the bubble of dreams bursts and the excessive expectations bring collective frustration, what will happen?

All these hopes, born on St. Lazarus Day and fed with the visits to Cuba of members of Congress and American negotiators, are now a double-edged sword for the Island’s government. On the one hand, the existence of so many illusions buys time and sets the horizon at the end of a long process of conversations between both administrations, which could go on for years. But, also, the disappointment derived from not meeting or from postponing such dreams will be focused directly on the Plaza of the Revolution.

The anger towards failure will not fall on Obama, but on Raul Castro. He knows this and in recent weeks his spokespeople have emphasized cutting back on the perspectives filling the streets of the entire country. They are trying to anticipate that everything will be more or less the same and that too many expectations can’t be met. But there is nothing harder than countering dreams. The symbolic weight of the beginning of the “thaw” between David and Goliath, cannot be alleviated with calls for calm, nor energetic speeches that point toward a halt in the negotiations.

When the months pass and the “bullet train” doesn’t arrive, the Internet continues to be impossible, the store freezers are as empty as they are today, the customs rules continue to block commercial imports to private hands, the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) maintains its monopoly on film production, and being a member of an opposition party still results in official repression and ideological stigmatization… when the bubble of dreams bursts and the excessive expectations bring collective frustration, what will happen? Maybe from there the energy necessary to push for change will be born.

“I am a meddlesome peasant” / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Eduardo Diaz Fleitas on his farm.  (14ymedio)
Eduardo Diaz Fleitas on his farm. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Entronque de Herradura, 31 January 2015 – Entronque de Herradura is a little village in the Pinar municipality of Consolacion del Sur. I go there in search of Eduardo Diaz Fleitas, a Cuban with rapid speech, skill with the ten-line stanza and proven courage. He was among the 75 dissidents sentenced during the Black Spring of 2003, but not even a long prison stay made him lose his smile or wit.

Fleitas asserts that he is “just a meddlesome peasant.” In this interview he speaks of his life, his early activism and of that other passion, which is the land where he has worked as long as he can remember. continue reading

Question: In other interviews your work as an opponent always comes up, but I would like to speak of your personal history. What did you do before that fateful March of 2003?

Answer: As a child I worked in the fields. I had to grow up fast, and I studied auto mechanics. Later I became a driver and even drove a bus. In 1989 I started driving a taxi and later became a transport inspector. However, in 1993 I stopped working for the State, demanding that they pay me with dollars to be able to buy in the hard currency stores because the national currency had no value. Since then I have worked on the plantation with my father.

Q: Where did the ethical and moral values that guide your life come from?

A: My father taught me respect, kindness, honesty and love of work, spirit of service and help to others. From my mother, a farmer and housewife, I learned effort and integrity as well as loyalty and also love, which I have seen in them, because they have been married since 1950.

Q: What was the process that led you to be disappointed in the political and social process which, from its beginnings, said it was defending the peasantry?

A: With the triumph of the Revolution we thought, like many, that it was something good. But after three or four months things began to get bad; the executions, the land was no longer ours. The discourse ran one way and reality the other. All that was waking me up.

Q: But it’s a long way from discontent to activism. When did you begin to be a dissident publicly?

A: In the year 1988. Since then and until now I have been active in several opposition organizations and held different responsibilities.

Q: During the Black Spring of 2003 you were arrested along with other dissidents, journalists, librarians and independent trade unionists. They sentenced you to 21 years imprisonment and you were behind bars almost nine years. How hard was jail?

A: What most struck me about the Cuban penitentiary system is the great cruelty with which the inmate is treated, whether political or not. There you are not a person, you are at the mercy of your jailers. I saw extremely sick prisoners ask for medical attention, and the guards laughed in their faces. We must humanize Cuban prisons!

I also have to say that prison offered me the chance to see, to my surprise, how many people support, in one way or another, the peaceful opposition movement in Cuba. I never felt alone inside. Prison also gave me the opportunity to harbor not even a drop of hatred against my victimizers. In my heart there exists neither hatred nor rancor towards them.

Q: You have participated in several unity initiatives among opposition forces, the latest of them the Open Space of Civil Cuban Society. Do you believe consensus can be achieved in spite of differences?

A: All proposals of this type are excellent. What I do consider unjustifiable is the dismissive insult and personal attack among ourselves. That is the method the Cuban government uses against us, it is anti-democratic and not at all ethical. No activist should fall for something like that. We must have consensus on basic points, and that is what Open Space has achieved and what we have sought for years. I am happy to be able to participate in that initiative.

Q: What do you think about the intention of the governments of Cuba and the United States to re-establish diplomatic relations after more than half a century of confrontation?

A: As of last December 17 a new era for Cuba began. The government of the United States has realized that the prior policy was a dead end with no way out, and now a host of opportunities is opening for our people.

I have asked people about the measures announced by the American government, and they look favorably on them, because they mean prosperity for the people. But when I have asked them what they think of the Cuban government in the face of this challenge, they answer that they do not trust it. Nevertheless, I am optimistic. We must create awareness that dialog is best. I believe that the United States is committed to us and has intelligently confronted the regime.

We have to have the courage to reclaim democracy and to respect our rights. The era of change may be coming for all Cubans, and it falls to everyone to do it in harmony. Cuba has to flourish again for everyone and for the good of all!
Unanimity is not good. We must live in diversity. But it is good for us to be unanimous when dealing with differences. Well…better I say it in verse:

Why is it that it doesn’t matter to you
To ruin your dignity?
Because so much calamity
Will never produce heroism.
Bury that pessimism
That daily assaults you.
Raise your voice, you are able
To be the example of the titan
Awaken those who are
Prisoners of their own webs.

