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Archive for June, 2009

Outhouse city

parque-central-urinario
Havana has become a giant outhouse. What at first glance may seem an exaggeration is just another reflection of the total decline: the image of the filthy and stinking general laziness. It is certainly true that throughout the city there are almost no public sanitary services, but I can’t remember that they abounded at any time, at least in the last forty years, and never before now did I perceive so much filth all around. Don’t come and tell me about the lack of hygiene in the slums of many capitals, or of the strong smells that characterize certain third-world cities: evil of many is the consolation of fools. I’m talking about my birth city that once had the beauty and dignity that its characteristic architecture bestowed upon it, its environmental hygiene, its enviable sewer system, and the love of its inhabitants.

Beyond the insufficient (and inefficient) system of solid waste collection –that the permanent landscape of garbage cans filled to the brim and even overflowing imposes on us- the defective plumbing networks, whose frequent ruptures have been responsible for populating our streets with unhealthy and permanent streams, or the lack of sufficient communal labor personnel –in this case, sweepers- to adequately maintain the streets and avenues clean; among a wide sector of the population, mainly of the masculine gender, the practice of improper habits has also become lord. Now it is common to be walking on a public thoroughfare in broad day light and to see a subject next to a lamp post or a wall, urinating with such comfort and familiarity as if he were at home in his own bathroom, with the added “benefit” of not having to flush or lift and lower the toilet’s lid. I have witnessed that scene in many occasions, the most recent about a week ago, around noon, in a block of Árbol Seco, between Carlos III and Estrella, just next to the Carlos III Market, much traveled by pedestrians, where an overwhelming number of cars and people circulate. This time, the subject in question, after leisurely zipping up, got into his car, which was parked nearby, and left! The public bathroom was only a few steps away at the Market, but he chose to exhibit his own shameless brazenness and his contempt towards others by urinating right out there in the street.

 

pocito-y-oquendo-iii-150x150The lower floor of my building, for example, has also become a public toilet, especially on weekends, when there are “cultural” activities at Centro Habana’s “House of Unculture” (formerly Casa Hornedo, at Carlos III, corner of Castillejo), when many of the attendees leave drunk and find the spillway for their bladders here. But the same takes place at other different points of the city: the porches at Carlos III and Oquendo; those on Reina, Monte and Galiano streets, the ones at the majestic Aldama Palace (currently the History Institute), those at the Payret movie house, the ones at the former Diario de la Marina (today Editorial Abril) those of the Centro Asturiano (today the universal art galleries center of the Palace of Fine Arts); all of Manzana de Gómez (Gómez Square), the Capitol building gardens, the Fraternity Park, and even the dirt where the Central Park trees grow. These are only some places where I usually travel. The flowing irritant ammonia smells fill almost every place where we travel in our daily hustle.

And this is just one aspect of the barbarism that has invaded us, there are other, perhaps more egregious manifestations: now we not only have vandals who busy themselves breaking public telephones or looting their coin boxes, there are also acts of spitting into the return coin reservoir, so that the unaware person who picks up his coin after a failed call suddenly finds himself with someone’s sputum caught in his fingers. It is as if people are unleashing their malice and their powerlessness against the city, ultimately just as suffering as its inhabitants.

There are some who feel that this is a form of rebellion. It may be, but, in any case, they are faulty actions that only manage to harm ourselves: it is known that the inhabitants of the Palace of the Revolution, of the El Laguito or of other exclusive areas of the powerful, the most responsible for the material and spiritual poverty that is eroding us, do not walk these streets. I don’t think those who go around soiling the city bear any high ideal or feel any responsibility for their acts. Nor is reveling in filth a solution to our many ills. The capital has filled with delinquent manifestations and other examples of social lack of discipline that do not really speak of the so much cackled about defiance or dignity of a people, but of the appalling state of the moral retrogression we are experiencing, perhaps a simple but visible display of the abyss into which half a century of systematic destruction has plunged us.
Image 1. Central Park grove across the street from hotels “Parque Central” on Neptuno Street and “Inglaterra” and “Telegraph” on Prado Street is one of the open-air, giant urinals in the Cuban capital.

