“They Completely Locked Us Up, But We Were Spared Having to Stand in Lines”

The 12-story building, located at Tulipán and 39th Street, in Nuevo Vedado, has been under quarantine since last week. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 September 2020 — “I had never eaten better or so easily,” says Ivis with a big smile, despite being locked up for a week with hundreds of families in one of the largest buildings in Havana. The 12-story housing complex located at Calle Tulipán and 39th in Nuevo Vedado is cordoned off by yellow ribbon on all four sides and all access points are guarded by the Police.

“I have not had to stand on line, because they bring us everything down here,” says the woman, who lives with her husband, two daughters and her mother. “There are boxes with prepared food, they have been selling five chicken thighs and backs for three days and also one day they came with 10 sausages, a ham roll, two packages of croquettes and two bottles of oil, dry wine and vinegar. Every day they bring soft drinks, yogurt, compote, jam, meats, 10 rolls per family unit, but they also sell bread with ham or cheese.”

“Only the first three days were we able to go out in the morning to run errands, but since they set up the kiosks, they locked us up totally. The good thing is that we were spared the lines,” adds Ivis. continue reading

With three independent entrances, an outdoor park as a common area, a bank and a nearby Wi-Fi zone, residents in the building have feared for weeks that the coronavirus would reach their building.

“My husband has been out of work before; he is a driver and has been at home for a while, getting paid 60% of his salary, but nobody here can go to work, that I know. What I can’t tell you is whether other people are being paid their whole salary or only a part,” she explains.

Although this is not the tallest building in the area, where 18, 20 and 26 stories are commonplace, this prefabricated building, built in the 1980’s and inspired by Eastern European architecture, houses some 500 apartments. When it was being built, three 12-storey buildings were joined, one next to the other, ending up with what the neighbors jokingly call “the serpent,” “the horizontal ghetto,” or “the worm.”

With three separate entrances, an outdoor park as a common area, a bank and a nearby Wi-Fi zone, building residents have feared for weeks that the coronavirus would reach its densely populated structure. But the confinement also has its positive side, with a special supply of food in an area with a sketchy network of shops and markets.

Residents say that everything is “very organized” and that shopping is conducted by floor. “They come, they give you a ticket and when it’s your turn, you go down.”

“They come, they give you a ticket and when it’s time for your apartment, you go downstairs. There are people who don’t want to buy everything. For example, my neighbor, who lives alone with her husband, receives the same quotas as us, and there are five of us. They are retired, they do not have enough money to buy everything they are allowed to get, so sometimes they give us their ticket; in exchange we give them a part of what we buy.”

Ivis explains that one day they found four packages of detergent and five soaps for sale. “I hadn’t bought detergent for months and that’s how I solved my problem. What they haven’t brought is shampoo and toothpaste,” she said.

Another neighbor says that the closing caught her visiting her mother’s house, who lives in Alamar. “Imagine arriving and finding your building closed. Luckily, the confinement was not total those first days, so I was able to return to my house with my daughter,” she said.

“The other day I went to buy chicken at the Tulipán store and it turned out that it was closed because the employees had been given the task of preparing packages to sell to residents of the twelve floors,” said a neighbor from a nearby building.

This Monday, in El Vedado, another building woke up in the same situation. It is the América Building, on the corner of N and 27th, a seven-story building with high population density since many apartments have been divided into two.

“Here, they explained that between Tuesday and Wednesday they would set up the kiosk in the lobby to shop without having to go out and that they would randomly test us for the coronavirus, though not all the residents,” a tenant of the building told this newspaper.

Since the pandemic began in Cuba, no mandatory quarantine has been declared at the national level, but entire neighborhoods, shops, workplaces, houses and multi-family buildings have been isolated to avoid contagion. Havana has had more than 2,800 positive cases and an incidence rate of 131.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.

The rest of the streets on the Island, however, are still full of people in search of food and lining up for hours, a situation that the Government has not been able to resolve amid great shortages of basic products. What it has done is increase control over the population through fines and restrictions.

Translator: Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Trials Designed to Set an Example Overwhelm a Court of Law in Havana

The express legal process seeks not only to convict offenders, but also to send a message to the rest of the public. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 September 2020 — If it weren’t for the pandemic, it would seem that the group gathered on 23rd Street is waiting for a bus. But this Friday, people in front of the Municipal Court at the Plaza de la Revolución were waiting to find out the fate of their relatives, detained for allegedly violating the measures decreed in Havana to stop the spread of Covid-19.

Dozens of eyes did not lose sight of the arrival of police vehicles, the movement of the uniformed men, or the shout that, from time to time, a policeman would voice from the front door of a large house on the opposite sidewalk. At any time, a son, a brother or a father might be transferred to the site to be tried for failing to comply with Decree 14/2020.

“Here we are, waiting for them to bring our son but they tell us that it will be later, that now they are bringing the people from Cerro and we are from Centro Habana,” Marta, a woman who is waiting, leaning on a wall on 23rd Street with her husband and two children, tells 14ymedio. continue reading

Some have settled on the sidewalk, others have been able to bring a small plastic bench, a bottle of water and lots of patience for the long hours of waiting. They are people from all social classes and neighborhoods in Havana. What little unites them is the anxiety of not knowing what happened to the relative who did not return home and they found out shortly after he was detained.

Some have settled on the sidewalk, others have been able to bring a small plastic bench, a bottle of water and a lot of patience for the long hours of waiting

Under her umbrella, Marta harshly criticizes the injustice that has been committed against her son. “They are telling families that the penalties are always less severe for people who are employed, but I do not understand. My 21-year-old son lost his job like many others because of this Covid.”

From across the street, an officer yells: “Reinaldo, Reinaldo.” Last names are not necessary because several members of a family spring up and cross the light traffic on the avenue, under a sun that can melt stones. Only a relative can access the oral hearing. “Go in, since you are his mother, we will be waiting for you out here,” someone says. The woman, escorted by two officers, enters the house.

Inside, the trial takes place, a quick process that seeks not only to convict the offenders but also to send a message to the rest of the public. The trials are designed to serve as an example, to warn others not to hang out on the streets without a mask, not to go out after the curfew has started, and not to try to shop in stores outside their municipality.

The front yard of the courthouse is packed with waiting uniformed police officers, looking bored and tired, dozing with their elbows on their knees. Two small buses, the kind traditionally used for the transfer of prisoners, are parked outside.

The front yard of the courthouse is packed with uniformed policemen who wait, they look bored and tired

“They are the sector leaders, who are pressured to come and give testimony of the offense committed,” says another woman. “Here they conduct trials from everywhere, from Cerro as well as from Plaza or Centro Habana,” she adds. “I still don’t know why they took my brother. I know he’s here because I got a call last night.”

A young woman, with a little girl in her arms, approaches the group. In a timid voice, she explains that her husband was taken away on the 21st of last month and asks several questions: “Do you know what sanctions they are handing out? Do you have any idea where they will transfer him after this?” A buzz of solidarity is heard, but a voice calls for calm.

The young mother needs to go to the bathroom. “Wait, I’ll come with you,” offers another woman, who leaves her purse in the hands of her husband before crossing the deserted avenue again. They return to the subject when they return. The conversation is full of unanswered questions. Nobody knows which prison they are taking the detainees to, nor what penalties they are applying.

“According to what they have told me, the punishment depends a lot on the circumstances and the person”, says a man who had not spoken up to that point. Silence runs through the group. Perhaps each one calculates the situation of his relative. Does he work or not work? Does he have a criminal record?

Some take refuge in the hope that their relative will walk out of the trial with just a fine, cross the sidewalk and they will hug in the September sun. The officer’s shout breaks the brief silence. “Maykel, Maykel” is heard, and a woman with a small child crosses the sidewalk.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

“When You are Censored, All Doors Close and the Locksmith Keeps All the Keys”

Omar Mena has authored over 11 albums since he began his career in rap more than a decade ago. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 September 2020 — Omar Mena is an artist without fear when it comes to expressing himself. The author of more than 11 albums since he began his career in rap more than a decade ago, he is known in his genre as El Analista [The Analyst].  Mena has always been at the side of the most complicated causes that have been defended within the culture in recent times: the fight against Decree 349, the support for the campaign that called for the freedom of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the vote to petition the rejection of the Constitution, among others.

After a lot of struggling from one place to another, today he resides with his family in Santa Clara, from where he talks with 14ymedio about the challenges of being a free artist in Cuba and about the projects he has defended to stay active in the world of hip hop.

Question. What were your beginnings in music like, and what prompted you to rap?

Answer. I started to do rap in 2008, recording an album at the Real 70 production company. I’ve been in this field for twelve years. Initially I was a rocker, I really liked rock and I had my band, but I was always rebellious, what I liked was expressing what I felt. The issue was already complicated with the members. There were four of us and some began to be afraid because of what I said in my lyrics. So I decided to do rap. After my first album I recorded in some Santa Clara studios and later in one that I put together myself. continue reading

Question. Where can you hear hip hop in Santa Clara?

Answer. Santa Clara does not have spaces specifically for hip hop, the usual clubs in the city are the only spaces rappers have. For example, at the AHS there are about two clubs a month and one in El Mejunje de Silverio

When you have my kind of lyrics, you live with censorship from the beginning. The Government never guaranteed me anything with respect to my work or my music, I have always created independently

Question. Due to the lyrics and the free expression of the songs that you write, you have suffered censorship from the institution, what did this mean for your career? How did you experience it? What hit you the most?

