The official media recently reported on the situation in Thailand where the authorities have declared a state of siege, prohibited meetings, established censorship and eliminated several citizen rights. Without the slightest shame, the announcers on Cuban Television News declared themselves shocked by these horrors.

Right now in Cuba, on the eve of the celebration of the Second CELAC Summit, no official institution has decreed any type of special situation, however they have unleashed a wave of arrests and threats against all those who try to gather between the 28th and 29th of January, which are the days the great event will take place.

With complete certainty, the Cuban delegation will happily show its guests a peaceful country where no one protests about anything, even though there is no decree of a state of siege or anything like it.

The truth is, it’s not necessary to take any kind of extraordinary measures. Here there is a permanent Thailand (as that country is now), and if the leaders attending the Summit support fighting against poverty they will admire the Cuban example where not a single beggar will be seen (they’ve all been relocated), nor will they encounter any prostitutes or pickpockets.

I dare say they can be sure that they won’t even see a teenager wearing the school uniform incorrectly, because here we have all been warned… be careful of what you say in the bread line, don’t even dare sneer at a police officer, nor sell anything on the black market. If you suffer from gas, hold it in, knowing that any alteration to the public order could be extremely suspicious.

24 January 2014

On an imprecise date in the ’70s, a rumba teacher tried to explain to a group of Scandinavians how to move their shoulders. He failed until — with the help of a translator — he said the phrase “What do I care?” while rhythmically moving his shoulders up and down. A young redhead captured the essence better than the rest of the group, and while repeating the phrase in a really funny accent, he said to his colleagues, “Now I look like a Cuban!”

I’ve remembered this scene for more than 30 years and it always produces the same mix of amusement and annoyance. Is laziness an essential part of our nature?

State paternalism, coupled with the deliberate intention to favor obedience over creativity, has favored the installation of citizen indifference as an apparently permanent part of Cuban conduct. “What do I care?” says somebody, while tearing out the steel framework at the base of a high tension power line tower to make a pig pen. “So what?” thinks the guard who sees someone throw over the fence of his business products that never get to people. “Makes no never mind to me,” says a third, without a hint of shame, looking away while a few meters in front of him they insult and trample a Lady in White…

Those who rule Cuba continue to believe that inertia is organized with discipline, order and demands, and they shout from their platforms, fists raised high, without noticing the slight but significant movement in the shoulders of the troops.

That rumba teacher died in Finland where he stayed after abandoning a Folklore group while on a tour of Europe. The redheaded Nordic may be a grandfather by now… and us? We’re here, satisfied as the Cubans we are, proudly displaying our laziness and apathy to the beat of the rumba.

10 January 2014

“The efforts to disseminate ideas that deny the vitality of Marxist, Leninist and Martí concepts, should be countered, among other methods, with a creative theoretical conceptualization of the possible conditions of socialism in Cuba as the only alternative with equality and justice for all.” Raul Castro, Santiago de Cuba, January 1, 2014

It’s rare that one finds a paragraph with so much substance with which to disagree. I would start by clarifying that what is countered should not be the efforts to disseminate specific ideas — something relatively easy to achieve with the traditional methods of confiscating books at the airports, blocking Internet pages, suspending telephone service or, as a final resort, unleashing the brutality of the rapid response brigades. No, the real challenge would be countering the ideas in question.

But the paradox is that, to reaffirm the vitality of the ideology that has “scientifically” proven the inevitability of socialism, one has to find a creative conception capable of theoretically sustaining the viability of socialism under current conditions in Cuba. Perhaps these paradigms of the century before last have lost their vitality and are now insufficient.

So as not to be too long-winded, I’ll pass quickly over the affront of equating the poet José Martí with Vladimi Ilych, which is like confusing love with hate or tolerance with resentment. What should not be passed over is that this pig in a poke is trying to set itself up as the only alternative offering equality and justice for all; and knowing the kind of equality and justice we can expect from such a system, we should be even less inclined to ignore it.

This is the second occasion on which the general who rules the country has launched an appeal to the intelligentsia in order to generate a foundation for what is already approved in practice, in this case the Guidelines of the 6th Congress. This should have been the work of the Party Conference (!) which, by the way, should have been held before the Congress.

This is forcing the master chef to swallow a rancid and badly chosen sauce and then asking him to write the recipe, as if it were an innovation, and all this to prevent the diners from enjoying the pleasures of new flavors.

6 January 2014

Six years ago I published a text titled “Disqualified for Dialogue,” where I related what occurred in a police station with some State Security agents. Since that date they haven’t returned to attempt one of these semi-friendly conversations in which “they” try to make me believe that they are keenly interested in hearing my concerns, differences or discrepancies with politics of the Party. Since then I have made the decision never to talk to them again. Why?

