Minister Places Citizen in Indefensible Position / Laritza Diversent

Minister of Finances and Prices

In July 2009, The Minister of Finances and Prices, a member of the Council of Ministers, ordered the confiscation of property obtained by Teófilo Roberto, the father of Antonio Roberto, during the period from 1998 to 2008. The action was taken under the authority of Decree-Law 149 (“Regarding the seizure of property and income resulting from unjust enrichment”) known as the law against profiteers (the new rich), and its regulations, Decree No. 187, both from 1994.

The minister claimed that the seized items “are not fruits of honest labor,” but the Cuban Civil Code defines unjust enrichment as the transfer of items of value from one estate to another, without a legitimate basis.

The process also affected Pompilio López Licor, age 61, and Teófila Elsa Ávila Gutiérrez, 60, Teófilo’s brother and his wife, who along with his son Antonio, were named in a ministerial order as third parties who benefited from the unjust enrichment.

The defendants appealed against the ministerial decision through the Recourse of Reform before the same minister, who declared it without merit, confirming his decision, in October 2009. On June 22nd they appealed again to the head of Finances and Prices, the start of a special review procedure.

But the appeals do not stay the execution of the penalty of confiscation. Decree-Law 149 placed those affected in a state of helplessness, preventing them from access to the courts to demand justice against an act of the government that is harmful, according to Article 9 of the Decree.

Pedraza Rodríguez asserts that the three houses, two cars, a motorcycle and various items, including appliances, were obtained and authenticated by Theophilus, and hidden through subterfuge, on behalf of his relatives, without specifying which acts were illegal.

But he did not initiate legal action against the state officials who acted to legalize the goods and property of those affected. In particular the Arroyo Naranjo municipal housing management officials, responsible for implementing the Ministerial Regulation concerning real estate. On July 22, the state agency notified Antonio that he would be evicted within 72 hours.

The confiscation process was initiated and submitted to the Minister by Brigadier General Juan Escalona Reguera, subsequently released from his position as Attorney General of the Republic by the State Council, who may be linked to a corruption scandal involving foreign companies.

The assets seized from the Lopez family amounted to 2,347,834.24 Cuban pesos. The amount was certified by experts who did not specify, as is required by law, what their evaluaiton consisted of, or what the parameters of the process were, or what factors they took into account to estimate that figure.

Teófilo, Antonio’s father, is self-employed as a “producer-vendor of food and nonalcoholic beverages in a fixed point of sale,” according to the rules for the activity numbered 646. In his defense he claimed that he received income from his self-employment amounting to 521,000 pesos. But the minister countered that Theophilus hired labor.

The criminal law regards the use of non-family labor in otherwise authorized activities as illegal. But the ministerial decision issued by the head of Finances and Price did not refer to any criminal penalty imposed on the father of Antonio.

Teófilo receives remittances from the United States from six brothers and a son who live in that country. From January 2007 to December 2008, the National Bank of Cuba established that the relatives of the accused deposited remittances for him of 12,000 convertible pesos (CUC), equivalent to 300,000 Cuban pesos (CUP). The bank report was dismissed by Minister Pedraza Rodriguez, because it did not show that Theophilus had actually received the money.

Article 60 of the Constitution of the Republic states that “the confiscation of property shall be used as a punishment by the authorities only in the cases and procedures determined by law.” The Penal Code, regulates it as a specific penalty and accessory of a crime.

The Constitution, The Law of Criminal Procedure, and the Ordinance of the People’s Courts, guarantee that “No one can be tried or sentenced except by a competent court under the laws in effect prior to the crime and with the formalities and guarantees that they provide.”

In this case, the Decree-Law 149 is unconstitutional and illegal because it provides that the penalty of confiscation be implemented by an administrative authority, as an exemplary measure against those who obtained an illegitimate legacy as a result of theft, speculation, diversion of resources from state agencies, involvement in shady deals, black market activities and other forms of enrichment.

In the same provision of law, the behaviors are classified as “criminal activities” that damage the national economy and social stability. But the prosecutor, who is responsible for bringing criminal actions on behalf of the state, decided to encourage an administrative proceeding before initiating a criminal complaint.

In a fair criminal trial, Theophilus’s relatives would never have had to answer for the acts of others. The responsibility is individual. Moreover, the Penal Code, in force since 1987, provides that “the confiscation of property does not include . . . goods or items that are essential to meet the vital needs of the sanctioned or the relatives of his household.” Thus, housing cannot be seized.

The preferred implementation of Decree-Law 149 is the result of the subordination of the Attorney General’s Office to the State Council. This means that it must first comply with political instructions before it controls and preserves “socialist legality” and ensure strict compliance of laws

The existence of this rule in the Cuban legal system far from protecting the general welfare, destroys the trust and security that any legal system must provide. Its application violates the guarantees afforded to criminal defendants and renders citizens defenseless against the excesses of the government.

Lina Olinda Pedraza Rodríguez was appointed by the government as Minister of Finance and Prices, but is not qualified to administer justice. The powers conferred by Decree Law 149/94 are unconstitutional, and therefore arbitrary.

Since July 22nd, Antonio López Ávila and his family members have lived with the apprehension that at any moment police officers will forcibly evict them and destroy their home.

Laritza Diversent

Photo: Minister Pedraza Rodriguez is also a member of the Communist Party Central Committee, and Deputy for the Province of Villa Clara.

Translated by: Tomás A.

August 11, 2010

FRIGHTLESS / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

(this time without visuals)

PENULTIMATE FEARS
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Fear was a literary attribute from George Orwell (there is no fear in Kafka, only suspicion) until the Cold War pushed and pushed to overthrow the totalitarian Iron Curtain.

