100% Habanera

El Morro at the entrance to Havana Bay

Rebeca Monzo, 27 June 2019  — I am 100% Habanera. I was born in the Reina Clinic in Central Havana but I only stayed there for a couple of days. I went home to the Los Pinos, which in those days was an attractive and friendly neighborhood with a pleasant micro-climate that encouraged the growth of wonderful trees and ornamental plants.

The neighborhood had many charming wood frame houses, known as bungalows, as well as beautiful residences made of “brick, cement and sand.” That is how the singer José Antonio Méndez, a neighbor and family friend, described the area, which had originally been populated mostly by Americans and Spaniards.

I grew up in a very loving environment. Aunt Concha, in whose house we lived, was the principal at Public School #31 for many years. She was a great teacher and educator, known far beyond the boundaries of our neighborhood. continue reading

Years later, when I was about to turn nine and my sister twelve, we moved to the most beautiful “hurricane-proof” farmhouse which my aunt had built on the outskirts of Los Pinos in Calzada de Aldabo, an area where years later a modern community of the same name was developed.

Our farmhouse was surrounded by fruit trees that completely covered the extensive two-acre property.

On one side of our house was the very beautiful, elegant residence where Mr. Cordova, the Argentinian ambassador to Cuba, lived with his large family, which formed a lovely friendship with my own.

This beautiful residence had charming gardens and two pools, a big one for adults and another one for children. In the gardens there were fountains and gazebos where beautiful parties and meetings took place, with live music provided by the once famous Spanish orchestra Los Chaveles de España.

The grounds of that mansion adjoined our property. My sister, my cousin Ignacito and I spent a lot of time with the ambassador’s younger sons, Nabor and Lucón, as well as with their huge, skinny dog, Naguel, who was always following us around or playing with our pets. I have always been and still am very fond of animals. In that house I spent a wonderful childhood.

My Aunt Concha was a good, generous woman but also an authoritarian who, as head of the household, was always in command. Her sister Maria, my grandmother, was an exceptional human being who also lived with us. Though married, she was separated from my grandfather José, who often visited us, bringing toys he had made himself. He was a famous artist and sign painter in Old Havana.

Once again my aunt decided we should move, this time to the center of Los Pinos, to the stunning and enormous “Villa Concha,” where my mother and her sisters had lived when they were single but which had been unoccupied for several years.

My cousin and I were very sad to leave the “little farm,” as we called it. We were also leaving behind our Argentinian friends, with whom we had played games and shared secrets, climbed trees and ran through the fields, picking and eating the mangoes, plums, cashews, blackberries and all the delicious fruits that they produced. It was in that same landscape, when the house was under construction, that I saw for the first and only time in my life a beautiful wild boar, live and firsthand, which vanished once the house was built.

Our new home, whose facade to this day retains the name “Villa Concha” in bas relief, was comfortable and spacious. There were six bedrooms, two baths, two dining rooms, a large living room, a big kitchen with an adjoining pantry room, a charming patio with two mango bushes, and garages. The front of the house faced the sacristy of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church. On one side was an extremely beautiful house where an American family, the Damers, lived. On the other side lived a Spanish family, the Besteiros, who were wonderful neighbors.

This beautiful home still exists and is in perfect condition because it was and still is owned by the family. The other houses that Aunt Concha rented out at very low rates were lost after 1959 along with two hardware stores and two dry cleaners, both family businesses.

At Los Pinos we had many good friends — cultured, educated people, almost all of them professionals — with who we always maintained excellent relationships. Another aunt, who was married and had a son, lived across the street in a charming bungalow that is still there. Other family members lived only a few blocks away, with the rest of the family in Vedado or Alturas de Biltmore, now known as Flores.

On Sundays everyone came to Villa Concha. Given the number of people, all of them family members, it felt like a party. This became a tradition, gathering together to enjoy a delicious arroz con pollo that my mother used to make. She would garnish it with green peas, pimentos and asparagus tips, to be accompanied by cold beer for the adults and Coca Cola for the kids, the muchachitos, as they called us.