Answer. In this genre, censorship is not something that affects an artist’s career much. When you have the lyrics that I have, you live with censorship from the beginning. The Government never guaranteed me almost anything with respect to my work or my music, I have always created in an independent manner.

What hurts is the dimension that censorship brings, the worst censorship is the one exercised by the artist against the censored artist. I have directed events when I belonged to the institution and brought censored artists such as David D’omni or the Patriot Squad and everyone participated, but if there are no artists from those who remain in the institutions who are committed to Cuban society, that censorship will be the one that will continue to hit the most, because no one can prevent an artist from being brave and inviting you; what can happen, at most they will tell him that he is responsible and that’s it.

What also happens is that censorship is a machine: they not only go against your work but against you.

Question. I suppose that resuming your career independently has closed many doors for you, what new experiences did creation outside the institution bring to you?

Answer. After censorship arrived, I spent almost a year devising a new strategy, because it was always clear to me that it was not going to stop. When you are censored, all doors close and the locksmith keeps all the keys. then there is nowhere to perform, you need to create doors and options and that’s what I did.

What hurts is the scope that censorship brings, the worst censorship is the one exercised by the artist against the censored artist

I created a project called Genesis Club. Initially it was only about supporting artists in their work, holding improvement workshops, helping them to record their albums but then it evolved into another period.

I have a large patio so that’s where I built my stage. It has been the most special thing that has happened to me in my life, one for the artists who have performed there and another for the support of the people of the neighborhood. It is not the same to sing for people who have the same problems than for those who attend so they can party. In a club everyone goes to drink their bottle and the neighborhood people attend out of curiosity and pay close attention to everything that’s said.

That is what the Government fears, new comments said in the neighborhood and the neighborhood starts to think, reflecting on what happens there. It is one of the most special things that has happened to me.

The issue of repression has been more complicated, let’s call a spade a spade. I am not a politician, I am an artist, I do not belong to a party, I am just an independent thinker, a young man with his own way of thinking and who expresses it without fear. It is not a question of being brave, it is a commitment that I think must be taken. Everyone should give themselves the personal satisfaction of saying what they think and that is my case.

What the Government is afraid of, what new idea can be spoken in the neighborhood and the neighborhood is left thinking, reflecting on what is expressed there

Whenever a rumor goes around or with each demonstration that social networks or the opposition calls for, two policemen get stationed in front of my house to prevent me from going out. When the Clandestinos thing was going around they stationed them there too.  It’s crazy.

It is difficult for me to understand that they do that to an artist, especially when they control everything. They know that I don’t belong to any party and yet I’m being repressed. Personally, it does not affect me, I can live quietly, I am free and I am at peace.

Question. Do you agree with the idea that a rapper from the provinces is at a disadvantage compared to one from Havana to achieve success in his career?

Answer. It is relative. Initially, I lived in Havana and I never achieved what I did later here in my province. Everything is where you pump it out, where you put effort to work. The thing about Havana is that there are 400 rappers there, but you can come to your province and make yourself noticed, I don’t see that as impossible.

It is true that there are more opportunities there, but it is possible. Life is a line, which may curve, but it will always go to its point, if something is there for you it will happen, everything depends on the effort you put into it, I do not agree that opportunities exist only in Havana.

When I’ve had to make an important video I have gone to Havana, like the one from 349, the one about “no to the Constitution”, I have gone and been videoed, when the issue of Luis Manuel’s freedom the same thing happened, shot the video, they counted on me from my province.

Question. Having created a concert space in the house where you live with your family, what consequences has it brought you? How has it worked so far?

Answer. The creation of space in the house has not brought me many problems, just a few citations, the normal that one lives with daily. I think it is done to make you feel the intimidation and surveillance. They always ask me about what I’m going to do and I always answer the same thing: I’m going to make art.

A State Security officer told me that they had an order to prosecute me, but that they were going to give me the opportunity to do the concert. I left calmly and told them that I was going to make art that day.

During the first concert they threatened to send me to prison if something was said on stage that was not in accordance with the Revolution’s discourse. A State Security officer told me that they had an order to prosecute me, but that they were going to give me the opportunity to do the concert. I left calmly and told them that that day I was going to make art and that the next day they would do what they had to do.

David, Soandry, the neighborhood Hip Hopper came to the concert, what went on, went on.  What they said was going to be said was said and nothing happened, many police cars patrolling, watching.

Every time I do a concert it’s the same. They come up here and come to ask my permission. Then they schedule me with the head of the sector to ask me what I live on and things like that, but they have no way to cross my threshold. I follow the rules, the schedules, it is at my house, it is not in the street, I do not interrupt the public space.

We’re here to make art, it is a free space, the neighborhood supports me immensely, they help me in a huge way, they fill up the audience space, they have never disappointed me. I live two kilometers from the park and people come from there. I have never before sung for as many audiences as I have here and there is always an atmosphere full of freedom.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Two Bags of Food for a Six Hour Wait

The line at the agricultural market on Tulipán Street was slow and unbearable this Saturday. There was only cucumber, squash, julienned sweet potatoes and some eggplants on the shelves. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 September 2020 — At five in the morning this Saturday, Beatriz Delgado went out to the streets in search of food for her family. It is already two in the afternoon and she is still standing on line to buy groceries and some vegetables. Her daily routine has become more difficult with the new restrictions to slow the rebound of covid-19.

Since last Tuesday, residents of Havana have been trying to adjust to the curfew. From seven at night to five in the morning the city is deserted. Only police, firefighters, ambulances and some cars with special permits can be seen. It is a radical change when compared to the very intense early mornings before this ban.

“I used to go out with a friend of mine after watching the soap opera and we would stand from that time in a couple of lines, sometimes without really knowing why. It didn’t matter, because anything is needed: shampoo, chicken, ground meat, tooth paste,” explains Delgado, who is 63-years-old. continue reading

Bakery on Calle Infanta, Centro Habana. (14ymedio)

“The lines would form starting in the afternoon, and getting up early in order to get a good number was useless; even so, we never got a number smaller than 60,, explains this Havana resident, for whom the curfew means fewer possibilities of being able fill her bag.

COVID-19 in Havana: An Alibi to Perpetuate the Castro Pandemic / Miriam Celaya

Between seven in the evening and five in the morning, mobility for people and vehicles is prohibited in Havana (photo: ADN Cuba)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 September 2020 — The new bundle of measures that begins to rule for 15 days in the Cuban capital starting today, Tuesday, September 1st, comes to place a new marble slab on the spirit of the capital after five harrowing months of an epidemic whose end is a period as unknown as that of the food crisis that Cuba was undergoing long before the start of the pandemic.

With the pretext of controlling the current outbreak of COVID-19, which has spread “with intense transmission” in all the municipalities of the Cuban capital, Reinaldo García Zapata, Havana’s governor, in his response by videoconference at the national TV’s Round Table last Thursday, August 27th, declared that the previous measures and actions were not enough to control the contagion.

He explained that “there has been a lack of discipline on the part of people who did not act reasonably and (also) there are institutions that did not fulfill their guiding roles and their leadership”, all of which led to a re-outbreak of the disease and we returned to the previous stage in the course of this week, “of endemic transmission”, but with a much more complex situation than in the previous stage, since there are 6 open sources of contagion and a greater dispersion of cases in the capital. continue reading

Without wishing to immerse myself in the murkiness of the official figures, nor to return to the subject of the highest incurable level of vice of the authorities, to evade their great share of responsibility in this setback — excess of triumphalism, anticipated de-escalation, haste in the opening of hotels with the sole purpose of making money regardless of the risks, just to mention the most obvious ones — the rigor of the new restrictions does not bear a proportional relationship to the number of infections when compared to the capital’s population of more than two million.

Nor does it seem reasonable that the authorities have set a period of just 15 days (in the first instance) to stop a re-outbreak that the Minister of Health himself declared could become “uncontrollable.” Something smells rotten.

Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the country’s and the capital’s senior leaders in their presumed intention to deepen controls in order to protect the health of the people, and without denying the priority of maintaining the fence over such a dangerous disease, it is obvious that the new commandments abound in criticism by and prohibitions to the population – some of them bordering on the absurd or exaggerated – and focus on disciplinary measures for those who dare to transgress these taboos, but the obligations and responsibilities that the authorities must fulfill have been left in an extremely diffuse limbo, as usual.

Let us take, for example, the omission of the functions that the different instances of the government and the Ministry of Health would be obliged to guarantee in terms of material, hygiene and service conditions, both at the hospital level and at the so-called “isolation centers”, taking into account the numerous complaints issued by those admitted to these places during phase I of the outbreak.

Another dark point is the responsibility that those same authorities have to transfer people to hospitals requiring urgent attention, not necessarily cases related to the Covid virus, especially between the hours of seven in the afternoon to five in the morning during which mobility of people and vehicles is expressly prohibited, under penalty of loss of registration and circulation to unauthorized vehicles traveling during those times.

Furthermore, in accordance with the new restrictions, the Governor has been empowered “with a legal instrument that allows the application of severe fines against various cases of social indiscipline” during this period. Said fines must be paid within a period not exceeding 10 days, otherwise, the original amount will be doubled, and if not paid within 30 days, the offenders will be subject to criminal charges. All this in a scenario of economic and social paralysis where the majority of the State workers remain furloughed, receiving 60% of their salary and in some cases receiving no income, while workers in the private sector (the self-employed) have not received any financial help at all).