Translated by MLK

Rosa Maria Paya meets at the White House with negotiator on Cuba / 14ymedio

Rosa Maria Paya
Rosa Maria Paya

14ymedio bigger24 January 2015 (EFE) –Rosa MariaPayá, daughter of the late Cuban activist OswaldoPayá, in a meeting today with the senior advisor for Latin America at the White House, defended the need to “stop the impunity” of the Cuban government against dissidents on the island, and the right to decide for Cubans.

Payá, who left the island a year ago, participated in a forum on human rights, before meeting with Ricardo Zúñiga, who is part of the White House delegation that, since June 2013, secretly negotiated with Cuba the rapprochement between the two countries.

Speaking with EFE after the meeting, the activist explained that she sent the US official some “very specific” points that, in her judgment, continue reading

“should be addressed with the Cuban government, which of course address ending the impunity with which State Security operates on the island.”

The Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) activist (as was her father), lamented the harassment to which some of her compatriots are subjected, a complaint that has been elevated to international organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), before which she asked in 2013 for protective measures for her family.

“We want the democratic governments which are in communication with the Cuban government, to approach not only the Government but also Cuban citizens,” said the activist.

The 26-year-old daughter of dissident Oswaldo Payá — who died along with activist Harold Cepero in a traffic accident in 2012 — used the meeting at the White House to call for an independent investigation into what happened.

“What they have said to me is that there will be a discussion on human rights and that is where we want to influence, not only on the subject of independent investigation, (…) but in favor of that which is the basis of Cuban democracy,” he said.

This week negotiations begin in Havana to restore diplomatic relations after the thaw announced by both governments last December 17.

In this new scenario, Payá believes that “there are some possibilities to bring pressure for the rights of Cubans,” supporting some demands “consistent with democratic values” such as a plebiscite to “ask citizens if they want to participate in free and pluralistic elections.”

“No Cuban who is younger than 80 has ever participated in fair, competitive and free elections, so it is time that Cubans can decide their own future,” said the young woman who asked the democracies of the world to “support the right of Cubans to decide.”

“The Chileans did it in the eighties, the international community supported the Chilean plebiscite, Cubans deserve no less,” she said.

Payá’s hope, she said, lies “not in what a foreign government can do for Cuba, but what we Cubans can do for ourselves, and I hope the democracies of the world will support this.”

The young woman said that a commitment to the request for an independent investigation into the death of her father will be on the negotiating table, as well as support for the right of Cubans to decide.

“Check out how free this country is!” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.”  The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)
Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.” The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 29 January 2015 — “In Vietnam, Yoani Sanchez would be in prison,” says Rafael Hernandez, editor of the magazine Temas (Topics), comparing the Cuban regime with the Vietnamese one. And he adds: “Check out how free this country is!” According to the official researcher, Cuban bloggers “are arrested and released, but they are not put in prison,” as occurs in the southeast Asian continue reading

country, where these cyberspace activists receive “nothing but” jail for being “anti-government.”

The political scientist and essayist offered these observations last Wednesday at the Juan Marinello Center during the presentation about the book “From Confrontation to Efforts at ‘Normalization.’ The Policy of the United States towards Cuba,” by the publisher Social Sciences. One of the authors, Elier Ramirez, participated in the panel discussion held by the magazine.

Just reading its name, one deduces that the essay by Elier Ramirez and Esteban Morales – co-author – reflects the offical Cuban position about the rapprochement between the Island and its “historical enemy.” The word “normalization” in its title appears in quotation marks because, among other reasons, “the United States has always understood normalization from the position of domination,” says Ramirez. “There is no change in its strategic objectives [basically, regime change in Cuba, but] a profound tactical adjustment” behind the negotiations between Washington and Havana, according to the author.

This work had already been released, at least once, during the presentation of the volume “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana,” written by U.S. researchers Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande. But then, last October, the political situation was very different from the current one.

During Wednesday’s presentation about the book, the comparison between Vietnam and Cuba emerged in the context of what Rafael Hernandez considers a double standard in U.S. foreign relations which criticizes Cuba on questions like freedom of expression while not doing the same to other countries. “How do you [the American government] demand from me [the Cuban government] what you do not demand of the Vietnamese who put bloggers in prison?” asked the researcher who is also a moderator of the space Ultimo Jueves (Last Thursday).

Rafael Hernandez also referred to the case of the performance by Tania Bruguera last December 30. In order to justify the attitude of Cuban authorities, he gave as an example a hypothetical megaphone protest in front of the home of the British prime minister. “Before taking out the loudspeaker, they already told him off and got him out of there,” he said, referring to the imaginary protester. “What does that have to do with freedom of expression? What are we talking about?” he added, insisting on the supposed “double standard” of the western discourse with respect to that basic right.

Entering into a process of negotiations that both parties have deemed “historic,” one can no longer speak only of “a relationship between two governments” because now there is also “a relationship between two societies” declared Hernandez, who called for a realization that “there is a new game.”

The official analysts define this “game” as a “form of battle” for preserving the regime, different from all previous battles. This war, certainly is already taking place also in the symbolic realm where the most rancid nationalists have been contaminated by a certain foreign banality, especially American.

It is not strange that an official intellectual like Hernandez expresses himself thus about the rapprochement between the two countries. As far as his comparisons in matters of human rights, it is legitimate to ask what exactly the editor of Temas meant to say. There are three possible interpretations:

  1. Vietnam is a dictatorship.
  2. Cuban bloggers should be prisoners.
  3. We bloggers should feel grateful for the few handouts of freedom that the regime grants us and that it also can take from us at any time, imitating its “sister nation” from southeast Asia.