In Los Pinos there was a recreation center, where dances and other events were held, called Casas de las Americas (of which only the slab remains). There were also two cinemas: the modern little Darna and the big, traditional Gallizo. It was there, as a child, that I first saw my first 3D film, The Mummy. When you got your ticket, they gave you a pair of white cardboard glasses with plastic lenses — one red and the other green — which allowed you to see the 3D effects.

Something else I really enjoyed about my lovely city was going with my mother to “Havana,” which is how people used to refer to downtown, where the famous stores and businesses were. We would take a stroll along Galiano, San Rafael and Neptuno streets, each with countless and beautiful establishments. The most famous of those streets were also where the department stores were — El Encanto, Fin de Siglo and La Epoca being the most splendid. Galiano was also the site of the famous Ten Cents store, with is fabulous club sandwich and chocolate shakes.

Something else I used to enjoy doing was strolling through Central Havana and admiring the beautiful neon signs around Fraternity Park and Central Park. The one that impressed me the most, and that I can still see in my mind, was for Jantzen swimwear. It featured a pretty woman in a black swimsuit climbing the stairs of a diving board, throwing herself into the water and creating a big splash. It was spectacular. There were many others, which were also very beautiful.

I can also recall those weekend strolls through Old Havana, when we went to cinemas, restaurants and cafes, then walked — as we still do today — to Maestranza Park to sit on a bench facing the Bay and wait for the nine o’clock gun.

I remember the nights when vehicles with enormous round brushes would drive through the streets, scrubbing them. I also remember the buses were always clean because, at the end of each route, they would scour them inside and out before sending them out again. That is why you could take the bus even when you were at your most impeccably elegant.

In my family all the women were either teachers or educators. I received my teaching certificate at a very young age. I had needed a special waiver to enter the program because I did not meet the minimum age requirement. I started working right after graduation in spite of my mother’s objections. I remember telling her, “I didn’t get my diploma just to frame it; I got it so I could use it.”

After the abrupt changes of 1959, I lost my job as a substitute teacher at High School #10 in Puentes Grandes because the regular teacher returned to her old job. To keep myself occupied, I began studying French. It was at this point that a friend asked me to help her organize an event that was to take place at the Ministry of Foreign Trade, where I eventually worked for fifteen years. While there, I was chosen to be a Miss Carnival in 1963.

In 1968 I went to work in Paris as a diplomat. Upon my return, I worked at the UNESCO office in Havana, which was under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 1986 I quit work and retired to become an independent artist and member of the Association of Cuban Artisans, which I remain to this day.

I have traveled to many different countries as an artist and craftswoman. I have received numerous offers to stay in some of those countries but I have always returned home. Havana is where all the memories and beautiful reminders of my family are and I have never been able to give those up.

I love this city, where I was born and grew up, but I regret and am very saddened to see the deterioration, filth, neglect, disorder and bad behavior to which it has been subjected over these past sixty years.

500th Anniversary of the City of Havana

Fountain of the Indian Woman, a symbol of Havana

Rebeca Monzo, 13 May 2019 — As its 500th anniversary approaches, the City of St. Christopher of Havana has been named a “wonder city.”*

Unfortunately, to date, very few reconstruction projects are being carried out to mark the anniversary. Over the past sixty years the city has not been adequately maintained or cleaned. As a result, many architecturally significant buildings have been lost while others are in a total state of decrepitude.

Waste and refuse continue to pile up in every neighborhood of the city despite the fact that Japan recently donated a hundred garbage trucks to Cuba. So far, more than twenty of them have been received, with the rest scheduled to arrive sometime this year. But they are barely visible because, apparently, they have been idled and garbage collection has been paralyzed due to the gasoline shortage.

To make matters worse, though thousands of streets and sidewalks are in a state of complete disrepair, very few have been fixed. Bulbs in public street lamps have been replaced with LEDs but the installation was not done properly. Instead of burying the wires underground, as was done on major thoroughfares such as Linea Street and Avenue 26 in Nuevo Vedado, they have been left exposed like clothes lines. They hang from post to post, or from socket to socket, on poles that been left leaning or that are in poor condition.

Another sensitive issue at the moment is the scarcity of basic foodstuffs as well as the high prices charged for them. People are forced to wait in incessantly long lines for food and cleaning products to arrive.

How is it then possible for official media outlets (print and digital, radio and television) to talk about and promote a grand celebration of the 500th anniversary of a city where the population is so adversely affected.

