Lilianne Ruiz, 8 September 2015 — I have already written this before in my blog. I want to live in my country and to know that my power as a citizen is intact, that with my vote I participate in the legal architecture that governs the small details of our lives. Never more than now.
Because now, for example, our children are learning artificial values in school, that are not their families’ values. Children in elementary school, teenagers and our young people, in the entire school system, are inculcated with the terror of a State that does not respect the values of our families. The values that can only be transmitted through the family are missing in this country.
Today I have to accept that my 8-year-old daughter cries before she goes to school, because she has lost the badge that should be hanging from a button on her blouse that says “José Martí Pioneers Organization.” continue reading
It is not about simple verses**, abounding with values that shape our beauty as human beings, and José Martí’s prologue to this book of verses that I discovered in my teens. It is not about Martí the journalist whom I would like to write as well as, nor the orator, the essayist, the passionate man who teaches about love. Nor about the the author of the diary whose missing pages are more substantial than the tokonoma. Nor even Martí as the warrior of Dos Rios.
Because for the cheap politicking of more than half a century of obscurantism and blackout on the island of Cuba, they have enslaved the texts, the name, and Martí himself in our atavistic imagination.
Until this morning I had not realized that my daughter was acquiring this terror of the State hypertrophied with socialism. Until now, she has cried before going to school telling me as an adult the address of the school passing through the classrooms and pointing to a list of children who don’t have the badge.
This act of pointing them out on a list becomes something very disturbing, including fear that their grades will be lowered for not wearing the distinction that is nothing more than membership in a political organization that harangues them at the morning assembly with anti-values that deform the strength of individual character.
I have the sacred right to choose my children’s education and with a Hegelian tranquility I am willing to defend that freedom. My energy is in #Otro18*. We Cubans are living day to day, in the sense of seeking food to sustain ourselves until tomorrow and so we lack courage, with half of this courage we could change the tragic sign of our existence and support the creation and implementation of a new electoral law looking ahead to 2018. The Castro regime will be just a nightmare that, little by little, we will awaken from, until it becomes a mockery in any discussion, making us laugh at ourselves and what we’ve been through.
We need — and I say it sincerely — we need like a glass of fresh water to change our lives in this country. To do it peacefully, to leave behind all the discourse of violence that leaves our psyches in terror of the totalitarian State that in Cuba is also a question of the family in power, which has become a real mafia that represents everything we want to leave behind.
With my vote, peacefully, I need to prove that I can change destiny, that there no longer exists the inevitability of an island of Cuba determined by the Castro regime. So that we can wake up every morning and look out the window and not see the same landscape as yesterday. Not swearing allegiance to, not worshiping at the cult of the past. Experiencing freedom and the power to choose.
For this we need #Otro18. To change the electoral system and the electoral law, and to believe in the values of plurality and the importance of every citizen exercising their political power so that we will never again be governed by a dictator.
*#Otro18 (Another 2018) is a campaign to change Cuba’s process governing elections with a new electoral law, for the 2018 elections. Raul Castro has stated that he will step down as president in that year, at which time, if he is still living, he will be 86.
**“Simple Versus” is the title of a poetry collection by José Martí, Cuba’s national hero widely admired among Cubans of all political persuasions.
14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 27 August 2016 — In mid-August Tom Malinowski was part of the delegation accompanying John Kerry during his visit to Cuba. The Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights was not only present at the raising of the flag at the embassy in Havana, but met behind closed doors with a group of Cuban activists in the residence of the US charge d’affaires.
Some questions of concern to Cuban civil society and the Cuban exile were included in the questionnaire that Malinowski agreed to answer for 14ymedio via e-mail.
Lilianne Ruiz. Several groups within the Cuban community believe that the historical commitment of the United States in favor of the democratization of the island has weakened since the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries.What can you respond to this?
Tom Malinowski. The commitment of my Government to promote universal human rights and democratic principles in Cuba remains as strong as before, as Secretary of State, John Kerry, said during the opening ceremony of the embassy in Havana on August 14. continue reading
“The opening of the embassy has allowed us to increase our contact with the Cuban people”
The opening of the embassy in Havana allows us to advocate more for these values. These changes have already allowed us to increase our contact with the Cuban people. Secretary Kerry and I were able to meet with several activists and other representatives of Cuban civil society on August 14 and it was clear that they are taking advantage of the new situation to push for real change.
Now we have more possibilities to discuss human rights issues with Havana. I met March 31 with the Cuban government to plan for a future dialogue. It will be more difficult to treat US organizations and other international NGOs as criminals now that Cuba has diplomatic relations with us.
The new approach also facilitates Cubans’ access to information and resources for they themselves to build their own future.
Ruiz. Will the programs that support Cuban civil society change as a result of this?
Malinowski. President Obama has made it clear that the US government will continue the programs that promote universal human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cuba, as we do in dozens of countries around the world. However, it is possible that the Cuban Executive will maintain its objection to these efforts and try to repress those who are participating in these programs.
After Cuba eliminated many immigration restrictions in 2013, a larger number of members of civil society on the island has been involved in training courses abroad, developing their professional networks.
