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This Tuesday, in the morning, tens of thousands of Young Cubans will be taking their history exam as part of their entrance exams to higher education. The main content of the test is Cuban history, and it covers from the wars for independence of the 19th century through the early 21st century. To enter university, one has to pass three exams: mathematics, Spanish and history. The final score on these tests represents 50 percent of the final score that is added to the other 50 percent formed by the cumulative grade point average acquired through three years of high school. Thus, the final scores are accumulated with which students compete for a place to study the major of their choice.
Very often, the opportunity to study a specific major is lost because of a missing decimal point in the final score. That missing decimal point can be the result of giving the wrong answer on the subsection of a single question.
Tomorrow, tens of thousands of Cuban youths’ future will depend on the way they answer questions like these: “When was the Moncada Program* fulfilled?” “What has been the repercussion of the US Blockade against Cuba?” and others of a similar style in which ideology is most important.
Many will answer what is expected of them because to a great extent their chances to fulfill their vocation depends on it. Then, they will have to face the “University is only for Revolutionaries” requisite, and they will have to make new choices, such as attending an act of repudiation**, or raising their hands to participate in a meeting, or applauding something they dislike. But, one day they will laugh at all that, and they will tell their children what they had to do to obtain that college degree hanging on their wall.
* The Moncada Program was a series of demands and measures stated by Fidel Castro in his History Will Absolve Me (La historia me absolverá) speech while conducting his own defense at the trial for his assault to the Moncada Army Barracks in 1953.
** The linked video shows images of an act of repudiation against the author of this blog.
13 May 2013
This Wednesday we will once again see the traditional May Day parade. In a difference from other countries, where the working class takes advantage of these events to make its demands, our workers will march with photos of Hugo Chavez (to whom, at the last moment, this day is dedicated) and will carry a variety of previously approved slogans. The major placards of the day will hold the slogan: “For a prosperous and sustainable Socialism.”
Although it seems incredible, not a single person will carry a sign asking for higher wages (even though the whole world knows and proclaims it that no one has enough to live on), no one will demand the liquidation of the system of dual currency, or a reduction in prices, or the building of affordable housing, or improvements in transportation. Much less will we be able to read something relative to the freedom to unionize or any protest over the elimination of jobs.
The official response to the absence of these demands is that this is a government of the workers and peasants and there is no reason for them to march in protest against themselves. They know that they will have to wait until there are the objective conditions to improve the situation. They have been persuaded that if progress is not faster it is because the country can’t manage to produce more and better and this, it’s obvious, is their own responsibility, so how can they come out in protest?
Those watching the parade from the grandstand have been very busy lately satisfying the conquests of the middle class. The purchase of cars and houses, expanding the cellphone network, freedom to travel the world, marketing of modern home appliances, permission to open a little business and to hire workers, acceptance of the law of supply and demand in the marketplace. Someone from that other sector of the self-employed will happily wave their prosperous flags and, at best, they might even be allowed, in the midst of the parade, to sell something to the workers who are those who ensure their sustainability.
I think it was Lenin who said once that reality is stubborn and obstinate.
29 April 2013
Two new words have been incorporated into the Newspeak of Cuban political officials and leaders: prosperous and sustainable. These “recent” adjectives are greatly used to describe the society they are trying to achieve or the socialism that is supposedly under construction.
Both terms were rolled out in General President Raul Castro’s inauguration speech for his second term, and soon were already appearing on the banners hung behind the presidential table at official events, on TV ads, and very quickly on billboards. In fact part they make up a part of the key slogan of the coming May Day.
In recent decades prosperity has always been seen as a petty bourgeois aspiration, and sustainability as a concept rejected for being opposed to the voluntarism* prevailing in the long years of the mandate of the comandante en jefe, years when the Maximum Leader tried to implement his crazy ideas “at any price.”
It is difficult not to associate prosperity with visible (if not obvious) improvements in the material life of individuals: A comfortable home, appliances, a private vehicle, a balanced diet, clothing that satisfies individual taste, resort vacations and other details that healthy human ambition can add to an endless list.