Concerts, culture clubs, musical events and other activities are planned to celebrate, with song and stridency, an anniversary that has not brought people cleanliness, order, solvency or economic stability.

Author’s addendum: In Havana there are 169 impoverished neighborhoods, more than 1,000 barracks and tenements and 696 buildings in critical condition.

*Translator’s note: The designation was awarded by the Swiss-based New7­Wonders Foundation

500th Anniversary of the City "Nightmare" / Rebeca Monzo

“If you come to this neighborhood and see it’s filthy, don’t be surprised. Sometimes it’s worse!

Rebeca Monzo, 28 January 2019 — Much is said via the media of the celebration in 2019 of the 500th anniversary of the city of San Cristobal of Havana, but when you go out to the street you see that the destruction of this country, above all the capital, began in the ’60s, as a result of the triumph of the Revolution, when they began to destroy monuments, streets, avenues, sidewalks, schools, hospitals, factories, stores, shops, and all types of private establishments, companies, and businesses that were usurped from their owners as well as some state organizations. continue reading

Carelessness and abandonment seized Havana, which was invaded by people who were fleeing the misery that was growing in their provinces. The government always prioritized the issue of political propaganda and “voluntary work” so that what they did was greatly deteriorate everything whose sole owner and employer was the state.

The lack of love and feeling of belonging, in the capital especially, brought as a consequence the abandonment and mistreatment of all heritage assets. Architectural values have been lost, due to the lack of care and maintenance of them.

In the main streets and avenues deterioration abounds in the sidewalks, the potholes in the street, the leaks of sewer water, the accumulation of waste and trash and even dead animals, the rotten fruit at the bottom of some trees.

Buses are scarce, but they are also dirty and deteriorated, they are no longer cleaned before leaving the bus terminal, as was done in the time of the Republic. Also lamentably, the majority of hospitals and schools are in these same conditions.

Observing Havana’s streets, one doesn’t see brigades of workers repairing them, nor the sidewalks that are in terrible conditions, neither does one observe the restoration of building facades, nor parks, nor schools. It’s a great shame that television announces so many concerts and art expositions in honor of the 500th anniversary and the city has been submerged in a total abandonment and discontent.

Note: Last night the tornado that hit Havana took delight in destroying destruction.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

World Human Rights Day / Rebeca Monzo

Cuban rafters trying to escape Cuba during the Rafter Crisis in January of 1994. (Charlier Trainor, Miami Herald)

Rebeca Monzo, 10 December 2018 — In our country, via the media, the “marvels” of the totalitarian regime are used as propaganda, praising healthcare, which is in total decline, and education, which is the same, as the “banners of socialism.” However, the most important thing that must be respected, human rights, is under the total control and repression of the government, and this what is making more and more citizens emigrate under different circumstances:

Freedom of expression, freedom of communication and free assembly.

These are three of the most important human rights that the regime of the country crushes.

Translated by: Sheilagh Carey

Our Golden Years / Rebeca Monzo

Artwork by Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 30 September 2018  — I was preparing for my golden years with the expectation that they would be enriching, that my social life that would be an active one. I collected books and music which I would share with friends. I certainly did not expect to face a very difficult financial situation. My expectations were predicated on the assumption that I would enjoy a minimum level of comfort. It would also be the time when I could most enjoy my family. There was nothing to suggest that I would not be able to continue working to support myself, that my children would no longer live in Cuba, or that I would barely know my granddaughters or not be able to care for them. I have had to rethink my life, to look for other options while weighing the cost of starting over.

By the end of the 1980s I had decided to quit working for the country’s sole employer: the state. I was able to join the Association of Cuban Artists and Artisans. This decision improved my quality of life and provided me a modicum of independence. My income was no longer tied to a job that paid poverty level wages. continue reading

An artist does not grow old; she remains creative her entire life. This has allowed me to remain financially solvent. Even though I have not been able to achieve all my aspirations, I am happy with everything I do.

Today, I consider myself to be a reasonably independent person, someone who has achieved a lot. I don’t get stuck, I don’t get depressed, I don’t get lonely. Instead, I change course. I spend what little free time I have with friends, which partially fills the enormous void.

