Visiting the USA / Mario Lleonart

Alongside a national poster campaign announced in November by Billy Graham.

Contrary to predictions since 9/11 my wife and I are in USA.  It has been so intense that the time to write in my blog Cubano Confesante has been null.  But now is the time, in the midst of a tight agenda I will attempt to stamp a few lines where we’ll provide testimony, at least the most important parts of our stay in the nation of our admired Billy Graham.

Translated by – LYD

1 October 2013

The School Fraud Epidemic in Cuba / Ivan Garcia

1-FRAUD-ESCOLAR-620x330Josuan, 16 years old, a second year high school student, narrowly missed involvement in a notorious fraud case.

“A week before the news was published in the newspaper Granma, a fellow classmate and me, we thought about purchasing the math final exam for $12 CUC.  It was an open secret that the exam was already circulating around Havana.  The tests and grades is normal”, says the student from Havana.

On June 27, the Granma newspaper, Communist Party organ, acknowledged the existence of a massive fraud.  A person who works at the printer where the 11th grade exams were reproduced, along with two teachers from the Arroyo Naranjo town, were accused of “removing an exam with lucrative intent”.

According to some students, the tests were being sold for between $10 and $15 CUC.  Although the news was highlighted in the official newspaper, school fraud in Cuba is symptomatic.  It’s a national epidemic.

Let’s examine the cause of school fraud and its variants.  Between 1970-1990, fraud was never a lucrative business.  It was a procedure to consolidate and showcase the image that Fidel Castro liked to sell of the Cuban Revolution.

For Castro, success was a question of statistics and numbers.  At the beginning of his political discourses, without pause and from memory, he would recite a long list of numbers, attempting to demonstrate that the Revolution was superior to any other government that existed prior to 1959.  From the low infant death rate, to  the thousands of doctors graduated annually, to the millions of professionals formed “thanks to the Revolution”.

Education was one of the jewels in Castro’s crown.  With the objective of maintaining the enchantment of the statistics which were going up, education at all levels lost many integers.  The teachers were not judged by the quality of their classes.  They were “measured” — a jargon used in those years to indicate the number of students who moved up to the next grade.

It was when the education fell into “passing”.  Every year, 100% of the students, perhaps some with serious limitations would move up to the next level.  It was then, that the fraud was almost consensual.It was disguised in many ways.

Money was not the reason.  The teacher who would police the classroom while the students took the exam would leave them alone for fifteen minutes.  Enough time for the students to check their answers with the rest of their classmates.

Sometimes fraud was brazen.  A teacher would calmly copy with white chalk the answers on the blackboard.  Another way: the day before the exam, a review, the teacher would expose the whole exam to the students.

It was a time in which we were useful numbers to keep Castro’s propaganda afloat.  These waters have now been muddied.  Cyclically, the official press has denounced notorious cases of fraud, which freely occur in middle and high schools.

With the advent of the “Special Period”, the country got hit with a stagnation economic crisis that has now lasted 22 years.  Salaries are now jokes in bad taste.  With the loss of value of the Cuban peso, the quality of teaching has fallen even lower.  Thousands of teacher left for exile or deserted to better paid trades.

It’s common to see a former teacher selling ice cream or cleaning floors in a five-star hotel.  Poverty — with too many teachers without vocation or knowledge — into which public education has now sunk, has caused teachers to use tests in lucrative ways.

This happens from elementary to high school.  “For 100 Cuban pesos weekly, the deputy director of a school, reviewed material with the kids before the final exams.  On that exam, was all the material she reviewed”, said the father of a student.

But if you want to see fraud in a larger scale, visit the night schools or trade schools.  “At the school where I go to get my high school degree, for 5 CUC they sell the final exams.  It’s barefaced.  If you don’t have money, they accept gifts like a perfume or a Lebron James shirt”, said a young man.

About the gaps in grammar or simple arithmetic of the students who start college, a college professor said: “They come with notable deficiencies.  They do not have the basic mathematics knowledge and show major orthographic blunders.  Geography or History, before taking the exams, they learn the lessons punctually”.

Those blunders in school education, are one of the signs of thousands of mediocre teachers and professionals.  90% of Cuban doctors that attempt to revalidate their degrees outside the island fail.  The same happens with civil or telecommunications engineers.

Cuba is a nation of high educational indices; to talk about quality that’s another thing.

It’s rare for a student born after the Castro Revolution not to have engaged in fraud.  If you never did it, raise your hand.

Ivan Garcia

Picture – Taken from Marti News

Translated by – LYD

28 September 2013

Cuban Adolescents Facing an Employment Contract / Dora Leonor Mesa

By Lic. Dora Mesa Crespo Coordinator of the Cuban Association for the Development of Early Childhood Education, and Lic. Odalina Guerrero Lara, Attorney for the Cuban Law Association.

Labor Law is a system of principles governing employment relations.  Thus, we understand that the essence of Labor Law is precisely the employment relationship.

Analysis of the draft Labor Code Law [1]

Chapter III. EMPLOYMENT CONTRACT. Section One Formalities and the Capacity To Make Employment Contracts

Article 20 (Chapter III) provides:

ARTICLE 20: The employment relationship between employer and employee is formalized with an employment contract…

In the Draft of the Labor Law Code, hereinafter Draft, when it defines Contract, it omits that Article 20 refers only to an individual contract.

The Individual Employment Contract is entered into individually between the employee and the employer, which can be a person, although reality shows us that in one employment relationship there can be many physical or legal parties, simultaneously or successively, corresponding to the employer.