The best way to understand what the new bosses interpreted as sustainable is to list what has been dismantled as unsustainable: the schools in the countryside, unearned handouts, free workplace cafeterias, inflated payrolls to mask unemployment, decentralization of university education, “social workers”**, the Battle of Ideas as an omnipresent super-ministry investment, and other more abstract things such as the waste of resources and galloping corruption.
As I enjoy playing with words I think that, as a comprehensible goal, a “sustainable prosperity” — the Chinese say “a moderate prosperity” — is better than “prosperous sustainability.” The first step would be to decriminalize prosperity, eliminate forever the persecution against anyone who manages to legitimately improve their life, and for this it would be worth the redundancy to legalize many things, among them the ownership of the means of production and the exploitation of the labor of others, understanding “exploitation” as an economic term, not as cruelty. Where does all this lead. . .?
There are none so blind as those who will not see.
*”Voluntarism” in this context relates to the concept as it was defined by Mao:any social or economic barrier can be overcome by sheer willpower and “voluntary” action.
** “Social work” in this context means an army of young people put to work on government projects.
22 April 2013
After a long time without entering my blog (particularly because of technical difficulties with the DesdeCuba portal) I am here only to tell you that I am alive.
My absence has awakened suspicions that it was Yoani who was writing my texts and not the reverse, as was believed on the birth of Generation Y. Others have said that I’m so busy with domestic matters that I don’t have time for anything. Sneering and more sneering. Don’t worry, I can take it
In these days of technological silence, many things are happening, perhaps the most important being the elections in Venezuela. I would have loved to have had my say here, especially to be mistaken in my hopes, but I say it now: I wish Capriles had won.
April 13th also passed by, a date for which there was a kind of prophecy. As is obvious, nothing happened.
My friend the Cuban photographer Ivan Cañas Boix turned 67, and I couldn’t properly congratulate him, with more hope than nostalgia.
And Yoani’s journey is underway, a topic I resist talking about, out of basic modesty.
Well, friends, the thing is, I’m back. I’ll return on Monday.
19 April 2013
I must be brief because I’m dedicating myself to “the tasks belonging to my sex” while Yoani undertakes her exemplary work as a citizen ambassador. What most caught my attention in the recent “elections” was Raul Castro repeating that Machado Ventura would not leave, nor would we have to wait another day to know the names of the members of the new Council of State. What I most admired was the popular indifference. As I noted in my Twitter account, there were no popular celebrations, people didn’t go out into the street to celebrate the reelection of their leader, the car horns didn’t make the slightest noise, and it didn’t occur to anyone to hang a Cuban flag from their balcony. If we compare this chilly reception with the demonstrations we saw in Ecuador at the reelection of Correa, or the symbolic welcome Chavez received in Venezuela, we have to conclude that those Revolutionary emotions, that overwhelming enthusiasm so bragged about, have died forever.
This will be not only be the last term of Raul Castro, but also the swan song for the already dying Cuban revolution.
25 February 2013
A dozen countries are included in this trip to accept academic invitations and attend social networking and media events. If, as has been said, Yoani was the thermometer to measure the scope of the new travel regulations, we have to accept that — despite its limitations — this is the most important reform implemented by Raul Castro in the political and social realm. A few hours earlier Rosa María Payá, daughter of the deceased opponent Oswaldo Payá, had headed for Europe and now other prominent personalities of civil society, such as Dagoberto Valdez, Berta Soler and Wilfredo Vallin, are arranging their visas.
Currently the travel restrictions are being maintained only against those who were imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003 and who now “enjoy” the status of being on parole but have not been pardoned or reprieved, so by law they are considered to have outstanding convictions.
The presence abroad of those who are now crossing the national borders represents the exercise of popular diplomacy by citizen ambassadors. It breaks the monopoly of the Cuban authorities and its official sector, as the “tolerated inconvenient” spread a version of our reality.
18 February 2013
Alicia Barcena, executive secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), said in Havana that the new economic policies dictated by Raul Castro to make people pay taxes will open the way for there to be responsible citizens. What the Mexican Specialist did not say was that when citizens are given the responsibility to share the social costs through their taxes, they also must provide them legally backed rights to express themselves freely and to associate freely.
To be responsible for the economic costs of a social process about which you have no say, you can not change, can not be an “enviable” practice.
