HIV, Social Stigma, and Men Who Have Sex with Other Men / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada

The prejudice and discrimination that affect men who have sex with other men (MSM) in many places around the world and how this contributes to the propagation of HIV among this population is another key topic of this year’s conference.

The legislative reform around MSM in Africa and the Caribbean was the central theme of the The Global Forum on MSM & HIV, which took place the day before the conference.

A recent study published in the journal The Lancet showed that 26% of MSM surveyed in the Caribbean had HIV, with 18% and 15% respectively in Africa and South East Asia.

In the event, it was noted that, in order to create a more secure legal environment for this population, it was essential, as a first step, to decriminalize sex between men.

Translated by: Eduardo Alemán

November 12 2012

Idle Human Capital / Fernando Damaso

Photo by Rebeca

In Cuba there are a ton of professionals and technicians who have graduated from universities and who are not directly linked to profitable enterprises, but to political, administrative and bureaucratic tasks. In addition, due to recent drastic cuts in state employment, there are thousands of them who are not working in their professions. Since professional private practice is prohibited, in order to survive, they have taken jobs as artisans, taxi drivers, cooks, peddlers, vegetable vendors, lighting repairmen, etcetera. The government’s low salaries and poor working conditions are a disincentive. That is how many well-educated and experienced citizens have been lost, falling through the cracks, as though they were expendable.

We can, without any doubt, assert that there is a large amount of human capital that is being underutilized and that has no chance of professional or self-realization in this country. Add to this the new graduates who every year try to enter the labor force but cannot find a job commensurate with their education, making the situation even more tense and difficult.

For this reason, the travel restrictions in the new immigration law that apply to this section of the population, and that according to the government are necessary in order to combat brain drain, are not at all understood. It would be as if a potato farmer, having had a good harvest, did not consume his potatoes or let others buy them, leaving them in the open to spoil.

Our authorities have a dog-in-the-manger attitude. Only in this case we are not talking about potatoes or dogs, but people, whose lives are now curtailed due to the enforcement of a feudal state mentality. Instead of providing a solution to the emigration problem, the newly approved measures add fuel to the fire through the accumulation of idle human capital that will escape, one way or another, in an attempt to achieve self-realization.

Since those who will have less of a hard time leaving or travelling are retired people and the less educated – citizens who are the least attractive to host countries – Cuban authorities will be able to say that, while they issue thousands of passports, the ones who do not issue visas are other countries, making it seem as if the they are not the ones obstructing emigration, but others. Another manipulative twist, one of many to which we have become accustomed. Give it time!

Translated by Eduardo Alemán

October 26 2012

Lalo & Lola / Rosa Maria Rodriguez Torrado

Taken from

Lola and Lalo are a senior couple who live near my house. I visit them almost every night around 8 o’clock to take their blood pressure, and Lalo, who is half deaf and almost never uses the hearing aid that the specialist prescribed him, never fails to yell at his wife: “Darling, get the grocery bags because the evening news is on.” He always says that because the broadcast news on national television always shows a different Cuba than the one they are familiar with.

Every day there is news of accomplishments, medicines filling the shelves at pharmacies and plenty of various cheap products that are available at stores and farmers’ markets. Also, according to the news, every day Cubans have a proper breakfast at home as well as two full meals. Not only that, but Cubans “understand” and can even justify the reasons why the authorities, from time to time, raise the price of food. Every person interviewed on television is in favor of the government, and although they cannot elect their president, they coincidentally sympathize with the reelected one, — who inherited his position because of a blood infusion more than anything — as well as with the parliament whose members belong to the only existing Party, where everything has been historically approved by unanimous consent.

I would love to immigrate to that televised Cuba, propagandistic and virtual, where there is no repression, and where people are not persecuted or imprisoned for the way they think, where human rights and fundamental liberties are respected, and where political prisoners do not exist. Unfortunately, in the Cuba where I was born and that I love so much, medical attention in clinics and hospitals, though free, is not good, food consumption is deficient, available goods have poor quality and products often disappear off of the shelves of stores and markets.

Yes, of course, I would love to meet the other Cuba that the loud official government propaganda machine produces. The Cuba manufactured especially for foreigners, the Cuba in which they live in power, with their families, bodyguards and friends, the Cuba that depends on us, the exploited. But even under these circumstances, I would always want to come back to this other Cuba, so that I don’t lose perspective — like they have already — and therefore lose the solidarity and humanity of my fellow countrymen, and to scoff at the empty grocery bag laying on the floor and fermenting during the news hour over an empty chair.