Because talking with State Security signifies rewarding the belligerence of a repressive institution that has no legal, political nor moral right to engage in making economic or ideological decisions for the country. Because the main purpose of these conversations is to draw out information from us that will affect other civil society opponents and activists.

Because those are the occasions they also take advantage of to cause trouble, to make us believe that others are selling themselves to a foreign power or collaborating with the intelligence agencies, and are people of low moral stature, lacking in ethics and principles.

Because they try to manipulate us saying that we are salvageable, not mercenaries like the rest, and they misinform us with false hopes, as if they were the ones who were in command of all the destinies of the nation and had the power to be the appropriate vehicle to channel criticisms and complaints.

Because the conditions in which these conversations usually occur involve our going to a site, saying our names and showing our identity cards, while they only introduce themselves using pseudonyms.

Because we do have not opportunity to terminate the dialogue and they are the ones who decide how long to continue listening; we can barely gesture or use appropriate terminology without their saying that we are showing a lack of respect or contempt for authority.

Because we are not allowed to record what they say, nor to invite a witness, while they, for their part, can film and edit the conversation, putting their arms around us or putting a pen in our pockets to give the impression that we are their collaborators.

Because we shouldn’t let them convince us that they know everything: our sexual preferences, the routes our children take to school, the private weaknesses of our friends, the money we have at our disposal, the people we see…

Because nothing of what they say, none of the threats they make or the prohibitions they establish, is delivered in writing, with letterhead, stamp, name, grade, title, signature, appealing to the terms and articles of established laws, as these official institutions should express themselves; rather everything is left on the plane of what these anonymous subjects say “personally,” perhaps because they believe themselves to be “more of a man” (or more of a woman) than any of us.

I don’t talk to them any more, because I am a free man and do not have to give an accounting to anyone of where I go, who I meet, or what projects I have.

- See more at: “Disqualified for Dialogue.”

30 December 2013

Ever since the time, now remote, when dollarization was introduced in the Cuban economy the freebies have been fading away, along with the subsidies and other gifts from the public treasury that our government makes in their inordinate desire — as a poet from the romantic era said — to anticipate the future.

“The invisible currency has disappeared,” we said, surprised and shocked to realize that we could no longer buy refrigerators, washing machines and TVs through merit obtained in our workplaces and that, from then on, it would only be possible to buy those home appliance paying with a currency which, until recently, was known as “the money of the enemy.”

Then came the CUC — the Cuban Convertible Peso — which made the substitution lose some of its obvious symbolic value. The bottom line, however, was not the color of the bills but that, since that catastrophe, it was no longer necessary, in order to acquire useful things, to do voluntary work, attend assemblies, or to participate in a harvest, a microbrigade, or an international mission. Quite the opposite: options include diverting resources, doing things under the table, engaging in some business and in extreme cases selling what one possesses simply because one has a body.

Right now another base (will it be the last?) of the corrosive custom of taming loyalties with privileges is collapsing. The “letters” are over!

Indeed, because when a few years ago the government had “the audacity” to allow Cubans to legally participate in the purchase and sale of private cars, it remained clear that those on display in the agencies, be they new or used, would be sold only to those who could prove that their convertible pesos had been earned in some officially blessed way on some honorable mission backed by the state. Remittances sent from abroad or earnings from a private restaurant or renting rooms to tourists didn’t qualify.

It was then that “the letters” appeared, which at first could only be signed by Carlos Lage — then vice president of the Council of State — and which later were issued by the Ministry of Transport, where the ability of money to be converted into cars rested on a signature.

I’ve been told that there were some seven thousand authorizations to acquire cars that their holders hadn’t yet been able to use, when the order came down from the highest authorities to end this procedure.

Everyone knew that many of the cars bought through this means, at subsidized prices, were immediately resold at market prices, that which a capricious — but not blind — invisible hand, allocated to each commodity; and that the state will now consider it fair to freely sell the vehicles they have in their warehouses.

Those who had the cunning idea of buying the letters before they had been turned into cars have lost their money; those who earned the right to a letter through their diligent work or through flattering their bosses, have lost their illusions. Of what value to them is their noble sacrifice or cowardly silence, their loyal obedience, their abject betrayal?

The next deepening of the Raul reforms could be directed at the buying and selling of home. We are already seeing real estate businesses selling houses and apartments at a competitive or abusive price. But let us have no illusions: those who are waiting in line to receive handouts will not rise up. The old dilemma between applause and desertion will always remain.

20 December 2013

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

bastionbastillaAs details about the Bastion Strategic Exercises 2013 come to be known, doubts and questions emerge.

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.

Reinaldo Escobar
Havana

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

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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