In the calcified Cuba of today, among the digital copies of the film 2012 in every pirated video collection, a blow to feudal cellphones and internet, with the trumpet blasts of Fidel Castro certifying that only a nuclear holocaust would be a glorious finish for his Revolution, paradoxically, fear has ceased to be a genetic defect. Virgilio Piñerahas suddenly aged as an author, since he established his panic before his own Premier at the beginning of Utopia: I only know that I am afraid, very afraid…

But the Cuban fear today is hardly an oedipal justification. Pure paternalism behind a mask as comfortable as it is inertial. This, our features are more recognizable under the disguise: we are more authentic the more we are in character.

Fear is, also, a wildcard because the Cuban exile does not incite us, in Cuba, to go a step further. To blackmail them to they’ll respect our shameless bullshit. In fact, fear is a magic mirror to blame them a little bit for their condition as the Cuban exile, for abandoning us in the unsupported arena of the absolutely obsolete State.

What our nation is now living in could be the true Little Icecube War, a theatrical conflict whose script requires very little correction by the CIA and the G-2, because it is a perfect ruse. A great plot: a trap, this time, genetic. Cuban hypocrisy as a survival instinct recruits more agents than all the intelligence agencies. To abandon this mattress of marvelous lies is, at least, an irresponsible act of madness. The maxim of Saint Solzhenitsyn, back-stitched into the Declaration of Inhuman Rights, today would read in Cuba as: no one should be condemned to live in the truth…

In Cuba, only the foreigners still suffer from fear (perhaps the dead also suffer the myth): it is a reflection of their poor Eastern-European readings and Capitalist-Phobia of being left unemployed and losing a certain status. In questions of paranoia, culture advises: ignorance saves. In particular, left-wing foreigners are particularly terrified to contact dissidents in Havana: most notably the academic Yankee who, without the Cuban Revolution, as well the intuited Ernesto Ché Guevara, would have to kill themselves at the loss of their PhD scholarship.

Still less do the powers-that-be fear. Many are unaware that technically they are in power. They organize their more or less repressive roles and go on vacation until the disturbances of this or that summer pass (enough with the cops at the time of the billy-clubs). The nomenklatura ahistorically inhabits a kind of child labor that at times becomes heart attack labor. As an old class, they are the rearguard of the proletariat. Their fatigue is comparable to the fallen angels among the signers who never sign the next resolution.

Cubans simply don’t want to participate too much. They don’t want to be involved at all. The protagonist is branded a pathetic poseur. It’s the cunning art of the post-political. Perhaps a plot of zero calling. No one calculates what is cooking clandestinely here. Switzerland and Haiti, all already seething but without any racket.

For now, in the absence of constitutional democratic tics, such as a free press and other luxuries that the exile exhibits in the rest of the world, I guess we at least have the right to plagiarize Epicurus: to live in secret, very much in secret…

August 20, 2010

The Scene is Indeed Confusing / Laritza Diversent

Fidel Castro in Parliament, for the first time in four years

Before the formation of the current Council of State on February 25, 2008, Fidel Castro resigned his posts in that body. In a public address he explained that the state of his health no longer allowed him to hold “a responsibility requiring more mobility and dedication than I was physically able to offer.”

On July 7, 2010, after several months of absence from the media, Fidel Castro resurfaced noticeably recuperated.

The comments were quick to follow: “Does he intend to reclaim his duties and return to power?” On the streets, people speculated that he was attempting a “slap-on-the-hand coup” against Raúl Castro, after he had relinquished the country’s leadership to him on July 31, 2006 for health reasons.

Apparently, his younger brother highly respects him, especially since he is, at the moment, the man who has the responsibility to lead the nation.

It’s possible that Fidel Castro misses his position as number one. But time does not pass for the sake of passing and the current political scene does not allow reversal, rendering any action risky.

The latest elections for candidates to the National Assembly of People’s Power revealed a 20 percent voter abstention, an officially recognized figure and unimaginable in past elections. This is evidence that popular discontent is now escaping control by the State.

Someone asked me if during the 7 August extraordinary session of the National Assembly another announcement calling for elections could have been agreed to, newly appointing Fidel Castro as Head of State.

The idea, from a legal point of view, seems ridiculous. First, a strong reason would be necessary to justify a change in the country’s leadership. Second, if said reason were found, that announcement would expose an internal power struggle. However, in Cuba anything can happen.

It’s certain that the shadow of the “compañero who reflects,”* generates doubts as to who truly governs and decides in this country. However, his aged image, incoherence and mental gaps show him as inept for leadership. The perception is general and I don’t think the majority of the population would endorse his return, although I don’t doubt it could be imposed.

The “messiah” sends us a sly little message: “Careful, I’m still in the game.” He’s trying to gain some space among the ambitious youth who wish to gain trust and positions in the highest spheres of power.

I suspect that behind his figure the interests of other characters are hidden and that his sudden appearance is related to the unprecedented dialogue with the Church and the release of 52 political prisoners from the Black Spring of 2003.

The doubt arises as to whether the government will truly undertake measures to improve the human rights situation on the island, that would merit a change in policy from the European Union and Washington. Incidentally, the reappearance of the ex-leader puts Raúl’s authority and capacity to make decisions and undertake changes within the system in doubt.

The struggles for power are unseen, but they are felt. The internal performance of the repressive entities is erratic. On the one hand they repress, with intimidation and arbitrary detentions of the opposition and independent journalists; and on the other hand, on occasion they display a tolerance that begs the question: who’s giving orders? The Cuban political scene is indeed confusing.

Laritza Diversent

Photo: AFP

*Translator’s Note: “compañero who reflects,” is a reference to Fidel Castro’s regular columns in the newspaper, entitled “The Reflections of compañero Fidel,” with the simple title of “compañero” — or “comrade” — intended to carry its own message.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 22, 2010

Of Flesh and Laws / Henry Constantín

I took a look around that place, because they had already told me about its crowd.  And I saw them.  One of them could not have been more than fifteen years old.  The others, who were not more than 25, gave off subtle signals, between smiles, of having lived much more.  Except for the youngest they all had tattoos, Bucanero beers in their hands and cigarettes.  They looked at the arriving modern cars with ecstasy.  Before dawn, they gradually settled next to the newly arriving, robust gentlemen who would immediately ask for hollywood cigarettes and more beer, or for the chauffeur of one of the three parked cars.  The youngest and a girlfriend got into an Audi with tourist plates heading for Las Tunas.