14 February 2013
At ten o’clock this morning, Monday, February 4, not even the government website Cubadebate had fresh news about the final results of the so-called “Elections” in Cuba. Clearly we can bet that all 612 candidates were approved for the 612 posts as Deputies. Perhaps that’s why the news that Fidel Castro has reappeared filled the morning news on TV.
As on every occasion in the past, we will receive, in due time, a flood of numbers that break down by province the number of voters at the polls and the number of annulled and blank ballots. No one will be able to dispute this data, despite the fact the official media insists on proclaiming that any citizen can be present at the time of scrutiny — even foreigners!
The electoral law establishes that on completion of the count, the managers of each polling place will record the results on a blank ballot, identical to that used to cast the votes, where only the names of the candidates appear. This ballot must be displayed to inform the public.
The law is particularly emphatic in insisting that it is forbidden to use any other paper to write out this information. In all these years it hasn’t occurred to anyone to design and print a model where there are spaces for the number of ballots annulled and left blank, along with the number of people appearing at each polling place.
If there were such a model, anyone would have the time to travel around by bike or on foot to the schools in their municipality that served as polling places, and in coordination with others compute the results for the province and at a national level. The lack of such a model would require civil society to have an observer in every one of the 30,000 schools throughout the country to tally this information.
When there is no way to prove, compare, or disprove, with evidence, data of such importance and which generally serves as a measure of discontent, there is a right to suspect the transparency of the process. There are many people who don’t need to know the details I describe here to lack confidence in the electoral results. It is a clarification directed at the unbiased observer who tries to take an objective position.
4 February 2013
After reading Haroldo Dilla’s excellent article in Cubaencuentro I feel compelled to say something on this 160th anniversary of the birth of José Martí.
The earliest memory I have of Martí is from 1953 when I was barely 6 years old and Bohemia magazine had his portrait on the cover. I asked my father, “Who is this guy?” and that was when I got the most painful scolding of my entire life.
I’m not as fervent about Martí as my father would have wanted, but I still believe to this day that no other Cuban surpasses him. The officially-sponsored events about “the balance of the world” that quote him out of context to attack us, making him the intellectual author of so many atrocities, have not dented the respect I have for him. But much time has passed and we are in the 21st century, so it’s absurd to want to understand our world in the light of the 19th.
I have the impression that Our Martí would not have liked that they are using him for all the things they use him for, but I imagine him today with that smile just caught in a blurry photo, looking at us with his barely disguised superiority (“for the common people, their little bit of common music…”).
If your spirit is watching us you will have no choice but to feel sorry for us.
We’ve all had at some time the experience of checking the changes in our visual perception after our pupils dilate. In a dark room where we can’t even see our hands in front our face when we enter, bit by bit we come to distinguish the environment as our eyes become accustomed to the absence of light.
So we are in Cuba in relation to those little flashes of freedom that emerge from some of the measures taken by our leaders. The most recent has been allowing us to watch the Venezuelan channel TELESUR. My colleague Michel Suarez reflected on this in Diario de Cuba, when he spoke about the this new pinhole in the dark. In the comments on his article there was no lack of those who, after ingesting huge gulps of the Coca Cola of forgetting, seemed not to understand the happiness that one drop of water brings to the thirsty, the photo of a country landscape when locked in a cell, an Internet connection at a speed of 56 kw/s in a Havana hotel…
So much time in the darkness has sharpened our vision and it will be this acuity that will allow us to find a way out, and I am not speaking of escape but of a bloodless and civilized solution.
Our rulers, or those “satraps usurping power” as my friend Ramón González prefers to say, will be in Chile now showing themselves off as democrats; who knows if they will promote, there, the ratification of the U.N. Human Rights Covenants now being demanded with such vehemence by Cuban civil society; who knows if, in February, when Raúl Castro is inaugurated for his second term, he will announce the deepening of this “reforms” and now someone will be able to buy a new car at a dealership, and the self-employed will be able to import raw materials, and the land leases will be extended for the current beneficiaries, or any other apparently minor detail.
Here we are, not blindfolded, but with our pupils dilated, detecting the pinholes.