“The United States and its companies are among Cuba’s largest suppliers for food and health-related products”
Ruiz. The Cuban government alleges that the economic embargo prevents the buying of medicine and medical equipment from the US. For example, there is a shortage of some medicines for cancer treatment in Cuban hospitals. Is there any truth in the statements of the Executive?
Malinowski. The restrictions on transactions with the Cuban government do not apply to medicines or medical equipment. At least since the Act for Democracy in Cuba was approved in 1992, medicines and medical supplies, instruments and equipment are authorized to be exported to Cuba. Far from restricting aid to Cubans, we are proud that the people of the United States and its companies are among its biggest suppliers of food and health-related products. In 2014, US exports to Cuba totaled nearly $ 300 million in agricultural products, medical supplies and humanitarian goods.
One of the advantages of our new policy is that it will be harder for the Cuban government to blame the United States for any humanitarian difficulties which might befall the Cuban people. The United States will do its part, according to its laws, to enhance the success of the self-employed, to improve access to the internet and to increase economic ties between the two peoples, with the objective of benefitting ordinary Cubans. As the Secretary Kerry said, the embargo has always been a two-way street; both sides have to remove the restrictions that prevent Cubans from taking full advantage of these changes.
Ruiz. After December 17, the arbitrary arrests, intimidation and beatings of peaceful activists have continued and the regime refuses to respect fundamental freedoms. How will the US put into practice its commitment to support the defenders of human rights in Cuba?
Malinowski. First of all, we condemn the harassment instigated by the Cuban government, and the use of violence or arbitrary arrests of citizens exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. And we have addressed these points directly to the Government.
When we announced our new policy in December of last year, we said we did not expect that the behavior of the Cuban government would change overnight as a result of the restoration of diplomatic relations. However, we start with the idea that we will be more effective in promoting human rights if we have diplomatic relations and an embassy in Havana, because now the international attention will be focused on the policies of the Cuban government instead of instead of limiting itself to criticizing the embargo.
We have not stopped denouncing human rights violations and we will continue our dialogue with the Cuban Government on these matters, emphasizing the need for it to keep its promise to allow access to international observers.
14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 26 August 2015 – When Francina Islas and Juan Andres Sanchez planned their Cuban vacation from Miami, they didn’t imagine that their stay in Havana would become a sequence of discomforts and annoyances. Three days at the centrally-located Hotel Plaza was enough to know that the excellence of Cuban tourist facilities is often a publicity mirage with no connection to reality.
The latest figures released by the National Bureau of Statistics indicate that the country experienced a 21.1% increase in foreign visitors between January and May of 2015, compared the same period from a year ago. However, at the same time that the number of tourists was increasing, customer demands were increasing.
The couple who shared their experience with 14ymedio said, “We were not looking for luxury, just minimal conditions of hygiene and maintenance, working hot water, no cockroaches,” said Francina, a Mexican traveling with her Spanish husband and their daughter.
With difficulty, the family managed to book a room in Havana from Spain. The flood of tourists has left little availability in the accommodation network which includes 430 establishments throughout the country, including hotels, apartment hotels, motels, villas, hostels, houses, cottages and campgrounds. continue reading
After working through several obstacles, Francina and Juan Andres made a reservation through the Logitravel travel agency for a room in the Armadores de Santander, located in a historic mansion in the city. But a week before traveling, they were alerted that it was overbooked and they were relocated to the Plaza Hotel, what was announced as four-stars.
The change didn’t bother them at all, because the new place is a few yards from Central Park, and had a beautiful façade. However, passing through the most visible areas of the building, they found the rooms left a lot to be desired.
The musty smell on opening the door of the room was the first sign that something was wrong. Then they found there was dust on the furniture, the shower was not embedded in the wall, but hanging, and the water pressure lasted just a few minutes. If someone closed the bathroom door from inside, they needed help from outside to open it, and the bedspreads were dirty and shabby. “Fortunately the sheets had been washed and changed, and they were the only things we used because the blanket was torn, ripped and filthy,” the alarmed Francina commented.
When they went to breakfast the first time they tried to shake off their frustration with some good tropical fruits, but there was nothing like a Cuban pineapple, guava, or mango, nor even natural juices. Their annoyance grew and the couple – the journalist and her economist husband – were on the point of slamming the door to the Plaza Hotel, but it wasn’t that easy.
The price of the central accommodation is 120 convertible pesos (just over $120) a night in this season, but Francina and Juan Andres were only paying 80 because they got a deal. Contacting the Logitravel Agency was impossible: the cost of overseas calls too expensive, and the internet service too slow.
The Plaza Hotel is managed by the Hotel Group Gran Caribe SA, an entity that is grouped under the Ministry of Tourism, whose slogan is “in all its splendor.” With 12,123 rooms spread over 45 facilities, Gran Caribe is present in the main tourist centers in the country and now has its sights set on a possible flood of tourism from the United States.
On the third day, August 6, the couple left the Plaza and rented a room in the Hotel President. They found the room clean and airy, but “the bathroom taps didn’t fully shut off,” they said. Francina ended up wondering, “How can there be such a lack of water for Havanans and a permanent waste of water in hotels?”
“We will are not going quarrel with the Plaza, we will complain to the agency,” said Francina. “I lost count of how many cockroaches I found in the room.” For the couple it is not only about complaining to get their money back, but who is going to give them back their vacation?