As expected, the arbitrary and biased nature of the official provisions and their application, as well as the “impunity from the top” are perfectly reflected in the absence of entities or legal mechanisms with the capacity to sanction authorities at any level, including the Governor himself, in the event that those authorities or their subordinates are the ones who (again) violate the regulations or fail to fulfill their unstated obligations.

In any case, the next two weeks will be a real challenge for law enforcement officials in charge of implementation in the most complex theater of operations and, demonstrably, one of the most difficult to control for law enforcement officials: the Cuban capital. A veritable testing ground — to paraphrase a friend who defined it this way — where those same agents have dealt, with little or no success, with illegalities, the informal market (“immortal”, I should say) and corruption, when they have not formed part of that long chain.

And this is precisely where the new restrictions are ultimately aimed: refining and reinforcing repressive structures. The draconian measures that will rule in Havana in the next two weeks rather suggest a trial exercise to oil — as far as possible — the repressive mechanisms in the face of possible sources of disturbances that could occur in the coming months, not due to claims of a political nature, taking into account the civic circumstances and political ignorance of “the masses”, but because of the unstoppable advance of the shortage crisis that threatens to worsen and that will hit the poorest households with greater force.

Curfew, severe sanctions, watertight separation of the population (each isolated in its municipality), drastic limitation of movement of people and vehicles, perhaps they could be part of a tactic aimed at facilitating the response to the popular discontent. More than the control of COVID-19, a twisted strategy to perpetuate a much more virulent and damaging epidemic: that of the Castro legacy.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Clandestinos: a Scandalous Silence

Image of a bust of José Martí supposedly covered in pig’s blood, released by the Clandestinos group at the beginning of the year. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 September 2020 — Popular voices state that sometimes forgetting is healthier than remembering. This maxim could well be applied to the case of a supposed anti-Castro organization that upset the social networks in the first days of January of this year with its coming out appearance using a controversial method of rebellion: covering with pig’s blood several busts of José Martí and the occasional public billboard in which the image of the deceased Castro appeared.

Either because of the intangibility of the Clandestinos – the name by which the group was known — or because of their unexpected appearance, because they hid their identity using masks that completely covered their faces, because they always acted during night hours and because, in addition, they shot short videos that were later published on social networks to record their alleged activities, the truth is that these elusive rebels captured the attention of Internet users and of multiple digital media, unleashing fierce debates between supporters and detractors and breaking the usual apathy of the Cuban political opposition scene.

There were many angry voices criticizing what they considered a serious desecration of the memory of the most revered Cuban of all time – José Martí, it is understood — but it must be recognized that Clandestinos managed to attract the sympathy of a large part of the emigration and of activists of different ideologies, as well as activists of the most diverse agendas and several independent journalists within the Island who, with absolute lack of judgment, joined the hashtag #TodosSomosClandestinos [#We’re are all Clandestinos] and began to share videos and photos of the alleged actions of the new freedom champions. continue reading

 There certainly never was in the opposition universe of the Castro era another group so ghostly, with such a meteoric rise, such a resounding fall or such an ephemeral life

Furthermore, during the first week of the year, and with the irrational passion that characterizes the national temperament, questioning the very existence of the Clandestinos or launching any reasoning that could cast a shadow of suspicion on the heroes of the moment or their actions — which no one could even contrast — to the most radical spirits it was the equivalent of the worst betrayal of the anti-Castro cause, if not a test of “being at the service of the dictatorship.”

However, the mirage was short-lived. There was never in the opposition universe of the Castro era another group so ghostly for sure, with such a meteoric rise, such a resounding fall or such a fleeting life. Barely a week elapsed between the appearance of the first video of Clandestinos in cyberspace, on January 1st, until the official note was issued through the National Television News (NTV), on the 8th of the same month, reporting on the capture of the authors of those “acts of vandalism”.

Now without theatrical masks and without a hint of glamour, the images of Panter Rodríguez Baró and Yoel Prieto Tamayo, the alleged Clandestinos, were exposed in the media monopoly of the Castro press. Following the typical State Security scheme, both were classified as antisocial with a criminal record for possession and consumption of drugs, whose actions, financed by the usual villains — that is, “stateless people” from Florida — were part of “a dirty media maneuver to make believe that there is a climate of insecurity and violence in Cuba. ”

Judging by the corresponding report with which these “victories” of the Plaza de la Revolución are usually accompanied, that group of anonymous warriors of national scope turned out to be a duo restricted to Havana.

And so, devoid of a single applause or tears, the drama ended. In stark contrast to the scramble they had sparked during their brief stint on the media scene, a tombstone of silence and oblivion has since closed over the Clandestinos.

Interestingly, in the six months since then, not one of their passionate supporters has called for a campaign for the release of these courageous anti-Castro fighters. Nobody wonders where they are or what state they are in, locked in the dark cells of State Security, if they really are there. In fact, the names of Panter and Yoel are not even on the lists of politically motivated prisoners that are regularly updated by different organizations.

Since the arrest and the beginning of the criminal investigation process of the case, the official media has not mentioned a word about the topic

No less intriguing is the silence from the opposite end of the spectrum. Since the arrest and the beginning of the criminal investigation process of the case, the official media have not mentioned a word about the issue, despite the fact that, in the heat of that comical report, the most seasoned revolutionaries went so far as to suggest the application of the death penalty against the conspicuous masked men for the crime of affront to the fatherland.

It is suspicious at least that tarnishing the memory of the National Hero represents a minor crime — and therefore able to be postponed — compared to crimes as abominable as the hoarding of onions, the resale of toiletries, the dealing in auto parts, the illegal trafficking of people’s spaces waiting in lines or cheese making, which in recent times and almost every day occupies a priority in the final minutes of the TV news.

This time, although for different reasons, one of those exceptional coincidences is apparently taking place in which opposite extremes — the Castro regime, by some obscure interest and its most staunch adversaries on both sides of the Florida Strait, by perception of the ridiculous – opted for the same strategy: to spread a pious mantle on an issue that may be uncomfortable for both sides.

We have yet to see if in the near future the Clandestinos return to the fore and the Cuban authorities mount a model mock trial. Although, personally, I would still have reservations. Who knows if, as a colleague pointed out, one day we will recognize Panter or Yoel serving as custodians in a foreign embassy in Havana. It is known that the decisions of State Security are inscrutable.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

From Ubre Blanca to the “Bici-agro”, the Absurd News of the Revolution / Ernesto Perez Chang

The “bici-agro” as presented by the official media. (Foto: EICMA Cuba / Twitter)

Cubanet, Ernesto Pérez Chang, Havana, 13 August 2020 — They invented the bici-agro in Ciego de Ávila, the local press announced, and the TV National News repeated it in spite of how ridiculous the news item was.

In essence, the “great invention” is nothing more than an ordinary tricycle to market food on the streets, a pedal cart as “sophisticated” as the “Palmiche” can be, that bizarre CUJAE* “robot” creation which flooded social media with memes, since it was nothing more than a rough hot table on wheels.

If there is something “attractive”  — rather than “alarming” —  both in the news about the “agricultural-bike”, as well as in the one about the “thermos on wheels”, it is not the objects themselves but the news as such, since it is possible to find similar artifacts anywhere in the universe without the best media editor finding them newsworthy, much less in a global context where there’s talk of Mars missions, of injectable nanorobots to fight cancer and 5G and even 6G wireless connections. continue reading

What is striking is that there is not an iota of sarcasm in the press release, and that in reality they are trying to sneak in something totally pathetic as proof of Cuban “creativity” in “difficult moments”, even as an “achievement of the Revolution and socialism”, from which a moderately suspicious reader could deduce that the national disaster is so gigantic that it is already too difficult for the Ideological Department of the Communist Party — which “guides” the work of the official press — to find other “encouraging news” to fuel its usual smugness.

A number of more grotesque news items have flourished these past few months in the regime-financed press, just when the crisis is hitting bottom and the threat of a social outbreak is increasing with the August heat, the empty stomachs and the psychological imbalances caused by confinement.

And it is not that the coronavirus has charred the noggins of a few “communicators” around here, but rather that they are a “continuity” of that old guard of reporters who, in the midst of the crisis at the Peruvian Embassy and the Mariel Boatlift “preferred” to make front page headlines about a cow named “Ubre Blanca” (White Udder).  At the end of that same decade, when the Soviet Union was collapsing, ruling party member Arleen Rodríguez Derivet — back then a TV reporter in the city of Guantánamo — made her appearance, becoming “famous” for discovering a “talking dog.”

The ridiculous weighs heavy and is stronger than news. It is a manipulative formula that rarely fails and is a daily practice in the official press. Using the previous examples, let us think that anyone in Cuba today who experienced those decades of the 80’s and 90’s from a distance and from their understanding of what was read, seen and heard in the regime’s press and not by any other means, knows more about Ubre Blanca and the “talking dog” than about what really happened at the Peruvian Embassy or about the real causes that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Even the executions of generals at the start of the most critical decade for the Cuban economy were engulfed by cheers and fireworks of a whimsical Pan American Games that sucked the few foreign reserves that remained from the Soviet Era. However, bevies of Cubans flocked to buy “tocopanes” (the tocororo, Cuban national bird, chosen as mascot), and for weeks, front pages of newspapers were flooded with the subject of Cuba’s increasing wins of sports medals, while on the margins of the state-run newspaper Granma’s second page the daily report on the sugar harvest disappeared, and the standardized distribution table of “the gutless dog”, “the soybean hamburger meat” and the kerosene bottle to face blackouts began to appear.