Translated by MLK

The ‘Sandor Case’ / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Known as "The BimBom 23 and Malecón" this is one of the meeting points for pingueros. (14ymedio)
Known as “The BimBom 23 and Malecón” this is one of the meeting points for “pingueros.” (14ymedio)
  • In tribute to El Caso de Sandra (The Sandra Case) by Luis Manuel García Méndez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 30 January 2015 — A farmer wakes up before dawn to brand with a burning iron the last cow he has left. It’s a ritual of pain and possession. A tourist brands a young person in one of Havana’s cabarets and takes them to bed in exchange for some money. The brands are different, but both as permanent.

Sandor was born in the countryside and was raised to be rough. When he reached adolescence he had already castrated and slaughtered pigs. His wide shoulders, olive skin, and oriental eyes earned him town-wide fame as being “hot.” Since he was young he felt the pressure of desiring other men continue reading

. It was like a permanent breath down his neck that followed him everywhere.

His father had deep wrinkles around his mouth, a group of them also skirting his eyes. The hours in the furrow, beneath the sun, had cracked his skin and his character. He started drinking rum with his friends in the afternoons after work, but ended gulping anything he found. One day, Sandor saw him downing one of his grandmother’s perfumes. His mouth smelled of sweet roses for hours.

Sine he was little, Sandor resolved not to end up like his father. After he turned 16, he packed up what little clothes he had and went to Havana. He arrived at night and walked from the train terminal to Fraternity Park, where the lamps were off and one could hear moaning coming from the shadows. “This is my thing,” he immediately said to himself.

Between footlights

In Las Vegas Cabaret, the air smells of urine. There are tables far from the lights where almost anything can happen. Sandor watches, empty-eyed, the male stripper show unraveling on the stage. The bodies shine from the oil they have been rubbed with.

A sixty-year-old moves forward and puts some bills inside one of the dancer’s underpants. Sandor follows him with his eyes and later sits on his same table. He’s wearing very tight clothes and his muscles stand out provocatively, but competition is strong. He is part of a sea of ephebes practicing prostitution that will battle to see who takes the foreigner to bed.

“I am a male sex worker, a pinguero,” he says shamelessly to anyone who cares to hear him. He offers his goods to any buyer, although he emphasizes not considering himself a homosexual. Sometimes his clients are women, European and in their fifties, but his main market is made up of men who come “de afuera” – from abroad. Cuba is a promising destination for gay tourism and Sandor casts his rod into the turbulent river waters of caresses for money.

He fixes himself up constantly while speaking, an eagerness for physical perfection that makes anyone who approaches him feel ugly and wrinkled. He has shaved his eyebrows and painted them in a fine, high arch. On his arms, his forearms, his chest and his pubis there isn’t a single hair. Hours of painful hair removal have left his skin smooth and even.

He prefers this world to days of working in construction, erecting walls or putting roofs together. He spent his first months in Havana working with a brigade of bricklayers, but he couldn’t stand it. Now, the palms of his hands feel soft from the body lotion he lathers on to please his partners with caresses, but during those times the hammer and chisel had left him with rough and ugly calluses.

He is part of a sea of ephebes practicing prostitution who will battle to see who takes the foreigner to bed.

The Malecón, Central Park and the private Cabaret Humboldt, on the street bearing the same name, are his habitual working grounds. “I go looking for yumas [foreigners]. I get there and, in between drinks, the zorreo [flirtation] begins and then comes business,” he says when describing his modus operandi. There isn’t much to say in those places, because those who visit know the codes and steps to take in order to leave accompanied.

“I never leave with a Cuban, even if he has all the money of the world,” assures the young man. The rates range from 10 to 100 CUC, so he seeks to reach a middle ground so as to not sell himself “for nothing” but also not to end up “more alone than the 1 o’ clock peal.” Not few times has he had to exchange love for objects, like a watch, a pair of shoes or an expensive bottle of cologne, but “I prefer cash,” he says.

The hours to “expensively sell oneself” are before midnight. After that, “the goods lose value and you have to take whatever comes your way.” He learned that language, or jargon, while working in a produce market. Amid dirty sweet potatoes and the smell of rotting onion, he understood that wasn’t the life for him. “Now, in one night I can make as much as I made in a month behind the counter of an agricultural market.”

Below the sun-faded awning where he sold fruits and vegetables, the first foreigner branded him. This, in street slang, means identifying someone and exchanging seductive glances. He was Dutch and had come to buy some plantains, but he noticed Sandor and invited him for some ice cream. That night, they slept at the Hotel Nacional and for the rest of the week he didn’t show up to his job at the produce market. He had never been in a hotel, so he jumped on the bed and left the faucet open for hours. He swallowed his breakfast almost without chewing it and the tourist gave him a gift of some clothes.

Las Vegas Cabaret, one of the places where tourists “brand” pingueros, jineteras, and more. (14ymedio)
Las Vegas Cabaret, one of the places where tourists “brand” pingueros, jineteras, and more. (14ymedio)

At that time, Sandor lived with an older woman, through whom he was able to get a transitional address in the capital written down on his national ID card. Without that, he was in danger of being deported by the police if they asked him for his ID on the street. One night he arrived with a lot of money, a bottle of wine under his arm, and she began to suspect. While he slept, she checked his cellphone and found a picture in which the Dutch man held him by his fly. In the middle of the night, the woman threw his clothes from the balcony and told him never to return.

Later he had a Mexican. “When this farmer saw himself driving a rental car, with a gold chain and money in his wallet, he got used to this life,” he recalls while speaking of himself in the third person. However, he says he prefers Europeans and North Americans because “they pay better and are more delicate.” He had an African only once, a doctor from Luanda who gave him many gifts.

“My body is my enterprise,” he brags. “Pingueros are better paid than the most regal prostitutes”

Beginning some years back, Sandor has had a routine he repeats daily. He gets up at noon and tries to eat only protein. “No bread or fried things that make me fat; my body is my enterprise,” he brags. He also takes vitamins and spends hours in the gym. “Pingueros are better paid than the most regal prostitutes,” he points out while lifting several pounds of iron to render his biceps irresistible.