The Draft of the Labor Code, Chapter III, Article 20 explains it in the following manner:

Acticle 20.  The employment relationship between the employee and the employer is formalized via an Employment Contract, in which the employee, on one side, is committed to perform the work, follow disciplinary rules and the employer on his side, is required to pay wages to the employee and will guarantee safe working conditions, labor rights and social security which are established by legislation.  The contract will be considered null if there are any violations to this Law.

The employment relationship

Per professor Cavazos, the employment relationship starts at the same moment in which the employee begins work; however, the employment contract is achieved with the simple fact of agreement.  Therefore, there could be instances of the existence of an employment contract without an employment relationship; it occurs when a contract is entered into and it is agreed that the service will be performed at a later time.

The existence of an employment relationship presumes the existence of a contract, between the party performing the work and the one that receives it; it presumes the employment relationship, and the lack of agreement is always imputable to the employer.

Chapter I GENERAL DISPOSITIONS, First Section, Principles and Fundamentals to Employment Law.  Perhaps to make it easier for the employees, the legal article defines the ones subjects to the “employment relationship”, (Article 9), identifies the employer and worker, but omits the description of the “employment relationship” which does exist when defining the contract, but with an inexplicable omission as to what an “Individual Work Contract” relates to.

In the section that relates to Contracts (articles 26 through 28) it really refers to the length of time of the individual relationships of employment as established in Chapter III, Draft of the Labor Code Law.

Chapter III Employment Contract – Second Section – Types of Employment Contracts

ARTICLE 26: Types of employment contracts used:

a) For an undetermined time, the work is to be undertaken in character permanent in nature and it doesn’t express the date of termination;

b) for a determined time, for the execution of a determined work or project, to complete potential or emergent work, for seasonal work or for the fulfillment of social work, for a trial period, to fill in for absent employees due to justified causes protected to continue for an undetermined time; they are arranged to be performed in a permanent manner and it doesn’t express a termination date.

Therefore, in a legal definition, it’s said that there is a contract when two or more parties, with contractual capacity agree under a common declaration of intent, meant to regulate their rights and obligations.

In modern law, the employment contract is not freed to the autonomy of the contractual parties, the law imposes limitations, fundamentally intended to protect the rights and obligations of the employee, or beneficiary, especially if they are under the age of 18.

There is a reciprocal relationship between both parties in an employment contract.  By adhering to the limitations, what is a right to one party it becomes an obligation to the other.  This is the legal relationship that is protected by the legal bodies.


Translated by – LYD

16 September 2013

Teenagers’ Access to Cuban Universities

Source – Access to Cuban Universities of Qualified Workers and Trade School Graduates, Mesa Crespo, D.L.

Although Cuba’s reputation as an advanced third world country with regards to education, annually thousand of students and workers under the age of 18 don’t have access to college level education due to social and governmental obstacles.

The Youth Code, a law implemented in 1978 and approved by the National Assembly of Popular Power, the supreme organization of the State power, explains in one of its articles that newly graduated students from basic education (up to 9th grade) can continue their education depending on their academic performance and political and social attitude.

In reality, new directives and resolutions added to the code present obstacles to the academic development of a portion of the students, who due to their age are considered adolescents.

Since the 90’s, social investigative centers run by the government have conducted studies, where diverse realities among the Cuban youth were identified: disintegration and poor social mobility in the most vulnerable population sectors and the incipient lack of motivation to continue college education.

This post belongs to a series that attempts to analyze the access to higher education of the students attending polytechnics; especially those classified as “qualified workers” who are a part of the Technical and Professional Education (ETP).  After this analysis we can concentrate on the deep fundamental aspects related to the socioeconomic and educational environment at this level of education.

The term “polytechnic student” applies to qualified workers, which refers both to the studies for qualified workers — in some specialties that relates learning a trade or skill — and to the category known as mid-level, known generically in Cuba as mid-technicians.  The differentiations between the two level of students will be made when the need arises in the coming articles in order to better understand the topic.

Translated by – LYD

2 September 2013

I Like That They Call Me “Papi” / Luis Cino Alvarez

Havana, Cuba, September, – Lately, with guys over the age of 40, in addition to “Tío,” “Puro” and very rarely “Señor, the younger generation calls us “Papi.”

As sexists as we still are — sorry, Mariela Castro —  it is still a bit startling.

They call the taxi driver “Papi,” a guy with a criminal face who can barely hide that he’s up to no good; a young man who looks like a metrosexual, all very ambivalent: gelled hair, waxed eyebrows, piercing in his left eyebrow, tight top which shows his well sculpted arms, and chest hairs showing signs of prior shaving and even the top of his underwear showing the name of Versace that sticks out two inches above his pants, which also, by the way, are hanging almost to his crotch.

And how about if the one calling you “Papi” is a good-looking girl made up like a porn star?  First, make sure that is not a man. If it really is a girl, then perhaps there no need for a sweet little compliment.  Within the next hour she can ask you to light her cigarette and then turn her back on you, shaking her assets without even thanking you. As if everyone in the universe deserved it.

She might also be a hooker looking for clients.  Chances are that nothing will happen, because the money you have is not enough to pay her fee; perhaps you don’t have a place to take her; or you are afraid of the place where she could take you and where two or three of her followers could be waiting to fleece you; fear of AIDS might stop you; or you’re turned off by her warnings that you have to pay her in advance, use a condom, not take too long, and not kiss her (the prostitutes in Cuba do not kiss on the mouth).