There were no social networks, leaving the country was almost impossible, the independent press was just an embryo, torn between a forced delivery or being aborted. Thus, the “ordinary” Cuban, away from the epicenter of the hottest events, perceived the times and contexts only through the ideologizing sieve of the official press. Its routine spanned from the Cuban cow that produced more milk than any “imperialist cow” and stories about the first Cuban in the cosmos.

Meanwhile, just a few steps from the avenue where the daily caravan of luxury cars that led Fidel Castro from his family residence to the Palace of the Revolution, a crowd packed into an embassy showed the world that socialism was hell.

But, like beings from another planet, the naive looked to the skies trying to distinguish the Russian spaceship among the stars, they entertained themselves in teaching the dog to speak in the hope of appearing on television, or they dreamed of at least one day achieving the privileges of a dairy cow, which was just asking for too much.

There is no doubt that those Cubans will be able to tell us about the mass exodus, about the “marches of the fighting people” and about the “Special Period” that came after the demise of the USSSR. But those things have probably faded from their memories as something residual and unimportant, without the intensity that, in contrast, the powerful images that the absurd and the ridiculous do possess, as did the indelicate idea of an animal “blessed by the Commander in Chief” which, consequently, lived in a way that was unattainable to any Cuban, even if he pretended to be more mute, docile and productive than Ubre Blanca.

In a hamlet of very poor people, far in the Villa Clara hills, there was, or may still exist, a museum whose main attraction was a stuffed mule rumored to have belonged to Ernesto (Che) Guevara during the uprising.   In order to preserve it for “History”, they kept it in an air-conditioned urn, which was a real luxury in this rural town, with scant electricity for basic household matters.

Those who have visited the place say that the town inhabitants, especially children, go to the museum on intensely hot days to lean their bodies against the glass and thus cool off a bit. They could care less about the beast on display or its former owner, but think only of the cold that provides them, for a fleeting, short-lived moment, the relief that is impossible to have at home.

In living conditions in Cuba today, in which the streets are like a pot over a live fire, hermetically closed and with very few escape valves, the reports in the official press about the “bici-agro”, the “robotic” wheelbarrow of the CUJAE and other “super gadgets”, apparently so alienated and ridiculous in essence, could pretend to be like that cold urn which, like a diversion, calms the spirits of the very hot children. But these are other times and the people, now much more suspicious, will immediately realize that the enthusiasm for a “bici-agro” is nothing more than madness. Much like worshiping a refrigerated, dead mule.

Translated by Norma Whiting

*CUJAE =   José Antonio Echeverría Technical University of Havana

Cuba, Monetary Unification and “The Horizon” for its Destiny / Miriam Celaya

The Cuban Economy and the Dual Monetary System. (Photo AFP)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 August 2020 — A note recently published by the official Cuban press discusses once again the much harped on and, so far, unresolved issue of monetary unification, through an interview conducted by its author with various specialists from the Central Bank of Cuba.

Said officials agreed on the importance of monetary and exchange unification as a “necessary, although not sufficient, condition to reorder and update the national economy,” and offered their vision on the origins of the dual currency and its historical antecedents, with an explanation about what would be the ideal economic environment of the country for (finally) money to fulfill its functions.

It would be useless to repeat what was said by the experts, who are, after all, government officials whose speech does not differ from the countless explanations poured out on this controversial issue since 2011 when the then General-President had an epiphany and declared that it was time to unify the two national currencies. Almost ten years later, the miracle has not yet to take place. continue reading

It would be expected that these senior bureaucrats of the national coffers, protagonists of the reference note, would have offered us some advance on the solution strategies that — supposedly — are being applied to cut the Gordian knot of the monetary and exchange rate duality. Or, at the very least, they should have clarified where we stand in the steps and stages that were supposedly planned in the “Guidelines,” and that would be taking place to make possible (if only!) the long-awaited unification.

We would have appreciated being enlightened in the midst of a reality so chaotic and obscure that the currencies — far from being unified — continue to diversify. The recent irruption of foreign currencies in the national trading system multiplies the distortions, deepening the devaluation of Cuban currencies, strengthening the black exchange market and reinforcing the already large social gaps existing between the poorer sectors, who have no access to foreign currency and those who are better off (the “privileged”) and may rely on some source of income in foreign currency.

In other words, the most damaging thing at a social level today, beyond the financial, is no longer the old problem of the existence of two currencies, but the coexistence of two types of currencies: on the one hand, the local ones (CUP and CUC), with a physical presence in the depressed national commerce, without real value and without financial backing, a sad imitation of the old tokens issued by sugar mills with colonial heritage.  On the other, foreign currencies, with real value but with only virtual presence (overlapping dollarization), and privileged within the national trading system itself (commercial apartheid) with the provision of markets exclusively for those who have access to them through debit cards attached to bank accounts in freely convertible currency.

Obviously, although the urgency of gaining control over hard currencies foreign exchange is undeniable, which, according to vernacular experts, should theoretically help accelerate monetary unification, this would be an extremely long process in practice, due to the internal economic crisis aggravated by the severe global economic one related to the COVID-19 pandemic, concurrent  with unpredictable social costs.  All that, taking into account the tension and the growing discontent in Cuba, the increase in repressive measures and police and para-police controls, and the evident distancing between “the government” and “the governed”.

So, in the midst of such a storm “cleaning up internal finances” and “creating an ideal environment for Cuban money to fulfill its functions” will be quite unlikely — to use a nice adjective — unless the hierarchs have some trick up their sleeve, which has never been favorable for common Cubans.

Despite all this, and with regard to the illusory monetary unification, Karina Cruz Simón, a specialist in the Directorate of Economic Studies, offered premises that constitute pure chimeras in light of the current situation. The “key”, the expert suggests, is to stabilize the national currency.  This may be achieved, among other factors, by “ensuring that the money issuance processes correspond to the evolution of the real or productive economy.”

What this official does not mention is how she thinks such a spell can be performed. As if it had not been sufficiently proven throughout the entire Castro experiment that a “real or productive” economy urgently requires promoting a profound transformation of property relations in Cuba without further delay: another equally complex and long-standing distortion that began since the very dawn of the so-called Revolution which has been the basis of the national economic disaster.

Achieving this “favorable scenario so that the Cuban peso can fulfill its functions and preserve macroeconomic balances” does not depend only (or magically) on the factors mentioned by Cruz Simón, which is also unattainable if Cuba does not open up to the market economy and if, simultaneously, the economic, political and social rights of its citizens are not recognized so that they can participate as protagonists and not as hostages in the new economic scenario.

The fundamental obstacle to advancing on both sides of the necessary unification and revaluation of the national currency — economics and finance — is the obsolete and proven failed principle of “general economic planning”, which is the new euphemism when referring to a centralized economy.

In reality, all the “renovating” proposals launched so far by the political Power in order to “get the economy moving” only tend to shield this failed official centralism and to perpetuate the privileges of Power. It is this stubbornness that prevents the economy from advancing in the first place and, in the last place, makes monetary unification possible. When you have lived 60 years in totalitarianism and uninterrupted economic disasters, it is not necessary to be a specialist in the field to understand it that way.

However, so we are not faulted as unfair, it will be necessary to recognize some coherence. Already the very heading of the state-owned newspaper Granma’s note announced it bluntly: the monetary unification of Cuba is “on the horizon”… And it is known that the horizon is an imaginary and unattainable line. It is on this line that Power has always placed all its promises of prosperity, and where our destinies continue. At least they have never lied to us about that.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: The “Strategy” of Desperation

(Photo: Estudios Revolución)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 19 July 2020 — If I had to briefly describe the general impression that emerges from the new Economic and Social Strategy of the Cuba’s upper echelons of power, I would choose three preliminary adjectives: wrong, late and incomplete.

It is wrong because it continues to estimate in a foreign currency what they call “impulse to the economic development of the country” – more noteworthy, in the “enemy’s” foreign currency which supposedly generates all the ills – and in items that are not related at all to the results of the production of the (ruined) national industry: family remittances from abroad, the eternally “potential” foreign investment capital and the eventual foreign tourism income, now disappeared.

It is late because each and every one of the proposed guidelines, such as the “flexibilities” announced for the private sector, financial “autonomy” for state-owned companies, the introduction of micro and small and medium-sized companies, among other measures could and should have been implemented many years ago, especially during the thaw period, with the administration of the then-US President, Barack Obama, when the Castro regime had its best opportunity to implement these and other changes. continue reading

On the other hand, the official proposal for economic reforms in the current national and international context (though it is noteworthy that the term “reforms” was not uttered), far from projecting an alleged interest of the power claque to expand the economic potential of citizens or a real desire for change, only evidences despair and a sense of urgency to increase hard currencies.

But perhaps the most relevant feature of this official strategy, which they now offer as the holy grail to try to revive the depressed economy, is its incompleteness. And here, it is worth dwelling on several root considerations when it comes to economic efficiency.

According to the leaders of the Castro court, the priority objective of all the theoretical-strategic scaffolding – which until now is only about that: theory and intentions – is food production. In fact, the spokesman of the constituents of the Political Bureau of the PCC, comrade Díaz-Canel, in his scolding speech before the Council of Ministers on the morning of July 16th made reference to the urgent need to achieve “food sovereignty”, a kind of religious invocation resulting from the delusions of the Deceased-in-Chief, whose status has never advanced beyond that of a chimera, and who only sounds yet again like a bad omen in the current scenario.