At the gym he met Susy, a transsexual who is also in the business. She helped him find more select clients with more money. They both work without pimps, although there are groups of pingueros that pay others to protect them as they try to make a living in certain territories. On the corner of Payret Theater one can only work if “one is protected” because police harassment is very harsh, explained Susy on the first week of friendship.

The police know the hook-up zones well. Some of the officers fight to patrol those corners or streets to get money in exchange for looking the other way. It’s a profitable business, where the pinguero has everything to lose if he doesn’t give the cop a piece of the prize or do him a sexual favor.

Sandor prefers not having to show himself off on the street, instead he looks for his clients inside of clubs, cabarets, and other local party scenes. His ID with a transitional Havana address expired and he is now illegally in Havana. If he comes across a troublemaking policeman, it’s very probable that he will be deported to his home province.

Since he arrived in the city, he has been detained on various occasions. He has three warnings and could be tried for the charge of pre-criminal dangerousness. The last time he was inside a police station, the officer told him that he knew what he was doing, so he changed his area of operation from Old Havana to Vedado and Playa.

The danger is not only to end up in a courtroom, it’s falling victim to police extortion and having the entire night’s earnings snatched away

The danger is not only to end up in a courtroom, it’s falling victim to police extortion and having an entire night’s earnings snatched away. If he had a pimp, then he would protect him and keep la fiana, or the police, away, but since he works alone, he needs to deal with those in uniform. The worst thing is ending up in a cell, because there anything can happen. 

The price of meat by its hanging weight

Every day, the market becomes more competitive and each client wants the best porcelain for the smallest price. The illusion of buying a home or supporting a lover with what you make is a thing of the past. A wrinkle, a bit of belly that may show when you strap your belt will signify tens of convertible pesos in losses. “On facial and body treatments, gym and clothes alone, I spend most of what I make,” he says while showing us his Dolce & Gabbana underwear. Most likely they are a counterfeit of the Italian brand, but, even so, they cost about a month’s earnings for a regular state worker.

He doesn’t scout his clients on looks because he confesses that his work does not give him pleasure and it’s been a long time since he has felt anything. In order to give a good performance of his role, he tries to think of some porn film or he drinks some alcohol. Sometimes he thinks of a girlfriend he had back in his town, when he still wore his middle school uniform and life seemed simpler.

But that was a long time ago. Now he has to work very hard. Cuba continues to be a cheap destination for tourists searching for a night of wild passion, but there are many young people for sale and prices decrease. For months he disguised himself an “intellectual” with sandals and went to Plaza de Armas. There, he feigned looking at books on displays and branded the yumas, capturing various sleepless admirers of Che who wanted to feel “the clay of the new man.”

Susy has shown him how to tell the ones who are forrados (the wealthy ones) apart. It’s in the details; like being treated to bottled water or a Heineken beer on the first date. He once knew a German who, in August’s midsummer heat, would pack his own beverage in his backpack and wouldn’t even offer a sip.

The man turned out to be so stingy that Sandor got payback and applied la segunda, which is to take him in a taxi to where, supposedly, they will spend the night. The client would have paid for the room in advance and when he gets out, the driver hits the gas and “if I once saw you, I no longer recall.” He later had to share his earnings with the taxi driver, but at least he taught the miserly man a lesson… “so he learns,” he would chuckle to himself for weeks.

Cuba continues to be a cheap destination for tourists searching for a night of wild passion, but there are many young people for sale and prices decrease.

The best case is when an old client recommends a pinguero to his friends and so more come over. Sandor spent some months with a group of Japanese businessmen because of that, but the Cuban government didn’t pay them what it owed and no one from the company ever came again. When he remembers those days his face lights up and he shows off a gold tooth, “it’s a shame they didn’t come back, because they were very polite and had a lot of money.

In the world of the pingueros there’s someone for every taste and every wallet, but Sandor explains that “the one you see there, with the nice watch and the fancy cellphone, most likely if a yuma propositions him for 20 CUC he will say no” and he will demand that he give him more than the 150 he already has in his wallet. But those older than 20 can’t make such high demands. “Fresh meat, the fresh meat always wins,” he says with some melancholy as he touches his hardened thigh muscles from hours at the gym.

When Sandor closes a deal, he goes off to a privately rented room. A bed, condoms, and it’s all set. Nowadays he prefers private rooms to hotels because they’re more intimate and he also gets a commission for taking a client. Some of them are just like hotel rooms, with air conditioning, Jacuzzis, minibars, and mirrors on the ceiling.

Sometimes he gets a client who wants a longer relationship. Those are the most yearned for. The biggest success of the operation is finding a foreigner that will support them from overseas. The highest price for his caresses is to manage to leaving the country. But, make no mistake, on the other side he says he wants to abandon this lifestyle. “I’ll load bags onto ships with my bare back or mop floors in a hospital, but I won’t return to this filth.”

For the moment, while waiting for the foreigner who will get him out of here comes around, he dreams of buying a motorcycle. When he has it, he wants to show it off in the same areas he has offered his goods, but this time with a “hot girl with a killer body” on his arm. That will be his small revenge for all that’s past.

Maybe he’ll go back to his town, to see what’s become of his dad. He will take a bottle of aged rum for him and get his grandmother some new perfume. From that trip “I’ll come back with a country girl to wash and iron my clothes who I can also introduce to the business.” He plans to live off of her for some time, but, if they have a child, “he has to get out of this shit, he has to get out of this shit.”

