Horror Report / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photos: Luis Felipe Rojas

And here is the report on human rights (derechos humanos) presented by the Eastern Democratic Alliance. Within a six month period in this Cuban region there have been reported 128 arbitrary detentions, 32 police citations without proper official warrants by the political police, 4 evictions, 49 beatings, 6 fines levied on human rights defenders, 23 cases of hunger strike and almost twenty cases of suicide attempts in jails.

The partial Report is available for reading where the names of t the victims and of the victimizers are recorded, and also private addresses and even phone numbers for verification. It’s a shame — and I never get tired of repeating it — that the great and lustrous international press agencies located in Havana never hop over to the East, the heart of the horror in Cuba.

The death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, the beating of about 15 women in Camaguey on February 3, and later the abuses against Idalmis Nunez, Caridad Caballero and Mari Blanca Avila are signs of some horrible events. Before or during when his Lordship Cardinal Ortega, Raul Castro and Moratinos shook hands for the future Cuba that is being dreamed of only for a few.

There is physical torture and cruel and degrading treatment in Santiago de Cuba, Banes, San German and the Guantanamo of the olive-green government. The attachments to the document corroborate it for you.

PS: In the pictures Isael Poveda Silva, former political prisoner in Guantanamo Prison Complex staged for bloggers and the independent press showing how they apply the techniques of torture known as “The Bat” and “The Rocker.”

August 14, 2010

The Return of Castro I / Iván García

One week before turning 84-years-old, and after one month of public appearances, Cubans were not surprised with his appearance before the National Assembly of Popular Power, in an extraordinary session that he himself called and that, in addition to the mass of deputies, was attended by his brother the president, General Raul Castro.

As his health recovered, people accustomed themselves to seeing him in photos and videos. First as a host with diverse guests, then as a visitor himself.

The population had already gotten used to his absence. And was grateful for it too, because television programs were no longer affected by some appearance or a long speech.

Now, in seeing him again before the parliament with an olive-green shirt, the same one worn on two previous occasions, a mix of fear and uncertainty has assaulted people. “It frightens me to think that he has recovered enough that every now and then we once again hear him speak,” comments Jose Luis, 51, a construction worker.

Elvira, 45, a primary school teacher, does not believe that Fidel will return to the political arena. “At least not like before, even though he still maintains an important position, First Secretary of the Party.”

These worries arise among older citizens. Meanwhile, the older they are, the more convinced they are that “the Maximum Leader has not only returned to the national political realm, but also to the international realm,” emphasizes Mario, 66, retired.

The ones who lose no sleep over his return, temporary or definitive, are the youth. To them, who had practically forgotten his voice and his gestures, what has called their attention is his “look.”

Yendri, 25, chef, saves various photos of ‘El Comandante‘ with Adidas, Nike, and Puma active wear, among other famous brands. “If only I had a collection like that,” he confesses.

On the streets, opinions are divided with respect to his clothing, which evokes laughter among some. In private, of course. “Sometimes, he wears a very bad combination and when they focus on his feet, he’s wearing outdated tennis shoes,” says Javier, 32, unemployed.

What everyone can agree on, young and old alike, is that no one in Cuba with the sense that God gave a mule is paying any attention to his latest rant: that of impending nuclear war and catastrophe.

Some account for this by saying that during his period of convalescence he read books about the end of the world and watched films like 2012. I personally believe that Fidel Castro is not interested in those subjects. These are just a pretext so as to retake the role of protagonist that he was obligated to leave when he was on the brink of death four years ago.

Iván García

Photo: EPA

August 11 2010

The Powers of the Minister of Finances and Prices are Unconstitutional and Arbitrary / Laritza Diversent

The Minister of Finances and Prices, Lina Olinda Pedraza Rodriguez, ordered the execution of a process of confiscation against Teófilo Roberto López Licor, 66, based on Legal Decree 149 “on the confiscation of goods and accumulations made through improper enrichment,” known as the Law Against the Newly Rich and its regulation, Decree No. 187, both from 1994.

The state representative demands the confiscation of the goods and income obtained by the López Licor family, during a period of ten years (1998 to 2008). However, the resolution dictated in July 2009 is based on confiscatory record 1349, which does not specify the year of filing. This is a detail that creates doubt concerning the application of the legal decree with retroactive effects, on behalf of an organ of the state.

According to the Constitution of the Republic, non-criminal laws have retroactive effects when they deal with a matter of public interest or utility. Decree Law 149 is of an administrative character and in its operation does not mention that particularity.

The process also affected Pompilio López Licor, 61, and Teófila Elsa Ávila Gutiérrez, 60, brother and wife of Teófilo Roberto, who along with his son, Antonio, were named by the Ministerial decision, as third parties who benefited from the unjust enrichment.

The national deputy for the province of Villa Clara said that the three houses, two cars, a motorcycle and several other items, including appliances exchanged under the “Energy Revolution,” were obtained and legalised by Teófilo, and hidden through subterfuge, under the names of his relatives, without specifying which acts were illegal.

