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Wandering along San Lázaro Street, I encountered a man with a wheelbarrow. It was just when I needed a friend to move two bags of sand to the home of a relative. His human-powered vehicle was a hybrid of scooter and a wheelbarrow, constructed with huge roller bearings, but instead of four he only had two on the front; the bottom was a structure made from rebar covered with a kind of mesh used in chicken coops.
After agreeing on a price, we walked the seven blocks separating us from the site where they sold building materials. On the way, I noticed that his wagon wasn’t empty, but contained two objects difficult to define.
“And what have you got there?”
“Aluminum, to sell as raw material.”
“But what are those aluminum things?”
“Now they’re junk but they were gas meters.”
“Oh! I get it! Surely this is part of the plan to replace the old meters with newer more efficient ones… and how did you come by these old meters?”
“These aren’t old, they’re new. Can’t you see they’re aluminum. What happens is I smash them with a sledgehammer to make them unusable, and then they accept them from me as raw material.”
For a moment I ran out of questions, in fact even out of words. Finally we put the two bags of sand on the vehicle and retraced the seven blocks to the home of my friend’s relative. Before leaving I asked him,
“And what happens if the police catch you with the smashed meters?”
“I don’t know. They’ve never caught me. Surely they would tell me something about I’m transporting objects of dubious origin. But what’s that got to do with it? Your sand is of dubious origin and I myself have no official address here in Havana so I am also of dubious origin. Come on, man, are you going to tell me there is something in this country that isn’t of dubious origin?”
25 November 2013
Early in the morning the program “Good Morning” featured a segment called “Good Sense” dedicated to the topic of how Cubans behave in public places. Sports facilities, lines, buses and others.
There were man-on-the-street interviews and phone calls. They talked about public insults to referees and athletes, what happens at concerts at La Tropical where things may end with machetes, they mentioned family violence as well as in schools where children are often the victims. The “celebrity” guest was a psychologist who explained the different kinds of violence, including physical, where she enumerated insults, threats and intimidation.
After listening to the usual opinions about how education should be shared between the school and the family, and some on-street interviews, I found stunning the absence of any discussion of a transcendentally important issue when talking about violent and aggressive behavior by Cubans in public: that is, the repudiation rallies.
How can the official media criticize a behavior that is promoted by government institutions without making any reference to this obvious contradiction?
Fool that I am, I turned to the telephone numbers displayed on the screen to solicit audience opinions. I had the good fortune to be dealt with by the program director (or by a woman’s voice who identified herself as such). Trying not to fall into what I was criticizing and as moderately as I was capable of, I snapped at the poor woman my concerns. She thanked me for my participation in the segment and I, fool that I am, continued to stare at the screen until the final goodbyes, without hearing any mention of my opinion.
I already said I was a fool, don’t remind me again, but even if I’d tried I couldn’t have written this post without some commentator criticizing me for having kept my opinions to myself.
In the end, I’m left with this question: Isn’t it a demonstration of violence to use the power of the editors to annul my humble participation?
11 November 2013
The application in an experimental form of a new regulation on the marketing of agricultural products, contained in Decree Law 318, shows that the bureaucratic bonds that stem from the State’s desire for control have been and continue to be one of the major causes of the shortage of food.
The geniuses of the Ministry of Agriculture having just discovered that the competition generated by the emergence of other forms of buy-and-sell will have a regulatory role in setting prices, have arrived at the novel conclusion that the balance between supply and demand directly impacts production and have come to the realization — the wonders of human thought! — that the less they want to control things the better they go.
But they are still dominated by the temptation of keeping their hands on the reins. They fear that the savage best of the market will devour in one bite or knock down in one blow their jockey of central planning.
*Translator’s note: To explain the illustration of this post… the phrase Reinaldo uses is “discovering warm water.”
8 November 2013
Great festivities today celebrated the 500th anniversary of the founding of Bayamo.
It was Diego Velázquez who, on 5 November 1513, christened this region as San Salvador de Bayamo. If we apply the same logic which leads the Cuban government not to celebrate Cuba’s independence day on May 20, we would have to be against celebrating what is, according to this way of thinking, a conquering victory by the Spanish invaders of our island. My share of aboriginal blood, recalling Hatuey’s ordeal, seethes with anger at the armed revelry for this event.