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Internal contradictions, solutions and the new politics of the United States / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 29 January 2015 — The main contradictions in Cuban society lie between the concentration and centralization of property ownership and decision making of all kinds, and the broad cultural, technical and professional training of Cubans, eager to improve their material and spiritual living conditions. The unviable state-dependent employment model has been incapable of satisfying these needs.

Its origin is the conception of socialism inherited from Stalinism, which was based on the concentration of ownership and decision-making, and the system of wage-labor for the State, with everything administered by the Communist Party continue reading

: a State-monopoly capitalism that sharpened all the conflicts of the exploitative wage system.

The lack of a solution to these problems has stalled the productive forces, the development of society, economic progress, modernity and improvements in the living conditions of the great majority of the population.

The solutions move to increase the participation of citizens in property, ownership of the results of their work, and decisions of all kinds: economic, political and social. Democratization of politics and socialization of the economy are also imposed.

But “state socialism” blocked these solutions, almost eliminating the small and medium proprietor, preventing the development of forms of free labor — unionized or otherwise — the free-management of production, the social economy, and restricting the democratic participation of citizens in political matters.

Now, with the normalization of relations with “the enemy,” there is no danger of military aggression, always used as a justification to postpone the empowerment of the people, and the Cuban government should not delay any further moving in this direction.

The solutions move to increase the participation of citizens in property, ownership of the results of their work, and decisions of all kinds

The return to power of groups of oligarchs allied to American capital would not resolve these contradictions – rather it would increase them – newly excluding workers and citizens in general from economic and political power, with concentrated ownership passing from the hands of the State to the huge capitalist entrepreneurs, and political power from the Communist Party to another party that could act at will without submitting itself to democracy.

The proposals made from the positions of Participatory and Democratic Socialism, since 1991 with the 4th Cuban Communist Party Congress, raise the need to advance this process of democratization and socialization of politics and the economy. Traditional opposition sectors have also presented similar demands.

In 2006, networks of the international left published “Urging the Cuban Revolution to Advance Entrepreneurial and Social Self-management” and sent it to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and the Government. The following year, they published “15 Concrete Proposals to Revitalize Socialism in Cuba.” In 2008, we publicly presented the document “Cuba Needs A Participative and Democratic Socialism, Programmatic Proposals,” and with the view of the 6th Congress of the PCC and the entire Cuban people, we announced our “Proposals to Advance Socialism In Cuba.” More recently, we published “14 Keys for the Padlocks that Depress the Cuban Economy.”

These and other documents of the broad democratic left argue the need to democratize the party and the society, free up self-employment and cooperatives, and especially to involve employees in the direction, management and profits of state enterprises, without ignoring the necessary spaces for state capital, domestic private capital, and foreign capital.

The neo-Stalinists have tried to prevent the people from having knowledge of these ideas and a part of the traditional opposition has tried to ignore them.

The “update of the model” did not resolve these conflicts — although it introduced dynamics and presented proposals concomitant with participative and democratic socialism — due to its limitations, state-centric origin, biased legislation and its application of the same traditional bureaucracy present in a State willing only to strengthen its total control and never disposed to transparently bend toward the essential.

In this scheme, the “update of the model” has not been able to accomplish substantial modifications in what continues to block the development of a socialized economy directly in the hands of the citizens.

The recent agreements between the governments of the United States and Cuba come when all the problems of Cuban society are aggravated and the insufficient “updating” is exhausted, unable to attenuate those problems.

The inability of the State-Government-Party to understand the urgent need to develop popular autonomous control of the economy and the political life of the country is worrying

Today, with the persistence of a high level of ownership concentration and centralization of decision-making and its respective mechanisms and laws, the economic and political structure of the country appears unprepared to absorb the impact represented by the new US policies.

The inability of the State-Government-Party to understand the urgent need to develop popular autonomous control of the economy and the political life of the country is worrying.

Bureaucratic obstructionism at all levels, at fault for the slow “updating of the model,” seems to be playing the same game with respect to the normalization of relations with the United States.

The democratic left is also concerned that the eventual increase in investment will be directed only to state enterprises, which will not resolve the already exposed internal contradictions of Cuban society and will lead to an alliance between monopolistic State capitalism and huge American capital which, logically, will results in greater exploitation of Cuban workers.

While there are American business sectors whose only interest is to do business in Cuba, the Obama administration is also interested in supporting “non-state” businesses, which they welcome.

The issues of democracy and human rights in the United States and Cuba are a matter for their people, not the governments of both countries, which should respect the Cuban people’s sovereignty and their capacity to decide their future. The role of the governments is to create conditions so that people can exercise their sovereignty.

Cuba should open a process of dialog and negotiations between all the visions and projects, political, social and economic, led by a new constituency, capable of harmonizing in democracy all the interests present in the country.

The enunciated American policies to economically and politically empower the citizens don’t hide their intentions to influence the internal politics of Cuba, which are being manipulated by the new-Stalinist mentality, the official press, the political structure and foreign “leftists,” like the “imperialist [intention] to overthrow the Revolution by other means.”

The US government may be making a mistake by stating that its new policy is designed to achieve the same strategic objectives of the previous failed

The US government could be making a mistake by stating that its new policy is intended to achieve the same strategic objectives as the prior, failed, policy. If the objectives continue to be to provoke political changes in Cuba, the American government should ask itself if it would like Cuba to propose the same objectives in its policies toward the United States.

The objectives of the new policy, if they don’t want it to backfire and be counterproductive, should be to live in peace with Cuba, to support its economic development and to facilitate, with the elimination of pressures on the Cuban government, the Cuban people being in a better condition to decide their destinies, without political changes imposed from outside.

For its part, the Cuban government must consider that methods (policies) must predominate over ends (strategy), so that the fact that the United States has changed its policy – from one of pressures and isolation to one of dialog and rapprochement – should influence what prevails in this latest approach.