14ymedio, Havana, 10 August 2015 – Under the title “Diplomatic Normalization and Democratic Normalization,” an even this Monday brought together some 25 Cuban activists of different points of view. The site of the meeting was the “Hannah Arendt Institute of Artivism” in Old Havana.
The panel in the morning meeting discussed diplomatic normalization with the United States and the political dialog that the Cuban government is holding with the European Union. Specifically, they dealt with “the effects on the generation strategies of Cuban civil society and the democratic opposition.”
The event was attended by dissidents and activists from several organizations, including Juan Antonio Madrazo, Pedro Campos, Laritza Diversent, Felix Navarro, Jorge Olivera, Tania Bruguera, Navid Fernandez, Eroisis Gonzalez, Boris Gonzalez and Lilianne Ruiz, among others.
The meeting took place a few days before the Secretary of State of the United States, John Kerry, will come to Havana to attend the reopening ceremony of the embassy of that country in Cuban territory. So far Kerry’s agenda on the island has not been made public, nor is it known whether it will include a meeting with activists and government opponents.
14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 17 June 2015 — Noisy and filthy, with an air of Hollywood films of the 50s, they often evoke the words of Galileo: “And yet it moves.” The almendrones*, pre-1959 cars that abound in Havana, retain their original bodies but the mechanical parts are almost always modern.
A 1954 Ford may contain a Hyundai gas engine designed for minibus, a Mitsubishi transmission, a Toyota differential, Suzuki Vitara hydraulic steering, a Peugeot dashboard, Moskovich disk brakes from the Soviet era, a Mercedes Benz master cylinder, with the chassis and grill original to the make.
This combination means that the spherical steering system might not last three months with Havana’s potholes, or the emergency brakes may not work well. It’s a violation of the laws of physics and engineers if the weight of the car doesn’t match the brake system. Still and all, we have the perception that 90% of the cars circulating in the Cuban capital are almendrones. continue reading
These vehicles pass from hand to hand. Many of the Cubans who today have an almendrón, acquired it thanks to financial help from relatives abroad. In the informal market, the prices of these cars are over 10,000 CUC. The private taxi drivers, driving taxis with fixed rates of 10 and 20 Cuban pesos (CUP), have predetermined routes from the city center to various points on the periphery.
In order for the cars to be able to circulate, they must be inspected at the Automotive Technical Review Company, popularly known by drivers as the “somatón.” And, either because the almendrones always have some technical failure, or because they are what they are, the drivers agree that to “get” a favorable report that allows them to continue to operate they have to pay between 30 and 50 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).
Maykel Perdomo is 32 and drives a ’54 Plymouth. “It is understandable and necessary to have these controls,” he says after lowering the volume on the reggaeton coming from the domestic speakers anchored above the rear seat. “What is not logical is the level of corruption and that the demands are so high when there is no appropriate market to buy spare parts,” he adds.
Drivers agree that to “get” a favorable report that allows them to continue to operate they have to pay between 30 and 50 CUC
All maintenance and parts replacement is done in the informal market. In State shops there is no good access to spare parts and to get them requires a network of contacts in State companies such as Rent-a-Car, where they sell some “under the table.” If you have the money to pay it’s possible you can find what you need there. “The people who work at Rent-a-Car don’t live on their wages. They divert whatever and sell it. Normally there are parts there to meet the needs of the cars rented to tourists,” he continued.
But there are also machinists in clandestine workshops who are dedicated to retooling parts for these antiques. “When an original piece breaks you have to create it, you can’t replace it. You have to go to a machinist to do it for you. It’s very expensive and often the piece doesn’t fit and you have to return it.”
The same thing happens with fuel. The vast majority of the almendrones used as rental cars have been re-engineered to work with oil. Oil-burning engines are offered by the State and can cost some 7,000 CUC, but they don’t come with a guarantee.
Nor is there any wholesale market to buy fuel at a lower price. In the State’s CUPET gas stations, a liter of oil costs 1.10 CUC. The almendrón drivers prefer to buy it from truck drivers or bus drivers, who sell it illegally at half the price. “If you buy oil from CUPET, you have to raise the price of a ride.”
Oil-burning engines are offered by the State and can cost some 7,000 CUC, but they don’t come with a guarantee.
All this clandestine trade creates a gap in the revenue and expense ledgers. The drivers can’t declare buying anything on the illegal circuit, and so they leave blank the spaces where they should declare expenses. “On the black market you don’t receive any proof and it’s also illegal. If you tell, you’d be confessing to a crime. Then, you’re also forced to underreport your income, balancing the expenses you can’t declare,” the driver says.
The National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) makes a calculated estimate of what each carrier should have earned. Based on that estimate it can impose very high fines if it believes that the self-employed worker hasn’t told the whole truth. “It’s completely arbitrary because there are a lot of days that you can’t go to work because the car is broken, or you have personal problems, or you just want to take a day off. If one day you make 1,000 CUP it doesn’t mean that every day of the month is going to be the same. Without proof that you’re lying when it’s time to declare, they can impose a fine,” he laments.
The almendrón of Thomas Qunitana, who is also a driver, was broken down more than it was running, although he didn’t, because of this, fail to pay his taxes. One day, however, he had to recognize he couldn’t make it and returned his license. After a year and a half without working as a driver for hire, ONAT communicated to him that he had to pay a fine of around 60,000 CUP (about $2,400US) for having underdeclared his income. “They told me they had a right to do this for five years. If you turn in your license you have to keep all the papers of when you were working for the whole time,” said Qunitana, who had to hire a lawyer to try to free himself from the fine, a process he is still engaged in.
But there is another problem. If a self-employed worker earns more than 2,000 CUC a year, he or she enters a higher tax bracket, and has to pay 50% to the State
A policeman told him he was speeding. In exchange for not fining him, he asked for 10 CUC and the shorts he was wearing
Monthly, the drivers also have to pay three other types of contributions to the treasury: a monthly tax on the declaration of personal income of 10%, another for social security that has to be paid every three months, and a fixed tax. This last, in the municipality of Plaza of the Revolution, increased from 450 CUP to 800 CUP from May 2013 to March 2014.
“When you ask why they raised a flat tax, they don’t give you a logical argument. But it happens that, even though it increases, we self-employed don’t see any improvement in public services or in social security. Nor do we see a wholesale market where we can buy parts or fuel, nor improvements in the ate of the roads, nor credit facilities so we can make investments,” Quintana lists.
The drivers have to renew their operating license every year, which also means coming up with 500 CUP. In addition, there are other amounts they are forced to pay: those demanded by corrupt cops. Maykel Perdomo remembers a day when a uniformed cop stopped him while he was driving and said he was speeding. In exchange for not fining him, he asked for 10 CUC and even the shorts he was wearing. “When they behave like this, what recourse do we have? When you go to another regiment in the system, they are plugged into each other.”
To recover the initial investment in an almendrón within two or three years is impossible, but there is also the risk of losing everything. “If you crash the almendrón it’s going to cost you 16,000 CUC, you have a year of paying taxes with all those expenses that are massive and the State insurance company can’t cover everything, you’re going to go bankrupt,” concludes Perdomo.
*Translator’s note: “Almendron” derives from the Spanish word for “almond”; the use of this sobriquet comes from the shape of the cars.
Lilianne Ruiz, 12 June 2015 –Last Saturday, officials of Section 21 of the Ministry of the Interior returned to take Santiesteban from the prison where he is held in Jaimanita to Villa Marista. There he spent twelve hours in an office listening to threats from two MININT officers who told him “Why would we free you if some Sunday you’re going to meet with the Ladies in White and we’ll put you back in prison.”
Angel got two and a half years in prison, although the Ministry of Justice accepted the appeal for review of the judgment filed by his lawyer, which showed that he was a victim of a spurious trial, because of the slanders of his ex-wife. This June he is rightfully entitled to parole. His friends and family hope he will be released before the September visit of the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. continue reading
While waiting for his freedom, Angel reads tirelessly.And writes.He completed 36 interview questions for his friend and editor Amir Valle, some stories, and is also working on a screenplay inspired by his work “13 South Latitude.”To counteract the heroic-epic view of the war in Angola being promoted by the latest films produced by ICAIC (Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry) on the subject.
He writes literally cloistered in the 3 by 4 meter kennel where they keep him, and from where they only let him leave once a week to walk 20 steps to talk on the phone, and every 21 days to walk 40 steps to the courtyard where he is visited by relatives and a friend.The place is in a military unit west of Havana.He writes with a pencil, so he asks his friends for 0.7mm leads.His writing is very clear, no smudges or doodles. Like a scholar’s writing.I can’t help but remember that the slant of his writing—which seems delicate to me, like a high school student writing his first poems—was the only evidence presented by the prosecution* to try to prove his alleged violent nature.
This month, according to Cuban law, he is eligible for parole.His friends and family impatiently wait for that day.His daughter excitedly tells him that she got the second choice on her application for seeking a university degree.And his son wants to be a writer like him.
He told methat to stay inshape he runsthe perimeter of his cell for an hour. He hascalluses under thebig toebecause it has toflexevery 3steps.
*Translator’s note: A “handwriting expert” was called as a witness in Angel’s trial and testified that his penmanship — the size and slant of his letters — was proof of his guilt. (No, we are not making this up!)
Markets all over the Island are supplied with objects made on the illegal circuit of a material mostly derived from industrial waste or leftovers from the dump
14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 20 March 2015 – At the market of La Cuevita in San Miguel del Padron, some thousand people from all over the Island daily buy household goods, flip-flops and toys, all made of plastic. The purchasers come especially from rural areas where the economic situation is more precarious and the only thing that abounds is scarcity.
In order to sell in the market it is necessary to have a state license and a letter signed by the producers, also authorized, from whom the articles must be bought. The inspectors who pass through the sales stalls may require this letter, but in practice they pass with hand extended seeking money in exchange for not imposing a fine of 1,500 pesos on whomever continue reading
has skipped the State’s rules of the game.
There are many manufacturers who have no license. In the Cotorro township flip-flops are manufactured and in La Guinera, a settlement located in San Miguel del Padron, there are producers of household goods. The toys, with twisted forms and faded colors, are brought from the eastern part of the country.