But, getting to the heart of the matter, producing food at a level that satisfies domestic demand, substitutes imports and even generates income from exports – as these hallucinated ones claim – necessarily goes through the everlasting problem of property relations over land, a critical point of which no mention was made on last Thursday’s Roundtable television program.

If the farmer is not the legitimate owner of the land he works; if, in addition, laws (not simple paper “strategies”) that grant legal nature and protection to the producer are not implemented; if the inopportune interventions of the State that establish price limits, criminalize commerce or impose leonine taxes are not irreversibly suspended; in short, if, simultaneously with the “flexibilities” in the economy, the corresponding civil and political rights are not recognized for citizens, there will be no effective progress, nor will the necessary and profound changes take place.

The official rhetoric, so worn and rotten that its seams seem to pop, deserves a full stop.  About said rhetoric I will only mention some brushstrokes that stand out in the midst of the ideological patch that preceded the information on the masterful “Strategy”, through the intervention (in effigy) of the president by appointment, which makes clear the absence of a compass of a political power that weighs itself down as obsolete and ineffective.

When Díaz-Canel, in his parliament, reminiscent of a “Cantinflas”* movie plot, declares that “to benefit everyone, sometimes you have to take measures that seem to favor a few but in the long run favor everyone”, and when the differentiation of access to goods is established as a norm and services according to the income of citizens, privileging those who receive foreign exchange – to the detriment of the state worker who receives his salary in national currency (CUP) and the most humble sectors of society, without access to remittances or other income – and establishing the bases for a new and deeper social gap between the poor and the rich, are in fact establishing the same “neoliberal” strategies that have been so widely criticized by the seat of power when it comes to other governments in other latitudes.

But if, to add to the humiliation, the official media offers to the most disadvantaged the promise of two “additional” pounds of rice and six ounces of beans, to be distributed for two months through the ration card, then discrimination is compounded by insult.

Hopefully, all of us Cubans, here or overseas, will finally place ourselves at the height of the conflict. This time it is worth paraphrasing the maker of national ruin to tell those who humiliate and insult us from the seat of power that we don’t want them; we don’t need them.

*Translator’s note: Cantinflesco: A term derived from Mexican actor Mario Moreno Cantiflas’ movie genre: laughable, ridiculous, caricature-like.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Medications Crisis in Cuba: Rationing vs. Reasoning / Miriam Celaya

Pharmacy in Cuba (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 June 2020 – Another hot summer day has barely dawned in the city, but dozens of people are already gathered in the vestibule at the Carlos III Pharmacy in Central Havana. The day before, the drugs were “unloaded” and since quantity and variety of the assortment never meets demand, exactly every ten days an anxious human conglomerate fills the area and its surroundings for several hours.

In the past three to four years, drug shortages have become an increasingly tricky topic at this medical powerhouse. The impact of the crisis is such that neither the pharmaceutical industry nor the importing companies -both monopolies of the State- are able to insure even those drugs assigned to patients with chronic diseases, acquired through the Controlled Medicines Acquisition Card, popularly known as “the big card”.

“I warn you that only part of the Enalapril arrived, and antihistamines or dipyrone, medformin, or psychotropic drugs didn’t arrive either, so those who come looking for this already know it, and don’t bother to line up!”, warns one of the pharmacy employees, who has come out to face the crowd like a gladiator before lions. The answer, in effect, is a kind of collective roar. Discontent spreads. continue reading

Moments later the same employee returns to the crowded vestibule to report, with the same subtlety, about the great “solution” that pharmacies are going to apply to the shortage of medicines: “Shut up and pay attention here, so you can’t later say that you didn’t know!” Right after that, he makes an announcement that only half of the dose prescribed by the corresponding doctor will be filled for each card. And he ends with an absolutely irrational warning: “So save [your medicines]!”

The supposedly altruistic idea is that with this rationing of what has already been rationed, a greater number of patients have the possibility of acquiring part of the medicine that is required to treat their ailment. The bad news is that, in practice – and by the grace of the authority of the administrators of destitution – what this achieves is the multiplication of the number of people who cannot duly comply  with what is indicated by a trained physician, and consequently, the risks of health complications that are derived, increase.  Numerous of these cases include extremely serious events, such as cerebral or cardiovascular infarctions, hypercholesterolemia, hyperglycemia and kidney problems, just to mention a few.

Thus, the alternative to these shortages ignores such a basic principle that can be stated simply and mathematically: consuming half the dose equals twice the risk for patients. Because it so happens that there are no half-hypertensive, half-cardiac or half-diabetic cases. Health problems cannot be adapted to the inadequacy of the medicine market.

If it were not for the highly vaunted benefits of a Revolution that leaves no one helpless, we could imagine that we are witnessing a scenario of neo-Malthusianism, where the excess of population added to the increasing scarcity of resources imposes an inevitable socio-demographic selection: the weakest, the old, the ones with lowest incomes and the sick will be the decimated sectors and only the most solvent, strong, young and healthy will survive without further damage, be it or not- or not necessarily-  a State policy.

It is obvious that, despite the accelerated aging of the population in Cuba and with that the increase in chronic patients with diseases related to advanced age, an effective government strategy was never devised to alleviate the stumbling blocks of the fragile national pharmaceutical industry or to protect the so-called “pharmacological groups by control cards”.

Going back in time and appealing to the long history of shortages on the Island, there are numerous drugs that have disappeared from the shelves since the 1990’s, never to return. Even those that were once available over the counter began to be sold by prescription only, a situation that remains to this day. Pharmacy supplies have never come close to what it was until 1989, despite frequent official promises for improvements or recovery of the industry.

Furthermore, the crisis has become so severe that eventually the official press has been forced to bring up the matter. Thus, for example, on 3 February 2018, the article On the Pharmacy Counter (by Julio Martínez Molina) appeared on the digital page of the State newspaper Granma, reporting that in 2017 dozens of shortages of drugs had been reported in throughout the country that year, and the persistence of “the absence of high demand pharmacological items” had been acknowledged, among them hypotensive, antidepressant, anti-ulcer medications and many more.

The BioCubaFarma association reported that the instability in drug deliveries was due to “the lack of adequate financing to pay suppliers of raw materials, packaging materials and expenses.” There was no lack of the favorite “blockade” among the causes for the pothole, which forced “the use of third countries to acquire equipment, American-made spare parts, chemical reagents, etc.”

Other data pointed to interesting figures: of the 801 drugs that make up “the basic picture” of Cuba’s drug demand, BioCubaFarma was responsible for 63%. In total, 505 medicines were produced by the National Pharmaceutical Industry and 286 were imported by the Ministry of Health (MINSAP); while of the 370 lines that were distributed to the pharmacy network, 301 were domestically produced and 69 imported.

Despite everything, explained authorities in the pharmaceutical industry, the critical situation “would change gradually” (would improve), up to the recovery of the production and distribution of medicines, which should take place around the first quarter of 2019.

But BioCubaFarma officials also suggested that the doctors carry some of the responsibility for not being sufficiently informed about the supplies of the drugs they prescribed to patients. “If the doctor has the correct information about the difficulties of a certain medicine, he should avoid prescribing it.”

The real problem, beyond this colossal simplicity, was, and still is, the almost absolute shortage of entire groups of medications, including antibiotics to fight infections or analgesics for pain relief which has caused many doctors – at the risk of being penalized – to recommend to their patients to arrange for their own medicines through family or friends overseas.

In 2018, during a presentation before the National Assembly, the then Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales Ojeda, beckoned to “combat the misuse of medical prescriptions”, an exhortation that automatically led to the rationing of the doctors’ prescription books. After that, they would receive a limited number of these in order to tackle mismanagement among corrupt doctors and medicine smugglers, a business that had been confirmed for years and that grew in direct proportion to the decrease in supply in legal networks.

This was the rampant official strategy designed to eradicate the wide and deep hole of illegal maneuvers that let medicines slip through pharmacy networks, aggravating shortages and feeding the informal market. Simultaneously, a limit was also placed on the number of medications that could be indicated in each prescription, which – oh, paradox! – forced doctors to issue a greater number of prescriptions to each patient.

The result of so much nonsense was immediate: the drug smugglers diversified their strategies, but survived, while the insane rationalization of prescription books had a null, if not counterproductive effect, in the control of medications.

Meanwhile, more than two years after BioCubaFarma’s triumphant promises, and far from improving, the shortage of medicines in Cuba has deepened and is headed to getting even worse. Because at the end of the day it is not a medication crisis but a system whose disease has no cure.

Just around noon, the Carlos III’s Pharmacy had run out of medications. The line scatters, among whispers, complaints, and resigned faces. The curtain falls on a scene that will repeat itself in exactly ten days.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cart Vendors, in the Spotlight of Havana’s Police

Citizen defenselessness widens and expands in direct relation to the deepening of the general crisis of the system. (14ymedio / File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 3 June 2020 – Very early in the morning, Yasmani gulped down his usual sip of coffee before going out into the street with his cart to sell fruits and other agricultural products in the municipality of Centro Habana. He did not imagine that this would be his last working day in the time of Covid-19, which continues to hit the Cuban capital.

Yasmani was one of the few cart vendors licensed by Cuba’s National Tax Administration Office (Onat) who, for over a decade, had managed to survive harassment, confiscations during police operations, temporary arrests, extortion by inspectors and whatever abuse the authorities have committed against this reviled niche of the private sector, euphemistically baptized as “self-employed.”

Yasmani is the typical merchant known among Cubans as a ‘fighter’. He is persevering, intelligent and a hard-working man, someone who occasionally “gets his foot on the door” and is always “up and about,” able to bounce back from calamity time and time again, and in a short time sneak back into the complicated trade network of the Cuban capital, always in a fragile balance between what is allowed, what is accepted, what is illegal and what is prohibited. continue reading

This pragmatic entrepreneur came to possess two rolling devices for selling his merchandise, which were quickly confiscated by the police and because of which he was on the verge of losing his license and going to trial.

Years back, there were better times for this empirical entrepreneur, who came to possess two rolling devices for the sale of his merchandise. The carts were soon confiscated by the police and he almost lost his license and went to court, accused of “illicit enrichment”. He came out of that and other shocks thanks to the usual procedure: placing generous and timely bribes in the appropriate pockets.

Yasmani has always managed to make his cart one of those with the best assortment in his neighborhood, and also the one selling the best quality products of its kind, thanks to his longstanding contacts with private suppliers and his astuteness to duly justify each and every one items of merchandise.

This has been the way in which this young family man has earned a living, between mishaps with the authorities and brief periods of relative peace, and has pursued his and his family’s livelihoods. Until that fateful morning, while he was waiting on a customer and he saw a vehicle from the Revolutionary Armed Forces Prevention Corps – popularly known as “red berets” – slowly approaching, straight for him.

“At first, I thought they were going to ask me for directions or something like that, but I immediately noticed a bad attitude and knew that they were coming against my business. I have already had so many problems with inspectors, corrupt police and almost as many insolent officials as there are in this country that I was not surprised that these people also came to take a slice off me. But what I did not imagine is that they were going to treat me with so much bullying,” shares Yasmani.

I have already had so many problems with inspectors, corrupt police and almost as many insolent officials as there are in this country that I was not surprised that these people also came to take a slice off me

Two young men “with awful dog faces” got out of the vehicle and, without a greeting or explanation, told him that he had to collect everything and leave. “Selling is forbidden, and you know that; don’t be a smart ass.”

The small merchant’s complaining or his insistence on trying to find out what the correct answer to such arbitrary response was, remained unanswered. Why had the Onat not informed him of the business closing, or whether it was a temporary provision related to some strategy around Covid-19 and its significant incidence in Central Havana. In particular, Yasmani wanted to know why it was the Army Prevention Forces and not the common police who were targeting a civilian like him, since the country was not at war and without a curfew or any another extraordinary measure having been declared by the highest authority.

Far from receiving any explanation, his questions only succeeded in further irritating the military men. The one who seemed the least young of them confronted him, with an attitude between menacing and mocking, as he cast fierce glances at the customers and neighbors who had gathered at the location. “Ah, are you going go crazy and act like a fighting cock? Are you a ‘leader’ in this neighborhood? Don’t you don’t know that there is an emergency in the country and the Army is in charge of everything? Where do you live? Let’s see?”

Yasmani pointed him towards the nearby building where he has resided since he was born. “I live there, where that balcony is, with the hanging diapers, which belong to my son whom I have to feed. And no, I have not heard of any emergency. They haven’t even mentioned that in the news.”

The military man did not flinch. “Well, it is better that you live nearby, so it won’t be too much trouble for you to take away all of this. And when it happens again, if you haven’t, we are going to take you and then it won’t be to your house.” After that final bravado, the repressors left arrogantly, visibly proud of the awe they had awakened among the witnesses of that infamous scene. Some supportive neighbors helped the incensed merchant carry his tiny rolling agricultural-market home and assisted him in storing his produce.

“Well, it is better that you live nearby, so it will not be too hard for you to take away all of this.  And the next time it happens, if you haven’t left, we will take you and then it will not to your house”

Since then, Yasmani and the rest of the few cart drivers who barely kept selling their products through thick and thin have disappeared from the intricate landscape of Central Havana without an Onat official having come forward to explain or to tell them if, at any unknown date they will be able to return to their activities of earning a living and punctually paying their taxes to the treasury.

“It is of no use that we pay taxes and social security or that no union has been invented for this sector. Self-employed workers do not have labor rights and we do not receive cash aid as is guaranteed to the state sector, possibly with the same funds that we contribute to the treasury”, complains Yasmani. And he adds: “What they are doing with this is forcing me to return to the black market, to contraband, to illegality, because my family is not going to starve.” So I ask him what he plans to do and his answer is blunt: “Whatever it takes.”

Thus, from one official ineptness to another, social unrest continues to grow. And now, as if the police deployment that has enthroned itself in public spaces of the Cuban capital in recent months were not enough, the Army’s repressive bodies now come to directly join the repression against civilians without the existence of an extraordinary official statement to justify such an excess of its functions and powers. Citizen defenselessness widens and expands in direct relation to the deepening of the general crisis of the system.

Betsy Díaz Velázquez said that “the established retail networks, both state-owned and self-employed, would be taken advantage of, including the points of sale of the so-called cart vendors”

Not only are we facing the serious combination of an irreparable economic crisis, aggravated by an epidemic which has not officially been recognized, but the country is also heading, decapitated and without compass, precariously commanded by a group of improvised cabin boys who at any cost try to hold onto the cover of the vessel on the brink of being shipwrecked.

The country’s top leadership has again demonstrated its inability to meet its own minimum guidelines. Suffice it to recall that on March 20th, in a special appearance on The Roundtable TV program, the Minister of Internal Trade, Betsy Díaz Velázquez, declared that – with a view to expanding the sale of agricultural products and avoiding the concentration of people at fairs and agricultural markets – “would take advantage of established retail networks, both state and self-employed, including the points of sale of the so-called cart vendors.” This would not only optimize food distribution, but would bring them closer to the population.

Behold, just over two months after such resolves were announced, food is increasingly moving away from the tables, and uncertainty and hunger are looming over Cuban households. Things are very bad if the government’s response to the crisis is the multiplication of the repressive forces and the army on the streets. In these times of frustration and hopelessness the lords of power could not send us a worse message.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COVID-19 in Cuba: Eliminated by Decree? / Miriam Celaya

Masked police agent controls line to buy food in Havana (photo file)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 May 2020 — If the Cuban official figures are taken as true, we could be certain that the days are numbered for the COVID-19 epidemic on the Island. In fact, saying “epidemic” is to disagree with the phases which the Chinese flu has gone through in Cuba, as established by the authorities, since in the more than two months that have transpired since the first cases were confirmed – three Italian tourists who presented with symptoms and tested positive – up to now, an epidemiological alarm stage has never been declared in the country.

The numbers trend indicates such a sharp and rapid drop that fear of contagion has begun to fade among the population and the perception of risk has been largely lost. Almost no one remembers that just a month ago the Cuban health authorities predicted the approximate date of mid-May for the “peak” of COVID-19 in Cuba; a forecast that was updated shortly after, on April 27th, when the pro-government site Cubadebate announced that it would actually take place during the following week, between May 4th  and 10th.

We would thus place ourselves 77 days at the midpoint of the international peak, we would have a minimum peak of 1,500 cases and a maximum of 2,500 cases, instead of the 4,500 cases originally anticipated. Cuba – Cubadebate also reassured – would not go through a “critical scenario.” continue reading

In line with such good wishes and apparently in compliance with the guidance of Mr. Miguel Díaz-Canel, Cuba’s president, who shortly before had declared that the patient numbers were very high and it was necessary to lower them, the MINSAP report of the same day, April 27th acknowledged only 20 new positive cases (out of 1823 samples analyzed). The figure more than doubled (with 48 cases in 1859 samples) the following day, before starting a sustained decrease in the trend, only interrupted on May 2nd, when the exception of an increase of 74 cases was registered. Since then, and up to the writing of this article, there has been a downward trend, with slight fluctuations that averaged 9.85 cases of infection in the last week (May 18th to May 24th).

It is worth pointing out that, regardless of the natural mistrust that official statistical data may arouse in a country where a strong monopoly of information is maintained, and where secrecy prevails and there are no independent institutions of the State against which to compare these reports, the truth is that everything indicates that the Chinese flu has not spread with the same virulence on the Island as in other regions. This is especially the case if we bear in mind that – in view of the imperatives of searching for food, medicine and other products of basic necessity on the part of the population – the measures of social isolation and distancing between people, in addition to quarantines in disease cluster zones that were established by the OMS and formally reiterated by the government, have not been practiced.

However, the crowds circulating through the streets, the lines in front of the scarcely supplied markets where hundreds of people gather, among other agglomerations, are the perfect breeding ground for the spread of a pandemic that in most countries has been claiming hundreds or thousands of human lives. And this is why, considering the low overall incidence of the pandemic among us, many ordinary Cubans have begun to believe that the Island is protected by some divine miracle.

And while that feeling, a mixture of false immunity and trickery, is spreading dangerously among the poorest (and also most vulnerable) people, one needs to question the low number of tests that have been conducted – a total of 95,511 samples analyzed in a population of 11 million inhabitants – and the failure to carry out massive testing, even in neighborhoods where outbreaks of infection have been detected and have been declared “hot zones.” In official reports, and only in them – these neighborhoods have been placed under a supposed “quarantine,” although in fact they have been kept open to the free movement of people.

Fewer still are those who associate this miraculous drop in infections in Cuba with certain information – apparently unrelated – that have begun to appear on official sites, as if by chance. Thus, for example, there is already talk of returning to an opening to international tourism as soon as this coming June. The “closure” of the Varadero beach resort has been announced to nationals, and the airport in that town is also undergoing an accelerated renovation process. The Varadero hotel workers and those of the resorts at Jardines del Rey are being quietly reinstated to their respective positions.

