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In the two photos that I compare here I am not intending to insinuate that it’s the same in Buenos Aires as in Havana, because there will always be people sleeping on the street.
The Havanan (or maybe he is from another province) who sleeps shirtless in the full sun on the centrally-located Avenue of the Presidents at the corner of 23rd, in the heart of El Vedado, has left his shoes in reach of anyone who might steal them, figuring, perhaps, that there’s no one more poor than he. The pants he is wearing are tied with something that clearly isn’t a belt, and one could wager that he has ingested a goodly dose of alcohol. In the background, a reminder of the World Cup, the Argentine flag flies accompanied by one from Germany and another from Brazil.
The Argentine (probably an immigrant) protects himself from a slight chill with perhaps too many clothes and has something like a briefcase for a pillow. His image could illustrate the drama of many unemployed, people who have seen their lives shattered with the latest crisis. Behind him are more or less luxurious cars, contrasting with his misery. On the walls are the libertarian slogans of some graffiti artists that nobody has bothered to paint over. The street looks clean and everyone who passes by ignores him.
If they are sleeping they are dreaming of different, but equally unattainable, things.
28 September 2014
Not a week goes by that we don’t receive a phone call from some Cuban prison to denounce physical abuses, denial of visits, lack of medical care and other outrages. The vast majority are common prisoners, men and women, many of whom say they have been politicized in prison. The majority consider themselves totally innocent of the charges that sent them to prison, others accept their responsibility for the imputed events but feel they’ve received a disproportionate sentence.
It’s almost impossible to verify these complaints and this desire for objectivity from which we suffer keeps us from talking about every case. Our greatest treasure is the credibility we’ve achieved among our readers, but every call provokes a dilemma that makes us see ourselves as egotists or cowards, after listening to a Cuban behind bars spell his name–so we will get it right–and state the name and rank of the boss of his prison, the person who denies him medications, suspends his visits, or sends him to the punishment cell.
However serious the crime committed, no citizen should be helpless against the abuses of power. Whose duty is it to protect their rights?
7 April 2014
In September of 2006 Dr. Jeovany Jiménez, exercising his revolutionary optimism, wrote a letter to the minister of Public Health to protest a ridiculous salary increase that didn’t correspond to the needs nor the expectations of the sector. The response was to disbar him from practicing medicine. Jeovany created a blog, and went to the extreme of a hunger strike. Incredibly, his right to practice medicine was returned to him.
I’m not sure if I should congratulate Jeovany, who is lovingly called “the Chinaman” by his friends. It’s true that in the entire labor history of Cuba, never before has there been such a high salary increase as will be received by public health workers as of this May. It’s clear that on this occasion it’s not about a ridiculous salary increase, because the increases in many cases double the original salary, but it’s also true that in the best of cases the increase received will be enough to buy six pounds of pork and a case of beer. Whether this is a luxury remains to be determined, starting from the esteem those professionals are held in, and what we think they truly deserve.
Over five years, Jeovany Jiménez sent a total of 20 letters, never responded to, to the Minister of Public Health and managed to collect 300 signatures in support of his request. Now they will tell him “that wasn’t the time” and that now all that remains is to show appreciation.
24 March 2014
The much discussed Cuban dual monetary system, which has distorted the economy for more than twenty years, seems to be facing its final days. Among the few reports that have been released, it appears it will be the CUP–the Cuban or national peso–that will survive, and the CUC–or Cuban Convertible Peso– that will cease to circulate.
In addition to the actual value of each of these currencies, they differ in that the differ in that if the CUP has a photo of a historical figure, the CUC has a sculpture of the same personage. Also on security issues, CUC far exceeds its alter ego.
The question we ask ourselves is whether there will be a change in the real value of money we earn as wages. How many hours will one have to work–once the money is unified–to buy a pound of spaghetti, a quart of oil or a beer?
We also wonder if we will continue to earn the same and if the prices of merchandise will remain the same. For example, if a refrigerator sells now for 500 CUC, will we have to pay 12,500 CUP for it. To ride the same distance that we pay 3 CUC for in a hard-currency taxi, now costs 10 CUP in an almendrone (the shared taxis for Cubans). How will the price be adjusted when we have a single currency?
The amount of cash that will have to be carried to the store will force the artisans to make larger purses, unless they print new denominations with values of 500 and 1,000 CUP. Rumors are already circulating about the faces we’ll see on the new bills. Juan Almeida and Vilma Espín are the favored candidates.
Although almost no one in Cuba has enough money, some will save the abolished chavitos as souvenirs, at least the coins, a good opportunity for the numismatists.
17 March 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
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
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.
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
At the end of this morning’s TV news magazine, Buenos Dias, conspicuously absent in the official Cuban media was the issue of the North Korean ship loaded with missiles. I am absolutely certain that the coming days will produce nothing like a press conference with the Minister of the Armed Forces to respond to questions from foreign journalists accredited on the Island, not even with the accomplices of the national press. However, I would like to make public, in this small space, what my questions would be, should I be given the opportunity to present them to the minister in question face to face.
- Do you consider that contracting with North Korea for armaments repair services is consistent with the policy or replacing imports set out in the guidelines from the 6th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC)?
- Does Cuba lack the technical facilities and personnel capable of maintaining combat readiness of the armaments available for the defense of the Homeland?
- To what point does the obsolescence of our munitions affect the often proclaimed military invulnerability of Cuba?
- What elements were taken into consideration in choosing North Korea as a destination to repair our armaments instead of contracting this service out to Russia, where they were built?
- Is it true that in the agreements signed by the Cuban government with the USSR there is a commitment established not to re-export the arms acquired?
- The note from the Foreign Ministry (MINREX) mentions that there were two complete rockets on board the North Korean ship. Were they so entirely broken that they had to be shipped in their entirety to be repaired?
- Is the fact that the weapons were covered with sugar an intent to mask the military cargo, or is it a new method of taking advantage of the space?
- To what extent does the Cuban government share the responsibility for not having informed Panama what was being transported in the holds of the ship?
- In the contract signed to repair these armaments in North Korea did the government of Cuba introduce any clause about the discretion, any warning, that would prevent the North Koreans from doing something else with these weapons?
- At what level was this high-risk operation organized? Was it your personal decision or was it known to president Raul Castro?
19 July 2013