The first step is gathering the recyclable plastic among the wastes of industrial smelting and rummaging through the garbage in search of plastic items that can be exploited, without discarding the possibility of melting the trash cans themselves. In order to improve the quality of the final product, the manufacturers add virgin plastic. This granulated raw material is bought under the table, gotten directly from state warehouses.
The mishmash is heated. When the material is quite melted it is injected under pressure into various molds. The injecting machines as well as the molds are produced by hand. When it liquefies, the homogenized paste takes on an earthy color, but artisans save the day using different colored dyes.
According to one of these artisans, who allows no photos on his patio, in many neighborhoods of the capital the police would have to search patio by patio and house by house because “reality is stubborn,” as he learned many years ago in a Communist Party school. “Even beer can be canned clandestinely,” he says. “Such machines are all over Havana. Where you least imagine it, there is one. The problem is to make the product and get it immediately out so that the chain is not discovered.”
The bowls and plates, funnels or any other object resulting from this mix of materials are not completely safe for storage of food intended for human consumption. “I don’t use any of the bowls that I buy in the candonga for keeping food from one day to the other. But they are cheaper than those made in China which are sold in the hard currency stores and cost a third of a worker’s salary,” says Morena, a housewife who frequents the market.
The vendors place themselves at the entrance to the market. Some offer strings of onion and garlic, others little nylon bags. An old lady sells a bag of potatoes that she has just bought after a long line, and a teen carries a box of ice where he keeps popsicles that sell for 15 Cuban pesos. They often have to go running. A patrol passes every twenty minutes.
“If you resist arrest, they beat you. Then they take you to the 11th Police Station, and railroad you and you don’t know if you’ll come out with a fine of 1,500 Cuban pesos or go directly to the Valle Grande prison,” says the popsicle salesman.
A man in his forties recounts how the police detained him once, accusing him of retailing without any proof, and they asked him for his identity card just because he was carrying a briefcase full of plastic plates that he had just bought. “It would be of no use to say it is my hobby to throw them in the air to practice my slingshot aim. Just like if they want to they seize everything and give you a fine. The police do not act for the benefit of the people,” he laments.
Mireya, almost seventy years of age, is the last link in the productive chain of plastic products. While others work in little brigades for a particular producer, authorized or not, she does it alone. She has put together brooms and brushes manually, with production wastes from state industry, for more than 20 years. “If they catch me doing this I can have serious problems with the authorities. I don’t do it to get rich. I have to assemble 100 brushes to earn 400 Cuban pesos [about $16 U.S.], and from that I have to invest part in order to buy the materials,” she explains.
Mireya does not want to get a license because she thinks the taxes are too high. Besides, she could not justify the materials that she uses to fabricate her brooms because, in spite of dealing with industrial waste, there exists no legal way of acquiring them. The bases and the bristles she buys from someone who, like her, has no license either and sells them more cheaply.
“What I would have left after paying for the license and the taxes would be more or less the same as the wage of a state worker. With that, added to my pension of 270 pesos, I can’t even live ten days. If you don’t believe what I am saying, take the rice and beans from the store, divide it into 30 piles to see how you eat and how you live. Then necessarily you have to live wheeling and dealing,” she concludes without ceasing to close the plastic threads with wire pincers.
In tribute to El Caso de Sandra (The Sandra Case) by Luis Manuel García Méndez
14ymedio, 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.
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.
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.”
14ymedio, Havana, 15 January 2015 — The new regulations on travel, insurance, the import of goods, remittances and telecommunications that the United States will put into effect with respect to Cuba as of Friday, have already provoked the first reactions on the Island. Although the evening news barely mentioned it at the end of the show, the information passed mouth-to-mouth on the street.
Lilianne Ruiz, independent journalist, received the welcome news and noted, “This flow of people who are going to come, along with the increase in the remittances, means the country’s return to normalcy.” In the opinions of this reporter, “The Cuban government is going to weaken, the only thing left is the repression and the restrictions. This will make people more accurately identify the origin of our difficulties.”
Among the most attractive points of the new regulations is the authorization to establish “telecommunications installations within Cuba, as well as installations that connect third countries with Cuba.” Internet connectivity and cheaper mobile phones are demands that have gained strength in the last year, especially among the youngest.
Yantiel Garcia was outside the Telepoint Communications Company of Cuba (ETECSA) in Pinar del Rio. The teenager said that she hoped that her brother in Jacksonville, Florida, could now help her with a technological gadget to connect to the web. “If the American mobile phone cards can be used here, my brother will pay for a data package for me to navigate without restrictions.”
The “ball is now in the Cuban government’s court,” said an ETESCA official who preferred to remain anonymous. As he explains, “The number of visitors from the United States will grow and the country will have to offer them a solution to connecting while they’re here.” To which he added, “It’s a question of business, not of ideology.”
The families who receive remittances will also benefit from the increased dollar amount that can be sent each quarter. The prior figure was limited to 500 dollars every three months, while now they can send up to 2,000 dollars to relatives residing on the Island.
At the Metropolitan Bank branch on Galiano in Havana this morning, several old people hoped to complete bank transactions. Cristina Marrero was one of them and she explained that she has one son in New York and another in Atlanta. For this lady the most appreciated measure is the one related to the sending of parcels in large quantities. “My sons have furniture and appliances that they want to send me and this is an opportunity,” she said.