Of course, to sell ourselves as a reliable tourist market, it is urgent to eliminate the Chinese flu as soon as possible, which is why the official treatment of the figures always has as its ally the naive tendency to confuse reality with wishes on the part of the average Cuban, together with the urgent need to generate family income in a country where no free food aid or monetary support has been distributed by the State during these months of unemployment.

Thus, step by step – or perhaps “without haste but without pause,” as the previous president once coined the phrase – in Cuba we are perhaps approaching the long-awaited “coup de grace” to COVID-19 that the hand-picked current president, Díaz-Canel, asked for, no matter how much a stubborn group of skeptics may distrust it.

The case could not be more sui generis: it would be the first time that a never-declared epidemic was eliminated from the national scene, not because of a revolutionary mass vaccination – such as those that once banished (it is fair to admit) many other diseases – but practically because of an “unwritten official decree.” And so it will be, because, whether we like it or not, certain “miracles” only happen under totalitarian regimes.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Mariela Castro’s “Trivial Ticks” / Maykel Gonzalez Vivero

Mariela Castro

Tremenda Nota, Maykel González Vivero, 6 May 2020 — Mariela Castro Espín caused another controversy on Tuesday when, in deference to social distancing, she opened online the annual day against homophobia and transphobia organized since 2008 by the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex).

During the transmission she made in the company of lawyer Manuel Vázquez Seijido and journalist Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, the LGBTI deputy, official and activist, took the opportunity to describe those who carry out activism outside of state institutions in Cuba as “tchotchkes” and “trivial ticks”.

In the tradition of the Cuban revolution, those who speak without official protection are disqualified for damages at the drop of a hat. For the militant anti-Castro regime, from the opposite bank, anyone who speaks from within the institutions is also disqualified.

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To avoid playing that game when dealing with Mariela Castro and for showing her how she deserves to be shown, it must be said that she has promoted LGBTI rights in all the instances she was able to exert influence and that she has fought for them in the Cuban parliament, away from any debate. She has earned the standing she has among international organizations promoting this agenda.

The legal, educational and health advisory services offered by Cenesex decisively favor the aspirations for the gay, lesbian and trans community in a country that has had more homophobic and transphobic policies than other western nation, particularly after the Cuban revolution.

For the LGBTI community, the work of that institution and the spaces for discussion it has fostered were a revolution. From afar and from other perspectives they have been described as “pink washing”. Here, Mariela has been perceived, day after day, by that charismatic leadership that she exercises in the tone of a “gay-like” woman, like an all-powerful fairy godmother.

Mariela’s name is a talisman for gay men arrested at rendezvous sites or for transgender women rejected when applying for a job. She is a “boss” who inspires her own scale of devotion similar to that which most Cubans bestowed on Fidel Castro.

That kind of cult is not healthy for the functioning of institutions, but it is accepted in Cuba and people justify it, without a doubt for lack of other experiences in political participation. I don’t know how she sees herself or if she questions that model during those times when she turns most revolutionary.

It may interest you: Nine controversial phrases by Mariela Castro

Cenesex and Mariela Castro did not contribute anything to LGBTI activism in terms of parallelism, transparency and coherence, a few of the conditions that the increasingly growing and ambitious movement demands.

The fact that a heterosexual and cisgender* person, not queer, nut or transvestite, is the best-known and authoritative activist in the country reveals the inconsistency on which official activism stands.

Mariela Castro also tends to present herself as an uncritical heir to a social project that excluded sexual dissent. When she has had to take sides, as happened in 2018, when Cuban politicians deleted the article on equal marriage and agreed to submit it for consultation within two years, she aligned herself with the official position and asked her followers to do the same, though doing so would be a betrayal of their beliefs.

There is a moment that seals the fate of Mariela Castro as an activist and leaves the official Mariela intact. That dilemma in which he lived for years was resolved on May 11th, 2019, the day that hundreds of LGBTI people and their allies marched through Havana to protest the cancellation of one of the street initiatives that Mariela herself promoted for a decade.

She had to speak on television and her official voice came out. She then stated, with her activist voice already discarded and without providing evidence, that the independent march was not legitimate, that it was paid for by the enemies of the government and that it does not deserve to appear, unlike what those who called it “the Cuban Stonewall” think, in the LGBTI memory of the island and the world.

Her attitude towards May 11th, the only one an official could have, eliminated Mariela’s prestige as an activist. The violent images that are engraved in everyone’s memory were the government’s response to LGBTI citizens.

Some of the “trivial ticks” alluded to yesterday had to go into exile after May 11th. Others remain in Cuba and strive to work independently despite the legal limits imposed by the government itself when it prevents them from legally associating and managing funds, as Cenesex does.

The metaphor of the “trivial ticks” brings to mind Mariela’s other controversial phrases with that same popular flavor and is very precise in this case. Out-of-control activists are “bugs that bite”. The deputy, intoxicated as she is from disobedient activism, wants to use an insecticide. May 11th ended with arrests. The plague is treated by spraying it.

Yesterday Mariela attributed a lack of “political culture” to independent LGBTI activism, but it should be read only as a lack of adherence to the authoritarian social project of the Communist Party of Cuba. These activists include liberals and supporters of US sanctions, but also anarchists, libertarian communists, and anti-capitalists.

It may interest you: Regulated: Mariela Castro and her family will not be able to travel to the United States

Mariela gives the traditional response that the political class used in Cuba to describe the conservative opposition, as if it had no other to give and would have been left without adequate words for the “Elvispreslians”, as Fidel used to say.

What does Mariela Castro have to say to those of us who disapprove of US interference in Cuban affairs and also reject the authoritarian style of the Cuban government?

This anachronistic response, this misunderstanding, as if her previous blunders and insulting metaphors were few, is more expensive than the silence before the “tchotchkes” that already marched through Havana, against tradition, without the White House and without the Revolution Square.

*cisgender: Latin-derived prefix “cis” meaning “on the same side,” also used as “cissexual,” refers to alignment of one’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth.

Maykel González Vivero

Maykel González Vivero: LGBTI journalist and activist. He had a blog while he was allowed, under the alias of El Nictálope, because he has always bragged of having good eyesight, like a nocturnal animal. He misses radio and the insomnia that helped him to write then.  Now he writes when and where he can, collaborating with several Cuban and foreign media.

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A note from Translating Cuba: “It may interest you”… that this is our first translation from Tremenda Nota, an independent publication from Cuba, and we are hoping to do more!

Cuba: Economic Purges and Collateral Damages

Manuel Marrero and Díaz-Canel in a meeting on COVID-19 (Photo: Granma)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 April 2020 — In the course of the last few weeks, Cubans have been witnessing an unusual government offensive against economic crime. With such an onslaught, which is inserted in the midst of the “battle” against COVID-19, the authorities are trying to put into practice the promise of punishment to serve as an example for all those who are trying to profit at the expense of the needs of the people, a need that is increasing, since the resources available in the country are in short supply.

This time the cleansing is so intense and the circulation of the frequent operatives against acts of misuse of state resources, warehouse robberies and food resale on the black market has been so overstated through the Castro press monopoly, that some unofficial media have concluded, perhaps in a very risky way, that we are facing an “increase” in these crimes.

Reality, however, tends to contradict this assertion, since the crimes alluded to in the national economic sphere are long-standing. Furthermore, not only have they been present for decades in the day-to-day life of Cubans, but it can be stated that they have constituted a more constant, efficient and competitive source of food than the State itself throughout that time. The difference is that, in the current circumstances, there is an evident political will to make them visible, either as a warning, as an intimidating message to the whole society over which the State has absolute control, or as an anticipated demonstration of power in the face of worse times that have yet to come. continue reading

Be that as it may, the unquestionable truth is that where there are deficits, rationing and shortages, economic crime and contraband always flourish, which do not diminish the punishable character of any infraction of this nature or the aggravating quality of their execution in times of pandemic.

That said, other aspects of the matter must be added which the official media would prefer to omit. One of them is the contrast between “justice” that applies the full accuracy of the law against transgressors only “at the grassroots level”, and to the privileged, who enjoy the most rampant impunity.

Because it turns out that, while an entire army of police, inspectors and the military equally repress managers of establishments that trade in food, truck drivers, transporters – private or state – and habitual street vendors who prowl around the markets, the State allows itself to keep soaring prices (“unsubsidized”, is the official phrase) on basic necessities, including the already famous and meager “modules” that have been distributed throughout the commercial networks destined to the use of the ration card.

All this, despite the low income of the population and the fact that the majority of Cubans are currently “available” – a euphemism that replaces the terms “unemployed” or “laid off” – or receive only 60% of their already insufficient wages due to the social isolation measures imposed.

Apparently, “speculation” doesn’t apply to the sale of ‘baskets’ for home consumption from several hotels in the Cuban capital which went on for a few days with prices between 25 and 35 CUC, which could only be acquired by some social sectors, not only due to their high cost, but for the inability of the managers to maintain this offer.

And these are just sample buttons of Cuban governmental altruism in times of pandemic.

Thus, in the infinite absurdity of the Cuban socio-economic model and its justice system, parallel worlds survive where, on the one hand, the detentions and arrests of “suspects” of economic crime — treated in principle as culprits without corresponding investigations and trials having been carried out — and on the other, the use of State vehicles for abundant food distribution to homes of the ruling class and its high-ranking acolytes, frequently documented on social networks. Which explains why these privileged few have never been seen in the endless lines for food, detergents and other essential products.