But in spite of all my physical and emotional efforts, I still do not have the basics. I cannot count on having a good diet. My clothing, a refection of foreign fashion trends, is provided by relatives who live overseas. Even thinking about a vacation is out of the question. Going to Varadero, or even to a hotel pool, is a luxury. In spite of advances in telecommunications, family interactions are practically nonexistent given the very underdeveloped state of technology here. Because I lack the necessary support and am horrified by local hospitals, I live in fear of getting sick. Given the imbalance between income and prices, it is impossible to save. The most basic, routine expenditures are major concerns. As a person who has always tried to do the right thing, I find all this frustrating.

I move in a social circle of elderly people which is shrinking. The loss of friends becomes ever greater. Many leave for Miami, others for the cemetary. Relations with younger people are also reduced because they have other interests and, it should be added, few of them like to spend time with us. They often see us as a hindrance, in a general sense, and believe our disappearance would improve the quality of their lives.

In the 1960s those of my generation lost a large portion of their families and friends to large scale emigration. We had to build new families and make new friends. Then in the 1990s we had to do this all over again.

Near the end of 2000 I was able to travel to Miami where I met with lost family members as well as friends from childhood and adolescence. As childeren they had been evacuated out of Cuba as part of Operation Peter Pan, with hand-painted signs pinned to their chests. They are all retired now and enjoy a high standard of living. They have nice homes and modern cars. When they came to see me, they were well dressed and, with great tact, gave me a lovely wallet with cash inside. Me, the “barbarian” who had stayed in Cuba.

Who is the real barbarian? There were no outright rebukes but I felt I had been brought down a notch.

In Cuba the old class structure was replaced by one based on absolute power.

I belong to a generation that remains trapped between a pre-1959 Cuba and one that has no relationship to established social norms. This makes us misfits, unable to adjust to the current chaos. We are paid our insignificant salaries and pensions in Cuban pesos but are expected to live as though we were paid in convertible pesos.

Manuel, the Distinguished Meringue Maker / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 2 September 2018– Some years ago a well-mannered gentleman appeared in our neighborhood selling the most delicious baked meringues. He told us he was living, not in the best of conditions, in a distant suburb on the outskirts of Havana. On almost on a daily basis he walked the streets of Nuevo Vedado, where he had found some customers.

Recently, which is to say a few years ago, privately operated sites began springing up in our neighborhood where one could buy bread, cookies, candy and meringues, the latter supplied by Manuel, who also continued walking the streets in his normal street vendor way.

Several months ago we lost sight of him. All the neighbors were asking, “Have you seen Manuel?” His delicious meringues were still available at certain designated spots but we no longer crossed paths with him. We missed chatting with him — this older, cultured, pleasant man with a unique demeanor  — when we made our purchases. continue reading

Today, I inadvertently crossed paths with him for the first time in months at one of the sale locations. We had a brief conversation during which I discovered that his absence was due to the fact that, after several years of retirement, he had decided to accept an offer to return to teaching at the University of Havana, where for years he had been a professor. His main source of income, however, remained the sale of meringues, which his family had taught him how to make.

On planet Cuba it is very common to find distinguished and elderly professionals living not on their salary or pension paid in Cuban pesos but on little freelance projects which earn them hard currency. This is a finer point not addressed in any article of the pitiful draft of the proposed new Cuban constitution.

Happy Independence Day / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, Havana, 4 July 2018 — My sincerest congratulations this 242nd anniversary of the independence of the United States of North America, to a people who exemplify democracy and progress.

Wishing with all my heart that relations between Cuba and the United Statest will advance and be consolidated.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

A Thwarted Robbery / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 29 May 2018 — An older woman, whose son opened a bank account and got an ATM card to make her life easier, went to the Water and Soap store on La Rambla in Havana’s Vedado area to buy some cleaning supplies. When she handed the card to the cashier, she was informed that the “little machine” had rejected it and that, therefore, she had to pay in cash. The woman did this but, upon leaving the store, decided to check her bank balance at a nearby ATM. It indicated, to her surprise, that the purchase amount had been deducted from her account.