There are those in the bureaucracy and in the opposition who believe that the problems of our country can only be resolved with the help of the United States. Those who think this way don’t seem to recognize the character of the internal contradictions nor their solutions, such that it will be difficult to find support for their plans among the great majority.

We appreciate the support of Obama and his administration for respect for the human rights of the Cuban people, and for their offer of assistance to non-state businesses and to facilitate people’s access to the Internet. But the democratization of the Cuban political system, the decision about the form of government, and the democratic election of our representatives, these are our tasks and the more the Cuban government feels that the United States is interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs, the more difficult is the situation of Cubans in Cuba and the more the current government will oppose this process.

The more the Cuban government feels that the United States is interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs, the more difficult is the situation of Cubans in Cuba

 Accelerating all the transformations toward a greater democratization and socialization of political and economic life should be the priority in order to cushion the impact of the new dynamics generated by the “normalization” and to guarantee that internal changes are driven by citizen empowerment and not by external forces. Something that appears to be impossible as long as the go-slow bureaucracy continues to have sufficient power to block the necessary transformations.

The difference between changes being promoted from within versus from outside could mark aspects of the independence and sovereignty that would appear in the future, sooner rather than later.

The current contradictions could exacerbated, rather than resolved, and the call for normalization of relations with the United States could stalemate or fail through not achieving the dynamics a new US policy could generate, and through lack of respect by both governments for the interests of the Cuban people who, in their vast majority welcome the normalization, but who also – for the most part – reject outside interference.

Early Farewell to the CUC / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Several people stand on line at a currency exchange (CADECA). (EFE)
Several people stand on line at a currency exchange (CADECA). (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 January 2015 — It was barely 10:00 am Wednesday, January 28th, and the currency exchange (CADECA) at Belascoaín had no national currency (CUP)*. One of the tellers explained that he had only several 50 peso bills and that was it until the “cash truck” arrived.  Some customers, leaving because they could not transact business, stated that this has become the norm, not only at this currency exchange continue reading

, but also at the one on Galiano Street, across from the Plaza del Vapor.

These are virtually the only two currency exchanges operating in the municipality of Centro Habana after most of them were converted to ATM’s, so both exchange of hard (i.e. foreign) currency to Cuban convertible currency (CUC) as well as CUC to CUP implies traveling to some CADECA or to Banco Metropolitano, both located at some distance, and the likelihood of having to stand on long lines before being able to complete the desired transaction.

Another difficulty that has become common in both CADECA and ATM locations is the absence of bills in denominations smaller than 100 or 50 CUP, which also distresses the population, especially the elderly, who receive their pensions in debit cards and are often unable to withdraw all of their money, since there are no 5 or 1 peso bills available. In these cases, they need to wait a whole trimester or quarter until enough funds accumulate in their accounts to cover the minimum denominations of 10 or 20 CUP, a ridiculous amount compared to the high price of any market product, but what is significant is that the affected individuals depend almost entirely on this income.

Since the start of 2015, Cubans who receive remittances from abroad or convertible pesos by other means are quick to exchange their money into the national currency. Those who receive larger amounts – on the order of 100’s of CUC, in general the owners of more thriving private business — prefer to use the black market to exchange their funds into US dollars. The common denominator is that nobody wants to hold CUC money, which, until recently, was in high demand and CADECAS would even often run out of.

Announcement of a new national currency bill being issued into circulation in February, in 200, 500 and 1000 peso denominations, coupled with the ability to access the former “hard currency market” with either money, has sounded the drum-roll in people’s psyche as a prelude to the much anticipated monetary unification. People fear that an official changeover will take place that will carry penalizing fees that will cause serious losses to people’s pockets.

Fear is running throughout the population that an official changeover will take place suddenly, with extremely high fees that would produce serious loses to their pockets

The expectation is felt, by osmosis, in the capital’s agricultural trade networks, especially in meat markets that are not “state-owned”, where either one of the two currencies was accepted a few weeks ago. “Mother of Mercy, give me national currency!” is the butcher’s cry at Combinadito de Sitios in Centro Habana when a customer brings out 20 CUC to pay for a cut of pork meat whose price these days of non-ration cards has risen to 45 Cuban pesos per pound. “Country farmers don’t want CUC, my brother, they have a lot of money** and are really afraid of the monetary unification. They won’t sell me meat unless I pay in national currency”.

Something similar is happening with peddlers with street carts, who still accept payment in “convertible” currency for retail sales, but their wholesale suppliers are demanding payment in national currency for their products. A street peddler in my neighborhood states “farmers have high incomes and almost all producers have accumulated large sums. None of them wish to lose when the currency is unified”.

The lack of information and clarification from the official media creates uncertainty and speculation in the population.

It is evident that, once more, the lack of information and clarification on the part of the official media are causing uncertainty and spreads speculation throughout the population, giving way to obstacles such as the (unexplained) shortage of cash in the CADECA, increasing the demand for US dollars in the black market foreign exchanges.

With the imminent introduction of the new denomination bills, clear evidence of the very high inflation rate in Cuba, nothing is known about a monetary unification that -according to official notification- will be gradual and will “not affect” Cuban pockets. For now, it is expected that, when it takes place, the official exchange rate of 25 pesos in national currency for each CUC will not continue, a transaction with which the CADECA and the state commercial networks have operated to date. Our experience, after decades of deceptive monetary maneuvers, has motivated the popular wisdom so that, already, before the dreamed about monetary unification, Cubans are shedding was has been the last few years’ supreme sign of Cuba’s status: the CUC.