It’s not pleasant to go to Guáimaro, the town with the most history in the Camagüey region, since the private buses that operate on the route from Camagüey take much more than an hour to arrive, and if one leaves from Las Tunas it’s almost the same.

I always passed through there in a hurry, headed somewhere else.  And that is what this town has always been, a place for passing through. Guáimaro is almost at the border that divides two very discordant regions, culturally and economically: Camagüey and Oriente (the East).

Guáimaro is well-known for the abundant livestock that has always roamed its plains. Although in the newspaper Adelante, the official voice of the Party in the province of Camagüey, it is prohibited to publish how much livestock there was in Camagüey prior to the Revolution, everyone knows that today only a shadow remains.  The milk, the meat and the cheese that comes out of here keeps a good part of the country alive.

What I related in the beginning, I saw on a Sunday, in the rápido that’s in front of the town’s terminal.  A rápido, anywhere in Cuba, is a type of cafeteria that is open 24 hours and is outdoors, with little tables covered by an awning and of course, alcoholic beverages sold in divisas (foreign currency); in other words, it’s not a place for the normal Cuban.  Later, I was told about the long, useless list that the authorities have compiled to track and monitor the teenagers who frequent the place.

The Guáimaro museum also opens at night. It is close to the road. It is the only house in Cuba where two constitutions have been signed, possibly the two most democratic. There were no more visitors. A few pieces of furniture, and graphics with brief information is all the visual tribute to the men who tried to turn a fertile farm into a country with civil liberties.  The cold that comes off the huge house is incapable of reviving the bitter sessions of 1869 and the jubilation of 1940.

Late at night I returned to the terminal, to wait for some type of transportation.  Meanwhile, the couples who had already been formed at el rapido began to slip apart.  Sleepy, I managed to get out of there aboard a truck at three in the morning.

Translated by: Antonio Trujillo

August 19, 2010

Don’t Answer / Yoani Sánchez

My cellphone rings but I don’t answer. I wait for the ringing to stop and go to a nearby phone to call the number shown on the screen. I’ve warned my friends that I’ll let a call go and call them back later, but some insist, forgetting about the high cost of a minute of conversation on the cell network. I have a code with them: two rings if it’s urgent and three if it’s about something that can wait. When I’m in the street and the device I carry in my purse vibrates, I look for a public phone that takes coins and doesn’t have the handset ripped off.

Although the telecommunications company ETESCA reported that the number of cell phone users will soon surpass one million, we remain handicapped with regards to this technology. To receive a domestic call is madness, configuring the texting can take hours of fighting with the operators, and finding a place that sells recharge cards is like the movie Mission Impossible. Like a teenager whose growing feet no longer fit in his shoes, our cellphone system has increased the number of subscribers but without the corresponding improvement in infrastructure. Well, the growth doesn’t follow an integrated development of the system, but is led by the desire to collect — at all costs — those colored convertible notes that simulate the dollar.

Despite recent reductions in the high rates, even a doctor can’t afford cellphone service, but the political police enjoy subsidized rates which they can pay in national currency. Nor is it possible to open an account and pay at the end of the month, we have to pay in advance to be able to communicate. Many of us feel defrauded by ETESCA, but the State monopoly doesn’t allow other competitors to offer us better and cheaper service. Meanwhile a solution appears, thousands of users work out a strange Morse code with cellphones: One ring, two, three… Don’t answer on the other end! Just run to the nearest phone.

August 24, 2010

My Donkey, My Donkey… / Miriam Celaya


May the influenza not win over us!
THE SOLUTION IS IN YOUR HANDS
A message from the Cuban Public Health at the service…

Photo: Orlando Luis

When I was young, there was a very popular children’s song that made reference to a sick donkey whose ills always had a solution. “My donkey, my donkey, has a headache: A doctor sends him a black cap…” we children sang in chorus, and the little tune went on, letting out in its stanzas each discomfort of the quadruped, until he would end up completely cured. I never thought I’d see the day when I would, sincerely and categorically, envy that donkey because, in spite of the difficult conditions that the Cuban reality imposes for our survival, everything is more or less “tolerable” until you find yourself forced to see a doctor. It is there that the true agony starts.

Recently, my mother had to go to the clinic (family doctor) because of her persistent discomfort in the throat. There, after waiting for her de rigueur turn, a physician as ancient as she, or older, prescribed an exudation –to be performed at the Emergency Hospital- to test for possible bacteria. As a precaution, the doctor prescribed Tetracycline tablets to her “to be taken after the exudation.” It is clear that the doctor knows the reality of the Cuban health system. The exudation could not be done because “there is no technician” at the hospital’s laboratory, nor do they know when there will be one, “go see if they want to perform it at the Hospital Calixto Garcia.” They did not want to, or they were not able to. Resigned, and without a diagnosis, my mother completed her “treatment” by taking her antibiotics: she was sick to her stomach and for several days, she still presented with discomfort in the throat. (My donkey, my donkey, has a sore throat; the doctor has put on him a white tie.)

But hers is just a minor case. When you go to a doctor’s office here, you discover horrifying cases. A lady I personally know went to a certain hospital with numbness in one arm and general malaise, including a headache, and, just like that, she was diagnosed with a stroke. Very alarmed, her family then went to another hospital, this time through a doctor friend of theirs, who was a friend of another doctor who had clout, etc. It was only then that, after rigorous tests, they arrived at the correct diagnosis: the old woman was incubating a virus, her immune system was compromised and –besides that- was rejecting the antihistamines she had been prescribed to treat her allergies, hence the numbness of the limbs. She improved within a few days.

I recently heard of an extreme case about a man, also very old, in the terminal phase of lung cancer who was not being given oxygen “as to not to create dependency.” He died within a few days, which was inevitable, only that he was in terrible agony. I’m not allowed to cite this source either, but it is a real life case from my own municipality (Centro Habana). This very humble old man and his family didn’t have any “godfather” to go to. I could write whole pages with enough examples of this sort to crash this website.

I know that many readers might also give examples of irresponsibility, poor attention, lack of resources and missed diagnoses that take place everywhere in the world, but here, they are becoming commonplace, and we don’t have the opportunity to make the slightest claim or to opt for “another service” because of the “egalitarian” and centralized character of the system. The truth is that, in Cuba, one can no longer be assured of receiving good medical care -except for few and honorable exceptions- if not with the corresponding “recommendation.” Almost always, if one sees a doctor through established channels, the doctors’ hands are tied and they cannot perform tests that are required for an exact diagnosis; in other instances they are able to diagnose, but it is possible that the medication needed is not found at the drug stores, or it is dispensed only in CUC, at prohibitive prices for the commonplace Cuban pocket. Because of so much confusion, many prefer not to see a doctor uselessly and try to “make do” with concoctions of traditional medicine and with prayers that aren’t always sufficiently effective, as may be understood. Such are our very expensive freebies.

In today’s Cuba, the total deterioration of the system rages most scandalously in hospitals, polyclinics, clinics and pharmacies. Added to the already inadequate resources -always attributed to the ubiquitous “embargo”- and the eternal lack of medications in national currency pharmacies, is the shortage of medical personnel or the questionable ability of some of those not yet “in mission” or “collaborators” (which is not the same) in some Venezuelan neighborhood, in any remote jungle, or in a lost valley in the Andes. The TV news and the official press abound with examples of the medical miracles Cubans manage through other lands. Apparently, when it comes to Cubans, any place is good to practice medicine and to find solutions to illness… Any place, except Cuba. (My donkey, my donkey, nothing ails my donkey. The doctor prescribes apple syrup. You don’t say! Apple?! Ha, ha!)

Translator: Norma Whiting

August 20, 2010

Fatigue / Claudia Cadelo

Image: The Executioner, Luis Trápaga

Her mornings have been the same for years: buy the flour “on the left” from the State bakeries, get the eggs from sellers who carry them hidden in backpacks, haggle for the guayabas in the produce market to give it her business. With the ups and downs that depend on the degree of repression against the “illegals,” she managed to maintain a decent home selling sweets.

But things have gotten too complicated: Twice she had to hand some cakes through the patio window as fast as she could, for her neighbor to hide, when the inspectors came. Thank God that doesn’t happen often! When she can she puts some little candies into the cakes; her sister, who has a successful little dessert shop, sends them to her from Miami. She started in 2000, doing everything alone, but with the years she hired an assistant and now has a modest business that supplies tidbits to a good part of the neighborhood.

She tells me all of this with an infinite nostalgia, a healthy envy of her sister on the other side who has managed to “get ahead.” I ask her if she thinks Raul Castro will allow some economic opening, facilities for small businesses, licenses and the minimum breathing room to make life easier. She laughs, but her eyes look like she wants to cry. “I’m old, chica, it’s all the same to me, I got tired of waiting.”

August 23, 2010

The Power of Small Things / Iván García

Of all the independent journalists and bloggers, perhaps there are no more than 150 across the entire island.  Yet many of us should polish our style.  Sometimes we think well, but rhyme poorly.  On occasion, the words drown us.  And the majority lack resources to engage in active journalism or maintain a blog on the web.

The political prisoner and unofficial communicator, Pablo Pacheco, free in Spain since July 13, thanks to the dialogue between President Raúl Castro, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, and the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos, would update his blog from a prison 400 kilometers from Havana, recording his posts via telephone.  Pacheco never even had a computer.  Now he has one, in Málaga, where he lives with his wife and son.

With the difficulties which Pacheco wrote, many continue to write within Cuba.  On the reverse side of pages with official letterheads, recycling sheets that have some blank space.  Typewriters are still essential for residents outside of the capital.  In the agencies of Eastern Cuba, they peck away at typewriters made in East Germany.

Cuban independent journalism is worthy of commendation.  The lapses in information content and journalistic skill that we might have as free correspondents, are the very same as for the majority of official reporters.

With the difference being that official journalism is more boring than independent journalism.  Working for a State medium tends to burden creativity; and one is closer to being a tamer than a journalist.  Certain sensitive subjects are “guided” via phone by a government censor from his office.

Cuban independent journalism was born in the mid 90s.  With women and men dedicated to changing the established rules of the game, such as Indamiro Restano, Raúl Rivero, Rafael Solano, Rolando Cartaya, Ana Luisa López Baeza, Tania Quintero, Iria González Rodiles, Reinaldo Escobar and Jorge Olivera, among others who broke with the official media.  In spite of the risk of going to prison, they thought it was worth it to describe the reality of their country.

They could have been cynics and opportunists, like certain colleagues in the governmental press.  Some had official recognition.  But they didn’t want to have a car granted them by the State, nor travel to the events and social forums of the worked-up global Left.

Had they continued being followers of the regime, today they would be rubbing elbows with Fidel Castro and have to tolerate, while standing firm, the lecturing on about the unstoppable atomic war that according to Castro is upon us.

They freed themselves from having to listen in silence and chose to be free men and women.  They paid for that choice with jail time, arbitrary detentions, public acts of repudiation, and exile.

The new bunch of independent journalists, save for some exceptions, has no professional training.  Nor do they bring with them that fear in their bodies suffered by those who work in the State media.  Some of them are brilliant, like Luis Cino, Víctor E. Sánchez, Evelyn Ramos, Luis Felipe Rojas and Laritza Diversent.

