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Street people in Havana and Bueno Aires.

In the two photos that I compare here I am not intending to insinuate that it’s the same in Buenos Aires as in Havana, because there will always be people sleeping on the street.

The Havanan (or maybe he is from another province) who sleeps shirtless in the full sun on the centrally-located Avenue of the Presidents at the corner of 23rd, in the heart of El Vedado, has left his shoes in reach of anyone who might steal them, figuring, perhaps, that there’s no one more poor than he. The pants he is wearing are tied with something that clearly isn’t a belt, and one could wager that he has ingested a goodly dose of alcohol. In the background, a reminder of the World Cup, the Argentine flag flies accompanied by one from Germany and another from Brazil.

The Argentine (probably an immigrant) protects himself from a slight chill with perhaps too many clothes and has something like a briefcase for a pillow. His image could illustrate the drama of many unemployed, people who have seen their lives shattered with the latest crisis. Behind him are more or less luxurious cars, contrasting with his misery. On the walls are the libertarian slogans of some graffiti artists that nobody has bothered to paint over. The street looks clean and everyone who passes by ignores him.

If they are sleeping they are dreaming of different, but equally unattainable, things.

28 September 2014

There are many who try to imprint their pronouncements with the hallmark of official discourse. To blend in and achieve uniformity with that language, they select certain words, certain phrases and investigate ways to say typical newspaper articles, academic dissertations or legal allegations.

One of the most recent linguistic elements of this nature consists of a curious pairing in which one part is the concept of “risk perception,” and the other part is “vulnerability.” Meteorologists, epidemiologists, traffic safety specialists, economists, don’t hesitate to say that to the point that the perception of risk is higher, one can reduce the vulnerability of the presumed victims of a danger.

I confess my ignorance of the origin of this equation, which not only seems logical to me but even lucid. I suspect that it has been imported from an international academic environment — perhaps from military strategy or scientific language — when some clever member of a Cuban delegation was caught out there sowing it in the fertile ground of lack of originality in the official phraseology. The funny thing is that the verbal combination is not indebted to either Marxist dialectic or the harangues of the barricade. It’s implacably cold, but catchy.Try it yourself and confirm it. Say, for example, that the lack of information in our press about criminal acts noticeably reduces the perception of risk that a person in the street should have and, as a consequence, increases the vulnerability of a citizen to criminal attacks. The triumphalist tone of the ministerial reports to the Cuban parliament don’t allow an adequate perception of the risks that threaten our society, which leads to greater vulnerability, be it with regards to the economy, education, healthcare, tourism, or anything else.If we think of all the vulnerabilities that open before us, like cracks on the edge of the abyss, when the lack of perception of risk posed by transparency, secrecy, the verticality of command, the lack of citizen participation in decisions, the absence of political debate, the penalization of dissent, in short, it’s scary.Perceiving the risks, decreases our vulnerability.

27 June 2014

Almost 27 years ago the magazine Somos Jóvenes (We Are Young) was born. That edition was historic because of the publication of two investigations, one, The Sandra Case, about prostitution, and the other titled Academic Fraud? In that era we were able to publish a note in the state-owned newspaper Juventude Rebelde (Rebel Youth) announcing the launch of the controversial magazine.

Under the title Academic Fraud? we unmasked one of the negative phenomena of our society, which went far beyond that committed by the students facing their university exams, and manifested itself in other sectors that had nothing to do with the teaching process, at least formally.

Supported by a wide investigation, where there was a survey of students at different schools, Academic Fraud? renounced the expositive style to immerse itself in analysis, provoking among its readers a wealth of questions and solutions.

27 years later thousands of young Havanans were forced to retake a Mathematics exam to get into the university, because the contents of the exam had been leaked and a still unknown number of students had acquired it, in many cases for pay.

I would like to invite the author of that investigation, Luis Manuel Garcia, to update us on his opinion.

And by the way, I recommend reading what he published in this regard in August of 2009 in his Habaneceres* blog .

*Translator’s note: The lead off to this post (in Spanish) is that 280 students were surveyed and asked if they had ever committed academic fraud (i.e. cheated), and 280 admitted to having done it at least once.

26 May 2014

Official institutions should do what they promise they will. If this institution is the most official of all and the promises touch on essential matters, then the inescapable obligation is almost solemn.

With the members of its organization and with the people whom it governs by law, the Cuban Communist Party has at least two outstanding obligations, both of them contracted during the First National Conference, held on 28 January 2012.

One of these is already drafted, “the conceptualization of the fundamental theories of the Cuban economic model,” and the other is the renewal of the Party Central Committee by at least 20%.