However, no legal action has been directed against members of the Municipal Housing Management of Arroyo Naranjo, in the City of Havana, who acted in the legalisation of the assets and property mentioned.

The confiscated goods amounted to 2,347,834 Cuban pesos and 24 cents. The value was certified by experts who did not specify, as they are legally required to, how the appraisal was carried out, or what the parameters were that were considered, nor the factors that were taken into account in the estimate.

López Licor is self-employed in the regulated activity No. 646 of “maker-seller of food and soft drinks at a fixed point of sale” and has documents from the income tax office substantiating an income of more than 500,000 Cuban pesos.

Teófilo Roberto can also establish receipt of 18,000 convertible pesos (CUC), 450,000 Cuban pesos (CUP), as received remittances from the United States from six brothers and a son living in that country.

However, the Central Committee member of the Communist Party of Cuba, Pedraza Rodriguez, dismissed the evidence provided by López Licor. He argued that the self-employed workforce engaged and the bank documents did not prove that he had actually received the money. The law considers it criminal to use labour that is not family. However, against López Licor, the penalty is not imposed for that reason.

The defendants appealed against the ministerial decision through the Reform Appeal before Pedraza Rodriguez himself, who declared it to be without merit, confirming his decision, in October 2009. On June 22, they appealed to the Head of Finances and Prices, the start of a special review procedure. However, the execution of the penalty of confiscation is not interrupted, although they have not exhausted all the avenues for appeal.

Decree-Law 149 places in a state of helplessness those affected by it by preventing access to the courts for justice against an act of the administration that is harmful. However, the Constitution of the Republic states that “the confiscation of property is applied only as a punishment by the authorities in cases and procedures determined by law.” The Penal Code applies as a specific penalty and accessory for a crime.

However, the Prosecutor, who is responsible for the exercise of public prosecutions on behalf of the state, decided to undertake an administrative proceeding before activating the court for the commission of crimes. In a criminal trial, the relatives of Teófilo Roberto never would have been responsible for the acts of others. The responsibility is individual.

The Cuban Penal Code, in force since 1987, provides that “the confiscation of property does not include … the goods or items that are essential to meet the vital needs of those sanctioned or their close relatives.” Therefore, in criminal proceedings, housing can not be seized.

The validity of this rule in the Cuban legal system does not protect general interests, destroying the trust and security that should surround the whole legal system. Its application violates the legal and penal guarantees offered to citizens and leaves them defenseless against the excesses of the government.

Lina Olinda Pedraza Rodríguez, Minister of Finance and Prices, claimed in her decision that the seized items “are not the result of honest work.” However, the Cuban Civil Code defines unjust enrichment as the transfer value of an estate to another, without legitimate cause. The Economic Control Minister was appointed by the government but is not qualified to administer justice. The powers under Decree Law 149/94 are unconstitutional and arbitrary.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: CIMF

August 16, 2010

Breaking the Stigma / Miriam Celaya

JJ Almeida at graduation from the Blogger Academy

Just over 60 days ago Juan Juan Almeida started a hunger strike. His, in some ways, is the most solitary of strikes. It is true that many of us bloggers and his other friends have been aware of his condition and have followed the long-running saga of his pursuit of an exit permit to allow him to get treatment, not available in Cuba, for a severe health problem; it is also true that several digital sites have published his trials and tribulations (including his arrests) as he constantly pressures the authorities and demands his right to travel, to be reunited with his family, and to receive on-going treatment for his illness. But regardless, public opinion has not been sufficiently mobilized.

Reflecting on the crossroads where Juan Juan finds himself, I think of how difficult it is in his case and the stigmas he is burdened with at a time when he so greatly needs to rally support. First, because his fight, placed within the contours of a personal drama, lacks the heroic elements traditional solidarity demands; his dispute, according to some of the more ignorant, is not for Cuba and Cubans, but only to resolve a personal problem. Why don’t we just describe his drama as that of any Cuban, and therefore, of all Cubans. Second, because the most well-known and far-reaching of the international media pay attention to someone whose huge mustache or quantity of body-piercings earn them a Guinness record, but not to the tragedy of a lonely man who launches a desperate appeal to defend the right to freely leave and enter one’s own country. Third, the greatest stigma, is because JJ – as many of us call him – is the son of the Commander of the Revolution Juan Almeida Bosque, which brings with it a strong prejudice: being one “of them” and having enjoyed benefits and privileges that the most of us do not, he “deserves what happens to him.” A pattern repeated over and over when I’ve expressed JJ’s dilemma among friends, as if being born to someone in particular entails a curse, as if to each of us our parents were not always loved and lovable, or as if the coincidence of not belonging, as a birthright, to the anointed grants us some certificate of moral purity, without “the children of so-and-so” hanging over our heads.

For my part, I think it is precisely his origin that makes his struggle more difficult than mine. His rupture has been greater and the cost of his daring higher. From my vertical dissent I have not lost even one friend (in fact I have gained many new friends); I have had no ruptures nor family resentments, no one has separated me from my loved ones (neither living nor dead), nor have I suffered any rejection. This has not been true in his case.