She returned to the store, went to the cashier and told her what had happened. The cashier replied that she was sorry but that she could not give her a cash refund, that the woman would have to go to Fincimex in Miramar and explain her problem. The woman went there and the employee waiting on her informed her that they did not handle problems like these and that she should contact the CIMEX Corporation. The woman went there and was informed that she must write a letter explaining the problem and deliver it to the management at Water and Soap. So the woman did this and, after her long ordeal, was finally refunded the money. continue reading

Having solved that problem, she decided to go the nearby ATM to get some cash in order to buy some things without having to use the card. But just as she was about to receive the money, there was a power failure. The automatic teller returned her card but did not give her the cash. To resolve this new problem, she had to go to the bank that services the ATM and make the necessary arrangements there. That’s how easy things are on my planet!

In the Peak of Health / Rebeca Monzo

Calixto Garcia Hospital in Havana

Rebeca Monzo, 24 May 2018 — How is it possible that international organizations rank our planet Cuba near the top when it comes to public health services?

There are only a very small number of hospitals that the government can point to as examples of quality health care: Camilo Cienfuegos Clinic in Vedado; Cira García Clinic, formerly Miramar Clinic; Cimeq Hospital, which serves government officials, their families and friends; La Pradera, for very special cases; and the famous Kohly Clinic, which is reserved for very high-level officials and their closest relatives. Most of the other hospitals, which — like those previously mentioned — were built before the Cuban Revolution, are the ones available to the rest of us, the “average Cubans.”

In spite of their solid construction, these hospitals are in an overall state of decay due to neglect. And the level of cleanliness and hygiene in them leaves much to be desired. continue reading

Not long ago, a very close family member of mine checked into Calixto García. Along with other medical instructions the hospital gives patients upon admission, it recommends that they and those accompanying them be sure to place all personal items inside sealable plastic bags to prevent contact with the small roaches that are routinely found on the small bedside tables next to each patient’s bed.

Leaks in bathrooms and the lack of shutoffs at sinks and showers, from which water shoots continuously due to the absence of requisite items of plumbing, are other major problems. The patients, most of whom are elderly, are in constant danger when walking through corridors due to the chronic presence of puddles of water, putting them at risk of falling.

Something that caught my attention and struck me as unimaginable was the day the nurse on duty went from bed to bed, asking patients and their caregivers if they had seen anyone running away with a window. It seems the “pantry” of the recently renovated ward had just been robbed.

Such extraordinary incidents have become almost routine in most hospitals. Facilities being robbed of their plumbing is, unfortunately, now a common occurrence.

Another incident that made an impression on me was the day that I had an accident and hit my forehead, causing a deep gash almost to the bone. My neighbor took me on his motorcycle to the clinic to which I was assigned.

When I got to the emergency room, it was closed and I had to spend several minutes walking around the facility, looking for a doctor who would help me. After a while, a doctor showed up. She checked the wound, told me they could not help me and said I should go to the Orthopedic Hospital so they could do an X-ray before suturing it.

She did not give me a referral so, when I arrived at the hospital, I went to the emergency room doctor and explained what had happened. He said he was sorry but that they could not help me and that I should go Calixto García or Fajardo. We finally decided to go to the latter because it was closer.

There I was immediately seen by a young medical student in the emergency room who cleaned and stitched up the wound with “kid gloves.” He suggested I go to a small waiting room where there was stretcher, which I did very carefully because there was water on the floor. The only three questions the doctors there asked me were the following: name, address and age. They did not take my blood pressure, or do an X-ray, or ask if I felt nauseous, or if I had ingested anything right before the incident.

Draw your own conclusions with respect to basic health care services provided on my planet, where hygiene — a fundamental aspect of health — is quite precarious.

The Several Faces of Eva (Based on a True Story) / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, Havana, 13 March 2018 — She is a beautiful woman, petite, pleasant, with a great sense of humor and very well-educated, intelligent, a Master’s degree in science with a lot of achievements and scientific honors accumulated over her long career.

She lives in the heart of Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, in a building from where she used to have a beautiful view of one of the most important and architecturally most beautiful sports facilities in our city, with the blue sea, almost always serene, as a backdrop: Martí Park. continue reading

This park, like the whole city, including the building where she lives, has been deteriorating with the passage of time, and with the government’s abandonment and neglect, become of a ghost of the gleaming era now long in the past.