In many instances, when you really look at her, you have to be a championship pervert to overcome the weight of your conscience and do it with a girl who could easily be your daughter and who you can tell from a mile away is hungry.

Now it doesn’t bother me when they call me “Papi.”  Perhaps I would feel uncomfortable if they called me “Señor. Especially if it is a young girl. I feel that if they don’t address me in familiar terms it is because I look as old as a Polynesian turtle.  Too old for them to call me “Papi.” And that is much worse.

From Cubanet, September 6, 2013

Luis Cino Alvarrez —

Translated by – LYD


I am the Woman Who was Raped by an Immigration Officer in the Bahamas / CID

My name is Maireni Saborio Gonzales, I am 23 years old and I live in city of Caibarien, Villa Clara.  I left as a boat person or rafter on September 25, 2012 and I was jailed for 11 months in the Carmicheal Center located in Nassau Bahamas, where later on I was deported back to Cuba on August 21, 2013.

While in Bahamas, I psychologically suffered very much.  I was the woman who was raped by the immigration officer in Bahamas.

I am very afraid to be in this country – Cuba – because I declared myself as dissident on some United States’ radio stations, on the internet and I repudiated wanting to return to Cuba in all instances.

I am under a lot of tension due to all the things that have happened to me; I also had to denounce the Bahamian authorities because of their lack of protection during the time I was imprisoned, due to the sexual assaults that I suffered on several occasions and I am under pressure too because I was returned to a country where I haven’t been able to find a job and I feel that I am under surveillance at all times.

I was one of the women who stitched their mouths shut; I surrendered my beauty and I shaved my head to collaborate with my compatriots, 24 Cubans completely bald.  I did two hunger strikes, one that lasted 18 days and the second one that lasted 16 days, and there were men on strike too.

The Bahamian government detained me because I tried to kill myself due to the psychological stress that I was under.  They detained me and took me to a mental institution in which around March I took a mixture of 20 different medications so I could take my life.  Afterwards, they took me to the Silent Hospital, another medical institution which the Bahamanians have on the island of Nassau to treat the mentally ill.

As I said before, there they gave me medications and wouldn’t tell me anything about what was going to happen with our situation and I was extremely stressed.

We witnessed beatings, we saw our compatriots be beaten, the video that is going around the world is not a lie, this video is real and we lived it and we, the women, decided to go through everything that happened because nothing that you see in those photos and on the internet is a lie and we decided to do it because we were tired of these things and of existing under those horrific conditions in which we found ourselves where we didn’t even have drinking water and we had to sleep on the floor and we couldn’t communicate with our families and we were continually sexually harassed.

In addition to seeing how they mistreated our compatriots, we had no human rights, no one we could count on and we lived in this place in this concentration camp that was horrible and what we wanted was for the whole world to see what was happening and what happens with all these Cubans. We were a little more than forty Cubans who were in the detention center, we aren’t criminals and the only thing we were looking for was a window to freedom and I ask, please, that everyone who sees this video knows what is is real and help us so that one day we can see the freedom we so greatly desire.

Translated by – LYD and RST

13 September 2013

Decent Work / Dora Leonor Mesa

Poverty is the cause and reason that makes the worker particularly vulnerable to psychological stress.

Source: IX Meeting of the Mixed Committee

OIT- OMS sobre Medicina del Trabajo (1984)

Juan Somavia defined it as “productive labor in which freedom, equality, security and dignity are conditions,  rights are respected and fair wage payment exists as well as social protection”.

The notion of decent work amounts then “to what people expect in their working lives”, a productive work with: Fair pay; Safety in the workplace; Social protection of families; Better perspectives for personal development and social integration; Freedom for individuals to express their concerns, organize and take part in the decisions that affect their life; Equality of opportunity and treatment for women and men.

What is the Decent Work?

Is an important condition to overcome poverty, reduce social inequalities and ensure sustainable development and a democratic government.

The impact of improper working conditions

Impact in numbers; Early aging; Workforce exhaustion; Mental health deterioration; Work stress; Absenteeism

Work related illnesses will double by year 2020 if no changes occur.  Per the Work Ministry in Japan, some cases including suicides are on the rise: 13 cases in 1995; 18 cases in 1996; 23 cases in 1997; 355 cases in 2005

Karoshi (death due to excess work): First case in 1969.

Causes of death: Heart attacks and strokes including subarachnoid hemorrhage (18.4%); cerebral hemorrhage (17.2%); heart attack or brain stroke (6.8%); myocardial infarction (9.8%); heart failure (18.7%); other causes (29.1%), including among them illnesses of rationalization.

The National Defense Council of the Victims of Death from Overwork (karoshi), is an institution that helps the victim’s families to obtain compensation and in many cases, fight endless judicial battles; it’s considered that karoshi affects annually around 10,000 Japanese employees.

Who commits suicide?: Any social status; Work hours with a medium of 10-12 hours without rest days.

What happens in China?: The life expectancy of the “brains” that lead the technology park in Zhongguancun, north of Beijing, considered the Chinese “Silicon Valley” is 54 years and 70% risk of death from “karoshi” (death due to excess work).

It also happens in Europe: The Appellate Court in Riom (Puy-de Dome) confirmed it in February 2000; In January 20, 1997 a man was found hanged, having been threatened with dismissal.

What is burn-out?  Some define it as a psychological retirement from work as an answer to dissatisfaction and excessive stress.