Since 2007, there’s been an explosion of bloggers.  Many have an intellectual education.  It’s no longer just Yoani Sánchez.  Youth like Claudia Cadelo and Orlando Luis Pardo have very widely read blogs.

Some possess academic resumes that extend over 50 years, like Miriam Celaya and Dimas Castellanos who, in my opinion, have the best political analysis blogs written on the island.

Under all kinds of difficulties, free journalists as well as alternative bloggers, have struck an important goal.  They opened a breach in the iron wall of monopolized news that the Party and Cuban government once held.

Now their opinions and analyses count when it comes to the study of the Cuba issue.  Small things sometimes bring with them winds of hurricane force.  If you doubt it, ask one of the Castro brothers.  They’ve waged plenty of war over it.

Iván García

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 22, 2010

Amnesia, Spells, and Survival / Luis Felipe Rojas

Photo / Luis Felipe Rojas

I have to admit that the kids of this current generation really manage to try to live with the pulse of the times.

Increasingly, I run into more and more people on their way to the babalao* or tarot card reader; there are those who at night go into downtown Holguín to take courses in Positive Energy.  I have two friends that are introducing Buddhism to Moa, the City of Nickel.

It’s been a long time now since I’ve been to a bembé** or saint’s feast.  Before, I used to go and have fun all night eating and dancing or watching the acrobatics and spasms of those who say they’re “mounted by the dead,” but I’ve known that many people who go also want to leave the country, to meet an American, to get a doctorate, want their boss to break a leg or that chick to finally get kicked out of the union “because she’s a real snitch.”

They ask for everything.  They bring everything that the priest asks for the spell and sometimes it’s as expensive as the trip itself or the miracle they wish to accomplish.

I don’t know if they ask for the police and the worst elements of the army to be abolished once and for all; for an official decree sending state inspectors to cut sugar cane at 12:00 noon; or for the unattainable merchandise in the foreign currency stores to be finally marked down.

I started asking some neighborhood pals, if they went to Yiyí the Santería priestess, what they would ask for, and these were the most common requests:

– For the economy to improve (but nothing about Economic Freedom).

– For all to able to travel without having to ask permission (but nothing about the Freedom of Mobility).

– That there be (said two or three, almost in a row) many TV channels and that the Internet be free (but they didn’t even mention Freedom of Expression).

It’s astonishing: there are people who don’t know that in the Spanish lexicon the word LIBERTAD (Freedom / Liberty) is one of the most beautiful and luminous.

Translator’s notes:
* Babalao: Yoruba term used in Cuba for a priest of the Santería religion.
** Bembé: A ritual party thrown in honor of the Santería dieties, wherein they are exhorted to descend and join by way of channeling through, or “mounting,” the gathered priest/ or priestess/mediums.

Translated by: Yoyi el Monaguillo

August 21, 2010

IF YOU WANT TO COMMENT, PLEASE READ THIS POST / Regina Coyula

After many days without being able to access my blog, I was dismayed to see what it had turned into. When I opened this space, I believed it would be for exchanging ideas, opinions, that it would help to develop a debate among people who only had to agree on one thing: the good of Cuba. And what did I find? An escalation among the commentators, some wasting testosterone and others trying to annoy those who took seriously some jokes in order to make a succulent inventory of insults. I wonder how could I have brought all this about, and the feeling of failure is inevitable.

I claimed that I didn’t want to use moderation, assuming the naive and tricky concept of democracy as absolute freedom. This is not true. Every social organisation has its rules, its laws. Even at home one sets out things in a proper order. I attempted to prevent these “lunatics” with a banner but it didn’t work and it had no effect at all. So some of you come to my space, take off your shirts, putting your feet on the chairs and don’t even ask permission to use the toilet. I don’t know… am I too old fashioned? Is this relaxed attitude normal on the Internet or is it that these commentators are not really ready to argue with someone who has a different opinion? It will also be a failure if I do not succeed in giving my readers the perception that this national debate, so necessary, must be carried out with respect. A member of the government speaking about the Big Bad Wolf, seems equally unserious to me as an opponent talking about Coma-andante (thus, substituting “walking coma” for “Commander”). Please, think about this.

Many of the readers don’t know that nowadays you don’t need to have an internet connection to publish. It simply takes a friend who has access to e-mail so he can send a text to a certain address for me and this becomes a new post, with photos if you want to include them; platforms like WordPress or Blogspot are very smart.

I invite the most suspicious among you to ask yourselves why I didn’t rise in MININT (The Ministry of Interior Affairs) or another institution at my convenience. I didn’t lack the intelligence and the contacts to profit in any ministry or foreign firm. Contrary to those who firmly believe or merely pretend to believe, I asked for my discharge in the same year as the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Cause I, by my account twenty years, and not those of Gardel.

My life is very simple, and if you have any doubts you can come visit me. You have nothing to lose. I live at #693 24th Street, between 35th and 37th, in the small garage under the Royal Poinciana tree, near the Acapulco cinema. Since I don’t have a telephone, it will be a surprise, a cup of coffee and we’ll be able to talk. I’ll make the coffee.

Translated by David Bonnano

August 20, 2010

August 13 / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

THE BLUEST CORNER OF THE FIRST WORLD

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

For August 13, the first ten years without my dad.

Since I was a child I’ve lived in a neighborhood on the outskirts called Lawton. I am the “only child of older parents,” the reason why we barely went to the city center.

In the ’70s Cuba held the First Communist Party Congress (it was already obvious that Fidel Castro would be an eternal entity), and, despite what they say now about that decadent and institutionalized decade, the truth is that I lived in a domestic paradise of two workers as poor as they were in love: María del Carmen y Dionisio Manuel, the best parents in the world.

I never thanked them for giving me the illusion of a childhood.