Translated by: Eduardo Alemán

October 19 2012

Classes Continue to be Canceled at Havana Medical University / Ignacio Estrada Cepero

By Ignacio Estrada Cepero, Independent Journalist

Havana, Cuba – It has been more than three weeks since classes at Havana’s Medical universities and polytechnics have been affected. This is due to renewed efforts in conducting mass fever screenings in those areas around Havana most affected by dengue.

All students are assigned to a specific health focus area where they go door to door conducting screenings in order to detect new cases of dengue as well as educating people in adopting preventive measures.

Last Sunday, October 7, the Dean of Havana’s Higher Institute of Medical Sciences “Victoria de Girón” went around several health areas supervising the students’ work. In some of the areas, the Dean was asked over and over for the date classes will reopen.

The Dean, confronted by the same question, always gave the same answer, which is that a new program of study is being considered, insofar the country needed them, making reference to the possibility of having the students continue the screenings in the morning while attending classes in the afternoon. He assured the students that this program is under consideration.

On the other hand, some students have confirmed that not even their professors know when classes will reopen. In the meantime, hundreds of medical students remain in the streets of Havana conducting screenings, receiving no compensation, and without snacks or lunch. As a result, they usually return home at noon, after submitting their screening report.

Translated by: Eduardo Alemán

October 8 2012

Ballots and Balloons / Regina Coyula

Our television was well into playing its role as Hugo Chavez’s political sergeant dedicating so much space to the Venezuelan election as if it was its own. No television-broadcast-informed Cuban could physically identify Capriles, let alone give an opinion about his program. He was only mentioned as the “far right candidate” and his “neoliberal agenda.” The continuity of Chavismo is vital to the continuity of Castroismo. I write this post at 4 pm on Sunday afternoon, while anticipating that there will be reelection by a small margin; my doubts are nevertheless with the president’s ability to survive until his new term, which raises the bigger question about the continuity of the so called XXI Century Socialism, which like North Korean’s Juche idea, no one really knows what it’s all about.

After the war of polls that preceded today’s election in the neighbor country, I do not pretend to establish a state of opinion with my impressions of two hours ago, born just behind a diverse group of young men that were exchanging white T-shirts for those of Barcelona, and heading towards a small hotel nearby where, for 2 CUC, they would watch the classic Spanish soccer league on a big-screen TV, in an air-conditioned room.

Excitement — and at times, animosity — defined these fans, to whom I asked, in a moment of courage, if they knew something about the elections in Venezuela.

A martian. That is what I must have looked like to them, at my age and with my dark glasses. Not one responded using words. The most they granted me was a shoulder shrug. Some will be happy with juvenile political apathy, not me. The great majority, going with the flow, will go and vote in our next elections, voiding their ballot or complacently casting it, but not one of them will be able to articulate a solution to a problem in their job, school or neighborhood. They belong to a society in which everything was thought about and decided way before their birth; in those young men, the initiative chip is defective.

I walked to the top of a street where one begins to descend a steep street that I plan not to retake on my return. From the top, I saw the fans wearing the colors of their favorite football club gather in front of the small hotel’s sidewalk. I do not want pay 2 CUC for something that is not food or soap, so I bought bread at the bakery and returned home to not miss the game, since I too have my little heart.

Translated by: Eduardo Alemán

October 8 2012

Hablemos Press Correspondent Calixto R. Martnez Will Be Charged for “Contempt for Authority” / Yaremes Flores, Cuban Legal Advisor

By Yaremis Flores

Independent journalist Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias continues to be jailed in the Santiago de las Vegas police station, and “will be charged with the crime of aggravated contempt for authority,” according to precinct captain Marisela.

On September 19 the captain referred to Hablemos Press Information Center correspondent as having “disrespected Fidel and Raúl Castro and said that the investigator in charge of the case was sub-Lieutenant Rosmerty.”

For 72 hours after the detention, the police kept the details about Martínez Arias’ arrest secret, after he was detained last Sunday night for investigating an event that took place at the International Airport José Martí. Presumably, the event holds the Cuban government responsible for the deterioration of medicines sent by the World Health Organization (WHO).

According to Roberto de Jesús Guerra Pérez, director of Hablemos Press, he and a group of friends showed up in the police station located at Avenidad Independencia and Calzada de Managua in the town of Santiago de las Vegas.

“The officer on duty at the station communicated to us that Calixto had been transferred to another station. We received no further details,” said Roberto. Nevertheless, according to the law, the police have the obligation to allow communication with the detainee.

For this reason, this Wednesday at one o’clock in the afternoon, at the Santiago de las Vegas police station, Roberto de Jesús and independent lawyer Veizant Boloy, demanded that information about Martínez Arias’ legal situation be given. “Last Monday they lied to us, because Calixto was in the station,” stated Roberto de Jesús.