Dynamic Definition of burn-out: Labor Stress / Tiredness / Defensive Attitudes:  Rigidity, Cynicism and Indifference; Demand – Available Resources / Tension; Fatigue, Irritability.

Absenteeism: An employee who is absent from work “without reason” is showing his desire to leave that job forever.

How can we intervene to prevent this?: With the improvement of working conditions.  Improving the quality of the job is the central requirement to ensure health and security at work; so decent works exists.  It’s essential to prevention.

Translated by – LYD

23 September 2013

Family Fragmentation / Rebeca Monzo

Before the year 1959, I had a great family: grandparents, fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, godmothers, godfathers as well as their partners.  We formed a clan, united by love and the daily routine; where our very close and beloved friends were part of it and the family ties were blurred, to the point where it was hard to distinguish if the same blood ran through our veins.

At the beginning, the very beginning of that old year, the contagious happiness inundated all Cuban homes: “The tyrant had left”; but this happiness would last a short time.

Quickly the first “Revolutionary laws” were implemented and behind this hardship some of the familiar faces started disappearing; then some more.  That happiness was replaced by uncertainty, followed by sadness and later on by fear.  We, the youngest wouldn’t realize what was happening until we stopped seeing the faces of our closest friends.  Our neighborhood started turning sad, then the school, then the house, the city, the country.

Everyday we would hear of someone very close leaving the country, abandoning us.  Who knows when we would see each other, if it would even happen, since the radio and television media said the opposite:  “The traitors and unpatriotic that leave the country will never come back.”  For me, a teenager, who was raised in a world of harmony and love, this represented very harsh words, very blunt, immeasurable.

My most dear friends started disappearing as if by magic; but it was truly because of “the magician”.  Some left with identity tags hanging around their necks, leaving for the unknown, they were sent by their own parents with the purpose of “saving them from what was to come”; they were the Operation Peter Pan* kids.  Between hugs and tears we would say goodbye, we would exchange small keepsakes, thinking that we would never see each other, it was tremendously painful.

I still remember with great pain, the day that one of my cousins and his wife left: she took in her womb her first-born, for whom I had embroidered many diapers with the extreme love of someone who expects their first nephew; I met him 38 years later when the cultural exchange trips were re-established, because with the passage of time, among prohibitions and avatars I had become a an artist and for the first time I was able to go to an exposition outside of the captive island.

Then, little by little, I started to cultivate new friendships, I got married, had kids.  One day, my kids left looking for freedom and new horizons.  They settled in different parts of the world, and I had granddaughters that I couldn’t enjoy.  I met those years later, after I had missed all their baby delight, their first words and their first steps.  Also my new friends were leaving too.

Upon my return from a trip, in which I was able to hold an exhibition “outside” I contacted my children and I confirmed with extreme pain all the big and small things that we had missed sharing in this long and grueling way; but the most painful of all, without any doubt has been this extreme family fragmentation.

*Translator’s note: Operation Peter Pan (Pedro Pan), was a program where unaccompanied minors were sent to the United States by their families, who generally hoped to follow them later.  The children were raised by relatives or in foster homes; many were ultimately reunited with their families in the US, but for many others their families were never able to join them.

Translated by – LYD

26 September 2013

PITTSBURGHABANA / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

1379300602_pittsI’m already leaving Pittsburgh as if to say I am already leaving Havana. The city of hundreds of bridges, and a downtown that imitates Manhattan’s, and a steel paste coagulated in the lungs of half of the 20th century, until the slave labor in China ruined its metallurgical industry and saved that of tomato sauce. And the Penguins. And the Pirates. And the Steelers.

I’m already leaving Pittsburgh, as if to say I am already leaving the United States.

I never wanted to know the name of its rivers. That would be treason. I name the rivers when they themselves reveal their names. And they revealed them to me, one by one by one. And in the three cases it was the secret name of love. That is why I hush now. For mercy. For prudence. Because to abandon a city where one has loved is to bury in her an unknown sliver of our heart.

Here I leave it to you, Pittsburgh, so when the archeologists bring down your mountains and uncover the fossil homes with parquet floors and sinister little windows, your parks and highways still at a human scale; your hospitals, where the silence is broken only by helicopters that travel between life and death. Your universities, where even the glances are carnal and where freedom would be tangible except in books where they talk guiltily about the Cuban Revolution (and where the teachers admire Castro but denigrate the Department of State in neighboring Washington DC).

Here I leave you my Havana heart Pittsburgh; the one that you couldn’t steal after months of seclusion. The one illuminated by your northern solitude in the wee hours of the night; naked between the blinds of the crazy moon; but that now has to continue north, always north, like someone who flees blindly from the malefic magnetism of an island south of all the socialisms.

The beauty of the United States of America starts with the anachronistic feel of this city; it even looks like Pittsburgh but, really, it no longer is. The multitudes, the drunks, the almost childishly innocent bars, the pornographic websites, the community festivals and the teenagers’ tattoos (almost always fake), the pills that get you high (almost always fatal), a blimp that almost never catches fire and falls to the ground (like in my nightmares resurrected from childhood), the food that is better than most cities because it’s less American, the fluffy snow that I didn’t see, but for which I will return one of these Novembers and deeply bury myself in; like in the womb of a loved one.

It’s hard to say this, but the light in Pittsburgh allows an explosion of colors that is unthinkable in the tropics. The greens here are ephemeral and absolute. The sun is rough but noble. The fall announces itself a few days after the end of spring. I have worn an overcoat in August. I have breathed pollen. I have started the novel to end all Cuban novels. I have been happy.

Goodbye my female friend, goodbye my male friend. I could not even decipher the grammar your gender. Don’t forget my steps and bike rides through the North Side, Pittsburgh. Do not laugh at the day I heard fireworks, and I thought they were gunshots and threw myself on the floor of my room; the day when I was poisoned by a shampoo, and I thought of the silly immortality of coming to die here; alone in a huge house where the fire alarms do not even let you fry a fish-stick.

I must declare your airport the smallest in the world, and the jitteriest too. Through those jetways my wonderful memories of eternity come and go through the air.

No Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, and no Wright House either.

You and me, insomniacs, accomplices in the desire and the wish to keep on surviving here; away from the suffocating concept of motherland. Incognito so that I don’t hear the despotic voices of my countrymen. In the antipodes of the Cuban Revolution.

Pittsburghabana, mon amour.

Translated by: LYD

The Kindness of the Cuban Aristocracy? / Ivan Garcia

omnibus-urbanos-620x330While in Sao Paulo and other cities in Brazil the outraged people flooded the streets to protest the increase in transportation prices, rampant corruption and the millions in public expenditures for the World Cup and the Olympic Games, in Cuba the men garbed in olive-green govern at their pleasure, supported by a hard autocratic staff and a Constitution that prohibits strikes and anti-government marches.

Because of a twenty cents increase in public transportation, the Brazilian people took the streets. The Castros’ ability to perform ideological somersaults is indisputable. And they are masters in selling a discourse of effort, honest and sacrifice, while living like millionaire capitalists.

The power of the autocracy cannot be quantified. Or can it? A magnate like Bill Gates could be a ruthless monopolist and evade taxes, but he does not control the strings of foreign policy making or with just a simple phone call send a dissident to jail.

The Cuban autocrats do have real power.  They control the State in an absolute manner thanks to a network of special services, informers, neighborhood organizations that with a simple order can start an act of repudiation or provoke the beating of any opponent.

Even in former communist countries like East Germany, Czechoslovakia or Hungary, there were workers striking and mass demonstrations, crushed by the treads of Russian tanks and bursts from Kalashnikovs. In 54 years of the Cuban regime there has never been a general strike in the island.

One of the few exceptions was the rebellion of August 5, 1994 in the largely poor and majority black neighborhoods of Cayo Hueso and San Leopoldo in Central Havana.  The detonator for the protest — known as “el Maleconazo” — was the desire of people to leave the country.  They weren’t asking for political changes, better wages nor demanding that the government hold free elections.

Due to the scientific repression, many Cubans are devious pretenders.  If the gate of an embassy opens, as with the Peruvian embassy in April 1980, those same people would leave their red Party card at the door.

Or they would play the game of mirrors learned over decades.  They take cover behind political speeches, revolutionary jingles, raise their hands in unanimous consent at a union meeting or respond to a call from the intelligence services and shout vulgarities at the Ladies in White.

The majority of the Cuban population is peaceful. Too much so.  Some prefer to take a rubber raft and risk their life crossing the dangerous Florida Straits rather than to become affiliated with a dissident group.  With harsh words they criticize the government in public buses or private taxis or maybe while drinking the cheapest rum with their friends or in living rooms in their homes; but that’s it.

If we compare ourselves with Brazil, Cuban could have seen several strikes and lots of massive protests of the outrages. The minimum salary in Brazil is $678 reales or $326 dollars.  In Cuba it is $20 dollars.

If you need to buy a home appliance, you have to have access to convertible currency or CUC, a currency in which workers or retired people do not get paid.  The products sold in stores for that currency and are taxed between 240% and 300%.

A jar of mayonnaise, made in Cuba, is one-third of the median salary.  A bag of frozen potatoes is pretty much the same.  From 2003 to date many items sold in hard currency have increased between 40% to 90%.

One hundred dollars in 2003 represents forty-five dollars in 2013, due to the 13% tax levied on the US dollar, decreed by Fidel Castro in 2005, along with the silent price increases for staple products.

In contrast, wages have barely grown in the last twenty years. The sending of remittances by family members from the “other side of the pond” is what supports the basic needs of their family in the island.

It is predicted that in 2013 the regime will receive more than $2.6 million dollars from these remittances.  At the same time, the registers at the stores are happily chirping and the subsidies from the State are decreasing.  The message from the rulers is loud and clear. Make ends meet however you can, establish a small place to refill lighters or fix old shoes.

The bus fare in Cuba, the genesis of the riots in Brazil, have risen from five cents in 1989 to forty cents in 2013.  However, due to the tremendous scarcity of twenty-cent coins, people are paying one peso. To travel in an overflowing bus and with a horrific service.

Nobody has taken the streets to protest.  The mute revenge of Cuban workers is to work little and poorly and to steak what they can from the jobs. Fidel Castro never liked democracies.  The strikes, protests and free elections give him allergies.

One afternoon during the 1990’s, it is said that someone whispered in the Nicaraguan politician Daniel Ortega’s ear, after his loss in the referendum: you don’t hold elections to lose.  Ortega and the compatriots of the PSUV in Venezuela took note.

Cuba, which economically speaking is a failure, has shown that only an autocracy can keep popular discontent in the dark.

If anyone wants some advice as to how to run a country without disturbances, please come by Havana.

Ivan Garcia

Picture from Primavera Digital

Translated by: LYD

18 September 2013

The Hotel International in Varadero will be Demolished / Ivan Garcia

00-620_HInter-620x330In the 1950’s there were two hotels out of their league: the Hotel National in Havana and the Hotel International in Varadero.  The first one is still standing in the heart of Vedado, the second one will be demolished.

This was just confirmed by Jorge Alvarez, Director of Center of Inspection and Environmental Control.  This institution is in charge of controlling, supervising and regulating the protection of the environment and the rational use of natural resources.  The cause?  The alarming coastal erosion discovered by the scientists and specialists who were given the task to visit and analyze almost six thousand kilometers of Cuban coast.

Although the authorities have chosen prudence and remaining silent, the conclusions are alarming. “The government realized that the protection of the coasts for an island like Cuba, long and narrow is a matter of national security”, said Alvarez recently.

The study showed that the rising ocean level could damage or wipe off the map around 122 small coastal towns, many beaches would be under water, drinking water sources would be lost and cultivated parcels unutilized.  It is possible that by the year 2050 the sea level will rise around 27 centimeters and some 85 centimeters by 2100.  It sounds small, but experts explain that this represents a penetration of salt water of up to two kilometers around low laying areas.

In October 2010, they were already talking about the probable demolition of the Hotel International.  A wave of rumors and conflicts were set off, inside and outside of the island.  Luanys Morales, spokesperson for Gran Caribe, the administrative group of the hotel said: “Is a shame that a rumor can influence the decision of many tourists who have called, alarmed by the news.  The Hotel will not be demolished and it is all part of a fallacy invented to grab headlines by people who don’t want what’s good for our island and their time spewing venom in their informal blogs.”

One month later this was corrected, supposedly officially, by a statement made by the Cuban Section of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, signed by their president, the architect Jose E. Fornes, corroborating the rumors about the intentions to demolish the Hotel International in Varadero and the Cabins of the Sun (Cabañas del Sol), both places considered “part of the Cuban and Caribbean modern patrimony,” which marked a milestone in Cuban architecture, due to their advanced design and visual integration between the landscape and the sea.

In an internet forum, Armando Fernandez said “Yes, they will demolish it. And not only the International which is an emblematic hotel of Varadero, but the cabins as well, which in their time represented a national prize of architecture. They made the decision without consulting anyone. I agree that there are important investments that must be made, but not at the expense of a symbol of national identity.”

Around the same time, Teresa, retired, confessed, “I felt a mixture of sadness and indignation when I heard that they were going to demolish the International.  I was born in Matanzas and before the revolution, when summer came, my parents would rent a house in Varadero. They loved going to the hotel cabaret and the kids would eat ice cream in the cafeteria.  Back then a working family like mine could do those luxury things.”

International Hotel in Varadero was inaugurated on December 24, 1950 in the city of Cardenas, Matanzas.  Because of its architectural style it was considered the “brother” of the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, opened in 1954.  Until the mid-80’s, when Fidel Castro decided to develop tourism as one of the most important sources of hard currency, the International Hotel was the tourists’ favorite.

Designed by the Cuban architect Ricardo Galbis, 300 workers took part in its construction.  Ninety percent of the materials used were imported from the United States.  Its cost was over three and half million pesos, which at that time was valued the same as the dollar.  It consisted of 163 rooms and a penthouse.  In the lobby, there was mural with an ocean theme, a work by the Spanish painter Hipolito Hidalgo de Caviedes, who in 1937 exiled himself to Cuba.  Hidaldo returned to Spain in 1961 and passed away in 1994 in Madrid, the same city where he was born in 1902.

When the Hotel International was inaugurated Varadero already had 17 hotels,  among them the Kawama, Miramar, Torres, Playa Azul and Varadero, the oldest of all dating back to 1915.  But the hotel boom really started around 1990 with the construction of Melia Varadero, Sol Club Las Sirenas, Sol Palmeras, Brisas del Caribe and Meliá Las Américas.

In 1887, the year of the official founding of Varadero, if a Havana native wanted to swim in its blue and translucent waters he had to have time, patience and energy.  To travel to Varadero, he would have to take a train to Cardenas and then from cross to the beach on foot, in a horse-drawn carriage or “carreton” or in a schooner.

Today, the trip of 130 kilometers between Havana and the famous beach resort is along a wide highway which by car or bus takes a little more than an hour.  Varadero is still the most popular tourist destination of sun and beach in Cuba.  It currently receives more than a million tourist visitors annually and it contributes around 30% of the tourist sector earnings.

Three years ago it was speculated that behind the Hotel International demolition was perhaps the discovery of oil reserves in the area or the construction of new golf resorts.  However, the grave damage done to the environment was the reason.  I hope there is time to save the eroded Cuban coasts.

Ivan Garcia

Picture Taken from Cubazul.

Translated by LYD

Selective Ignorance: The Women Writers of UNEAC / Luis Cino Alvarez, Angel Santiesteban

To the wall! To the wall!*

HAVANA, Cuba, March,  – Luis Cino Alvarez –   A worthy poet who has known how to confront decades of ostracism, Rafael Alcides, wrote, “Regrets and hopes for a new jailed writer.”  After the letter by Alcides, email notes of support signed by various writers in favor of Santiesteban began to circulate.

It was then when the official counterattack was launched.  It was a ploy wrapped in political correctness: eight female writers and journalists signed an appeal against gender violence, in which the case of Santiesteban seems to be the epitome of masculine abuse against women, and the Cuban justice system is pristine, free of suspicion except in falling short by only giving five years of jail time.

It even appears to hear the screams from the women of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC) against the writer-machista**-abuser: To the wall! To the wall!

The document signed by Sandra Álvarez, Marilyn Bobes, Zaida Capote, Luisa Campuzano, Danae Diéguez, Lirian Gordillo, Helen Hernández and Laidi Fernández de Juan demonstrates solidarity with Santiesteban’s ex-wife; whose name — Kenia Rodriguez — curiously, is never been mentioned; and it calls “for the Cuban institutions and organizations to speak up about this case in particular and about the violence against women in our society.”

So, after so much effort to clarify that the judicial process that sent the writer to prison for a fight that occurred almost four years ago had no political motivation nor the intention to punish him for being a dissident, all those who have doubts will be marked as machista and misogynist.  Amen to being identified as prone to being manipulated by “the Counter-Revolution.” And you already know what that means at UNEAC!

Would the signers know of the frequent beatings, outrages and sexist insults that the Ladies in White and other dissidents receive from the hands of State Security and rapid response brigades at the frequent repudiation rallies?

They must know something about those repudiation rallies.  At least one of the signers, Laidi Fernandez de Juan, a few years ago in the Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) newspaper, called these pogroms “repudiable.”

Would they know that only a few weeks ago, in Santa Clara, the dissident Iris Tamara Aguilera, head of the “Rosa Parks” Feminine Movement received forceful blows to her head when she was thrown to the sidewalk by a henchman and was mistreated at the hospital where they took her for being a “counterrevolutionary”?

Would they know about the case of Sonia Garro, another dissident who was jailed more than year ago, without trial, and who was arrested at her house in Marianao during a loud and violent police operation and was hurt by a rubber bullet in her leg?

Would they have taken all these facts into consideration when they drafted their petition and procured an email address to collect the signatures against gender abuse?

Would they be willing to fight against violence against all women in absolutely all instances?

If that is the case, independently from the Santiesteban situation, surely they will collect many more signatures.

Published by Cubanet

The Always Disconcerting Writers of UNEAC

By Luis Cino Álvarez

The writers of UNEAC can’t but disconcert me with their liberal poses when it comes to believe in the openings of the regime and the hoops they are willing to jump through so that they don’t jeopardize their awards, travels and publications.

With the imprisonment of Angel Santiesteban, under such doubtful circumstances, I was not expecting a protest from the writers at the UNEAC, not even from the more outspoken ones.  That would have been asking too much of them.  However, I did suppose that at least his friends, like Eduardo Heras Leon, who a few years ago boasted with pride that Santiesteban was one of “his boys” from the Onelio Jorge Cardoso Cardoso Narrative Workshop, and Laidi Fernandez de Juan, who considered him one of her most dear friends, even if they didn’t publicly protest, at least would feel sorry for him.

But, oh surprises, miracles and hocus-pocus from the official culture! Here is a letter from the poet Rafael Alcides  — one of the few dignified — and with notes of support in favor of Santiesteban; and then it was precisely Laidi Fernandez de Juan, one of the eight intellectuals who signed the letter against the violence of women in which the case of Santiesteban seems to be the epitome of masculine against women, and the Cuban judicial system is completely exonerated from wrong doing, with exception of falling short in its sentence of five years in jail.

In different time we would have heard chants of ”To the wall! To the wall!”

The document signed by Sandra Álvarez, Marilyn Bobes, Zaida Capote, Luisa Campuzano, Danae Diéguez, Lirian Gordillo, Helen Hernández and Laidi Fernández de Juan idemostrates solidarity with Santiesteban’s ex-wife and calls on “Cuban institutions and organizations to speak up about this case in particular and against the violence against women in our society.”

So, everyone who dares to doubt that this process was free of political motivations, or who thinks it was a vendetta to send this writer-abuser to jail, will be categorized as stubbornly machista and misogynist.

And me, silly me, who thought that at least with her daddy Roberto Fernández Retamar, the poet-commissary-president, with his Bolshevik cap of the Casa de las Americas, and in the privacy of their home, Laidi Fernandez would complain and regret that Santiesteban was in jail to see if daddy would cease to play the Caliban and sympathize, and make use of his influence “up there”!

Does he know Laidi Fernandez de Juan claims to be “as devoted to the Revolution as acid in her critiques” of the frequent beatings that the Ladies in White and other dissidents receive from the hands of State Security and the cheerleaders of the rapid response brigades in those also frequent repudiation rallies that she herself, on occasion, has called “repudiable”?

Do she and the rest of the signers of the petition know that only a week ago in Santa Clara, dissident Iris Tamara Aguilera received strong blows to her head when she was thrown to the sidewalk by a henchman of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT)?

Would they have taken all these facts into consideration when they drafted their petition and established an email address to collect signatures against the abuser?

Years ago, in an interview with Angel Santiesteban himself (in the magazine El Cuentero, No. 6, 2008), Laidi Fernandez de Juan said that she didn’t share the view that no friendship could exist among writers. “What happens is that sometimes we believe someone (being a writer or not) belongs in this circle of friends and then we discover that he is a miserable, repugnant son of a bitch; but this has nothing to do with literature,” she clarified.

Would this be what happened to Angel Santiesteban?  Nothing’s worse than the fear of having a connection with a dissident.

Santiesteban’s case is confusing and contradictory, to say the least.  Many consider that State Security used the four year old incident with his ex-wife — whose name is Kenia Rodriguez, in case that the authors of the manifest supporting her without mentioning her name didn’t know — as an excuse to punish Santiesteban for his affiliation with Estado de Sats.

If that’s the case, one can’t help but wonder: Why him? Is he one the biggest critics of all the bloggers? Are they trying to send a message to UNEAC? Was it really worth it for the regime, precisely now that they are trying to fake a certain opening, to pay the costly price of sending to jail a writer who, a few years ago, won the distinguished Casa de las Americas prize for the book entitled “Blessed are those who mourn”?

I have heard some intellectuals who wonder if State Security might not be creating a legend, with Angel Santiesteban as a “super dissident,” with this jail sentence?  “Here you don’t know who’s who,” they murmur.  And so, aside from being wise-asses, they justify their fears of getting into this mess and end up like machistas. And maybe they are right. You never know…

Published in  Primavera Digital |Email

Translated by: LYD

Translator’s notes:
*”Paredón” literally means “wall” and is shorthand for “to the wall” as in: “put him up against the wall and shoot him.”  Immediately after the Revolution it was the word shouted by the mobs at the show trials.
** Machista is related to the words macho and misogynist and is similar to the term “male chauvenist”

30 March 2013

Cuba: Verbal and Physical Violence Increases / Ivan Garcia

From Cubanet

Any place, public transportation, school, workplace or even in a family environment is prone to rudeness.  Many times start with insults and finishes like a boxing ring.

People with short fuses are abundant in Cuba.  Guys who use body language and verbal speech as guns.  Jose Carlos, 41 years old, thinks that the smallest thing can trigger a battlefield.

“If you are going to the store you have to be careful with your words and have patience.  The store clerks are always in a bad mood. They look like jail keepers.  The most scary ones are the receptionists. If they are not painting their nails, they are gossiping on the phone; they tell you to come back the next day because is lunch time. We are living in an epidemic of bad manners. Bad manners have nothing to do with the economic crisis or poverty, I think they are a consequence of the revolution; and now flourish like a bad weed,” says Jose Carlos.

Verbal and physical abuse usually start as young as the day care centers and progresses from elementary through high school; at least that is what Hilda, a 72-year-old retired school teacher thinks.

“In the four decades that I worked as a teacher, I realized that the verbal and physical abuse at the schools had increased during the last twenty years.  Upon the beginning of the “Special Period” around the early 90’s the loss of values, bullying among students, the usage of dirty words and vulgarities is present in ages as early as 5 to 6 years old.  I saw children whose parents had to transfer them from the schools because of the bullying and the violence from other children.  Usually kids duplicate the attitudes that they see at home and on occasions parents can behave worse than the kids.  They can act as irrational human beings.  If their kid got punished an earthquake could be unleashed; that coupled with low salaries are two of the reasons why young people elect not to be teachers.  Nobody wants to work in a place where aside from making little money it can bring you other issues”, says the experienced teacher.

The smallest touch in a public transportation vehicle can trigger an exchange of loud insults; and in the heat of the moment a physical altercation can occur.  Some managers, Arnaldo comments, behave with their subordinates as feudal bosses.  “I work in an food preparation plant for the tourism business. The superiors treat us as if we are dogs.  When we try to defend our rights they show you the front door.  It is the majority of them who behave as if they are God’s chosen or belong to a different social casts.”

A sociologist from Havana made it very clear, “The increase of verbal and physical abuse is part of a rude language filled with testosterone which Fidel Castro’s government started implementing.  Vulgarity became the watchword.  From insults used at public political speeches up to the jingles massively created around 1962 after the October Crisis.  For example:  “Nikita, faggot, what you give you can’t take back,” or “Ae, Ae, Ae the lollipop, Nixon doesn’t have a mother because a monkey gave birth to him.”  Another example was the unethical note published in the official newspaper Granma the day that Ronald Reagan past away, it said “Today died one who should have never have been born.”  This antisocial and aggressive conduct from the Cuban social leadership, who often have converted the landscape of diplomacy into a cock fight ring, has been reproduced among the people for the last 54 years.  You can not expect good manners when the ones in charge do not have them,” said the sociologist.

In some families, eating an egg or a piece of bread that does not belong to the person can start a small war.  In Cuba is not unusual to find three generations living together.  In a home, is not unusual to find family members that do not talk to each other or cook and maintain their domestic life separately.  The children have as common occurrence the fights and verbal insults among family members.

Reggaeton music is another source of dirty language and incitement to violence.  A musician from Havana is convinced of that.  “The lyrics of that music style and the bands who play them are “chabacanas” which means low class and in poor taste.  Young people attempt to copy the way those artists dress; they attempt to copy their “macho” message which usually propagates violence, frivolity and drugs.”

After musical gatherings, either reggaeton or other types of music and regardless of the police presence, it has become the norm for those activities to end with fights using knives.  At the Red Plaza at La Vibora, in Diez de Octubre town, at certain Revolutionary marked dates, they often offer dances and parties.

They erect portable bathrooms made of wood in each corner and until 2 in the morning the music is blasting with those dirty lyrics that do not let the neighbors sleep.

At the end of the concerts is when the party really begins.  The fights among the marginal individuals, the stairs and halls are converted into public bathrooms or people smoking marijuana.  Sex is practiced in any small and dark space; all a spectacle of violence and disrespect.

Ivan Garcia

Translated by LYD

15 September 2013