Another edge that envelopes the government’s justice efforts in a halo of mystery is the fate of the products seized in the numerous police operations. So far, no official press report has followed-up on the seized merchandise to sales platforms or to food processing centers for the lowest income families, known in Cuba under the pejorative heading of “social cases”. It could be said that there is a sort of Bermuda Triangle between clandestine refrigerators, unauthorized agricultural products that are transported in trucks, pedicabs or wheelbarrows and the dining tables of Cubans.

And, finally, the official disclosure of the essential issue in this entire saga is pending: is there any government plan to replace the invaluable work of providers to Cuban families that have fallen to smugglers and small-time dealers for so long? Do the country’s constituents have a notion of the magnitude of what we can call “collateral damage”? Is it that they have prepared for us a ready battalion of “pure or emerging administrators” capable of managing warehouses and businesses without getting corrupted?

Because it is fair to recognize that this crusade for economic purity (of others) that the authorities are waging is going to be reflected rigorously on the tables and in the pockets of the millions of people who do not enjoy the privilege of the Power class or those who don’t have their income derived from remittances sent from exiles abroad, which is why they are forced to appeal to the underground market to obtain what is necessary, almost always at prices slightly lower than those of the official market.

All of which places before us other essential questions. Where is the master plan that will finally unlock the productive chain, decentralize the inefficient economic model and make it possible to alleviate – at least – food deficiencies? Or to focus it better, is there a plan?

So far, there are no answers, and once again it has been shown that the only effective thing in the Cuban model is the proliferation of repression. In fact, at present it could be stated that it is the repressive activity that has increased, and not economic crimes. The paradox is that both – repression and the aforementioned crimes – are inherent parts of the same system: they are deep-rooted. Therefore, the supposed fight between opposites is nothing but the proper balance of a failed system that encrypts its survival in the galloping and permanent corruption and in the cyclical repressive forces.

The authorities have us so used to such awkwardness that they re-attack the consequences instead of eliminating the causes that create them. Which is perfectly logical: no system could survive if it removed the pillars on which it was founded. So, on we go…

Translated by Norma Whiting

Chronicle of a Shuttered “Interview”

Independent journalist Miriam Celaya received a citation this Tuesday to appear at the Zanja Police Station, at the corner of Lealtad in Havana. (Cubanet)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 March 2020 — They were an hour late. The two young men went to the bench where I was sitting in wait at the Police Station (PNR) on Calle Zanja, in Central Havana, and apologized for the delay: “There was a lack of coordination,” said the one who had obviously been appointed to speak and who, without my asking, later introduced himself as “Alexander.” “It is clear that punctuality is not one of your virtues,” I replied, ignoring his greeting. Because among the worn-out methods of State (In)Security is included subjecting those “summoned” by them to wait in order to produce nervousness or feelings of humiliation. Since I have a healthy and robust sense of self-esteem, those methods did not succeed.

Immediately, Socalledalexander and his companion – who had the role of an ice statue – led me to a small office adjacent to the reception area. The place was small, decadent, dirty, with walls that were once painted in a color that is now between faded blue and dusty gray, and whose furniture is crying out for relief: an old bureau full of old papers and notebooks that clearly no one opens or writes on, a pair of plastic chairs and a worn armchair with a filthy cover that, perhaps since it was the best piece in the room, served as throne for Socalledalexander. The chair assigned to me was right in front of him, while the ice statue took a seat in another chair, very close to me, to my left.

In fairness, we must recognize the coherence between the setting, the institution and the regime it represents

I looked around, making a quick inventory of the props: a fan on the wall blowing only on Socalledalexander’s half-torn black backpack, placed on a fourth chair – who knows with what purpose – a faded photograph of the Nameless and his younger brother, the odd slogan, a curtain of blinds, drawn, split in several places. In fairness, the coherence between the setting, the institution and the regime it represents must be acknowledged. continue reading

Socalledalexander took the floor, his face assumed an expression that tried to be affable and sympathetic, as if I were there of my own free will and not by a citation pregnant with threats: “Well, Miriam, the objective of this meeting is for us to have a conversation to understand each other, to reach agreements “(??????? !!!). Since I am so restrained, I replied immediately that in that case I should notify him in advance that I was not going to fulfill his objective because I had absolutely nothing to discuss with them. I confess that I am somewhat uneasy at seeing people waste their time so miserably, especially if they are young people living in a country where there is so much to do. Anyway.

“Well if you have nothing to say to us, we do have a lot to talk to you about.”
– “Am I under arrest?” I asked.
– “No”
– “In that case I am leaving”
– “No, you cannot go, you are at a PNR (National Revolutionary Police) station where you have been summoned”
– “But I have not been charged with any crime or been detained. I am here under duress.”
– “No, you are here to talk”
– “I already told you that I am not going to talk to you, that you are not valid interlocutor for me and to conduct a conversation requires at least two interested parties.”
– “Well, I see here there are three of us”

At this point I understood that Socalledalexander had serious cognitive problems and I decided that I had already dedicated enough words to him. “Say what you have to say, start your monologue,” I said.

Then Socalledalexander began to complain to the ice statue, regarding my misconduct. The sphinx – whose name was Ricardo and who, probably not by chance, had been my husband’s interviewer last February 27th – barely uttered a whisper of approval in solidarity with his partner. Bad luck for a person as eager to “talk” as Socalledalexander.

“You see? She has the same defiant attitude as her husband, it is a negative attitude that is going to bring her serious consequences; instead of understanding what her situation is, look at what she does.” It was ridiculous. That individual, younger than my two sons, agent of the repressive bodies of the longest dictatorship in this Hemisphere, was trying to give me advice about conduct, mixed with threats. And so, he continued for a few moments while I went on scrutinizing the chaos around me, (I admit that disorganization bothers me a lot, even more so when combined with dirt) being careful not to touch anything with my hands.

Socalledalexander became irritated, but restrained himself and decided to change his strategy. He switched to his Freudian mode, going onto psychoanalysis. “Miriam, I understood that you were an educated person. You do not even look at me when I am addressing you. I had a somewhat different impression… that is not your personality or your character …”

And he came back to, “That is a bad attitude that does not suit you. Next time you will be the one who wants to talk to us. Because you can be sure that there will be a next time, and then we will not be so cordial”. He did say “cordial”, and I must admit that I was surprised that he knew that word. It is probably in the interrogator’s manual, but it was shocking to see that he was able to memorize it. It must have been a superhuman effort for a person whose vocabulary is so pitiful and meagre.

The next step in Socalledalexander’s strategy was to go on academic mode. He appealed to Cuban History, or whatever it is they have led them to believe as Cuban History. “Then we are like in Baraguá, we don’t understand each other,” he said, feeling very wise. And then I could no longer contain my laughter. Excuse me, my diaphragm was already hurting. That burly boy, who could well have been doing something useful, such as cutting the dense marabou that covers so many lands in Cuba or planting some food to alleviate the hunger of so many Cuban families, or looking for any real job, was there, sitting under my nose, acting as a History chairperson.

In his infinite pride, Socalledalexander must have thought he was another Maceo. And in his no less infinite ignorance, he did not know that the Baraguá Protest was actually a bluff that the distinguished Mambí came up with.

In his infinite pride, Socalledalexander was feeling like another Maceo. And in his no less infinite ignorance, he does not know – how should he know, having graduated from those insignificant schools – that the Protest of Baraguá was really a bluff that the distinguished Mambí chief came up with, wounded in his own love for having to bite the dust of the defeat after so many years of hard struggle, to leave Cuba a short time later, precisely on account of the good services of his worst adversary, Arsenio Martínez Campos, and the Crown’s treasury, leaving behind the few troops that followed him to the hills in revolt, that ended up also submitting to the Pact of Zanjón.

Meanwhile, Socalledalexander continued with the same old story about my evil attitude, though not having anything to hold on to. I kept looking at my watch insistently, and for a moment his face lit up. He thought he had me in his hands. “Are you in a hurry, Miriam? Because we are not. We have all the time in the world.”

“No, I’m just curious to know how long it takes you to realize that I’m not going to talk to you.” It took exactly 25 minutes. I have already told you that the guy was short in the brains department.

Several friends have been asking me to narrate this episode on the networks, and I stand ready to please them, but it would be too boring to continue discussing such a sterile subject, so, I conclude. Although, in violation of my own decision, I have inserted the odd phrase, surprised by the colossal arrogance of this handsome young man who tried so hard to look like an Antillean James Bond. I did agree with him in a couple of things, because I am absolutely convinced of both things, so I let him know:

1) “We are not enemies”. Of course not. Repressive agents like Socalledalexander are not up to the task, they do not have the capacity or the necessary skills to be my enemies, they do not have a voice, they do not have freedom, they are nothing more than the instruments of a dictatorship that only uses them and that will give them up in a second, as one discards any nuisance that ceases to be useful to them.

2) “Cuba is going to change, it’s going to change a great deal.” That’s for sure, although Socalledalexander says it in a very different sense. This is precisely what many Cubans work for, in the Island and from all shores, to attain changes in Cuba. Change is inevitable, in fact, it has already begun in the wills and dreams of many good Cubans. We are seeing it and the bosses of these young agents are also seeing it. It will undoubtedly be the change that most of us want and the one they try to prevent: a prosperous and fortunate Cuba, where young people like SocalledAlexander will never again betray its people for the paltry alms and deceptive perks of a dictatorship that, like Rome, pays its traitors, but despises them.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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