One day in 1978, they decided to take me to meet the rest of reality. We took several interminable buses and disembarked in our best “going out clothes,” right in the heart of El Vedado: the start of the culmination of La Rampa, 23rd Avenue and L Street (perhaps the L was for Luxury).

It was my father then, who prounounced it, while my mother held my shoulders, as overprotective then as she is today at 74: “Look up, Landy…”

And indeed, there it was. The mass. A needle to tickle the proletarian belly of heaven. A geometric design (distorted by my excitement) that, even to my 7 years, was the perfect metaphor of modernity: a new world, a new tone, a future ignored from our little wood house in far off Lawton.

It was the building with the bluest aura on the planet, whose only difference from the Hilton hotel chain of the ’50s was the sign that I read for myself on its snowy peak: Habana Libre — Free Havana.

We went in.

The doors opened by themselves. Under our orthopedic shoes, we caressed a pasture of carpets (I had to ask what these fabrics were called). The ceiling of the lobby rose in a dome miles above our heads. The light was nice, but nothing national. The voices of the Cubans also (no gestures or shouting). One breathed in the immaculate peace of this phenomenon always lacking, called air conditioning. The bathrooms were bigger than my house. My father bought a newspaper in English also called Granma and promised to teach me to read the exotic argot of the First World.

In 1978 I was suddenly happy in a hotel inherited by Real Socialism.

From 1978 I was also more and more unhappy, exiled in my own land in the hunt for the Unreal Capitalism of that close contact molded in my memory.

Architecture is, first of all, ideology.

When my father died, that tedious August 13, 2000, I wanted to leave him alone for a while in the ugly Luyano Funeral Home (a former site of the Socialist People’s Party) and visit our hotel for the last time. I wanted to cremate his body (even this was impossible in Cuba) and throw his ashes from the roof of the Habana Libre above the empty vision of a prisoner Havana. I wanted to jump myself over the city after my first 29 years of unlikely life (Fidel Castro was then the age my mother is now: 74).

I was left behind without having told Dionisio Manuel “I’m sorry” for many things, but, more than my indolence and his pain, I was left behind without having thanked him for the discovery of the blue at the corner of 23rd Avenue and L Street (perhaps the L of Liberty): a monument where the breeze of the future of the First World sneaks into Cuba.

August 13, 2010

Will the Prisons be Filled Again? / Iván García

It is a likely probability.  It is known that the Castros are unpredictable.  At times, they attempt to behave like brothers respectful of international norms.  The truth is the rules of democracy and human rights agreements are instruments against which the government in Havana holds grudges.

The three-way negotiations between General Raul Castro with the Cuban Catholic Church, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos and a left-wing branch of Barack Obama’s administration, which culminated in the agreement to release the 52 prisoners of conscience from la primavera negra del 2003 (the black Spring of 2003) and promises to reach out to more political prisoners on the island, could become a sterile gesture.

Since Castro II’s speech on the 1st of August, alarms were set off in the Cuban Secret Services.  The General did a 360 degree turn on the alleged easing of tensions and sent a return message to the disidencia del patio (courtyard dissidents).

He said it clearly.  Do not confuse tolerance with impunity. The street belongs to the revolutionaries.  We know what that means.  Beatings by the “pueblo indignado” (incensed citizens), acts of repudiation and thorough verbal lynchings to those who oppose the regime.

State Security took note and began work to gather the necessary pieces in the best way it knows how: repression. On the 5th of August, a date on which the sixteenth anniversary of the maleconazo* is commemorated, the political police conducted an extensive operation against dissidents and independent journalists who that day went to the United States Interests Section to surf the Internet.

Dozens of opponents where detained for up to 12 hours.  All detainees were warned that there would be no impunity.  As part of the strategy, citations and warnings have been issued to independent journalists in different provinces.

Reina Luisa Tamayo suffers fierce harassment at her home in Banes, Holguín, 700 kilometers (approximately 435 miles) from Havana.  They were not satisfied that Reina had lost her son, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, after an 86 day hunger strike, last February 23rd.

She is the Lady in White who has been treated most rudely by the political police.  They have not respected her pain as a mother nor have they allowed her to mourn as she is entitled to do.

The question that many ask today is what was the reason to unleash such a raid.  It could be that the government expects more from the European Union and from the United States.  Or, that the release of a handful of prisoners was only a measure to obtain political breathing room and some international credibility.

I have no doubt that there are factions in power with different opinions.  At this moment different springs are moving within the status quo.  He who manages to impose himself will dictate the rules of the game.

If the ‘talibanes’ (Taliban) succeed, the historic hard-line revolutionaries, we will return to the past.  Beware of economic measures and of the iron fist with dissidents.  We will have to wait.

Yet something is certain.  The hasty negotiations of Castro II, the church and Moratinos, left behind some rough edges.  What is important, without a doubt, was the promise to release 52 political prisoners who should have never been in jail.

But apparently neither Cardinal Ortega nor the Spanish Foreign Minister could get General Raul to promise to never again incarcerate someone because of their opinion.  Also not on the agenda, was the abolition of the dark Law 88, which continues to float around the air of the Republic.  With the strike of a gavel, it allows any prosecutor to put a dissident behind bars for 20 years or more.

The Castros may have decided to start playing hard and without gloves again.  A sector of the opposition knows it.  It asks itself if there will be new black summers, winters, autumns or springs.

In 51 years of revolution, prisons have always been full of political prisoners.  They are valuable bargaining chips.  If the regime wants, they could empty them.  Also if it wants, it could fill them once again.

Iván García

*Translator’s note: The Malaconazo was a riot that broke out on the Malecon, Havana’s seawall and waterfront arterial.

Translated by: Antonio Trujillo

August 22, 2010

Tropical Cancer / Ernesto Morales Licea

From the moment you push the door open, you notice something is not right. By now you should be feeling a change in the atmosphere, the change of temperature to give your skin, so mistreated by the sun, a breather. You should feel the air conditioner running at a place where you pay with the coin of higher value in your country.