Translator’s notes:

*See here for a longer discussion of the history of Cuba’s currencies and the plan to move to a single currency. Briefly, Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, also called moneda nacional (national money), abbreviated CUP; and Cuban convertible pesos, abbreviated CUC. In theory CUCs are a hard currency, but in fact, it is illegal to take them out of Cuba and they are not exchangeable in other countries. Cubans receive their wages and pensions primarily in CUPs, with wages roughly the equivalent of about $20 US per month, and pensions considerably less. The CUC is pegged 1-to-1 to the American dollar, but exchange fees make it more expensive. The CUP trades to the CUC at about 24-to-1. 

**It has been a common practice in other tightly controlled countries, when new currencies are introduced, to limit the total amount of money people are allowed to exchange and/or to require documentation of the sources of larger sums. As the old currency becomes instantly worthless domestically and internationally, people who have been ‘hoarding’ it can see almost all their savings disappear. Cubans fear this could happen with the elimination of the CUC.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“Our actions can make people lose their fears” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar and Jose Daniel Ferrer

José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)
José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 January 2015 — Few could imagine that this activist, born in the east of the country and leader of Cuba’s most numerous opposition organization, is also a compulsive reader and an avid collector of famous quotes. Conversing with José Daniel Ferrer is like a trip that starts with a pamphlet cast in the streets of Palmarito del Cauto, then jumps to the best texts about the French Revolution, and ends in the pages of some modern psychological treatise.

Yet, the biggest pleasure of speaking to a man like him is to see him behave as if he were free, despite the police surveillance and the years he has spent in prison. During a quick visit to Havana, Ferrer answered some questions for the readers of 14ymedio about the current situation of activism in Cuba and the new stage that is opening up for dissidents.

Escobar: How does the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) view the negotiations between Washington and Havana?

Ferrer: This process, which started after 18 months of secret talks, will be very positive in bettering the difficult life conditions of our people. However, the final result will best be appreciated as the announced relaxation of policies is implemented and also in the way that it is put in practice. If it is applied in an intelligent manner and is consistently complemented by solidarity and support to the independent civil society, it will yield better results than the prior policies. continue reading

Escobar: And the embargo?

Ferrer: Our people and the international community have in great part been critical with regards to the embargo, which by now has lasted for more than 50 years. In all this time, and especially following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the Cuban government has placed the blame for our economic woes on the embargo, and has even used it to justify repression within the country. Obama’s policies delegitimize these justifications. Additionally, they are in tune with the sentiments of Cubans and of the international community.

Escobar: During your encounter with various American members of congress, you expressed the gratitude of your organization’s activists who had been released from prison as a result of the negotiations. Can you give us more details about them?

Ferrer: Of the 38 political prisoners that were freed between the days of January 7 and 8, 28 of them were members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, in other words more than 70%. Of the 10 who were not members of UNPACU, 4 have already reached out to us and vocalized their desire join our organization. However, 14 of our activists are still imprisoned, 10 of them affiliated with our branches in eastern provinces and the other 4 belonging to organizations that are associated to our own.

“As soon as they find out about someone who has chosen not to make their dissent public, they threaten them with removing them from their jobs or even worse things.”

 Escobar: What type of activism does UNPACU carry out?

Ferrer: Our organization is not just a group of audacious and courageous activists that protest peacefully on the streets. That mode of operation, that type of battle, is just the tip of the iceberg. Our strategy includes a great variety of means of peaceful combat, including seminars, courses, disseminating leaflets when the wind is favorable, putting up posters in public spaces… even better if it’s at the headquarters of the People’s Power (Poder Popular) or the offices of the Communist Party.

In a society that has been paralyzed by terror for many years, our actions can make people lose their fear.

Escobar: Do you see a disjunction between street activism and other forms of dissidence?

Ferrer: Discrete activism also greatly annoys the regime. They, through their intelligence apparatuses, know where we meet and with whom despite our greatest efforts. As soon as they find out about someone who has chosen not to make their dissent public, they threaten them with removing them from their jobs or even worse things. This is especially true when it’s someone who, because of his or her training or talent, could be a strong protagonist. But, if that person chooses to defend their rights, then the threats can be greater. That’s the proof that they fear these forms of activism more than the others.

Escobar: It has transpired that the organization you lead has lost alliances with other groups. Is that true? And if so why is that?

Ferrer: Many factors come to play here. In the first place, when other organizations merged with the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the oppressive bodies of the government also multiplied their efforts to divide us. Another issue is that some leaders believed at certain points that the best way to accelerate the process of non-violent combat was by uniting with UNPACU and later they changed their minds. Be it because attacks multiplied or because there were also instances of disagreement, some chose to return to their prior situations.

In fact, the relations between these groups and us remain good. Our disposition to cooperate remains. If we had to choose what was more important, for everyone to come under the same name and things not run as smoothly as they should, or that each keep their organization’s name and that things work better, we would choose the latter. We have separated but we did not become enemies.

“Some activists and opposition leaders object to reestablishing relations between the two countries and also disapprove of dismantling the embargo.”

Escobar: And has Obama’s announcement of December 17th deepened those differences?

Ferrer: With regards to the recent changes in policy announced by the Cuban and United States governments, there are some who believe it is a mistake. Some activists and opposition leaders object to reestablishing relations between the two countries and also disapprove of dismantling the embargo. However, we have to find what unites us. They want the same as we do: the democratization of the country and that Cuba respect human rights. They want us to be a just and prosperous nation “with all and for the good of all*.” The difference is in the means, not the objective, which we hold in common.

Escobar: So, you propose finding consensus points?

Ferrer: Yes, we would work together to reach that common end, including those who disagree with us today on topics like the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States. We hope that they too understand that they can cooperate with us.

*Translator’s note: A quote from José Martí who is honored by both the Castro regime and its opponents.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

“I Live Happy Because I Live Without Fear” / 14ymedio, El Sexto

Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’
Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’
  • El Sexto tells of his incarceration in the Valle Grande prison

14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 January 2015 — Danilo Maldonado, the graffiti artist known as El Sexto, finished a month in prison this January 25. He was arrested while riding in a taxi whose trunk was carrying two live pigs. The animals were painted green and each bore a name written on his side. On one could be read Fidel and on the other, Raul.