For his part, Julio Aleago, political analyst, said that “Since 1959 the Communist government has always tended to isolate the country from the rest of the world and these measures will increasingly integrate Cuban into Western free market values, democracy, participation, free exchange of people and goods between countries.” With regards to the American embargo, still in effect, he said, “In the same way the American government imposed sanctions on Venezuelan and Russian officials, that should serve as a paradigm, instead of establishing a general embargo over the whole country, punish those personalities of the military government who have something to do with violations of human rights.”
As of Friday, airlines will not need a specific license from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to fly to Cuba, and this has received a good reception on the Island. This afternoon at Jose Marti International Airport’s Terminals Two and Three, the news spread like wildfire.
Dayane Rios, who was waiting for her grandmother who had been visiting Washington for three months, commented, with the illusions of youth, “This time she had to travel through Mexico because there are no direct flights, but I hope that for the next trip she can do it more directly and cheaply.”
However, although there are no new regulations about a possible maritime connection, many Cubans also dream of the idea. “Pick a place on the Malecon, when the ferry comes all of Havana will be seated on the wall,” one bike-taxi driver joked to another, crossing near Maceo Park.
Manuel Cuesta Morua finds, “The direction this normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States is taking very positive. If we think about the phrase let Cuba open itself to the world and the world open itself to Cuba*, than what is happening is that the United States is opening itself to Cuba, it is like opening the world.” The opponent pointed out that “The impact on the social empowerment of the citizenry, on issues of information and on the possibilities to manage their own lives, is very positive, it’s going to help to ease the precarious situation of Cubans.”
Dagoberto Valdes says, “I am in favor of everything that benefits the ordinary Cuban citizen, the facilitation of travel, communication between civil society here and there, between one people and the other, I am in favor of everything that improves the quality of life.” The director of the independent magazine Convivencia (Coexistence) also added that, “To those who say this is oxygen to the Cuban regime, I say that I am not a believer, I don’t think the Cuban model works and oxygen only works in live models, it doesn’t work in dead ones… what is the value of giving oxygen to this system if the structure of the cell doesn’t work.”
Miriam Celaya said, “It seems positive to me that Americans can travel to Cuba, that it will widen contacts between the two countries, but I don’t know how this is going to empower Cubans as long as all these government controls exist here, as long as free enterprise continues to be demonized and there are so many prohibitions.” In the activist’s opinion, “These measures empower Americans, but in the short term they do not give Cubans back their rights.
*Translator’s note: A phrase uttered by Pope John Paul II during his 1998 visit to Cuba.
Manuel Cuesta Morua and I have married. I have never been happier. He is an exceptional man and I have the good fortune that we will love each other for the rest of our lives. I want to share these photos with everyone who has accompanied me at this time and and will continue to do so until we can meet in a Havana afternoon, but in Freedom. Our love to all. Lili and Manuel.
14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, 7 December 2014 — Writer and journalist Angel Santiesteban continues to be detained, since August, in a border guard military unit located on Primera Street in Miramar. His jailers have announced to him this week that he may be transferred to a location yet to be identified.
The hut where Santiesteban has been incarcerated these months overlooks the street, just opposite the security checkpoint. It measures four by four meters. The prisoner cannot walk, stretch his legs, get sun or interact with other detainees. They only let him out once a week to use the phone and every twenty-one days to receive a two-hour family visit.
Santiesteban is thinner and paler. He relates that last weekend he began a hunger strike to demand better conditions like having the right to get sun, walk and run on the ground as is his custom, to have free access to the telephone like the other prisoners, and to receive visits every 15 days. “After an upset stomach, I refused to take oral rehydration salts and I stopped ingesting food in protest of my conditions of confinement,” he reports.
The writer explains that then two State Security officers told him that they would transmit his claim to the command and give him an answer within a week. They told him that “he has done much damage to the Revolution and that if he had accepted the offer they had made him last August his situation would be different.”
Santiesteban explains that in that month, when he was transferred to the border guard unit, officials from State Security proposed freedom to him in exchange for his leaving the country, which he roundly refused.
Wednesday he dropped the hunger strike pending an answer to his demands. Next April he should be released on parole if the authorities comply with the law which calls for release after the completion of half the sentence. Santiesteban also awaits the response from the Ministry of Justice which accepted the appeal of his case indicating that it admits that irregularities were committed in the trial held against him.
Street vendors are the last card in a clandestine business deck whose purpose is pure survival.
14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, Havana, 20 November 2014 — In the shadow of the doorways on Galleno Street in Havana, a young man shows several pairs of sunglasses that he has encased in a piece of polystyrene foam, popularly known as polyfoam. The improvised showcase is kept in a travel bag that can easily be moved. At his side, a girl announces in a low voice: “Colgate toothpaste, deodorant, cologne.”
Suddenly the young man grabs the polystyrene containing the spectacles, as if he were really dealing with a suitcase, and both walk away, their step and pulse accelerating. They disappear within a hallway. They wait. Fifteen minutes later they come out and place themselves again in a stretch of the same street. For the moment, they have managed to cheat the inspectors and the police.