I prefer to see JJ in another way: not as the privileged person that he’s not, but as another of my companions along the way. I choose to strip the name and pedigree from this man and see the human being who lacks the same rights we all lack on this Island – and as even some do who are outside of it – including the greatest right which is Freedom. This is a sick man who, thanks to his many friends who love him (but no thanks to the Revolution which, for some reason, detests him… and that makes him good in my eyes), has the chance to improve his health outside of Cuba; but the government prevents him from traveling and condemns him to die. This is a man prevented from being reunited with his wife and daughter for having committed the incredible sin of writing a book where he says what he knows, what he believes and what he thinks about certain topics that discomfort the warrior oligarchy, the master of all our fates. I choose to stand by this human being in whom I recognize so many gestures of solidarity toward others and toward us, the disobedient ones, with whom he has cast his lot.

Since August 10, 2010, Juan Juan Almeida has been hospitalized in Havana. His health has deteriorated and his body has been debilitated by the long fast. His demand to leave Cuba has ceased to be an individual claim; and although JJ himself has no pretensions of leadership or of carrying the flag, today he claims a right for all Cubans. We must not leave him to do it alone.

August 17, 2010

Translator’s note: JJ Almeida yesterday: Photos here.

A Court Summons the Minister of Justice / Laritza Diversent

On the 15th of July the second chamber of Civil and Administrative Law of the Provincial Court of the City of Havana summoned the incumbent Minister of Justice, María Esther Reus González, in the matter of the lawsuit filed by the Cuban Law Association (CLA)for denying their request for certification, a step that is indispensable for the legalisation of this organisation of independent lawyers.

The Cuban Law Association is an independent NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation). It was founded in October 2008 and provides legal advice to citizens on a non-profit basis. On three occasions State Security suspended courses on Cuban laws offered to the general public by the Association, which also seeks to increase the public´s awareness of the legal system.

The Registry of Associations at the Justice Ministry didn’t certify if there was another NGO in the country with the same name and purpose as the CLA in the time between April 2009 and March 2010. The independent lawyers brought the matter to the court after the Minister in charge of the Registry ignored an administrative appeal against its decision, made on the grounds of violation of procedure.

The lawsuit brought on June 24 was filed by the Court on the 29th. A week later the judge, Alfaro Guillén, and the lay judges Núñesz Valdés and Figueredo Ramos responded to the lawyers with a delay due to the Chamber´s excessive work load, demanding that they changed the wording of their motion´s terms.

The Court considered it inadmissible that the attorney Wilfredo Vallín Almeida, president of the Cuban Law Association, is acting on behalf of a legally unrecognised entity. The Cuban legal system considers any group not inscribed in the Registry of Associations of the Minister of Justice to be an “illicit association.”

As a matter of fact, the Associations Act (Law 54 from the 27th of December 1985) and its bylaws do not impose any formal requirements for the establishment of an association: the interested parties assemble in order to pursue a common goal and request their recognition as a legal entity by the State.

The writing of the judges demanded that the attorney Vallín bring the lawsuit as a private person and that the terms of the petition be changed to reflect the fact that the Justice Ministry has not responded to the request for certification. The judges declared the formulation “refusal to grant authorisation for the establishment an an association” used in the wording of the petition to be incoherent.

It is the the first time that a dissident organisation sues a representative of the government. This is an event without a precedence in the last fifty years of Cuban jurisprudence.

Laritza Diversent

Note: See also “The lawsuit is getting ahead”: La demanda prosperó.

Photo: The Cuban Minister of Justice during her participation in a session on human rights in Geneva, Switzerland.

Translated by: undef

August 14, 2010

Waiting to be Evicted by Force / Iván García

Right now, Teófilio Roberto López, age 66, is out of his mind. He ambles like a lunatic doing the paso doble along the edges of his farm, located a stone’s throw from the National Highway.

Lopez is on the razor’s edge. All of his possessions, erected with sacrifice and with the help of his eight brothers who live in the United States, are lost. Sitting on the large porch of his two-story home, rocking frenetically in an ivory-colored rocking chair, with a frown and a threatening gesture, he vented his ire.

“When the authorities enter my property to evict me, I’ll make a ruckus. All this” — and with his thick index finger, he signaled everything around him — “I built in 30 years, so that my family and I could live comfortably,” said the elderly Teófilo, a gentleman of medium stature, who speaks at the speed of light and with nervous movements of his hands.

The case of Teófilo goes back to July of 2009, when the minister of Finance and Prices, Lina Olidna Pedraza Rodriguez, ordered the Directorate of Housing of the municipality of Arroyo Narranjo, in Havana, to confiscate the belongings of the family of Teófilo, outlined in Decree 149 — the law against new riches — that permits the dispossession of properties of a person for “improper enrichment.”

Here began the ordeal of the Lopez family. If there’s one thing Teófilo has known all his life, it is work. Born in 1944 on a remote plantation in the province of Sancti Spiritus, 400 kilometers from Havana, he has labored hard to come out ahead.

