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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

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

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

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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