Nevertheless, inside awaits a heat as intense as the one outside.  Maybe hotter.

The salesclerk, a skinny mulatto, is wearing his button-down shirt as required by the rules.  At his armpits, the blue color from the shirt gets darker: the sweat runs all the way down his ribs, it forces him to pull the shirt away from his body over and over again during his shift.

You ask him for a soda, and you lay the convertible peso that equals two days of work on the counter.  You know you can’t allow yourself to spend that type of money frequently, but the climate is maddening and at moments you feel forced.

When you reach for the can, you think there has been a mistake:

–  It’s not cold, my friend, can you change it for me?

His answer, a little indifferent, is the answer of someone who has had to repeat it on countless occasions:

– They’re all like that.  The rules about saving force us to set the fridge at the highest temperature, that is why they can’t get as cold as they should.

You’re still holding the can in your hand.  You know that it is not what your lips are waiting for to mitigate your thirst.  You know you’ll regret having spent two days worth of your salary for a drink you won’t enjoy.  But you sense the same thing will happen in every store you go to.

Just out of curiosity you ask him:

– Is it the same everywhere? I mean, is it an orientation given to all the units?

– Not only to the units that sell in convertible pesos –he assures me – but to all the places with a refrigeration system, whatever they are.  Here, for example, out of the twelve hours that we work, we can only use the air conditioning for four, and the fridges should be on the highest temperatures.

You look around: you don’t see even a window.  There isn’t a single hole from where a light breeze can come in to alleviate the drowsiness.  You think of your office, which never had air conditioning, but at least had a window as consolation from where you could look out and, from time to time, cool your forehead.

You thank him, keep the can and rush out of that café so similar to a crematory.  You finish the soda with no desire, almost out of obligation to the money spent.

You walk the streets with not much to do, but now you start noticing all of your surroundings.  A Banco Popular, for example.  Designed like a concrete fort for obvious reasons, with hardly any windows for natural ventilation.  Inside, the consoles are covered with spider webs.  You don’t know this because you don’t get to ask, but they also prohibit the use of air conditioning here, for good.

Hundreds of people wait for their turn to be called.  Hundreds of workers spend their eight or ten hours in there, receiving and giving out money.  The heat multiplies itself due to the agglomeration of so many bodies.

You push another door open: another store for convertible pesos only.  This time you are not surprised by the suffocating atmosphere, but a nauseating smell of concentrated air fresheners, along with the humidity from all the sweat in general, makes you leave immediately in search of oxygen.

You remember when, a few years back, the national authorities announced that the energy crisis in Cuba had come to an end.  They mobilized the entire country; they got the streets in party mode.

They took away the improvised fans from everybody, their fridges, their TV’s.  Under the “change” euphemism, they sold them brand new equipment, imported from China.  They sold them electric burners and rice makers.   It is true that beforehand they had raised electricity rates noticeably, however, it seemed like we were moving forward.  You remember feeling a vague illusion of prosperity.

A name was dedicated to the year the initiative started.  2006 was called “The Year of the Energy Revolution.”

And every Cuban, you included, thought the era of endless power outages, implacable savings, as part of the past.   A past to which seemed, we were never going back.

Today, every spot is gripped by savings.  Offices crowded by computers and equipment in need of air conditioning.  Cafeterias with perishable products.  Workplaces where it is an inhumane practice if working hours are not reduced.

So, what happened this time? What failed once again?

You know you won’t have the answers to these questions.  If you asked somebody, you would hear all sorts of justifications – the criminal imperialist blockade, the world crisis, the adjustments in our economy – that you could recite to yourself beforehand.

That is why you’ll get home very soon, to your own heat bubble and exhaustion.  You, just like many others, have lost all hope for progress.

You know that tomorrow, maybe the energy subject will be stirred up any unthinkable way, but then, the tires will stop and this country’s busses will be paralyzed, or salt will vanish from all the markets and you will be forced to cook while adapting the taste buds to the emergency.

Too many years in training to be that naïve.

As you come back to listening to your own steps you notice that the soda you paid for didn’t take your thirst away.  You also notice you weren’t able to find any other insignificant things you were looking for in the stores.  And that you’ll get home with your skin a little more scorched from the sun.

The only thing you ask for is, for nobody, absolutely nobody to cross your path with an offensive phrase, any type of rudeness, a subject of discussion.  Not even your family or friends.

You don’t know this, you think that the discouragement you have inside is not important.  But at this very moment you believe you are sick from a tropical cancer, a loaded gun in search of a reason to pull the trigger.

Translator: Angelica Betancourt

August 19, 2010

Aldeano’s Codes / Ernesto Morales Licea

I think that in my subconscious, I felt something more than professional interest when I visited them. Something like personally knowing the two rappers whose music and political positions greatly influenced my decision to confront, with the written word, the lies that embitter my beloved country.

I still remember with pleasure my “punisher” using that article (Revolution in the Village) where I spoke of them as two daring youth and as the best of my generation, as tangible proof of my unacceptable rebelliousness.

Los Aldeanos (The Villagers) have become a secret code. In a subversive way they assimilate reality. I remember an amusing incident: A friend introduced me to his girlfriend. As I walked toward them, I had headphones on my ears. After a conversation in which we exchanged some words about my job, and about my particular thoughts, she said, in a way of summarizing: Well, you look like you listen to Los Aldeanos.

I couldn’t avoid a good laugh. I, faithful follower of heavy metal, was indeed listening to Los Aldeanos.

In the seven years that they have performed together, this young duo has starred in a story as beautiful as it is unique in the Cuba of the twenty-first century.

Due to the sincerity in their lyrics, many sleepless nights over what occurs in our country, they have climbed to reach an admirable position in the conscience of a society that, although some deny it, listens to them with the respect inspired by those with (to say in blunt Cuban speech) well-placed balls.

