The Cuban Dream of “Being a Person” / Hablemos Press, Osmel Almaguer

Palma realHablemos Press, Osmel Almaguer, Havana, 11 September 2015 — For the majority of Cubans who can avail themselves of “all-included” hotel packages (who, by the way, do not constitute the majority of the population), their primary incentive for going is for the chance to be treated “as a person.”

“Sir, are you feeling well?”

“Good Morning. How may I help you?”

Those famous magic words that were taught to us in school seem to have migrated exclusively to the tourist poles of the country.

A friend recently invited me to enjoy such a package at the Hotel Palma Real located on the Matanzas pole of Varadero. Being that this is a “four star” establishment, my expectations of being treated “as a person” rose exponentially. continue reading

Other friends who had experienced this deal had spoken very highly of it, and being that it was going to be my first time, I had only their testimonial to start imagining what it would be like.

Furthermore, my intent was to escape the stress and mediocrity that predominates in today’s Cuban society where, in the best of cases, one is treated by others with a sort of faux-courtesy that is overly familiar.

Nonetheless, after arriving at the Hotel Palma Real, the castle of expectations began to crumble when we saw the physical state of the property. This bad impression only grew worse as the days went on. This was in large part because of the deficient behavior of some of the staff who tended to congregate in the various areas of the hotel, telling jokes at high decibels and even letting fly four-letter words.

The stigma of being Cuban still attaches to us in these places. It manifested several times at the bar with repeated incidents of poor treatment by certain wait staff.

To top it off, the air conditioner, a central unit, was broken and, besides not cooling the air, it leaked and made a puddle in the room.

Most of the products on offer were not of the best quality. For example, I recall that instead of ham, they presented us with a lunch meat very similar to what is sold on the ration book. The soft drinks, which, according to the staff were Fanta and Sprite, were far from the known quality of these brands.

“It’s a house on the improved beach,” I heard a young woman say at the next table when we finally entered the hotel’s grill for the first time, after having waited two hours to be given our wristbands identifying us as hotel guests and entitling us to corresponding privileges.

I was surprised by the few entertainment options, limited to two pools and some four bars, with no game rooms or other similar amenities. There was a gym, but it was for guests who paid an extra fee, while the two specialized restaurants were for those who were staying for more than three nights.

Despite all these issues, some of the stress of urban living floated away in the swimming pools, in the company of my friend and her family. When all is said and done, it appears that in this country one should not get his hopes up too high, nor dream of being treated as a person.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Mass in Cuba for Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero / Cubanet, Ignacio Gonzalez and Osmel Almaguer

cubanet square logoCubanet, Ignacio Gonzalez and Osmel Almaguer, Havana, 13 May 2015 – A Mass for the deceased Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas, opposition leader, and Harold Cepero, activist, was held this afternoon at the Church of Los Pasionistas in Havana, with Rosa María Payá in attendance. Rosa María, daughter of the Cuban human rights activist and recipient of the European Union’s Andrei Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, arrived from the Miami Airport to Cuba on the morning of May 11, to reunite with her family and friends and to honor the memory of her father.

The Mass was attended by activists of the Estado de Sats project, Antonio Rodiles and Ailer González, and by Manuel Cuesta Morua, leader of Progressive Arc, among others.

“I come to my country because it is my right” — Rosa Maria Paya / Cubanet, Ignacio Gonzalez and Osmel Almaguer

Screen shot from a video of Rosa speaking in Havana after visiting her father's grave at the cemetery
Screen shot from a video of Rosa speaking in Havana after visiting her father’s grave at the cemetery

cubanet square logoCubanet, Ignacio González and Osmel Almaguer, Havana, 11 May 2015 — Rosa María Payá, daughter of the late fighter for human rights in Cuba, Oswaldo Paya, arrived in Havana on Monday morning, from the Miami airport, in order to reunite with family and friends and to honor the memory of the father.

The daughter of the important fighter, who traveled to her homeland in the company of other activists, commented on the military presence in the “José Martí” National Airport, which is, according to his fellow passengers, an anomaly.

She also said she does not know the length of her stay and must take care of some legal paperwork before her return.

“I come to my country because that is my right as it is the right of all Cubans, whether or not it is recognized in the law. I think we have a unique opportunity as Cubans to work for our welfare, taking the risks to work to win our rights,” she said. continue reading

Rosa Maria kindly agreed to answer some questions for this team of reporters, and thanked those who support her cause, and the importance of the legacy of her father:

“My greatest thanks to the people who have accompanied me on my return to my country, to the people who have electronically sent flowers to honor the memory of my father. We have many friends and Cubans who want to honor the memory of Oswaldo Paya, and emphasize that his legacy is still relevant.”

Oswaldo Paya was one of the founders of the Christian Liberation Movement, created in 1988 with the aim of fighting for the human and civil rights of Cubans. He is known worldwide for his intention to run for deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power, and in 1997 achieved hundreds of signatures supporting his candidacy.

He also co-founded the Varela Project in 1998, which pursued collecting over 10,000 signatures to present to the government asking for for changes in legislation through a national referendum. For this work, he received the prestigious Andrei Sakharov Prize for Human Rights from the European Parliament in 2002.

His death took place in dubious circumstances and there is currently an ongoing investigation, pushed by Rosa Maria, to confirm suspicions about the possible involvement of State Security in his death.

The video accompanying this article is in Spanish: