You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Desde Aquí / English’ category.
I was eleven on a day in August 1958 when my neighbor Ermeregildo, with tears in his eyes, received his son Jorgito who had arrived covered with bruises after a torture session at the police station in Camagüey. The father of that young man, who was a member of the 26th of July Movement, was a Batista supporter and never stopped saying, between sobs, “The General has to know what barbarities are going on here.”
The general who rules us today has many Ermeregildos who think that he, also, is not aware of certain atrocities, especially with regards to acts of corruption and disrespect for human rights. They assert he is pragmatic and attribute to him a deep paternal feeling for his children and grandchildren; they say his abrupt outbursts are due to so many years surrounded by soldiers; they assert that he prefers to work in a team and even plays the piano very well.
The fault, the grievous fault for the problems of Cuba, cannot be carried by a single person, nor even by the small group of octogenarians who survive at the helm of power under the epithet “the historic generation of the Revolution.” But blame is one thing and responsibility is another.
Those who seek to monopolize the glory of what they exhibit as achievements, should take the responsibility for what only deserves to be called failures.
If there is another Raul I haven’t had the opportunity to meet him. The one I have news of is a man who was looking the other way when his brother committed the errors he now seeks to rectify. The one I know is the one who orders arbitrary arrests and beating, the one who obstinately resists bringing reform to the political camp, the one who proclaims a war without quarter against secrecy and then issues circulars prohibiting the publication of this or that issue.
Ermeregildo declared to me that the general is not to blame. Right now he is writing him a letter to let him know what’s going on.
9 December 2013
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
When Army General Raul Castro Ruz, in his role as President of the National Defense Council, ordered the start of this training, he explained (in my opinion, inaccurately) that this was done with the objective of being prepared “to confront different actions by the enemy.”
So far, not him, nor any other high level official or functionary, has wanted to call the enemy by its proper name, nor have the journalists who write about the issue who — as if they had received an order — have limited themselves to putting phrases in their interviewee’s mouths such as: “Today it’s an exercise, but the Yankees are capable of anything…”; “we will destroy any imperial adventure,” or at best, allusions to “our historic enemy.”
There’s no need to place secret microphones in the rooms where they convened the Leadership of the Organs of Security and Internal Order or the Working Groups or the Provincial Defense Councils, to know that in these instances when they make the plans to “preserve interior order” or “to prevent vandalism,” he directly states the names of other “enemies.” There, they detail what to do with the uncomfortable opponents, who will deal with those captured and what site they should be taken to, and in case things get ugly, what extreme measures should be applied.
The much mentioned “Cuban military doctrine” rests on the principle of “The War of the Whole Power” which has nothing to do with the war of one party of the people against another party of the people.
A philologist friend whispered in my ear that Bastion and Bastille are closely related, sharing the same etymological root. On 14 July 1789, a crowd of Parisians assaulted the infamous prison. And the soldiers located on the Champ de Mars had refused to shoot the people advancing on the fort, not only to release the prisoners but also to seize the ammunition. The rest is well-known history. The Bastille fell into the hands of the people. Many of its stones, from its subsequent demolition, were used to build the Pont de la Concorde — the Peace Bridge.
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
Free access to information for me to have my own opinion.
I want to elect the president by direct vote, not by other means.
Neither militants nor dissidents, all Cubans with the same rights.
End the blockade… and the INTERNAL BLOCKADE.
It’s been six days since the Cuban musician Robertico Carcassés surprised everyone with his daring improvisation in the midst of a concert at the Anti-imperialist Plaza on the Havana Malecon. As with any urban legend, there are versions that add and others that subtract words from his unusual speech. Like many other television viewers, I was watching another channel when the event dedicated to demanding the release of the Ministry of the Interior’s five combatants in the United States was broadcast, but in less than 24 hours I received a text message which reproduced the words where he asked for free access to information, the right to elect a president by direct vote and equal rights for Cubans, be they militants or dissidents, adding the desire to end the blockade and the internal blockade.
There are many of us who envy the luck of the singer. To have a microphone in hand while broadcasting live and direct to the whole nation. Everyone would like to say their piece, personally, if only for a few brief seconds; I would limit myself to demanding the decriminalization of political dissent. Others would ask for freedom of the press or justice before a specific outrage. Robertico Carcassés must have thought very hard about his improvisation. I hope he can come to terms with the consequences.
Now some are criticizing him for what he said and others for what he didn’t say. From this modest space, I congratulate him.
Oh, if I only had a microphone!
16 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