In 1996, together with his son Antonio Lopez, age 40, and his wife, Elsa Avila, age 60, the Lopez Avilas began a small personal business. They established a small but successful roadside cafe.

Highly particular, the elderly Teófilo saved the receipts from the repairs to his home and those from the money sent to him by his brothers from Florida.

He saved all the documents regarding his properties in a file. “When I obtained this house as owner, it was a miserable shack. Thanks to our efforts, we constructed a spacious home and began to work the land,” recalls Teófilo.

The family farm was 0.6 hectares, and from a bird’s-eye view it was obviously well cared for, and one could see groves of mango, avocado, guayaba, orange, plantain, and dwarf coconut plants.

To this, Teófilo added pig breeding, and had obtained six cows that produced hundreds of liters of milk. In the best months of the farm and the cafe, the income exceeded 30,000 pesos (1,400 dollars). Along with the remittances sent to him from the north, he was able to build a residence that, by Cuban standards, was “luxurious.”

He even built a small swimming pool, to spend time with his family and his brothers, who visited the island up to three times a year. Teófilo knew he broke the law when his son Antonio began to rent the house without a license.

“We paid an outlandish fine, and they seized our house from my son. I believe this was my family’s only error. From that moment on, the authorities were out for me. They weren’t able to catch me in any more illegal activity. I have papers that attest to that,” noted Teófilo while he sipped from a cup of coffee.

The Lopez family has tried everything through legal channels. But they have not been able to stop the bureaucratic machine, which set the month of August as the date to kick them out on the street. In exchange, they offered the family a minimal house, cracked and damp, with only one bedroom.

In the deepest part of his soul, Teófilo considers that the state is acting against him arbitrarily. And he has considered the worst. From setting fire to his property, to setting up with a rifle in the middle of his plantation, refusing to abandon it.

After consulting with a group of attorneys from a firm on the margins of state control, he made up his mind. Laritza Diversent, one of the attorneys who helped him, believes that if, in Cuba, its own laws are respected, Teófilo would come out on top in this case, and the state would have to return what had been seized up until that point. And those were not little things: two cars, a motorcycle, and countless electronic appliances valued at two million pesos, according to official appraisers.

Meanwhile, while justice decides, with each dawn the Lopez family waits for the authorities, supported by the police, to evict them, by force, from their farm.

Whatever happens, Teófilo thinks that his biggest crime was to try to have a prosperous life. “This is not looked well upon, in Cuba,” he said, hanging his head. His eyes tear up. “I’m too old to try to start a new life.”

Iván García

More about this story in “Minister puts a citizen in defenseless position.”

Translated by: Gregorio

August 15, 2010

My Own Vindication of Cuba / Ernesto Morales Licea

I think of Martí this very instant. I remember his fired up words on that document he named “Vindication of Cuba,” where, in name of the voiceless, the Master answered a diatribe of The Manufacturer newspaper that accused us of being inefficient and soft, weak on the thought of establishing a true nation. It also accused us of laziness.

Today it is not The Manufacturer who marks us as lazy people. It is called Granma, and it is this country’s official newspaper. Whoever follows its pages daily knows what I’m talking about: the constant and increasingly more aggressive terms in which its journalist refer to an evident phenomenon in current Cuban society: all the willingly unemployed among a great part of the population, especially among the youth.

Paying attention to what our mass media proclaims, it looks like the offensive words of such newspaper are revealed in our current Cuba. What does this mean? That our most recent crusade undertaken by the Cuban officials is against lazy people, against whom even our Penal Code establishes measures under the title “Social Dangerousness.”

The Granma editorials say: “We have to eradicate them. We have to cut out the laziness by the root.” For my part, in order lay out my argument, I allow myself to demonstrate elementary concepts.

FROM THAT SIDE OF THE OCEAN…

If there’s something that this fertile land produces, aside from fruits, cigars and baseball players, it is working men. Men who, behind any adversity or impossible task, find the way to accomplish their endeavor, always with effort, always with work. We have a legion of laborers who get up from their beds every morning without knowing what they’ll be able to eat for breakfast, what they’ll leave for their children to have for lunch, on what transportation they’ll get to work on time, with what tools they’ll perform their functions during the eight or ten hours they must stay at their post.

And just like these, we also have another legion that got tired of that bitter litany and decided to test their luck in other shores at their own risk.

How many immigrants do we have scattered around the world? It is a figure we’ll never know with precision. But the undeniable truth is what no one, neither the journalist from Granma nor any executive dreamer can deny: the vast majority of Cubans who migrate live from the sweat of their hard work.

We receive them by the thousands, mainly newcomers from Miami. There, they leave an unstable job, a job they don’t know if they’ll still have when they get back. Most of them leave debts. But they live. They don’t subsist.

And they would live a lot better if they didn’t have family members here, that just like involuntary leeches need to suck a percentage of their income to eat a little better, to not dress in rags, or to give ourselves that handful of pleasures that are so limited they end up being exceptional.

What do those Cubans, sons of the same land that Martí vindicated with his prose do to sustain a lifestyle so superior compared to the one they would’ve had had they stayed in the island? Are they all mafia members who traffic drugs, fire weapons, or launch human beings from their prows of their speedboats? Do they all receive salaries from the CIA for planning terrorist attacks against countries or presidents? No. What they do is work. And as we Cubans say: they work like mules.

They work two or three jobs. With a tenacity and formality they never learned in their native country. If they don’t do it for love (which in many cases they do) at least they work with responsibility. They’re not “absent people” who take days off on their own, they’re not bad-tempered people who mistreat any client from their Olympian viewpoint.

And they don’t do it for two reasons: 1. Because they want to preserve their job, and 2. Because that job, even though is not enough in many cases, serves to satisfy their basic needs, including the ones of the family members in Cuba.

And I’m talking about the simple cases. I am not referring to the talented, the attorneys, the excellent engineers, the sportsmen, the businessmen who, without the obstacles of an economic axis centralized to point of asphyxia, are able to prosper at a surprising rate. I am not taking for as example the great economic success of the few who are not so few: I am talking about the honest work of many.

Because those are our family members. Not the millionaires, but the middle or lower class. The ones who come and with their presence, with their money and salary (citing Frank Delgado), fill their family member’s souls with joy.

What allows it, what brings them to Cuba like the Three Kings of Buenaventura, satisfying shortcomings, soothing necessities? Their jobs. The twelve or fourteen hours they daily dedicate to having a life from their own sweat.

… AND FROM THIS

OK, so let’s go back to the beginning: are we a lazy people? Are we that nation of incapable men that The Manufacturer proclaimed we are, or the society infected by incorrigible idiots that the Granma newspaper suggests? We are not. What we really are, with no room for doubt, is a country where work is only a decorative concept.

We are a country where no one, absolutely no honest worker is able to accomplish any level of quality of life with 300 pesos that is earned after a whole month of harsh work.

We are a country that has had to become thieves, ruthlessly stealing from each other (the chef steals the cheese and later sells it to the mechanic, the mechanic steals the parts that the dentist needs, the dentist then steals the anesthesia or the amalgam needed to be used on the grocer as dental filling…), everyone hustling and passing the money any chance they get because the salary received in more honest ways is not even enough to fill one’s own stomach.

Where does this bitter reality take us? It leads us to accept that in Cuba, the sense of ownership towards work is an idealistic dream. The ones who, instead of stealing from work actually live from the salary earned by it cannot profess any type of gratitude towards it.

Cubans cannot like working because they receive very little or nothing from it. The ones that sacrifice themselves the most hang their diplomas or distinctions on a wall or keep them in a drawer because they will never be able to use them to feed themselves or clothe themselves. The accomplishments acquired by their sleepless nights turn to food for the moths, to dust collectors.

That is why I not only don’t denigrate, but understand, so many young people and so many wasted fertile hands hanging around on the corner, in the parks, sitting behind a domino table or what is worse, attached to rum bottles. Those, have learned either by experience or intuition that they will have a better lifestyle by reselling items on at central plaza in their neighborhoods, earning ten convertible pesos for an occasional sale, rather than dedicating eight hours a day to a job that will give them the same amount, but in a month.

We are one of the very few countries in the world where unemployment is not an issue. Our issue, is that employment doesn’t help.

That is why the media gets angry: it so happens that those lazy people are a genuine product of this very society, not reminiscences or a surplus.

UTILIZE YOUR THUMB, NOT YOUR INDEX FINGER

No Granma newspaper, no National Television, we are not a lazy people nor social scum. We don’t need to undertake new bloody crusades with police operations that imprison whoever doesn’t have a stable workplace, nor launch harassment campaigns: we have already experienced that and know it doesn’t work.

Beforehand, it is necessary to ask ourselves what is really happening, why young people on this side of the ocean don’t think about working, why they want to move to another country, why they’d rather steal or traffic, why they choose the uncertainty of not knowing what they will earn daily in their juggling instead of the stability and security of an honest salary at the end of the month.

The complicated thing is looking at our entrails. It is easier to utilize our index finger than to appeal to our thumb. The complicated thing is to answer for ourselves those questions that underlie each accusation that the official media publishes or the leaders prefer, the answers that they all know none of them want to hear.

This time, it is not about vindicating Cuba. Before defending the physical and geographical platform, it is only fair to defend the truth of all Cubans. And overall, with the same dignity with which Martí reduced to ashes a series of slanders, and with his limitless honesty remembered:

“Freedom is the right that all men have by being honest, and to think and speak without hypocrisy (…) A man who hides what he thinks, or doesn’t dare to say what he thinks, is not an honest man.”

August 11, 2010

And Presenting the Names of Some Cubans / Iván García

My grandmothers were called Carmen and Andrea, and my grandfathers, Jose Manuel and Rafael. Names are given according to the era. My uncles and aunts were given common names: Luis, Mario, Candida, Teresa, Maria, Dulce, Augustine, Maximus, Adelaide, Victoria, Milagros, Lidia… The exception was Avelino, no longer in use, and Veneta, of Italian origin.

For siblings, cousins and nephews, the tradition began to change: Tamila, Yaricel, Himely, Yuri, Yania, Mathew … Of the six mentioned, three are written with a Y. A boom that began in the 70s and still continues, as with the names of stars. The most popular, Maikel, is for Michael Jackson, a national idol.

It has become common to “nationalise” foreign names. So, for Ricardo, they say Richard; Billy for Guillermo, Robert for Roberto; Tony for Antonio; Maggie for Margarita; and Elizabeth for Isabel, amongst others. We gave my daughter the name Melany, from the French Creole version of Melanie.

Many parents opt for combinations like Sarim (Sara and Manuel), Leidan (Leida and Daniel), Franmar (Francisco and Marina) and Julimar (Julio and Maria) of endless possibilities which sometimes seem like trademarks. There are some who have wanted to be more original and have given their children the name of the parent reversed: Legna (Angel), Anele (Elena), Oiluj (Julio) and Otsenre (Ernesto).

Some recall characters and conflicts in other places: Lenin, Yasser, Indira, Hanoi, Libia, Nairobi, Namibia … Some are geographic: Israel, Argentina, Africa, Asia, America … Or planetary: Luna, Sol, Venus …

Soap operas have had an influence, too. In 1984, when the Brazilian serial started, a woman was called Malú, and many girls (and also dogs and cats) were given the name Malú. Others got the nicknames of the soap opera of the day. Like Dondita, a girl whose true identity nobody knows.

Even though in Cuba you can go to the civil registry and file a change of name, those who do not like the label given them by their parents tend to change it on their own, without wasting time on paperwork. This is the case with Yanet who hates the Yanci of Charity which she is registered as. When the mail carrier changed, the new one did not know that the correspondence directed to Yanet was for Yanci.

Amongst athletes born since the 1980s, there are many names beginning with Y: Yan, Yipsi, Yadel, Yumisleidys, Yoroemis, Yunel, Yoennis, Yargelis, Yannelis, Yunidis,Yeimer, Yuniseski, Yuriorkis, Yormani, Yoerkis… And a few rare ones: Jonder, Dayan, Level, Vismay, Gelkis, Uziel, Erislandy, Salatiel, Vicyohhandri, Osbiel, Roidel, Asniel, Edisbel, Leovel, Mijaín, Idales, Eglys and Arasay, among others selected at random from a long list.

In 2004, in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, they gave the example of Rayni Rodriguez, then 11 years old, whose parents gave him the name because he was born one rainy morning: Rayni is a variation of Rainy in English. The boy confessed that he would have liked to be called David, after Bisbal “a singer whom I admire a lot.”

In that report are mentioned other cases of Cubans with unusual names: Evergreen, Mylady, Sugarcandy, Geisha, Danger, Alien y Usnavy. Perhaps none is as bizarre as Yunaiestei. It only lacks the addition of “of America.”

Iván García

Photo: Yargelis Savigne (Guantánamo, 1984), gold medalist in triple jump, World Athletics Championships Berlin 2009 .

Translated by: CIMF

August 16, 2010

Raul Castro, On the Fence / Iván García

General Raul Castro is trying to give shape to the land he’s promised. El Dorado, the “Cuban socialist paradise,” requires time and patience. And confidence in the old leaders who have ruled the destinies of Cubans for 51 years.

The Castros want to dance the old-style danzón. No reggaeton. Farewell to emergencies and haste. The changes will be controlled and jealously scrutinized under a magnifying glass.

In the latest speech of the Cuban president, as is usual on the island, there are hidden meanings. Subtle codes. Political carpentry. But then you dismantle all the artifice of the partisan jargon, the veiled threats to dissenters and the tiresome slogans, and you note that in the words of Castro II there are two speeches.

One holds everything we read in the press. The other, what isn’t said. Up to a point I understand the Creole mandarins. It’s hard for them to speak frankly about the failure of the economic model and the innumerable disasters committed by Fidel Castro in the administration of the country.

Then he gilds the pill. But when you deconstruct the words of Raul you come to a logical conclusion: the transformations promised to us by the government are the same neo-liberal shock therapy applied by any capitalist country when it enters an economic crisis.

And worse. In capitalist societies there are pockets of unemployment. The island’s government has promised to be more severe with those who hang around in the streets. It’s rumored they will only be paid 60% of their salary for one month. Then, they can get by however they can.

To offset the rising tide of the unemployed, which will exceed a million people, they will expand the rules for self-employment.

But this remains to be seen. Look, in moments when the rope tightens around their neck, the Castro’s often give way. Then, when they get some oxygen, they tighten the rope and return to paralysis, the preferred rhythm of the Havana regime.

On the street, there are more doubts than hopes. It’s good to work for yourself, make money and improve the quality of your life. But it’s not easy. If the government doesn’t lower the taxes, call off the inspectors, and ease up on the constant obstacles in the way of private work, Raul’s announcement won’t be effective.