They sell their wares clandestinely in order to survive. They risk being detained by the police, who confiscate their products and impose fines for “hoarding.” The fines can reach 3,000 pesos. Frequently they incur debts because they get the merchandise from a “wholesale” supplier to earn, at maximum, 1 to 3 CUC.
On many occasions it is the Cuban stewardesses or other workers or state officials with the privilege of going abroad and buying in any supermarket, together with the “mules,” each day more hounded, who manage to get through customs controls some batch of basic necessities. The street vendors are the last card in that business deck. “We live daily on what we manage to make. It is not enough to save. If you live for food you can’t buy clothes and if you live for clothes you can’t eat,” they contend.
She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and her identity card places her at some address in Ciego de Avila province. That is why she cannot get hired as a nurse in the capital: “I think that from Pinar del Rio to Guantanamo is Cuba. But as I was not born here (in Havana), I have no address here, I cannot work. I am illegal in my country.” But she does not complain: “The salaries are so low that I would have to leave my job as a nights-and-weekend nurse and sell in the street if I want to buy myself, for example, a pair of shoes.”
For his part, he has a tailor’s license and is authorized to sell homemade clothes. “The licenses mean nothing in this country. To sell ready-made clothes, they ask for a ton of papers to know where you bought the thread, the cloth and even the buttons. The government always wins and we do nothing but lose. They charge you taxes to sell what the licenses authorize but also they are charging you taxes for the prices that they fix for raw materials. That’s why we have to buy and sell on the black market,” he explains. The earnings for selling homemade ready-made clothes are minimal.
In January of this year the government prohibited the sale of imported clothes or any imported article. So that after paying for the tailor’s license and the familiar taxes, he comes out to sell eyeglasses, ready to run from the authorities. “I get these glasses at five CUC for two, sometimes three CUC. I did not steal them from anyone. And if the police come, they take them from me. They have already confiscated from me about three times.” In spite of the persecution, he has a powerful reason to continue going out to sell: “If I lie down to sleep, we die of hunger at home.”
Both youngsters report that there are days when they sell nothing. “The whole day on foot from 8:30 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon, running from here to there: if not the inspector, then the police, or the surveillance cameras.”
According to them, there are cameras installed on the corners. Thus they suffer the enormous disadvantage of not being able to see who is watching them. The girl indicates a column: “That wall covers the camera that is at the corner and that is why we stop here. We already have them figured, because if not they order to search for you because of the camera. For example, they order to search for the one who has the black blouse, which can be me.” In this atmosphere of tension and fear of being discovered, this subsistence economy unfolds.
The government harasses the mobile vendors while it woos the big companies of global capitalism. Cuba does not look attractive for those who undertake the economic path of mere survival. Not even legally. That’s why so many young people want to leave the island.
14ymedio, LILIANNE RUIZ, Havana, October 25, 2014 — On leaving prison, it took Jorge Luis Garcia Perez, known as Antunez, some time to digest that he could go where he wanted without being watched. They had held him captive for 17 years and 37 days of his life.
Just as he learned to do in jail, today he devotes his efforts to civic resistance, inspired by the doctrine of Gene Sharp and Martin Luther King. His movement gathers dozens of activists who carry out street protests and civic meetings in several provinces of the country and in his native Placetas.
Lilianne: Let’s talk about before going to prison, adolescent Antunez. What did you want to be?
Antunez: In adolescence, a firefighter. I liked the idea of rescuing people, putting out fires. But before going to prison I wanted to become a lawyer. I believe that was my calling.
Lilianne: Jail is a survival experience. Do you think it hardened you?
Antunez: The most fruitful and difficult experience, as paradoxical as it may seem, has been jail. I never could imagine that jail was going to be a hard as it was, nor that I was going to be a witness to and a victim of the vile abuses that I experienced. I do not know how to answer you if it hardened me or not. When I entered prison I had a much more radical ideology, it was less democratic. But jail, thanks to God and to a group of people whom I met, helped me to become more tolerant, more inclusive, and to respect various opinions.
As a prisoner, I went to the most severe regime in Cuba. The gloomy prison of Kilo 8 in Camaguey, commonly known as “I lost the key,” where the most sinister repressors are found. Torture forms part of the repressive mentality of the jailers in a constant and daily way. It was there where a group of us political prisoners came together and founded the Pedro Luis Boitel Political Prisoner’s Association, in order to confront repression in a civic way. Thus, I tell you that prison did not harden me, because if it had, I would have emerged with resentment, hatred, feelings of vengeance, and it was not so.
Lilianne: What is your favorite music?
Antunez: I like romantic music, Maricela, Marco Antonio Solis, Juan Gabriel. But I also enjoy jazz, although I am no expert. The music to which I always sleep is instrumental.
Lilianne: Will you share with us your personal projects?
Antunez: There is a saying according to which a man, before he dies, should plant a tree, write a book and have a child. Fortunately, there is already a book, titled Boitel Lives; CADAL published it in 2005. I have planted many trees, because I am a country peasant. I only need to have a son with the woman I love, Iris Tamara Perez Aguilera, so here I am now telling you one of my goals I am aiming for.
Lilianne: You know that a growing number of dissidents and activists have identified four consensus points. What do you think?
Antunez: I believe that they are standing demands that concern all members of the opposition and all Cubans wherever they are. I wish that more fellow countrymen would adhere to these four points. I believe that they represent the sentiment of all good Cubans: to free political prisoners, for the Cuban government to ratify the human rights agreements, recognize the legitimacy of the opposition and stop repression. Everything that is done for change, to free us from the communist dictatorship that oppresses us, is positive.
Lilianne: Why does Antunez not leave Placetas?
Antunez: Not everyone wants to go to Havana. I know many people who keep their rootedness. I would say that, more than roots, it is a spiritual necessity. I leave Placetas three or four days and I begin to feel bad. And that sensation that I have when I come up the heights, coming from Santa Clara… that is something inexplicable. The motto that I repeat, “I won’t shut up, and I’m not leaving Cuba,” means also: “I won’t shut up and I’m not leaving Placetas.”
14ymedio, LILIANNE RUÍZ, Havana |October 3, 2014 – Denia and Mayra met twelve years ago on a walk along the Malecon. In the zone of tolerance that begins at Maceo Park and ends at the 23rd Street fountain, where historically a part of the LGBTI community gathers in the Havana nights. After a 7-year relationship they thought seriously of raising a child, but they ran into an obstacle: according Ministry of Public Health protocols, the possibility of conception through non-traditional means is designed for heterosexual couples and treated as a pathology of infertility.
The two women began to seek voluntary donors among their friends. They knew other women in the same situation had managed to conceive by introducing semen into the vagina with a syringe. “In contact with mucus it can live up to 72 hours; in a syringe stored at room temperature it can last 48 hours,” they say.
Among their close friends they didn’t find a candidate that met all their conditions, above all that he was willing to renounce paternity and cede it entirely to the female couple. So after many discrete inquiries, they used the services of an OB/GYN at a maternity hospital in the capital who, in addition to artificially inseminating Mayra, was able to offer them a donor with the desired characteristics, including some resemblance to Denia. The insemination took place in the couple’s home, far from the vigilant eyes of the health authorities. Should it be divulged, the doctor would lose his profession.
The insemination took place in the couple’s home, far from the vigilant eyes of the health authorities
Denia sidesteps the question of whether they had to pay for this “under the table” service. According to other women in similar situations, the rates in the informal market for sperm vary between 100 and 300 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC).
“This has been the greatest joy of my life. The little girl calls me godmother,” Denia says. The two women consider themselves mothers of Paola, a beautiful five-year-old who attends preschool.
During the pregnancy and childbirth, Denia presented herself as a friend of Mayra’s. In their experience, if they had declared themselves the lesbian couple that they are, they would not have been treated the same. “In many places we found they don’t treat us like they treat a heterosexual couple. Sometimes they reject us. So we did what we did to keep up appearances.”
Denia tells how she gets up first in the morning to bring the baby to her mother’s breast. “Even though I’m not the biological mother, I feel like I’m also Paola’s mother. At times we argue lovingly about who’s going to do the cooking because the child likes my cooking more.”
They don’t kiss in front of the girl, not because they don’t want to promote their values of respect for sexual diversity and freedom of choice in front of her, but because they are worried that she might experience rejection at school. “We live in a society that has not adapted to a kiss as a gesture of love between a couple, and to the fact that couples can be made up of the same gender.”
Because of this, they believe that Cuba should legalize marriage between persons of the same sex, so that their rights are recognized in the Ministry of Health protocols, including the right of a lesbian woman to conceive with the help of science. “The same rights would make us more equal,” they say.
So far, however, there is no donor sperm bank in the Cuban health system, even for heterosexual couples. Nor are there statistics about the number of same sex couples with children. In a telephone call, the Legal Department of the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX) admitted it has taken no surveys and has nor information about it.
As often happens, the official world keeps its distance from what is happening in real life. It refuses to legislate and ignores the stories of different passions, with fruits and without patriarchs.
Constitutional Consensus advances from below, from those who know the least. Deep within the Island citizens, or rather those who aspire to be, join the project with misspellings, in the midst of smoke and sweat, fixing old bikes that deserve to be abandoned, and plowing the earth with one eye on the cow that needs to be watched.
What is happening is unusual at one point. None of the activists who run the initiative tells these people, forgotten and persecuted by a troop of fine collectors, what they should say. Like the plow, the pliers or the pastry flour, they just offer another instrument for them to express what they want in the laws to defend and how they want them to be written.
An activist, Marthadela, never tires of walking and pushing these tools to get answers, any answers, the come to the common people in the spirit of the new laws. And to her surprise, the result is immense and multiplying.
If you started sweating with one farmer in his bar on the ground, four farmers have already approached you do see if they can protect their cows from the voracious greed of the State.
Another activist, Carmelo, makes it so that at a Constitutional Initiative Discussion an apparently exhausted and lost citizen speaks up to say that the only thing he knows is that no one, not those above and not those below, should be above the law, which has occurred in Cuba since the first day of 1959. An idea worth its weight in gold because it took several centuries to give birth to it.
All this gives us confidence. If these ordinary men and women assume that the law and its defense is worth the trouble it means we come together again in a civilized way one of these days. But what is likely happening is common sense is the best soil for the sense of rights.
Constitutional Consensus moves forward with these people.