Martí Park, with its marvelous stands, in an architectural style very advanced from the splendid 1950s, is today a refuge for drug addicts, criminals and the “homeless,” who even stage clandestine dog fights and other criminal acts there, and it has also become a habitat for rats, cockroaches, mosquitoes and other insects.

Eva’s balcony is directly facing this pitiful panorama. As she lives alone and works in a scientific center, which requires her to be away from home for more than eight hours, she fears that the criminals nearby are aware of this. To protect herself, every so often she stands on her balcony and looks over, sometimes dressed as a fireman, others with a cap and the jacket of a sports uniform and, on occasion, with a big straw hat and fake mustaches, in order to make it look as if several people live in her house, so that the undesirables don’t get up to anything crooked.

This has been going on for many years in this park, although at this time, because the equestrian monument of Major General Calixto García, which was located in the roundabout next to this facility, has been moved to the Playa Municipality (due to the deterioration it suffered from the constant penetrations of the sea), and the land in the park is full of debris and machinery which is being watched over, the crime established there is more controlled.

This situation, at least temporarily, has brought some tranquility to my friend Eva.

Public Health in Cuba / Rebeca Monzo

Waiting for healthcare in Cuba.

Rebeca Monzo, 7 January 2018 — First of all, to be properly treated in any hospital, you have to have a friend who is a doctor or a friend who is very close to the doctor you are going to see, in addition to bringing a gift — something already established — to be able to enter the office at all, without asking where the end of the line is and to “set a good precedent.”

The journey to be seen in the normal way is long and tedious: first you must go to the family doctor, where you are probably seen by a student, or a recent graduate without experience. They will ask you questions and fill out paperwork, without listening or paying attention, and will give you a referral to go to the polyclinic you are assigned to, where there are always long waiting lines and you will almost never find a specialist, so you will need to return constantly until there is one, as they work in hospitals and from time to time come to the polyclinics to practice. continue reading

If your case is serious, they will send you to the hospital, where a foreign student may attend you, because almost all of our best Cuban doctors and specialists are out of the country, serving on a “mission” in Haiti, Brazil, Venezuela or any other place in the world, which has contracts with the Cuban government to supply doctors and health specialists, who receive only a small percentage in foreign currency of the money that these countries pay to the government of the island for these “missions.” This exchange, which benefits the government greatly and the health professional very little, is called “solidarity.”

In our polyclinics and hospitals, at the moment, the most visible characteristic is the lack of hygiene and medicines and, in some cases, even a lack of professionalism, except for honorable exceptions that prove the rule.

The employees in charge of cleaning do not have the necessary products and resources nor do they receive decent salaries to promote good hospital hygiene.

Lamentably, as in all agencies and service centers in the country, politics is the priority and not hygiene, nor good service, nor professionalism. Where this is painfully more notable is precisely in polyclinics and health centers, where the sick population has to face all kinds of difficulties that threaten good hospital service.

This is true even in some of the newly restored hospitals such as the Calixto García, where the last generation stretchers are in precarious and depressing hygienic conditions, as is the furniture of the waiting rooms, and the bedside tables in the wards full of cockroaches, dehulled and dried out, bathrooms with broken facilities, leaks and puddles of water, where patients must walk at risk of slipping and falling.

When patients are admitted, the doctor who sees them informs the patient’s companion that they must bring sheets, pillows and pillow cases, a fan, soap and other hygiene items, as well as plastic bags to store belongings, so that the cockroaches do not crawl all over those items owned by the patient.

Despite the lack of hygiene and medicines, we must recognize that our doctors are excellent people, but how can it be said in the media that our country is a world benchmark for healthcare, when there is no protection of life here and medical errors ‘cover the earth’.

Where is Cuban Culture? / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 21 October 2017 — The mass media in our country boast a lot about Cuban culture. And it’s that which is our biggest weakness right now.

Starting on January 1st, 1959, when they started to prioritise politics and pass new decrees and laws, which steadily grew more distant from our famous 1940 Constitution, which was never re-established, our moral, social and civic concepts began to weaken. This was when the family, in a state of disintegration, and schools, faced with loss of professionals who had up to then imparted education, were their most important bastions. continue reading

Yesterday afternoon, in a TV Cubana programme, Palco Indiscreto, the journalist who runs it, astonished me by courageously raising this very delicate topic on an official channel on the occasion of Cuban Culture Day. He said that we received lots of education, but we lacked an overall culture, in spite of our great musicians, dancers and artists in general.