To establish a private cafe or restaurant in Cuba isn’t always possible. First: where do you get the money. Second: on the island the banks don’t offer credit nor lend money. Third: with regards to getting money, people wonder if the government won’t continue to look askance at it.

Because to have a business and prosper is something that doesn’t appeal to the Castro brothers. For the simple reason that every person that stops living off the State’s tit and manages to become independent, will always constitute a threat to the regime.

Money engenders power, influence and the desire to change the rules of the fame. The Castros know this. So they have always been afraid of private employment. Their interest is that those who don’t work for the State may look for a few pesos, but only enough to eat and little else.

The Castro brothers don’t want any new rich. And the ordinary people are aware of the danger of prospering. They know that hundreds of the paladares (private restaurants) were closed and that people were even imprisoned, accused of “illicit enrichment.”

When self-employment surged in 1994, the majority of those who accomplished it had family or friends abroad.

To establish a decent restaurant that will give a return on the investment requires no less than $8,000 dollars. Do the math. Buying the utensils, stoves, refrigerators, food and paying two or three employees. If, as Castro II said, one can hire workers, then it follows that one could establish small or medium-sized businesses. What worries a certain segment of the population is whether there will be a hook at the end of the line, as has happened at other times.

In any event, the good news from Raul’s speech was the reference to self-employment. The negatives were the threats to the opposition. His message was clear. If you believe the government will compromise on political questions, you’re mistaken. The jails will remain open and the laws allow the imprisonment of a dissident or journalist for 20 years or more remain in effect in the Republic.

It remains to be seen if they were empty words and typical bravado to pacify the Taliban frightened of change. Otherwise, it has been demonstrated that closed system need prisoners as a currency of exchange for any situation that arises. Now the prisons may be emptied. Will they be filled again?

Iván García

Photo: AFP

August 8, 2010

Thanks For Your Comments / Iván García

Once or twice a week, I connect to the internet from a hotel in Havana. Connections from Cuba tend to be very slow, and the time gets used up trying to send in my work. When I have a few minutes, I go to the blog, but I can hardly ever read and respond to comments.

Thank you for being regular readers of the blog and for leaving your opinions.

Sincerely,

Iván García Quintero

Translated by: CIMF

Beyond the Horizon / Laritza Diversent

The comment by a reader of mine, Sergio, attracted my attention. He asked: what is the reason that keeps preventing the opposition in Cuba from growing strong?

According to his writing, Sergio left the island a short while ago and still has fresh memories of the disagreements and fears here. He thinks that the people are still being paralysed despite recognising that the political and the economic systems are failing, because they dread something worse. Just like the popular sayings: “To jump from the frying pan into the fire” or “Better the Devil you know than the one you don’t.”

The commentator asserts that the historical leadership is still in power, firstly because the opposition cannot offer a model for the future development of Cuba, and secondly, because the malicious propaganda machinery, the indoctrination and the disinformation have demonised the concept of capitalism to the point that it is perceived as the apocalypse, exemplified by the social model of North America: “TOTAL liberty, the State is not responsible for exercising control… and things work if they are private.”

He suggests to the dissidents that if they propose “the American way” they will find it hard to convince the rest of the Cubans, “who don’t want to shift constantly from the extreme Stalinist left to the far ‘Republican’ and neoliberal right… Cubans want the best of capitalism and the best of socialism.”

To illustrate his thoughts he presents two proposals and economic models for the opposition groups:

His first proposal: “We are THIS group, here is my programme: Once democracy is achieved we want a liberal Cuba where the free enterprise and market forces set the guidelines of the society, the government lets the market operate on by its own rules, everyone has a health insurance if he or she wants medical care, and everything or almost everything is private property, because the State is not competent.”

Later he asks: “What do you do if you don’t have enough to pay for your father’s cancer treatment?” “We know that health is the one most precious things and therefore it is what concerns people most,” he argues. On this point I agree with Sergio, in a future full of changes not all of us are going to be prosperous entrepreneurs.

I agree once again when he claims that “the opposition has to focus, and each group, independent of the common goal (the end of the dictatorship and establishment of democracy) has to present its own detailed plan.

Unfortunately, the majority of the opposition groups within the Island do not seem to grasp the idea of a political programme, occasionally they don’t understand what this is. It is also hard to know for sure what is the ideology they profess. Sometimes I have the impression that they associate the term liberal with liberation, hence it is difficult to know what is the model or alternative for the government that they offer to the Cuban public.

Second proposal: “We are THAT OTHER group and this is my programme: When Cuba is to be free we want full liberty and support for the free enterprise, but subject to economic, financial and fiscal regulations that prevent those unbalances in the system that end up with the taxpayers footing the bill. There will be a serious fiscal system in order to create a social security covering the basic needs: labour rights, free and universal medical care, education facilities. The State will cease determining the degree entrepreneurial activity…, but it will never let the course of the country’s economic development to be set by the market alone. We’ll have a sober economic planning based on industrialisation and R&D (Research and Development) as a guarantee for sound and sustained economic growth… and independent of cyclical activities like the real estate business or tourism that are a feast today but famine tomorrow.