“We asked the captain, Marisela, if we could see him and give him some toiletries, when a State Security agent named Yuri showed up, accompanied by another police officer. They asked us for identification and sent us to the cell,” explained Boloy after they were released that same day around midnight.

“As we walked down into the dungeons we yelled Calixto’s name, who was surprised to hear us and replied to us. We saw the wounds on his face, caused by the beatings inflicted by the police,” said both Guerra and Boloy.

“Our detention and everything that happened at the station took place under Major Arnaldo Espinoza’s watch, Unit Chief at the Santiago de las Vegas police station. His badge number was 00182. Although the ones that really give the orders are the State Security agents,” added Boloy.

According to information given this past Friday by Roberto de Jesús Guerra, Calixto R. Martínez was given medical attention at the National Hospital for a swollen left eye, and was transferred to a prison located to the West of the capital and known as “El Vivac.”

The Prosecution has not given notification as to when Calixto will be able to hire one of the lawyers from the National Organization of Lawyers’ Practice, who are the only ones authorized by the law to defend Cuban citizens in a Cuban court of law.

Calixto Ramón has been jailed on several occasions for his journalistic work, and has also been deported at least 12 times for remaining in Havana with an identity card that has an address from Camagey.

This time, the correspondent of Hablemos Press, who assured us his mission was “to break the wall of silence imposed by the island’s government and to denounce human rights violations,” could serve a sentence of 1 to 3 years in prison.

Translated by Eduardo Alemán

October 1 2012

Some Notes Without too Much Value About Values / Regina Coyula

The launch last Thursday of the latest issue of the Cuban magazine Temas dedicated to the question “Values in Crisis?” brought together a heterogeneous audience that, in addition to its habitual followers, also included to my enjoyment young faces, perhaps attracted to the presence among the invited guests of Israel Rojas, the popular singer from the duo Buena Fe.

A consensus arose among those present. “Crisis de valores” — crisis of values — is a term that has been used for a long time, and it is one that not always carries a negative connotation. But another consensus also took place, that some values are timeless. My impression from that disparate meeting was that, independently from any personal perspective on the issue, almost everyone agreed that our society is indeed suffering from a crisis of ethical values.

Some presenters and a few in the audience got close to the bone: white-collar corruption was mentioned; professor Teresa Díaz-Canals gave the example of the discrepancy that exists between what she teaches in her Ethic classes and what college students assimilate from the national press. Desiderio Navarro pointed out the difference between proclaimed values and values as they manifest. Several people spoke about the “double moral” or moral double standards.

My cousin Mayito Coyula intervened with a botanical simile: the “bourgeoisie” values were defoliated after 1959, and with no further cultivation, weeds began covering the vacant land. Rafael Hernández claimed that the idea of equality was cultivated, even though he conceded that such an idea is more and more unattainable. Monsignor Carlos Manuel de Céspedes and Laura Domínguez offered wise opinions from opposite sides. Israel Rojas offered his non-academic, but welcoming fresh observation that honesty is no longer valued. It was mentioned that more space for debate is needed, and that ethical values are not strengthened by decree.

Even though I followed procedure by writing my name on a piece of paper and sending it to the panel, I was not called to intervene, due to lack of time. I would have referred to the role that education and the media play, I would have also disagreed with the remark that certain negative stereotypes about emergent teachers* are unfounded.

I would have also referred to the government’s responsibility in these issues. Without retelling too much, I remembered the notion of “caballerosidad proletaria” — proletarian chivalry — as a twist to the idea of gender equality. The existence of television commercials contrasting positive behaviors to widespread public and private misconduct are an effort to straighten a tree that has grown crooked.

The impression I gather from attending these spaces is that almost all participants are capable of identifying what the problems in our society are and their respective responsibility. It is something that is always in the air. Yet no one has the courage to call the people responsible by their name, for fear to be branded as a provocateur by any of the hotheaded ones. Another impression I have is that government officials implicated in the issues being discussed neitherattend nor stay informed (or do not care) about what is said during these events.

There are citizens for whom, even from different ideological perspectives, these issues are a matter of concern. Any society is capable of organizing spontaneously to discuss and find answers and solutions to their problems. One more time, it is evident that our society lacks such freedoms.

*Translator’s note: So-called “emergent teachers” was a program to quickly mint more teachers, which relied on “an army of teenagers” as some reports put it, to fill vacant positions and reduce class sizes.

Translated by: Eduardo Alemán.

October 1 2012