That’s true, because culture includes formal education, good manners, respect for others, knowing how to talk and behave, qualities which unfortunately we are losing, including university graduates, whose language and manners leave much to be desired.

We have lost our respect for other people, respect for third-party property, respect for our familiy elders, or what’s left of them. As well as respect for keeping to schedule, adhering to accepted commitments, for keeping the city clean and tidy, the love of nature, including neglect of animals, trees and gardens, being careless about dress when going out into the street, good manners, health, how to greet people properly and to make an apology.

What with these great losses, which the educational institutions and society in general have not worried themselves about maintaining or rescuing, how can we pretend to be proud of being a cultured country?

Hopefully, one day we will be able to genuinely proudly celebrate October 20th, the Day of Cuban Culture.

Translated by GH

Centralism Again? / Rebeca Monzo

Pushcart vendor on a Havana street (CC)

Rebeca Monzo, 25 August 2017 — Once again the Cuban government wants to “tighten the screws” on initiative and private business.

It has suspended issuing “until further notice” all self-employment licenses, which run the gamut from the smallest, most humble pushcarts to family-run restaurants and homeowners who rent out rooms to tourists. Word has it that taxes will also go up — an exploitative move considering that they are already extremely high — and that there will be an increase of 240% or more on the price of basic necessities, whether priced in hard currency (Cuban convertible pesos) or Cuban pesos.

Meanwhile, poverty-level salaries and pensions remain the same even as taxes increase on merchandise Cubans need to survive under an absolutist regime.

Being allowed to once again rent or sell our properties, or to travel abroad, does not amount to some gift from the totalitarian system. It is simply Raul’s way of reinstating some of the rights that he himself usurped from us 58 years ago.

Let’s see how well they lead to the famous changes the regime has bragged so much about. Far from opening up and facilitating the country’s economic growth, it retrenches ever further into statism and intolerance. Given the dual currency and lack of universal internet access, foreigners are losing interest in investing in the country with each passing day. Does that mean that perhaps they will try once again to impose centralism on us?

A Neighborhood Dressed in Blue / Rebeca Monzo

“Hard Currency Landlord” — Homes rented to foreigners must post this sign.

A neighborhood dressed in blue.

At the time of the “accident” in 1959, Nuevo Vedado was the latest Havana neighborhood to be developed. Its residents included professionals and famous artists from radio and television. It was an elegant neighborhood, with any number of homes — primarily one or two-story single-family residences — noted for their striking architectural designs, many of which had garnered national and international awards.

Its principal artery, 26th Avenue, was lined with red and yellow acacias (now almost non-existent) and beds of pink and white oleanders, which gave the neighborhood an indescribable beauty. The properties there, now encircled by high fences and imposing ramparts, were demarcated only by perimeter walls not much higher than a foot and a half or borders of small shrubs.

These days the neighborhood is festooned in blue, the color of signs advertising hard currency rental properties. The houses’ current owners, mostly university professors who cannot live on their poverty-level wages and retirees, have resorted to renting out rooms in their homes and apartments. continue reading

Nuevo Vedado is home to one of the tourist market’s main transit hubs: Viazul station, whose buses leave daily for Viñales, Varadero, Trinidad, Sancti Spiritus and Cienfuegos. Due to limited parking available for buses in the area, the station cannot meet the high demand, so it is surrounded by private taxis, which offer the same ride for only 5.00 CUC more than the buses with the added advantage that tourists can be picked up at their respective lodgings.

Among the other big tourist attractions are the city’s zoo, Metropolitan Park (Bosque de la Havana), Civic Plaza (now Revolution Plaza), the National Theater, the Colón Cemetery and the newly famous Art Factory (formerly El Cocinero cooking oil factory), the “coolest” place in the city, where famous figures from the worlds of art and culture can regularly be seen.

In addition to all these attractions, we are surrounded by wonderful restaurants, bars and cafes with various options and prices points for every wallet. The result is a better quality of life for the area’s residents thanks to the increased and ongoing influx of tourists.

Rebeca Monzo, 31 March 2017