The artist’s intention was to release them in Central Park in order to recreate a rural tradition in which one tries to catch pigs with the added difficulty that their bodies are smeared with grease. His frustrated performance art was entitled Animal Farm, in Memoriam.

The light blue Lada that was transporting him was intercepted by three Revolutionary National Police patrol cars. The agents took away the identity cards of Danilo and the vehicle’s driver and took them to the Infanta and Manglar Station. Two days later, they transferred the artist to the Zapata and C unit where a prosecutor told him that he would be taken to trial. He stayed in those dungeons seven days until he was transferred to the central police station of Vivac de Calabazar, where he spent another seven days.

It happened that Vivac was the destination for dozens of arrestees accused of trying to participate in the performance announced by performance artist Tania Bruguera in the Plaza of the Revolution last December 30, which was interpreted by authorities as a counter-revolutionary provocation. Some of those arrested, who learned of his presence at the place, shouted, among other slogans, “Freedom for El Sexto.”

From the Valle Grande prison, where he is now, Danilo has sent us some jail anecdotes and a couple of drawings.

The Tank

When I arrived at Valle Grande they took blood samples for the lab, shaved my head and beard. They also photographed me. During my stay in Vivac, they had diagnosed me with pneumonia, for which reason I was carrying antibiotics with me, but they took them from me and have not seen fit to return them to me so far, nor has a doctor listened to my chest to find out if I am the same, better or worse than when I arrived here. To make matters worse, I am surrounded by smokers who do not care at all that I am sick and asthmatic. continue reading

I am in Company Four. They call this place “the tank,” and there are all kinds of people. I met four dissidents from Alturas de la Lisa. Yorlay Perez, Yusel Perez, Santiago Perez and Hanoy.


One day a boy came into the tank who said he knew me from the park and that he followed my work on the streets. This swarthy young man of small stature surprised me when he took off his pullover revealing on his back a tattoo of the face of Fidel Castro. I explained to him that I am an opponent of the Castro regime and that the gentleman he wore engraved on his skin was the one responsible for me being a prisoner.

He responded that he had no family and that he was a “son of the fatherland,” for which reason Fidel had given him a home, and that was not happening anywhere else in the world. I told him that was true, that if he had been born in another country no one would have given him a home, but maybe he could have sought it for himself and that really he owed nothing to Fidel. I told him of the case of Amaury Pacheco, who with a family of six children was harassed into an eviction from an abandoned house in the Alamar suburb, where they had gone so far as to refuse him water and electric service.

Later I found out through another boy, whom I met in Vedado, that it was said that he was with State Security and that he always had a pistol under his shirt. His acquaintances nicknamed him the Hoarse One, but I called him Fidelito.

This son of the fatherland was prisoner for falsification of documents, something he had done in order to leave the country. In a single night he tried to hang himself twice.

Yusel, the Opponent

In one of the constant inspections that they carry out here, a major and a second lieutenant thought that the fingernails of one prisoner were too long and that he had to cut them. He explained that he had no nail clippers, much less scissors. The major took a knife from his belt and threatened to cut his nails by force. The boy resisted and then the major told him that he had to bite them off.

Bunks. (El Sexto)
Bunks. (El Sexto)

When they passed by the place where the opponent Yusel was, they noticed that he wore a white bracelet with the word Change on one of his wrists. As he did not obey the order to take it off, they forcibly snatched it from him. Then Yusel started yelling, “Down with the Castros, down with the dictatorship.” The second lieutenant cornered him against a bed to beat him but the rest of the prisoners got in the middle and prevented it. Things got hot but did not go further because the major started screaming that they were not going to beat him. Only then did the prisoners relax. Yusel was in a punishment cell for four days, but they did not beat him.

‘The Cigar’ that urinates

The Cigar arrived without a noise. Strong, tall, he must be between 60 and 70 years old, and he does not sleep. He said that he was a prisoner because he had threatened with a screwdriver some teens who were throwing a ball against the wall of his house. No one got close to him because he did not bathe. One day he urinated in the middle of the hallway, which was understood as “blackmail” for the other prisoners who would have to clean his filth. When they demanded that he wipe up that puddle, he said that he would do it with his clothes but they did not let him because that would mean enduring an even greater stench from him. We understood that he was going crazy the day that they read out loud the cards where our names and crimes appear. Then we learned his case: child sexual abuse.

To my Facebook friends and blog readers

I want to tell you that I really miss finding out about your trips and other events that are reflected in your accounts. I would also like to thank everyone who supported my cause and confess that none of my crazy things would have been possible if I had not known that I was not alone and that I count on the support of many of you. It is possible to fill hearts with hope. Evil will never overpower good. Retrograde minds will never overcome free minds. Violence will never overcome art and reason. Death will never overcome life and love.

I am going through an ordeal that has only been the legitimization of a good work and the confirmation of an iron dictatorship, which must be combatted with wit and cunning.

Believe me, sometimes I laugh alone in this dark place of 18 by 100 feet with 37 triple bunks, that is to say between 118 and 190 people plus those who sleep on the floor. I laugh even though the toilets are stuck next to each other without any privacy. I live happy because I live without fear and, although they persecute and harass my family, they will never manage to make a dent in my creativity. This time I believe they have been ridiculed like never before by anyone. Although they kept the pigs from getting to Central Park, all of us who have an imagination can see them running with their names engraved and people behind them like a true Animal Farm.

Ha, ha, ha. Hugs to all, and I wait to be able to read you.

Danilo Maldonado Machado

Translated by MLK