This theoretical conceptualization would have to establish the nexus between the Marxist-Leninist doctrine, which charts the course of the socialist system, and the guidelines issued by the Sixth Congress.

It would have to explain that they are not using the rusty arms of capitalism to build socialism, but rather, although what they’re doing now looks like the rules of the market, in reality it is actually central planning and the profits foreign investors will earn, fruits of the labor of Cuban workers, will come not from goodwill, but something that will have to be named in some way.

With regards to the second outstanding debt, “refreshing” the Central Committee, many expect that this 20% renewal includes at least the retiring of the octogenarians and the acceptance of a different code for the new meritocracy, where the participants in the struggle against the prior dictatorship or those present in the heroic tasks for the first years would no longer appear.

Thus there would be Central Committee men and women who never fired at another human being, nor confiscated anyone’s property, nor even risked their own lives for the cause.

I wonder how many PCC militants have raised, among the Party’s core, their concern about this slowness in meeting such elevated commitments. I wonder how many Cubans remember those promises and how many see some kind of hope in their fulfillment.

Some might say I have a good memory. Actually my memory is bad. Very bad.

23 May 2014

14ymedio_logoAs Yoani Sanchez has already announced, midweek this coming week a new digital medium, baptized 14ymedio, will see the light. We have the intention to update it daily and, if possible, more than once a day.

When the Internet becomes, for Cubans, something simple and accessible as it is for every other 21st Century Latin American, perhaps them we’ll be on the list of favorites of housewives who want to make a dessert, of entrepreneurs who want to know where to invest their money, or why not to, of politicians who need to know the trends in public opinion.

Visiting us will be those who are looking to make plans to amuse themselves on the weekend, and those who want to be up-to-date on the latest theater offerings, the best concerts, the newest releases in the bookstores.

We hope to be a reference for every Cubanologist who needs to check a precise date or submerge themselves in the conceptual complexity of the new social thinking, and a reference as well for the absent-minded tourists hearing the name of the country for the first time in their lives. A window into what is happening, our fingers on every pulse, the re-visitor of history, a messenger from the future, all this is what we want to be.

Just because most people will have Internet we won’t begin to be a people without problems, and so 14ymedio proposes to be the voice of the protestors, those persecuted by whatever power, and, most particularly, the longed for space of all those who have a divergent or convergent opinion but who lack a public platform where they can expound on it and submit it for discussion.

Obviously these are long term intentions, but we are starting now because we don’t want the new and inevitable realities that will come to wait for us. In fact, we are not the first to have such ambitious dreams, nor to work to conquer them. Hopefully we won’t be the last!

16 May 2014

With no desire to be paranoid, I want to warn that the peaceful opposition and civil society in Cuba could be on the eve of a very dangerous moment. I remember the 2003 Black Spring shocked public opinion in the midst of the American military intervention in Iraq.

Today the Cuban government seems disposed to “loosen” the repression a little to put itself in sync with the European negotiators, but all this could come to a crashing halt if the conflict in Ukraine provokes a confrontation between the NATO member countries and Russia.

When Cuba’s loyalty to Russia becomes an unacceptable insult to Europe, we will remember the era of the European Common Position on Cuba as a honeymoon. Then there will be no one who promises or pretends that human rights are respected on the Island.

The legacy that the “historic generation” wants to leave to its successors will be a very difficult burden to carry, but an even harder one to drop. May the Lord have mercy upon us.

3 May 2014

1398697393_plaza-de-la-revolucion-primero-de-mayo-cuba-580x326

I haven’t heard that in the last half century someone has managed to bring posters with “politically incorrect” messages to the May Day parade. I don’t doubt it’s been tried; I even believe that with a good dose of ingenuity some brave soul raised a banner with second or third readings. But for this celebration, which has the declared intention of being the largest in the world, I would like to raise (or see) a board where one could read messages like these:

“Raul: the earth isn’t trembling, but we are.

(Appropriate to all employment sectors)

“Millionaires the world over, invest your money in Cuba. We promise not to strike or demand wages.”

(Workers from the Mariel Special Development Zone)

“Doctors had the patience to wait for better wages, we do too.”

(Workers in Education)

“We don’t need independent unions to support the Revolution.”

(Self-employed Cubans)

“No change in the currency will change our attitude to work.”

(Foodworkers Union)

“We don’t need alternative sources of information. What the newspaper Granma tells us is more than enough.”

(Union of Cuban Journalists)

And so on as long as the fantasy lasts us. It wouldn’t be luck, but that texts of this nature would manage to leap the barrier of “Revolutionary vigilance.”

I also doubt–forgive me brave souls–that the necessary dose of courage could be assembled, even to dare subtleties like these.

