The Sinister Ones / Iván García

There is too much perversion in the world. It is a feature of serial murderers, pedophiles and sexual deviants. Or of the ETA (Basque) terrorists and those irrational people who crashed two planes into the Twin Towers in New York on September 11.

But there are — and there have been — sinister governments. In the name of whatever cause. The most handy, from October 1917 until the present, has been imperialism, the bourgeoisie and the exploitation of man by man.

I’ve always wondered if Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Mao, Pol Pot, Ceausescu and Idi Amin, among others, already had macabre governing designs in mind when they began their careers as politicians.

I would like to think not. That these were once dreamer types who wanted the best for their people. And maybe a mental condition, not yet studied in depth by the scientists, converted all of them into miserable satraps.

All these dictators have a common stamp. They speak in the name of the dispossessed and in the name of nationalism. They believe they have a redemptive mission to fulfill. They consider themselves to be enlightened. The Little Fathers of their countries.

Without exception, they are manipulators with an ego that is beyond reason. They do not tolerate disagreements. And it is just at that moment when sinister politicians pull the trigger, the tortures, concentration camps, summary trials and unsanitary prisons.

In the end, history chooses them as the best example of what not to do in the exercise of power. In the 21st century there are few who remain alive.

One of them is now a sick old man who writes his memoirs in a hurry. And in his raptures of lucidity, he still believes he has something to say to his people. And he scribbles pathetic reflections about any event in the world, except that which he should write about: The complicated and uncertain future of his country.

I hope that all these caudillos, before they died, recognized that they were arrogant despots; that they made monumental errors, destroyed nations and were detested by millions.

Photo: Stalin, from the photographic archives of Life Magazine

Translated by ricote

December 17, 2010

Days of Love and Pardon / Rebeca Monzo

We experience a lot of emotions these days. I don’t know if by tradition, or by contamination, because although the authorities on my planet don’t want this, it underlies the atmosphere and enters into our hearts.

Yesterday I was running errands in Old Havana, which I consider to be an oasis in our urban desert. What called my attention was to see that, unlike in other years, neither the streets nor the shops were decorated. Christmas trees could be seen while walking past the fancy restaurants and hotels, almost hidden from the eyes of passersby. As if the city was embarrassed by dressing up. It bothered me, because indeed this was the only part of the capital where we could breathe the Christmas air. Someone told me that was due to a decree that established a ban on these ornaments. I am not sure, but there is something to this, because it would be precisely the historic center that would show off the beautiful decorations and lights of this season.

I think it is a mistake repeated ad nauseam, to prohibit these expressions of joy, since the population increasingly manages to decorate houses and gardens, despite the lack of resources. This has become a challenge. I, from my blog, join all those souls who keep alive the spirit of Christmas and raise the toast that one day soon, all Cubans can join in an embrace of love and forgiveness.

Merry Christmas!

Translated by ricote

December 18, 2010

My Heart and My Soul are in Santiago de Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

My name is Rick Schwag. I live in Vermont. And for people who doubt that, my telephone number is 802-626-5578

Three years ago, I was put in a Cuban detention center for 8 days, in the tourist prison behind the place where tourists renew their visas, at the corner of Factor y Final, in Havana. I have renewed many visas there, and I never knew that this complex also includes a prison until I was imprisoned myself.

My crime was wanting to know what happened to the very valuable anesthesiology machines that we donated to the William Soler Clinic in Havana.  At first, they told me that the machines had not been accepted, and in a normal way, I went from one office to another trying to find out what happened to them. I went to MINVEC, (The Ministry of Foreign Investment) MINSAP, (Ministry of Public Health), ICAP( Institute of Friendship with the Peoples), and other organizations and Ministries, until perhaps for asking too many questions, I was detained.  I say detained because that is what they told me, but where there are bars and cells, I prefer to say “imprisoned.”

After that, after being freed, the person in charge of receiving donations from North America, Raciel Proenza said that I was a trouble maker and that he would ensure that I would never again be permitted to enter Cuba. It seemed like a threat, but when I tried to return to the island, it turned out to be true. I had to sleep on the floor of the Jose Marti airport in Havana, and I was forced to return to the United States the next day.  At least that was much better than returning to jail!

Think about it. Lots of people work in Cuba for political reasons; but in my case my reason was entirely humanitarian, and for the real love that connects me to many Cubans. I thought that I could be useful, and in retrospect, not having any political motivation was a little unusual. I started off with a few boxes of Tylenol, because many Cubans told me how difficult it was to obtain medicines. I remember that in 1997, I purchased ten huge sacks that could carry 120 pounds of medicine, which I thought was a huge amount.  But a year after that I was sending the first container of dental chairs and hospital beds.  All with the collaboration of the  people at the General Hospital of Santiago de Cuba. One thing leads to the next and I created a non-profit, Caribbean Medical Transport, and over the next 10 years I sent about 20 containers of medical equipment to Cuba, each container 40 feet long, with about 20,000 pounds of donations inside, usually partnering with other non-profits. I know many of the people who send humanitarian aid to Cuba and I am happy to work with them.

The second and third containers were loaded with 7,200 gallons of paint that we received from a recycling plant in Oregon. That was something wonderful! The paint was for hospitals.

From the beginning I saw the enormous difference between working with people in Santiago de Cuba — the hospital directors, the municipal and provincial officials of the Ministry of Health — and the bureaucrats in Havana.

I remember meeting with the director of donations of the Ministry of Health in Havana, concerning the paint.  He wanted all the paint to go to Havana. My point was that Havana is about 20% of the population and receives more than 90% of the donations that come to the country.  But in the end, we agreed to send 3,600 gallons to Havana and 3,600 to Santiago.

This is what happened. In Santiago, everyone was honest.  They told me that unfortunately, 3 five gallon drums had broken in transit, so 15 gallons of paint were lost. We had a great partnership, honest, and respectful. But in Havana, everything was different. For a year, no one would tell me what happened to the paint.

The donors wanted to travel to Cuba to see the hospitals that they had painted, which is normal and logical. I spoke to MINSAP, ICAP, all the people I worked with in Havana, and I explained, “These are donors! If they have a good experience they will want to donate more paint, so please, tell me which building got painted and let‘s arrange a nice tour for the donors.”  I was told that the donors would not be permitted to visit the hospitals unless they got a special visa of collaboration and there wasn’t any time for that. I could give more examples of bureacratic incompetence and laziness.

In 2006 we sent two anesthesiology machines to the William Soler Clinic. These machines are worth about $40,000 each, but they are worth much more than that in human lives. It was a favor to Wayne Smith, who obtained these machines from Johns Hopkins University.  Everything was done with the necessary license from the Commerce Department of the United States. A year later the problems began: I got an email from MINVEC, with the headline in capitals, DENIED. The donation of anesthesilogy  machines has been denied entry into the country for lack of completing the proper procedures. I wrote back immediately, stating that all the procedures were completed by Wayne Smith and the directors of the William Soler Clinic, and that all I had done was write the necessary permit so the machines could leave the US.

Not very happy, I went to Havana, to see if I could find them; if these machines are not permitted to enter Cuba, they should be brought to the Dominican Republic or any other country that needed them.  I was told that this was impossible and that the machines had been burned.

Of course that is a big lie. Nobody in this world burns anesthesiology machines. These machines were not mine.  There are standards of transparency and accountability in the world of humanitarian donations that Cuba, apparently, does not respect. I needed to know and give an account of what had happened, in order not to create fantasies. This was not the first time that things had disappeared in Cuba. It was my obligation to investigate, with the sole purpose of helping the people of Cuba, I could not ignore those international standards of conduct. And for that, I was threatened, then imprisoned, and finally, prohibited from returning to Cuba.

A few months ago I received a new license from the United States Department of Commerce. I am allowed to send any type of medical equipment, medicine, hospital supplies, food, clothing, sporting equipment, pots and pans and household items, millions of dollars of supplies and donations.  But MINVEC has told me that they will not permit me to send anything, and has told some partners of mine in Europe that no NGO is permitted to work with me, even though I can find the supplies and even find the money to pay the shipping.

And so, I ask myself, where is the blockade?

I can tell other stories about the apathy and incompetence and corruption of the system. For questioning the system and insisting on the necessary accountability, I became Rick, ” the bad guy.” Unfortunately in Cuba, for some people, there are things that are more important than receiving medical equipment donated to meet the needs of the Cuban people.

I know many people who have had similar experiences: architects, health providers, city planners, sister city groups, journalists.  The sad thing is that most of my colleagues are afraid to talk about the bureaucracy and the corruption, because they know that if they talk, their projects will be terminated.

We Americans live in an open society where we can criticize everyone who deserves criticism. But the sad truth is that instead of exporting our openness and honesty over to Cuba, we import the fear of those in Cuba back to the United States, fear of telling the truth, and we join in the complicity of silence. I am talking because I prefer to leave without fear, even if it brings more punishment. I prefer to cry for what I have lost, but not for cowardice.

Like I said, my name is Rick Schwag, of Caribbean Medical Transport, and I live in Vermont.  I have many friends in Cuba, including many people in the municipal governments, where some officials do care about the people that they are supposed to serve. They are my friends, but they have to keep quiet.  I am still the director of Caribbean Medical Transport, and I continue to send donated medical equipment to Nicaragua, Honduras, Colombia, Brazil and other places where our work is appreciated.

I would love to continue to help Cubans also. My heart and soul are in Santiago de Cuba.

Translated by ricote

December 13, 2010

Holding Our Breath / Rebeca Monzo

For a long time, here on my planet, we have been waiting to see what might happen. We can never plan anything in our lives because we are not certain of being able to achieve anything no matter how much effort we make.

Another December 24th is approaching, although the stores are still empty. The long daily pilgrimage in search of food wears us out. We have to visit at least two or three markets find enough to make a salad. Not to mention meat (mostly pork), every day less and lower quality.

We, the people on this planet, despite all the daily difficulties, cherish throughout the year the idea of having a decent Christmas Eve. That means, having at least one piece of barbecue pork, some black beans, white rice, some dessert and at least one bottle of wine, even homemade. I don’t think that is so much to ask for. However, this can not be achieved in all households, for this simple meal would cost the following:

About four pounds of pork, thirty-five pesos a pound, would be a hundred and forty pesos.

Two pounds of black beans, at fifteen pesos a pound, would make a total of thirty pesos.

Two pounds of rice at three-fifty a pound, would add another seven, green pepper costs twelve pesos a pound and onion ten. A dessert will not be less than ten pesos: guava paste and soy cream cheese, plus the above mentioned bottle of wine would cost about sixty Cuban pesos. The cost of fuel and so on would make the final tally two-hundred-sixty-nine pesos for a simple and paltry dinner.

If the average salary is about three hundred pesos (which it is not, not precisely), on what can a citizen of this planet count on to have a poor Christmas dinner? Furthermore, what money would remain for the end of the month?

But since this country seems to be miraculous, the people use their ingenuity to get the money, either with the help of friends or family overseas, or by some last minute business. We are just holding our breath, God will have the last word.

Translated by Ricote

December 8, 2010

Cubans on the Verge of an Anger Breakdown / Iván García

You can cut the social tension with a knife. You can see it at a glance. Let me tell you. On a bus on the P-3 line, full of passengers, a skinny black man blew up, furious, and got into a heated brawl with a student. Just because he had been stepped on.

In addition to kicks and punches, each swing of the man’s huge machete, totally out of control, caused a fearful roar of the nearly 200 people who crammed the bus. People escaped through the windows to avoid being hurt.

A little later, two drivers of state vehicles came to blows in the street. The trigger was that one of them had abruptly made a dangerous turn and almost caused a collision. Those who were in the cars also took part in the street fight.

On the same night, a few guys, drunk to the gills, started a ‘war’ with stones, cold steel, and loud cursing, for no apparent reason, in a quiet neighborhood in the Diez de Octubre municipality. The residents, terrified, watched the brawl from their windows.

Too much violence for one day. As usual, the police arrived late. As if that were not enough violent incidents in various parts of Havana, reports came of others in different locations on the island. Some ended up in acts of protests against the regime. The most notorious example was in the city of Santa Clara. The spark that started the scuffle was not showing the awaited Barcelona-Real Madrid soccer match in a theater.

In Bayamo, famous because in 1868 many villagers set fire to their houses and properties before giving them up to the Spanish army, a group of drivers created a ruckus over what they considered unfair taxation.

A freelance journalist told me that in October, in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo alone, the number of cases of excessive violence was about 100, among family members, and in the worst kind of bars, nightclubs and slums.

A sociologist who was consulted explains that increases in social tension and discontent which have recently occurred on the island are caused by unemployment, lack of any future, and high taxes on self-employment. Previously, the government used to open the door to emigration to the U.S. when the social situation became ugly.

In 1963, 1980 and 1994 hundreds of thousands of Cubans fled to Florida to escape a hopeless life. But now the Castros know that they can not open the valve of the pressure cooker that is Cuba, triggering a massive wave of migration.

Senior Pentagon officials have said publicly they would consider this to be an act of war. Therefore, the way to drain the high tensions of the beleaguered Cubans could be serious and profound political and economic reforms.

Meanwhile the sensible locals search for effective answers to the outbreaks of violence, the ordinary people who, for whatever reason, get into brawls.

This is a serious matter. A time bomb with incalculable consequences. Believe me, what’s to come is not exactly good news for the Castro brothers.

Photo: Roly63, Panoramio. Street Brawl in the Havana neighborhood of Cerro

Translated by ricote.
December 8 2010

Of Danger and Other Miseries / Miguel Iturria Savón

Weeks ago, in the municipality of Cotorro, southeast of Havana, dozens of photos of girls engaging in sexual acts with men and with each other were leaked by means of compact disks, flash memory, cell phones and digital cameras. Although some of the girls surprised the “curious” by their irreproachable prior behavior, the most questionable part of this story lies not in the exercise of sexual self-determination of such persons, but in the unscrupulous person who put the images of these practices into the public domain.

This, in itself, converted the girls into victims of the crime of sexual outrage, perhaps because those involved did not give consent to the release of the images, which damages rights inherent in personality, privacy and self-image, although we know that the right to one’s own image — a part of the right to privacy — is violated in many places.

The photos published not only converted the girls into victims of their acts, it affected boyfriends, relatives, neighbors and others. One of the girls, aged 17, was convicted of dangerousness, on the charge of the presumed practice of prostitution. The trial was conducted with open doors, instead of being held in private as appropriate to the sensitivity of the matter.

The most unusual part of the hearing was that they took the photos — debated publicly in the courtroom — as evidence, something unnecessary as there was no denial of the practice of prostitution.

To make matters worse, the girl was subjected to a thorough interrogation, very indiscreet of course, about the intimate details of her practices, which reminded me of the witch hunts of the Inquisition. I never saw, with my own eyes, anyone so humiliated.

As if it were nothing, the girl was sentenced to four years in a specialized center for work or study, the maximum sentence for the crime of dangerousness. I have heard that these centers are nothing more than prisons.

I do not know the girl but I am sure that right now, without counting upcoming sanctions, she has more than paid the consequences of her reckless immaturity. She is a victim of the person who devoured her honor. I went to her parents, who were present at the trial, to express my regret for what awaits them. What will become of her in prison with this kind of help?

Translated by ricote


Challengers Gala / Miguel Iturria Savón

On Sunday morning November 21 you could hardly walk down Galiano Street in Central Havana, as expectation reigned in front of the American Theatre, home of musical and comedic performances, now converted into a Coliseum of muscles by the Cuban Association of Bodybuilding, which held its gala Challenge of Champions, broadcast on the sports channel of national television, something unusual since athletes who cultivate the aesthetic of the body are not yet officially recognized.

Those of us who could not get to the ticket sellers window of the theater went to the scalpers, who offered them for two CUC, equivalent to two dollars, an acceptable amount due to the rarity of the spectacle, distinguished by the initial parade of athletes, finalists of the previous year who took the stage together and then, to the beat of the music, everyone did their performance, while the jury made notes and the audience clapped or whispered.

Since in Cuba there is both a provincial and a national competition, which designates the winners by weight class, (65 kilograms, 70, 75, 80, 90 and over 90), all the champions have the right to appear at the Gala of the Challengers, with the goal of appointing the best amongst them, making the event the most important and colorful as it will select the Absolute Champion, recognized as the most comprehensive body builder on the island.

Between the National Championship and the Challenge of Champions is a time of preparation, as these athletes depend on fitness, a specialised diet, will and self-esteem as the essential elements.

Competitors are not measured by strength, size or age, but by a set of requirements such as muscle mass (volume), definition, symmetry, harmony and vascularity.

On Sunday the 21st, the jury appointed by the Cuban Association of bodybuilding chose five from among the champions presented at the match of the Challengers. First place went to Tony, who also won in 2009 and retains the scepter of Absolute Champion. He was joined at the top by Trinquete, Miguel Castro, Tomás and Alburquerque, winners of the 2nd through fifth positions, respectively.

Leaving the American Theatre, while photographing the Champion and trying to ask his last name and other details, I thought of the enormous challenge of these athletes of the sculptured bodies, excluded from official competition, lacking a national team and representatives within or outside the island, without travel or help to support their small gymnasiums, and classified years ago as lazy and narcissistic.

They lack support but compete for love, obtain public spaces, self-finance their training and events, have their own NGO (ACF) and legendary figures such as Miguel ‘Smorgasbord” Cambolo, Maximo, Ariel Flores and the legendary Sergio Oliva, Cuba’s most emblematic bodybuilder, former member of the national weightlifting team, who emigrated to the United States, where he won the Mr. Olympia prize between 1967 and 1969 and lost in 1970 to Arnold Schwarzenegger, a paradigm of success and a patron of the sport in North America and the world.

Translated by ricote

November 30 2010

The Latest Apparition of the ‘Holy’ Comandante / Iván García

The same day that Cubans celebrated the 398th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Charity in the Bay of Nipe, Santiago de Cuba, news agencies revealed the latest confession of Fidel Castro: “The Cuban model does not work even for us”. Something that we who live in Cuba have known well, for a while.

A resident of Havana would say, “Damn, that guy just fell out of the tree” A housewife: ” It took me so long to realize.” A student: “Pal, he just discovered hot water” A peasant: “The leader fell from the saddle.” And an intellectual: “It took long enough to discover the Mediterranean.”

Although the people on the island are more concerned with daily survival than with paying attention to what Castro says or allows to be said, his statements left almost no one indifferent. “We’re fucked now that he’s coming out with these things, because if anyone is guilty of the fact that Cubans live so badly and so far behind, it is Fidel,” says Roberto indignantly, a retired 75-year-old.

“After this resurrection of the comandante, I cannot understand what is the goal of these public appearances. If he is doing this to stay in the limelight, or support to his brother Raul. Maybe he’s decided to become an independent analyst,” says Lourdes, 51, unemployed.

A few days ago, his mea culpa about the repression against Cuban homosexuals sparked a flurry of opinions among gays, transvestites and lesbians. “It seems that he wants to clear a bit of his soul before kicking the bucket,” Samuel, 35, a hairdresser who is proud to be queer says cheerfully.

In Cuba, due to the lack of internet, cable TV and foreign media that can reach the entire population, people often learn the news via shortwave stations and calls from family and friends living abroad.

Sara, a professor, 58, is annoyed by Castro’s too-late defense of the Jews that he just came out with. Her parents were Jewish and found a home in Cuba. “I can go live in Israel. But I want to die and be buried next to my family, in the Jewish cemetery in Guanabacoa.”

One of the moments that she does not forget was when in September 2006, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran was in Havana, “Because he denies the Holocaust,” said Sara. Six years earlier, in 2000, Fidel Castro welcomed Khatami, the former Iranian president.

Because if there is anything that the Cuban government has boasted about, in particular after 1961 when Cuba joined the Non-Aligned Movement, it is its excellent relations with the Arab and Muslim world. Although Cuba does trade with Israeli businessmen under the table.

The latest apparition of the sainted comandante took place standing next to the American-Israeli journalist, Jeffrey Goldberg (born in New York, 1965). Goldberg is publishing, in dribs and drabs, the contents of three days of conversation in his blog, The Atlantic.

We await the next chapters. And confessions with a touch of regret (or of a guilty conscience), like his reference to his role in the Cuban Missile Crisis in October of 1962. Certainly, before retiring, the star reporter for CNN, Larry King, wants to interview Fidel Castro. Surely he’ll get that interview. We already know of his preference for U.S. reporters.

Returning to Jeffrey Goldberg. Will he take advantage of his stay in Cuba to intercede for Alan Gross, a Jewish American who allegedly traveled to the island to help the local Jewish community and has been jailed in Havana since December 2009?

Translated by ricote

October 8 2010

The Essential Way / Eugenio Leal

Several of the promoters of the Renewal and Fraternity candidacy in the house of Gustavo Pardo. From right to left: Ernesto Luis Ocaña Gallardo, Jesusito Rodríguez, Martín José Pou Paldo, Gustavo Pardo and Eugenio Valdés Leal.

Magnify your people not by raising the roofs of their houses, but the souls of its inhabitants, advised the Greek philosopher Epictetus (55-135 AD) whose Stoic philosophy emphasized freedom, morality and humanity.

In this spirit, the Cuban Masonic Law in Article 1.1 states: Freemasonry is the organic institution of morality whose purpose is to dispel ignorance, combat vice and inspire a love of humanity.

In relation to freedom, the first plot for independence was hatched in 1810, in the lodge “The Temple of the Theological Virtues.” And to Masonry also belong the creation of the national emblem, the uprisings of October 10, 1868 and February 24, 1895.

However, in the last half century we have remained frozen in the past. Just look at the facade of the temple where appears inscribed in bronze the agreement of the First National Historical Congress, held in 1942, that stated: “… Cuban Freemasonry has been at all times, since its founding, the organization that has most contributed to independence, freedom, culture and progress, both from the ideological point of view, and by example, of sacrifice, heroism and perseverance of its members to give Cuba a life of human decency, equality, and social fraternity and a sound system of democracy. ”

You could say that we behave according to the model of the Greek philosopher Parmenides (540-450? BC) who claimed that the universe is eternal, unified, unmoved. When, in reality, contemporary science shows us that is closer to the conception of Heraclitus (540-475 BC), defender of the theory of constant mutability. Remember that this philosopher said, the only constant is change and nothing offers more resistance.

In our workshops we Masons are, as defined by social scientists, a seed of civil society. Democratic practices, with their methods and principles, give us, as in the past, the ability to contribute to the changes that our country needs.

Therefore, we must strengthen the genuine values of the Institution. Hence, these are the objectives of the Renewal and Fraternity candidacy, for elections of officers of the Grand Lodge of Cuba in 2012. It is based on three points: 1) Respect for prevailing Masonic Law, under the premise that no one is above the law. 2) A broad National Masonic Reconciliation, without any exclusion. 3) To provide an immediate solution regarding the relationship between Masons living in Cuba and those who are abroad.

In the Coat of Arms of the Grand Lodge of Cuba is the inscription: Sit Lux et Lux Fuit. Infodere vis. Which means: Let there be light, and there was light. In union there is strength. That reminds us of the importance of cohesion, the road is essential to achieve out of the long dark night of our history.




The undersigned lodges, saddened before the crisis of values and lack of esteem for prevailing Masonic Law, which has resulted in the unfortunate situation that Cuba Masonry is now passing through, have decided to address ALL CUBAN MASONS, without distinction of views or preferences, to invite them to work on a common project: THE REDISCOVERY OF THE PRINCIPLES AND PURPOSES OF UNIVERSAL MASONRY.

This project will be based on three fundamental points:

1. Respect for prevailing Masonic Law, under the premise that no one is above the law.

2. A broad National Masonic Reconciliation, without any exclusion.

3. Providing an immediate solution regarding the relationship between Masons living in Cuba and those who are abroad.

To meet these basic objectives, WE SUPPORT AND NOMINATE Gustavo Enrique Pardo Valdés, President of the Cuban Academy of Masonic Studies, for Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Cuba in the 2012 elections.

Gustavo Pardo and several brothers in the temple of the Mayabeque Lodge of Guines. Sunday November 7, 2010

In the Temple of Truth Lodge of Matanzas. Sunday November 21, 2010. Joint Meeting of Fraternal Clubs.
In the Temple of Truth Lodge of Matanzas. Sunday November 21, 2010. Joint Meeting of Fraternal Clubs.

Translated by ricote

November 23, 2010

Brother, you only have one life, to live it with fear, what sense is there in that? – Rafter. Amaury Gutierrez / Juan Juan Almeida

JJ You are a well-known singer, graduate of the National School of Art Instructors in Cuba. Nominated for and winner of several major awards, without a doubt you have achieved something enviable. Tell me about your home, in Santa Clara.

AG I am what you see, I was born in a small village on the outskirts of Santa Clara, which is called Vueltas. There I grew up, studied, was raised. I feel an immense love for my province. There I learned what I am today. My province, the great Villa Clara, has an impressive movement of poetry, music, dance, and although you are from Havana, and therefore a fan of the Industriales, Las Villas is the capital of baseball in Cuba.

JJ It’s true, you’re right, Santa Clara has the best baseball team of Cuba … after the Industriales.

AG Let me tell you something, I’m a fan of the Industriales, to me, the best amateur baseball club of the world and the best club in Cuba. Villa Clara has a tremendous sporting movement, always. It is a major city, and being in the center of our island, there is a continuous coming and going of learning.

JJ Perhaps that is why even the son of Santa Clara is different.

AG No, that’s another thing. No one can speak of a son of Santa Clara. The son of Santa Clara does not exist. Son, like almost all Cuban music is from the East, although in other regions of the country it is named differently and expresses itself differently.

I told you that Santa Clara is a city with a strong cultural heritage, with a constantly changing social life. The people in my province have swing, it is the city in Cuba where FM radio is most heard. People are well-informed about what happens here in the United States and the rest of the planet. It is a population with a hunger for knowledge and improvement.

Santa Clara is par excellence the land of resistance against the current regime, since the uprising in the Escambray in the early 60’s, and most of the protagonists were from Villa Clara, farmers in the area, who helped the rebels.

JJ I think that the group Afrocuba marked a before and after in your career; does it mean something in your life that you are also Afro-Cuban?

AG Absolutely. Afrocuba was the band that I wanted to sing with, the best band in Cuba in the 80’s, it was like the Irakere of its time. No doubt this dream was possible thanks to Arturo Sandoval. In a Jazz festival where I had the opportunity to be the opening act for him, and the luck that he listened to what I did. Then the business was completed with the help of a musicologist friend, Elsa, who brought a cassette with my songs and told the band director, Oriente Lopez, about me.

Afrocuba was one of the most beautiful artistic enriching experiences of my life. But to be Afro-Cuban … let’s see, to be Afro-Cuban is a very difficult thing because the country is racist. If you tell a white man about the racism that exists in Cuba, they always deny it. It’s logical. I know well what I’m talking about, I am the son of a white man and a black woman. I’m black. I realized early on that it was harder for blacks to achieve our goals. I became aware of race at the home of Pablo Milanés. I was then 27, had just arrived from another province and 6 years working in the Escambray, I was still a virgin.

It is very hard to be black; to me it is an honor. Cuba is more than that, it is mixed, white, black, mulatto.

JJ You were a virgin at 27?

AG Yes, virgin of thought, candor, innocence. Music has been one of the fundamental contributions of our island to world culture. I am very proud to be a Cuban musician, of being part of this beautiful phenomenon that is contemporary Cuban popular music. I like my black look. I once had an exchange of ideas with Alvarez Guedes, a guy whom I adore. He asked why not change my image, my braids, my rings. He told me that like this, he saw me as more black. I remember that I answered, “that’s just what I want, to be black, to be myself. I’m not going to dress in costume or stretch out my hair. I don’t want to be like that, I want to be like Bob Marley. I am, like Cuba, a mixture of Africa and Spain, but I am more African.” Africa is within us. If you listen to Cuban music you will find the African presence, the same goes for dancing, painting, cooking, how to talk, body language, cadence of walking… Many talk about the white Spain and seem to want to ignore the years of North African domination. Flamenco music itself has a very strong Arabic influence. But Africa is not only present in our country or in Spain, the popular music we hear today has roots and is basically African. Rock and roll has its African origin, also country music, Caribbean music, tango, candombé… everything.

JJ Is it not a bit ironic that a romantic like you went into exile precisely on February 14, Valentine’s Day?

AG Well, we can consider it as an act of romanticism that was not premeditated.

The reality was that the flight was scheduled for the thirteenth, but because of one of those rare things that only happen in Cuba, we could not travel that day. I was telling you last time that we recorded this same interview – because you should publish it and you lost this interview that you already did — that they were throwing a tremendous amount of witchcraft at us, and so we decided, instead of returning home, to sleep in the José Martí airport in Havana.

JJ Do you consider yourself to be romantic?

AG Yes, I consider myself a romantic in thinking, my way of being, talking about what is romantic in its pure concept. My music is romantic and has to do with who I am, with Matamoros, José Antonio Méndez, with Bola de Nieve, Cesar Portillo de la Luz, Armando Manzanero. My music is romantic, and so are my songs although sometimes there are others that are not so much because they talk about other issues like rafters, the country, etc. I am a romantic, I like utopia, I love it. I am a dreamer.

JJ That’s nice, but sometimes we have dreams that create enemies.

AG Imagine that! The best dreams always have enemies. Ask yourself why, ask Gandhi, Nelson Mandela.

JJ It is pleasant to note that there still exist dreamers, that is comforting.

They say the Cuban government will not allow you to travel to your country. What explanation can prevent you from visiting your family, hugging your friends or giving a concert anywhere in Cuba?

AG That’s a good question. Look, I do not know if the Cuban government would give me the ability to enter my country or my home, or not; I haven’t given them that opportunity, because I have not asked nor will I ask for a visa to go to my country. And, believe me – I’m doing poorly with that because my mother is 84-years-old and it is a fact that it keeps me from sleeping. I miss sitting in a chair and playing for my mom. I’m dying to do that, and to show my records to my mother. Why did Celia Cruz and Olga Guillot die without being able to come and sing in Cuba?

The other day I heard a statement from the Cuban Minister of Culture who said that Cuban culture was in a healthy state because there had been no major figure who had left Cuba since 1959. That is amazing, an unrepeatable joke.

JJ Well, in a certain way Minister Abel Prieto is right. He knows very well that neither Celia, nor Olga, neither you, or any of the so many artists, have left the country, the people love them, listen to them, enjoy them and worship them.

AG You think? I’m a dreamer, a kamikazi, and I don’t consider it decent or just that Cubans have to apply for a visa to enter our country, and ask permission to leave. That is something medieval in the style of the Spanish dictatorship in the time of José Martí. It is inconceivable that in these days there is a government that will do that to their citizens, and citizens who comply without protest. I am not going to accept that, never. It is an outrage.

For me, one of the most beautiful things that could happen to me would be to have the opportunity to travel freely to Cuba, and do a concert in Santa Clara, in Havana, Pinar del Río, Santiago de Cuba, or in whatever other place. That would be awesome, something as beautiful as winning a Grammy. Or more, because sooner or later I’m going to win the Grammy, I’ve been nominated three times, but I don’t know when I will go to Cuba, but it will happen. Any artist in the world can go to sing in Cuba, except us. This reflects the contempt that this government has for its citizens. I plan to travel to Cuba, when you don’t have to ask anyone’s permission.

JJ And what dreams do you have of your first concert in Cuba?

AG I want to arrive unannounced, accompanied by one or two cameramen, sit in any corner of Central Havana, pull out the guitar and start singing. Filming it all, capture the moment in which people keep coming, regardless of the different emotions that could be triggered there. To make a concert at the Karl Marx theater, the Sauto, the National, or in some open space where everyone who wants to can go.

JJ I once read this sentence of yours, “I learned to appreciate a lot the things I’ve gained, because they cost me and they made me more humble.” I find that charming, but knowing now, what you have learned from the things that you gained, tell me what have you learned from the many other things that you’ve certainly lost?

AG I learned a lot more from the things that I’ve lost. I lost the chance to see my mom getting older, to enjoy my nephew, my sister, to see my dad, the opportunity to interact with those friends that I grew up with. I also lost my home, well, not my country, I lost my piece of land because my country is me, my guitar, my songs, the food I eat, my people, my friends, my book of Martí. The country is a state of consciousness, culture, my identity. The fact that I could not live with dignity in my country, the fact that I had to leave Cuba to develop as an artist, and as a human being, is a terrible thing, losses that have hit me hard and made me grow suddenly. It’s all in my work, a constant sadness, longing. We who live outside the island are prisoners as much as those inside. This is evident in the work of Pedro Luis Ferrer, Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Lezama, there is a lot of sadness in all of them.

It is incredible that they put a guy in there who does not like dancing, does not like jokes, does not like Cubans, I imagine that your dad has suffered from that also. Because your father was a musician, and black.

JJ Cuba’s next president has to pass the test. If you can not dance, dedicate yourself to something else. The president of Cuba has to know how to dance.

Translated by Ricote

December 4 2010

A Difficult Verb to Conjugate / Fernando Dámaso

In some of my posts I have written about the need for tolerance in order to face each day in our difficult present, and confront whatever the future holds for us. Anchored in dogmatic positions, without the willingness to accept differences, there is very little we can accomplish. For many years, perhaps too many, this has been our biggest mistake. Thinking ourselves infallible, possessors of absolute truth, we have turned a deaf ear to the voices of others. The disastrous results are there for all to see.

A tolerant attitude of each citizen, whether occupying a position of management or amongst those at the bottom, would oxygenate our society, facilitate breathing and renew strength, ensuring the participation of all without exclusion of any kind, in the arduous task of restoring the nation.

If tolerance, discarding the fanatic attitudes that only leads to violence with its load of pain and resentment, is important today, how much more so will it be in the near future where all of us, those who are wrong and those who are not wrong, those who left and those who stayed, all those responsible to a greater or lesser degree for our situation, must work together, one day burying forever the differences that for many years have divided and separated us. Cuba is one, and all of her children form a part of Cuba, however they think.

To tolerate is not a verb that is easily conjugated. For too long it has been a cursed verb. To accept it and apply it in our conduct as citizens requires effort and, even more, the conviction of its necessity. But it is essential. Without it, the road to the reunification of citizens is impassable.

Citizen reunification is a necessity. Enough of watching each other as if we were enemies, of feeling happy at the misfortune of others, tripping each other up, of being two faced. Anyone who thinks differently is not a traitor, or a mercenary, or unpatriotic, or a lackey of the empire, or any other nonsense that is repeated daily. It’s just a citizen who thinks differently, and therefore, as worthy of respect as anyone else.

Translated by ricote

November 12 2010

Self-employment, Once Again! / Intramuros

by Karina Gálvez

Once again the legalization of self-employment awakens dreams… and disappointments. Sometimes one gets tired of becoming emboldened and then almost at the same moment discouraged for the same reason that you were encouraged. It is already a custom in Cuba. But we know so well the actions of the Cuban authorities, we can say, as a friend heard some time ago, there are not prejudices, only experiences. This self-employment, as designed, will not save the Cuban economy, much less improve the living conditions of citizens.

The new list of self-employment choices promotes dreams in an important sector of the Cuban people because working for yourself is within the human being, part of its nature and more so for Cubans who have a special spirit of entrepreneurship. Also, because it is the recognition of a right that seemed lost for the umpteenth time on this island. I could not ignore that it also represents an oxygenator of a domestic economy that is intolerably weak. And because, despite everything, you believe that it will be possible to live better.

But immediately after building up hopes, questions and responses arise that lower our spirit and provoke disappointment. The list of legal self-employment jobs is truly offensive. The entrepreneurial spirit of Cubans can not be confined to a list where the most profitable business is a small restaurant with a maximum capacity of 20. Not to mention other work, no doubt honorable but also primitive, just enough to get by in the economy of a cave, such as: button sewer, fancy-dress dancer, carter. The figures of dancing couples, musical duos or bands are specifically named: Benny Moré dancing partners, or Amistad duo. We do not know exactly what this means; if one wants to devote himself to dance as self-employment, must it be called “Benny Moré dance partner” to be legal? It turns out that the Cuban people, after 52 years of sacrifice to build the most just social system in the world, now face a situation of insecurity and massive layoffs never expected nor imagined in the minds of those who believe that the Cuban State is the protective father that it has always claimed to be. And the state is faced with the impossibility of solving this situation. Or rather, it is impossible to resolve this situation without its losing its absolute economic power.

However, since it is not prepared to do this, the Cuban State has authorized the new businesses with much reserve. Self-employed workers have emerged as a “necessary evil” for the current Cuban economic system. It is said that it is a remedy for the mass dismissals that are already underway in state enterprises. I do not believe that the government thinks that by doing the jobs in the published list anyone can make up for — we won’t say the salary — but the security that legal employment represents. We must keep in mind that many workers add to their wages from what they can “resolve” in their work places: resources, the ability to use a service, perks for themselves and their friends. In losing a job in Cuba, more is lost than a salary. It is not these kinds of jobs, mostly from medieval times, that can placate the discontent and confusion of being unemployed in a system where there is a single employer.

Therefore, after becoming acquainted the information given, we find that the legal possibility is not real.

The truth is that to make a change in Cuba, however superficial it may be, takes more than legislation. It requires the creation and accommodation of a different background of economic relations that enable the success of self-employed work. For self-employment to be possible and truly successful (albeit on a small scale for now) conditions are required for which the Cuban government has not announced any strategy.

What would it take for self-employment to be a viable possibility in Cuba?

A wholesale market infrastructure would need to be created.

“The optimum is a wholesale market with different prices. But we are not going to be able to do that in the coming years.”

Marino Murillo Jorge, Minister of Economy

Granma, 24 September 2010

It is clear that access to basic resources will not be facilitated. It will be necessary to purchase them in the retail market, with similar prices for those who purchase in quantities for consumption as for those investing in large quantities

This, of course, affects prices and profits of the self-employed.

But more serious is that the retail market in Cuba is almost without supplies of products for the consumer. How could it supply the mass of self-employed persons that could be generated?

The articulation of a financial infrastructure would be necessary and important.

“… discussed with the Central Bank of Cuba how to make viable the possibility so that those who decide to return to work on their own can access a bank loan to jump-start their chosen activity”

Granma, 24 September 2010

It is laughable that it would be necessary to apply for credit for the kinds of self-employment published in the list of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. The lack of resources experienced by the average Cuban is obvious to everyone. However, what is needed is the possibility of obtaining credit to streamline and revitalize the changes that are hoped for with the new openness to self-employment. Because it is needed now and because we hope that it could be used in the future to expand businesses.

But the lack of security for self-employment hinders the possibility of credit. Making access to bank credit viable is a mechanism already established and experienced since the rise of central and commercial banks, long ago. The problem is not the mechanism but the circumstances. A self-employed person who is exposed to the possibility of losing the business at any time because of the need to engage in illegalities will not qualify for bank credit, unless the Central Bank of Cuba establishes very flexible credit standards and is willing to take a risk that can not be calculated without a large margin of error. Bad credit policy will over the long run harm the national economy just as it has recently hurt the global economy.

It would require the establishment of fair and affordable taxes.

The enforcement mechanisms, some of the most anticipated information for those involved, have already been published. Taxes continue to pose an unreasonable burden on the self-employed. It is obvious that the self-employed worker desires to earn an income slightly higher than a state employee who delivers only his labor without risking anything. Taxes almost extinguished the burgeoning self-employment in the nineties. Thanks to the burden they represented, a large percentage of businesses had to shut down. With the publication of the new system, I believe that before too long the first businesses that open will close, and that the number of start-ups will be significantly lower than in 1994.

One of the objectives of the Cuban government in stimulating self-employment is the raising of revenue, by means of taxes. Therefore, self-employment will also take a hit in the event that the State does not get the expected amount of revenue from taxes.

A workable system of control of revenue and expenditures would be necessary.

This was one of the main weaknesses of the previous system of taxes. And the conditions are there for this to not improve. The current self-employed persons have income and incur expenses that are very difficult to control. The sources of raw materials and goods are mostly illegal (obtained on the black market) and it is impossible to use legal sources, either because they do not exist or because they are expensive and constitute an unbearable burden for business.

Until now, neither efficient nor sufficient mechanisms to control expenditures and revenue have been established. So fiscal policy will try to be as restrictive as possible, without a reliable base of information. And once again this will put an end to self-employment.

It would be necessary to expand the domestic market.

As long as foreigners who invest in Cuba can invest in big businesses, discrimination against Cuban nationals is also strongly reflected in the economy. The legalized self-employment does not cover activities with large and important revenue for the Cubans. A glance at the aforementioned list is sufficient to be convinced of that. However, some may be lucky enough to obtain significant profits by special opportunities and advantages of place, time, and ability. How to invest that money in Cuba? Unable to expand the business (the list is restricted to a minimum), you cannot buy a home, you cannot buy a car, you cannot travel freely. The money will go from hand to hand and will be little more than the exchange of goods in the early years of prehistoric trade. If the money is going to circulate only among the self-employed, the level that is set by law, Cuban economic development cannot be glimpsed on the horizon.

Clearly, those who get fairly significant amounts of money will try to raise their standard of living by means of the black market. But we will always be exposed to the implementation of the ley maceta* (still in effect).

The expansion of commerce should place private and state enterprises on an equal footing. Working under normal conditions, little time will be needed to develop a broad and diverse market.

After the disappointment.

Of course, in verifying this reality and, perhaps, others not mentioned here, one is discouraged. It is very probable that of those who build up hopes at the beginning, only a small percentage will be able to bring their own business to reality. I am inclined to think they will not be able. I hope this is not so. Hopefully, as has happened on other occasions, despite everything, new self-employed people can emerge. Hopefully we will not be faced with disappointment and we will fill small spaces with small businesses that are always more efficient than the large state enterprises that we have to cope with, at a disadvantage, in unfair competition. Perseverance has saved the Cuban nation many times from succumbing to calamity. Self-employment is an economic right based on the natural right to private enterprise, of achieving survival by our own efforts.

If there is a fence that limits the exercise of this right, push it calmly but firmly, with nothing more than the serious and constant exercise of it. It is legitimate and necessary.

It is not a matter of self-employment to passively accept all the absurd conditions that constrain it. The only novel element of the new self-employment legislation is the hiring of labor. It does not represent in any way a sign of voluntary openness. But it is a step that the Cuban government has been forced to take and could be the economic rift that breaks the dam of the totalitarian system, if we do not yield to the temptation to conform without trying to open it further day by day.

Every time we gain degrees of personal freedom in the economic sphere, we will gain degrees of personal freedom at all levels, and we will need more and greater freedom, for which we have the necessity, and the moral obligation to demand for ourselves for others.

With this we will be helping to convert what in Cuba has been called “self-employment” into the free exercise of private enterprise; what have been called timbiriches*, into respectable micro businesses, and what has been called “the self-employed” into small, private entrepreneurs. Finally, we will be contributing to the birth of an open market economy, efficient, supportive, and subsidiary.

This is really the only thing that can save the Cuban economy: freedom of economic initiative, taking into account the laws of the market, with a genuine openness to domestic and foreign investment, with the principle of efficiency, and seeking equality of opportunity.

Karina Gálvez Chiú (Pinar del Río, 1968)
Degree in economics, Professor of finance.
Director, Grupo de economistas del Centro Civico
Founding member of Editorial Board of the Magazine Convivencia (Coexistence)
Lives and works in Pinar del Rio.

*Translator’s notes:
Ley maceta is the popular name for laws that punish illicit enrichment
Timbiriche is the popular name for a very small business such as a stand or a kiosk.

Translated by ricote

November 25 2010

The Winter of the Patriarch / Regina Coyula

The Young People Will Not Fail Us!

This year Student Day (November 17), a celebration inherited from the time of the Socialist Camp, has acquired an exceptional character. There were no classes in the university and pre-university schools of education, and the students had only recreational activities. To mark the date, Fidel wanted to address students, and so he met with a select group of them to talk about the topics he is now most interested in, and which have led him to buy tons for foreign literature, offer all-expense-paid trips to foreign scientists and writers to speak with them personally, and order that his Reflections be translated into various languages so that they can be distributed among the delegations at the headquarters of the United Nations.

But I don’t care to refer to the energy displayed by the 84-year-old leader on the subject of nuclear winter, because it is no longer news. I would like to talk about the young people who gathered to listen to him. Young people who, when they were invited to ask questions, instead of taking advantage of this exceptional opportunity they put a great deal of effort into obsequious and repetitive questions directed to the old man seated at the podium of that meeting. In the contest to achieve the greatest triumph in this regard, one boy called him, “the greatest man of all humanity.”

These students, almost all enrolled in university courses, are supposed to be “the changing of the guard,” of that which they themselves have pledged to complete with the slogan, “It’s Guaranteed.” Is this their design for leading this country? Are these the young people who should be making decisions? Is this the youth of Cuba? This?

Translated by ricote, and “unstated”

November 22, 2010

The Road to El Rincon / Rebeca Monzo

Once again this year, our friend, who does not like to go backwards nor drive long distances, invited us to take her in her car to El Rincon and back again, to lunch in a very good paladar – private restaurant – in Santiago de las Vegas, as a gift for my birthday

We left about 10 in the morning to allow a little time in the sanctuary and to investigate a bit, on the way back, looking for onions, as they are very rare and expensive in the city.

I noticed, with pleasure, that after a year, those broken roads had been repaired. We hypothesize that it was because of the proximity to the upcoming Saint Lazarus’ day.

clip image0063During the trip, we were able to observe that many people were walking from the last bus stop in Santiago de las Vegas. Others climbed aboard carts pulled by pairs of horses, carrying twenty people. It was almost a medieval vision. Improvised flower stalls were on both sides of the road, and in the doorways of some of the houses were tables full of plaster images representing Lazarus, Chango, and some other deities. Also the odd stall selling pork, just hanging there, without any refrigeration. The day was cloudy but very hot.

The most pleasant surprise was upon arriving at the church. Newly painted, and with very well tended gardens. I immediately noticed the absence of the sign that was on the front door last year, spelling out some of the prohibitions with regard to dress and conduct, for those who wished to enter the temple. The church was filled with believers, despite being almost twenty days before the awaited celebration. Many young people and children, as well as a large line of people of all ages, were waiting to receive the blessing. The altars of Lazarus and the Virgin of Charity were filled with flowers and candles. A young woman dragged herself to the altar, fulfilling a promise. I was extremely comforted to note that, despite the years of prohibition and shortcomings, the popular faith is growing every day.

Translated by ricote

Translator’s note: December 17th is the day of Saint Lazarus, the Patron Saint of the sick (also known in the Afro Cuban culture as Babalu Aye). Pilgrims come from all over the island, some crawling hundreds of miles, to the Sanctuary of Saint Lazarus, in the El Rincon neighborhood at the southern edge of Havana.

November 28, 2010

Who is Arnaldo Ramos? / Iván García

He arrived home on Saturday. After 7 years and 8 months behind the bars of a cell and the creaking of locks, the dissident economist Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, 68, at 6:30 in the morning of his first Sunday in freedom, sat in the park facing the modest apartment where he lives in the neighborhood of Central Havana.

He wanted to watch the sunrise, breathe the fresh air and see ordinary people carrying plastic bags for Sunday shopping. He wanted to feel like a free man. After two hours of meditation, the sun began to warm the Havana morning and the sound of children with their bats, balls, skates and soccer balls, broke through his personal spell.

Then Arnaldo Ramos began what was always his daily routine. Joining the long line to buy the official press in a tobacco shop. It is one of his hobbies. Collecting the daily papers and filing them in boxes.

“When I was arrested on 19 March 2003, it was around 9 in the morning, and State Security spent five hours demanding papers and documents,” he says sitting in a mahogany chair.

Ramos, a thin mulatto, short in stature, is well preserved. He is hyper-kinetic, with a fixed gaze and acute analysis. His apartment is furnished in a Spartan style. For the last 45 years he has been married to the doctor Lydia Lima, who is now retired. He is the father of two, with two grandchildren.

He has an extensive history as a dissident. Like other leaders of the current opposition, in the first years of the revolution he had hopes for the project of Fidel Castro. Before realizing they were applauding a fraud, Arnoldo worked in that factory of technocrats that formed the central planning board, JUCEPLAN, an institution that governed the island’s economy and ordered the number of boots, combs and toothbrushes that were to be fabricated every year.

“After graduating in economics in 1971, I started working in JUCEPLAN, with the cream of the economic gurus of Cuban socialism, like Irma Sanchez and Humberto Perez. There I lived, in its entirety, the financial lie, how to doctor the figures to coincide with the interests of Fidel Castro, who skipped all the rules and when some plan occurred to him, however crazy, he sent the draft and the agency had to carry it out to the letter.”

His first problems with the system began with the economic analysis done for the JUCEPLAN newsletter, in which there were some underhanded criticisms. “It was the era of the billions of rubles that the USSR sent us. Waste and improvisation. Burying money in imaginary projects or making purchases in the capitalist countries with super modern factories, which did not accord with the logical development of the country. I remember that in 1978, when thousands of taxicabs were purchased in Argentina, I made the report without ever having traveled to that country,” said Arnaldo, while sipping a powdered orange soft drink .

By 1987 things were already clear to Arnaldo Ramos. The economic system, including the political system, was not working. In 1991 he retired. The following year he began working with another dissident economist, Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello. Together they organized an institute of independent economists. “In 18 years in the opposition, my main contribution was theoretical: to dismantle the government’s complacent discourse and point out the real background of the supposed economic successes.”

On a leaden gray April afternoon he was sentenced to 18 years in prison for insisting in his articles, studies and investigations that the Cuban economy was heading towards the ravine.

Seven years were very hard for a person who was already 60. “Except in Holguín prison, where they beat me, I did not receive physical punishment. Harassment and verbal abuse, yes. It was also a punishment for my family, who had to travel nearly 500 miles loaded with crates, to visit me. Still, I never thought to leave my country.”

He was in two of the toughest prisons on the island. That of Holguin and Nieves Morejón, in the province of Sancti Spiritus. In the past six months, the authorities transferred him to 1580, a prison on the outskirts of Havana.

He was released on parole, a sort of legal limbo that technically allows the government to send him back to jail whenever it wants.” An official of the State Security told me I was free to engage in any activity, and they would not imprison me again. But that was a verbal commitment. There is no document that confirms that.”

Of the alleged economic reforms of the government of General Raúl Castro, the independent economist does not expect anything positive. Nor does he believe that anything important will come out of the Sixth Communist Party Congress, scheduled for April 2011.

The one thing of which he is indeed convinced is that profound changes must occur in Cuba in order to make a leap forward in the economy. And Arnaldo Ramos will be one of those voices for change. Count on it.

Text and photo: Ivan Garcia

Translated by ricote

November 25, 2010