Television dedicated its prime-time show, The Roundtable, to this celebration, while the newspaper Granma filled its front page with a chronicle worthy of the Euphrates Valley (if it weren’t for the spelling mistake which, in Spanish, turned “burning” into “arm”), in which there is not the slightest allusion to the crimes that foundation allowed.
Personally, I feel good that each people has its own traditions and celebrations, starting with its birthday, what I can’t understand is the double standard that brings those who rule Cuba to remember with joy the act of conquering, and to ignore the instant we deprived ourselves of the metropolis, as incomplete as it was, as mediated by the Republic.
6 November 2013
The impressions of recent days will not fit in the brevity of a post, but it is my fault for not updating my blog while outside Cuba. First of all, friends. Embracing Ivan Canas, Pablo Fernandez, Celso Rodriguez, former colleagues of the magazine Cuba International (I had already seen before Raul Rivero and Manuel Pereira Salado Minerva); reconnecting with José Antonio García, Adolfo Fernandez, Jose Antonio Evora, Alcibiades Hidalgo; to meet personally dozens of compatriots in exile whom I knew only from telephone contact, old and young generations of Cubans, all of them anxious to do something for their country, “How can we help?” they asked in every corner we visited … “How about this?” And one assumes the huge commitment of lifting spirits or lowering expectations and finally returning to the island to see with the renewed perspective provided by the interweaving of views with different trends.
Upon returning from distant shores one’s soul is filled with mourning and shadow: the repression increases, the process of reforms stops and reverses, fear silences protests, simulation sculpts masks, corruption metastasizes, cities crumble, while others continue to sing their eternal flattery of the powerful, the media hides the reality and the reality suffocates citizens, who confront the dilemma of emigrating, faking compliance, or challenging. Cuba is going badly and time threatens to make the damages caused irreversible. I am overwhelmed by the responsibility of not doing enough.
4 November 2013
When I heard this morning that Oscar Espinosa Chepe had died, some memories of the prominent Cuban economist came to mind. I had the privilege, the pleasure, of meeting him in person; he offered a master class on the Cuban economy in our Blogger Academy and participated on one occasion in the taping of our show, Citizens’ Reasons.
On several occasions I visited him at home where he always received me surrounded by books and an immense collection of paper, where only he seemed to know exactly how to find each document. Many were the times I consulted with him by phone on the definition of some concept, an exact date, or something even more valuable, his personal assessment of some matter. I always received from him a response filled with wisdom and tinged with a sincere affection.
But among all these memories, I don’t know why, that which stands out is his spontaneous smile when he heard an idea that seemed suggestive, or when he remembered some anecdote from his life filled with accomplishments. His wife, the journalist Miriam Leyva, was his guardian angel, she assisted him in everything and constantly defended him from anything that could affect him. She knows better than anyone what that smile represented.
23 September 2013
The theme of social indiscipline occupied an important space on the national television news this morning. Music played too loud, trash thrown off balconies, graffiti on public walls, the rubble in the middle of the street, and many more examples from daily life, especially in the country’s capital. We learned that there are “Operations Groups” dedicated to detecting and punishing such irregularities.
Many of these indisciplines, dare I say most, are the reflection of a combination of two elements: on the one hand the lack of conditions to make things as they should be, and on the other the lack of civic education that leads citizens to behave in an uncivilized way. I have seen some tourists (obviously foreigners) walk for blocks and blocks carrying the little paper wrappings from peanuts, while local pedestrians happily throw them anywhere at all. Neither ever found a bin to dispose of their trash. And some residents, when they’re forced to solve their problem of access to the sewer, have had no choice but to cut into the street, thus creating a new pothole in the city.
In fact, one could say that “nothing justifies” the commission of an indiscipline that affects the community, but the truth is that many of them have at least one explanation. And, indeed, there is an overarching general explanation related to this “acimarronada“* conduct of thousands of Cubans every day, and it is the lack of resources available to address our problems, coupled with little ability to participate in the decisions that affect society as a whole.
As always, duties and rights must go together. When the State only seems interested in citizens fulfilling their duties, it entrenches them in their rights and they ignore all the rules. Such a situation is a breeding ground for other excesses, unjustifiable and difficult to explain.
*Translator’s note: “Acimarronada” comes from word cimarrones, runaway slaves. It refers to the way Cubans pretend to do and think one thing, but in reality are always thinking of fleeing.
27 August 2013
Perhaps the most interesting and at times heated discussion of today with regards to Cuba is that around whether or not it is lawful to recognize that changes are occurring in the country. In this area the most frequent responses are usually: “Nothing has changed here,” or “Things are changing, but not enough.” What I haven’t heard anyone say is: “We’ve already changed everything that needs to be changed.”
Someone told me that in North Korea the most recent of the Kims authorized six new styles of haircuts as part of what he considers a process of reforms. I don’t dare assert that this is true, but I like the example. One can’t deny that a measure of this type, apart from highlighting the existing level of prohibitions, would have to have brought ounces of joy to Koreans, especially the youngest.
I remember how some foreign correspondents accredited in Havana celebrated, almost with jubilation, the news that we Cubans could now legally contract for cellphone service. Suddenly the cancellation of a xenophobic ban, which for years had placed nationals in a humiliating and discriminatory situation, was exposed, along with the permission to stay in hotels, as an unequivocal sign that Raul’s reforms were serious.
Later, in drips and drabs, we were authorized to sell houses and cars, the list of approved self-employment occupations was expanded, the hiring of labor was permitted, and some extensions were made in the matter of land leased in usufruct.
More recently, the long awaited and controversial migration and travel reform was approved, and some places were opened where one can connect to the Internet. Right now the so-called “non-agricultural cooperatives” have the illusion that they will be the prelude to small and medium-sized private businesses.
Surely I’ve forgotten some aspect that could be incorporated in the rosary on which the prayers for change are said, especially in some academic circles, however it is not in the tiresome enumeration of the previously mentioned measures where it can be demonstrated that something is moving in Cuba. The change is seen in the results.
Starting with cellphones, I must say that the vast majority of opponents, independent journalists, bloggers, human rights activists and other spheres of civil society, use this tool systematically, especially to communicate any complaints or news via text messages or tweets.
The decrease in the dependence on the State sector, personified by nearly half a million self-employed in the country, has produced a change of expectations in the work environment, with deep social and political connotations.
The now numerous trips abroad by the majority of the opposition leaders and civil society activists, has contributed to breaking what was, until now, a monopoly on the export of a vision of the country in international events, and has encouraged a stream of contacts at the highest level between Cubans on the Island and those in the diaspora.
Moreover, and no less important, the middle class is no longer demonized, and taking advantage of the decrease in prejudice against them they have started to find their own spaces, initially to exercise their inherent consumer exhibitionism; sooner or later to develop new external paradigms and to negate all the “New Man” rhetoric, proclaimed by the now-exhausted social engineering of Communist affiliation.
All this has happened in just seven years. The most important argument to deny that these things can be seen as “the change,” and even simply as “changes,” is that the only intention of their promoters is to stay in power.
I share this view in reference to the intention of those who govern, but the paradox is that they have understood that the only way to stay in power is to cede it; and the governed — that is us — we have realized that it is no longer enough to repress us, monitor us, arbitrarily imprison us, to organize hordes to stage repudiation rallies against us. We know they are ceding and we have the civic obligation to take advantage of every inch, as adolescents with authoritarian parents have always done.
If we aren’t capable of seeing and appreciating the cracks that we ourselves have helped to open and widen; if we keep our eyes fixed on what has not changed without noticing what is changing, we run the risk of acting like the elephant that keeps walking in circles around the axis where it once was bound, not realizing that the old rotten stake can no longer hold.
13 August 2013
Sixty years after having initiated the actions to seize power, General-President Raul Castro finds it opportune to emphasize that “the process of transferring the main responsibilities of leadership of the nation to new generations is ongoing, gradual and orderly.”
At a time when those who, as children, founded the Pioneers Organization are beginning to retire, the news makes it clear that “the principals responsible for leading the nation” are not as concerned with the nominations made by Nominations Committee as they are with establishing Articles 73 and 143 of the Cuban Electoral Act; and it is also evident that — given that it is all about a gradual and orderly transfer and not about democratic elections — there is no point to the vote of the parliamentarians who have to approve (or disapprove) such nominations.
Everything is already decided! All that’s lacking is some 1,700 days to produce “the baton.” In some drawer, particularly obscure, lies the list.
29 July 2013
The themes of the Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) congresses over the years could be confused in both their wording as well as their ineffectiveness and the subsequent failure to fulfill them. I remember one, “For a critical, militant and creative journalism,” and others that decency prevents me from presenting here.
Once again the professionals of the press are engaged in another congress. Obviously they didn’t invite any independent journalists or any bloggers. In any event, I offer a slogan as the title of this post, maybe they will even use it.
28 June 2013