However, these play-on-words would be harmless jokes, if on the platform they had the gift of reading what is in the minds of those who march (not to mention what those who didn’t attend were thinking). If the invisible posters (by some miracle) soon materialize, then there would be others who would begin to tremble.

28 April 2014

My former colleague Jose Alejandro Rodriguez who aptly handles the Letters to the Editor section in the newspaper Juventud Rebelede (Rebel Youth), last Wednesday published the comments of a reader annoyed by the absence of beer in the snack bars and markets.

Since I noticed the absence of this refreshing liquid a couple of weeks ago, I supposed it would be difficult for anyone to venture to complain about its lack because, if he did so, the intrepid one would betray himself as a consumer of a product considered luxurious in our complex trade relationships.

I remember when our the first hard currency snack bar opened in our neighborhood and the commentators agreed that it would be counting on people who were spending their “bucks” on something that wasn’t a basic necessity. Life demonstrates that we were wrong. Despite the fact that a worker who earns 480 Cuban pesos a month has to work 8 hours to give into the whim for a cold brew, it’s clear that neither Cristal nor Bucanero can be considered privileges of the new rich.

If pitted olives were missing, or Norwegian salmon, maybe no one would notice, except for foreigners living in the country and a few others among the economically well-off, but it happens that there is an authentic popular complaint against the loss of domestic beer and Jose Alejandro has been the first to break the news in the press, although with the limitation that the complaint was directed against “the producing entities, distributors or sellers of beer in Cuba” and that “it’s past time when they should have explained the why so sudden disappearance.”

Why, in the midst of a campaign against secrecy, haven’t our media gone and knocked at the door of those who are obliged to give an explanation? Is it because from the top management of the Department of Revolutionary Orientation no one has sent down the order to address the issue? Or perhaps it’s because no official journalist dares to confess that he himself drinks a brew from time to time or has anything to do with those who do. I myself have been a victim of this unspeakable guilt complex that leads us to give the impression that we are not even aware that beer is missing.

The unborn body of this New Man, who failed among us, usually appears as a ghost to give us a fright when we are about to make a consumer misstep. Touch wood!

14 April 2014

Not a week goes by that we don’t receive a phone call from some Cuban prison to denounce physical abuses, denial of visits, lack of medical care and other outrages. The vast majority are common prisoners, men and women, many of whom say they have been politicized in prison. The majority consider themselves totally innocent of the charges that sent them to prison, others accept their responsibility for the imputed events but feel they’ve received a disproportionate sentence.

It’s almost impossible to verify these complaints and this desire for objectivity from which we suffer keeps us from talking about every case. Our greatest treasure is the credibility we’ve achieved among our readers, but every call provokes a dilemma that makes us see ourselves as egotists or cowards, after listening to a Cuban behind bars spell his name–so we will get it right–and state the name and rank of the boss of his prison, the person who denies him medications, suspends his visits, or sends him to the punishment cell.

However serious the crime committed, no citizen should be helpless against the abuses of power. Whose duty is it to protect their rights?

7 April 2014

Dr. Jeovany Jiménez

In September of 2006 Dr. Jeovany Jiménez, exercising his revolutionary optimism, wrote a letter to the minister of Public Health to protest a ridiculous salary increase that didn’t correspond to the needs nor the expectations of the sector. The response was to disbar him from practicing medicine. Jeovany created a blog, and went to the extreme of a hunger strike. Incredibly, his right to practice medicine was returned to him.

I’m not sure if I should congratulate Jeovany, who is lovingly called “the Chinaman” by his friends. It’s true that in the entire labor history of Cuba, never before has there been such a high salary increase as will be received by public health workers as of this May. It’s clear that on this occasion it’s not about a ridiculous salary increase, because the increases in many cases double the original salary, but it’s also true that in the best of cases the increase received will be enough to buy six pounds of pork and a case of beer. Whether this is a luxury remains to be determined, starting from the esteem those professionals are held in, and what we think they truly deserve.

Over five years, Jeovany Jiménez sent a total of 20 letters, never responded to, to the Minister of Public Health and managed to collect 300 signatures in support of his request. Now they will tell him “that wasn’t the time” and that now all that remains is to show appreciation.

24 March 2014

Link to Original Blog in Spanish

Please help translate

Reinaldo Escobar (1947), an independent journalist since 1989, writes from Cuba where he was born and continues to live. He received his degree in Journalism from the University of Havana in 1971 and subsequently worked for different Cuban publications. His articles can be found in various European publications, and in the digital magazines "Cuba Encuentro" and "Contodos."

Desde Aquí/From Here is a personal undertaking born from the need to write about those topics that fill my head every day but that cannot find a space in the official Cuban media.

reinaldoescobar@desdecuba.com

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