Sergio insists on the need to explain that “there is a form of capitalism that respects the right of the people to have their business, from a cafeteria to a designer company and even a multinational metallurgical enterprise… to earn millions of euros and to be millionaires…, and all of this being Cubans in Cuba, achieved with their ingenuity and work, at the same time enjoying guaranteed free and universal medical care and education for their whole family… and everyone pays into social security… and moreover, a right to attend colleges and universities and private health care for those who wish it.”

The commentator does not believe that wrongs in Cuba are due to socialism, but rather to FIDELISM. “Our problem is Fidel and his dictatorship, the dictators are neither communists nor capitalists,” he argues. He doesn’t like the American model either and thinks that it is time for the Cubans to “look closely at well developed models that are socially fair if not egalitarian.”

He advises the dissidents to “PULL THEIR HEADS OUT OF MAIMI and take a look at Germany and the rest of Europe (excluding Spain, Portugal and Italy), it does not matter whether the government is left or right, it still makes some difference, but to a great extent they have reconciled very well liberty and economic development with a high standard of welfare and social justice.”

“If there is a group out there that has a programme with these ideas… I’ll sign up together with my family, otherwise I support them regarding the common goal to get rid of the Castros… but I will give them my neither my vote nor my confidence… and I think that the majority of the Cubans in Cuba will feel this way,” he finishes.

I also think that from now on it is necessary to explain WHAT DOES THE OPPOSITION OFFER TO CUBANS. The economic model ought to be chosen by all in free elections and will be put in place by the political group that manages to see BEYOND THE HORIZON.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: undef
undef@rocketmail.com

August 15, 2010

Earning a Living / Claudia Cadelo

Photo: Claudio Fuentes Madan

He arrived at G on Friday to join the crowd of other young people watching the wee hours of the night pass waiting for better times. For some inexplicable reason the police would only allow them “to be” on one of the two sidewalks of 23rd and having made an appointment earlier to meet a girl in the “prohibited zone,” decided to run the risk rather than lose his chance of the night.

The risk turned out to be higher than he’d calculated – naïve and crazy kid: an official welcomed him with a shove and asked for his ID card.  Not producing it fast enough, they handcuffed him and before he could ask why he was already in the back of the patrol car.

He was thrown in a dungeon at 21 C. He thought he had forgotten to let go of the wrists. However, a look around allowed to check two things:
– All the detainees were handcuffed.
– There were many detainees.

They threw him in a dungeaon at 21st and C. He thought they’d forgotton to free his wrists. But a look around informed him of two things:

— All the detainees were handcuffed.
— There were a lot of detainees.

As he wasn’t even twenty yet, he was terrified. He didn’t know anything about his rights nor was he going to risk the night by defending them. Then again there is always a third option.  He managed to whisper the magic words to an officer:

“Hey pal, I have fifty pesos. My mother is sick and I can’t get home too late.”

Half an hour later he was home. He summarized the story for me with a moral: “They made a lot of money Friday, we were a ton of people. Next time I’ll give them the money in the patrol car.”

August 14, 2010

Customs Back in Action / Laritza Diversent

Postal and Shipping Customs, part of General Customs of the Republic (AGR), imposed an administrative penalty against me, through Confiscation Order No. 978, issued on June 8, 2010, for a shipment sent from the United States of America.

On July 13, I received an envelope sent by the Customs authority through the Cuban Postal Service, which contained the order and four Records of Retention and Notification. The documents included a list of the items seized.

In the order, Raimundo Pérez García, Customs Enforcement Inspector, confiscated the items – mostly cleaning, toiletry, and office supplies – claiming that upon physically inspecting the shipment, he found that they offended the general interests of the nation, constituting a violation of the provisions of Resolution No. 5-96 of the Chief of the General Customs of the Republic.

Among the products mentioned were an MP3, a camera, water purifiers, a pencil sharpener, balloons, pens, pencils, markers, several note pads, crayolas, laundry soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, towelettes, antiseptic and sanitary pads, elastic bandages, and rolls of tape.

These are widely-used, everyday domestic products, and are on sale in state-owned commercial establishments and hard-currency stores within the country.

The customs order issued by Pérez García, Customs Enforcement Inspector, is arbitrary. This official did not explain what criteria he took into account to determine that the items seized offended the general interests of the nation.

Resolution No. 5 of the AGR, in force since 1996, allows the application, within the national territory, of the International Convention on the Suppression of the Circulation and Trafficking of Obscene Publications and traffic.

It prohibits the importation by shipment of “any object whose content is considered contrary to morals and good customs or that goes against the general interests of the nation.” It further provides that the seized products be delivered to the appropriate agency of the Ministry of Interior.

The government regulation was used in previous months in the seizure of shipments from abroad to various dissidents, including Aini Martin, the independent press correspondent, Yusnaimy Jorge Soca, the wife of the physician and prisoner of conscience Darcy Ferrer Dominguez, and Yoani Sanchez, the author of the blog “Generation Y”.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by: Tomás A.

August 14, 2010