What I am now transcribing is just a small fragment of the interview with Aldo Rodríguez Baquero, El Aldeano (The Villager) who has given over his alias to name the duo. A 27-year-old native of Havana, with a 9th-grade level of schooling and an incredible talent for the polemic and brilliant universe that is Cuban Hip-Hop.

-Aldo, what are the aspects of Cuban reality that you would most like to be able to change?

I can only mention one to you, that I think would make me very happy if I achieved it. And it is that Cubans go back to being human beings. That we go back to being good people. That Cubans go back to smiling without having a dirty mind.

And when I speak to you of going back to being human beings this means that the whole world here would feel the desire to love, to not rat on each other, to not resent someone because they bought a refrigerator, to not be involved in other people’s’ lives. When I say “the whole world” I am including, as one and the same, the President, the bus driver, and the trash collector.

Because to tell you that it’s necessary to improve transportation or the nutrition of Cubans, this is evident, but I think that all of this can be solved with a little more love, and less mistreatment of each other.

-Are you conscious of what you currently represent for the Cuban youth? Up to what point does the music of Los Aldeanos have the intention of becoming the symbol of a generation?

Look, we never planned anything specific for ourselves. But yes, many people come up to me in the street and thank me because they have changed their lives, and they have encountered a little courage or happiness in some song of ours.

Whether we are a symbol or not, until now I wouldn’t have dared to tell you. Now, I know that many people support us because we support the people, you know? Because we talk about the problems of the people. It is like a marriage that we have with the people.

In fact I have to take a course to be an artist because I don’t have a car nor a palace, I don’t have a way to hide myself from anyone. And also sometimes I can’t go to see someone singing because I don’t have money and I have to eat like everyone else. Imagine what a strange kind of artist I am…

-In many of your songs I have listened to, referring to yourself in relation to other rappers, you say things like “we are those who show our faces,” “we say what you don’t dare to say.” For Los Aldeanos, is it an inherent function of rap to be critics as you are with respect to politics?

Here each has their own distinct point of view, but for me this is what rap is. It is social denunciation, an abundance of style, it is to say things in the most clever way possible. It is floating. But I can’t stop seeing the rapper as the mambí of today. It is above the bullets.

And for this I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble and my mom has to go through it all with me. But for me there’s no other way to look at it. For me, rap should always bring its courage, we have to remember that those of us who have this music are here and they can’t shut us up.

Also, man, how can such a strong rhythm in a such a fucked up society talk about other things?

– What’s it like for you day by day carrying the little sign on your backs that says “counterrevolutionary”?

It’s not easy, you know… State Security does not call me. They don’t talk to me. But they call my friends. And they suffocate them, threaten then in a thousand ways.

And yet, so you can see the hypocrisy, when we are in the street with our friends, quiet, sharing a bottle of rum, the police come and arrest us for reasons they invent, they take us to the station and there other cops ask for our autographs. And to top it off, it’s the same State Security that gets us out of there, as if they’re saying, “Leave these boys alone.”

A little while ago we gave a concert in Holguin and when we went through Camaguey we were arrested. Because we embody a (police) goal, we argue and we end up in jail. And we always know that, at bottom, it’s about the music we make.

Other time we gave a concert in Pinar del Rio, and at the end a guy came and said to us, “You are counterrevolutionaries,” and again, we were in jail. That time we had a huge argument with them at the station, because they made us strip and all because they filmed us and we wanted to get the tape from them…

Some time ago the Sector Chief came with seven cops and took the computers in my house, on the pretext that I was selling movies. They’d already taken them and I had to call Silvito’s dad (Silvio Rodriguez) and say he had given them to me, and then they returned them to me, although I had to go get them, they didn’t bring them back to the house. The two computers, mine and my sister’s.

That time they argued a lot with me, you know. Because it’s not easy for me to come to your house and take your cap… your cap, that I didn’t buy you, and it cost you enough sacrifice. And without a warrant or anything: “I’m taking this,” and that’s it.

And still, as you can see, there are many people out there who say nothing happens to us because we are State Security… I don’t pick fights with them. I’m trying to get them to fight for themselves, and they respond to us like that. I can’t think about it because I get more depressed.

– After hearing songs like They Crushed Us, which is so upsetting for young people, one has to ask: Do Los Aldeanos have a pessimistic vision of our generation?

Chico, it’s that life gives back to people what they live, and makes them think that way.

When you’ve had friends, and those friends have betrayed you and abandoned you at your most difficult times, when they’ve exchanged ten years of friendship for two hundred pesos, when you feel people all around you but at the same time feel alone, it’s hard not to have a pessimistic vision.

And I wouldn’t even call it pessimism… I would call it realism. It’s what I see so much around me.

Right now you go out on the streets and find a whole bunch of thugs who want to stab you just because you stepped on them, but they change their tune when they see an officer.

Guys who don’t have the capacity to confront the authorities and tell them they don’t feel good about the way they are treated. So how can I not take a pessimistic view of my surroundings?

For me, today Cuba is a paradise of injustice, because for so many parts of the world it’s seen as a “happy face,” but here, inside, there are thousands of fakeries and lies and sad things. And I think the greatest part of the fault for that is our own because we allow it.

Then a young man takes out his frustration in the street, with violence. He acts all tough with me, sticks a knife in me… Hey dude! I eat the same eggs as you, ride the same bus as you, your mama cries when the power goes out just like mine does.

I can’t understand that this is happening with our youth. And that a girl has to give it up for foreigners, old farts. I could understand if she did it to feed her child, but not to dress better, not to have a cell phone in her pocket.

I believe that as long as these things are happening in Cuba without anyone stepping on the brake, while I see so many ugly things every day, I will continue to have a pessimistic vision of what I see around me. And I will continue rapping.

August 4, 2010