Image 2. The corner of Oquendo and Pocito Streets in Centro Habana, offers this almost permanent, habitual image, of the hygiene that characterizes the city. On the opposite corner is the cafe “El Frisquito”, a food-processing center for secondary school lunchrooms and dining facility for public health workers responsible for the “antivector campaign ” for the prevention of Dengue Fever epidemics

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Not unemployed, “available”

Not unemployed, “available”
Junio 28, 2009 at 17:38 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión
esquina-caliente

Because of that cute way the Cuban revolution has of transforming everything, including the language, you can almost say that we do not speak Spanish here. After decades of constant abuse of the language, where “comrade” substituted “sir”; “provisioning”, “rationing”; “blockade”, “embargo”; “UMAP”, “forced labor camps”; “special period”, “economic crisis”, and a whole very long and unique list of euphemisms, not to mention the historic sorts that convert “setbacks” to “victories”, “defeats” to “moral victories”, “dissidents” to “mercenaries”, “dissatisfied” to “confused”, or any mention of the “Cuban critical socioeconomic situation” to “enemy propaganda”, now it turns out that there are no unemployed on the Island.

Every day, the official press repeats the jingle with glee, as if it were the epitaph of capitalism, of the ever-increasing unemployment figures, mainly in the United States and Europe. Their intention is for us Cubans to feel secure and confident in our benevolent social system “that does not abandon anyone”. Maybe because of that, no matter how much I browse through the eight miserable pages of Granma, and no matter how I fine-tune my hearing and my sight during the broadcasting of the TV news, I cannot find the slightest mention of Cuban workers who, suddenly and in growing sequence, have found themselves taking forced vacations after the sudden shutdown of their work centers. There are so many examples that I am going to limit myself only to what is happening in the town of Güira de Melena, in the province of Havana, a sufficiently documented case by sources affected by the new measures to “save” that imply, in many cases, to cease production, for the absolute purpose of “avoiding expenses”: a phenomenon that could only be legitimized in a system such as ours. Anyway, they have closed the canning, tobacco and carts factories; all employees have been sent home “on vacation” (here they apply another euphemism before the impossibility of calling it “vacation” they prefer to use the phrase “paid rest”). After which, workers will be collecting 60% of their salaries for a few months, and will remain “available” for an indefinite time.

If I understood this substitution of terms correctly –which might well go global to nominate a linguistic-derived science which we might call euphemismology- in the front page news that Granma published this past Saturday, June 20th if we substituted the word “unemployment” for the one used in Cuba, the headline would say that “the availability in Florida exceeds 10%” or that, -according to the Labor Department of that state- there are 417,500 workers “available” in Florida in the last 12 months… Only that they (the American officials) most likely publish it in English or maybe in regular Spanish, languages that appear not to have the rich flexibility of the Cuban revolutionary language.

Illustration: Photograph of a group of baseball enthusiasts who meet every day from morning to sunset, year-round, in a fixed area of Central Park, -in the shade of the trees to the left of the statue of the Apostle- only to have heated discussions about that sport. The vast majority are men of working age. It is unknown whether they can be officially called “unemployed” or “available”. The sources of their livelihood are also unknown, but the truth is that they are either not disposed to join the government jobs or are evidence of the new system of “savings” upheld by the revolution.

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Captain Hook

garfio2
june 26, 1990

An article published in Granma this past June 16 referred to Operation Peter Pan, which separated -according to figures cited in the newspaper- more than 14,000 Cuban children from their parents due to a lie released from the CIA in the early days of the revolution. The imperialist “lie” stated that the Cuban State would snatch parents’ rights to their children in order to subject them to communist indoctrination. The author of the article in Granma maintains that now, in Venezuela, a campaign backed by the CIA against the Bolivarian revolution has been unleashed in which the same point is argued, namely that the Organic Education Law promoted by the Venezuelan government “would grab the children’s custody from their parents”.

Beyond the forced similarities in the Cuban process, which the Venezuelan government, in a disproportionate lack of originality, insists on advocating and of which the people of Venezuela should take account and effects, the occasion leads me to review, after so many years, the events that took place the deep darkness and evil that surrounds the mentioned Operation in Cuban history. The official information relating to that undercover event stands out because of its tangential and meager nature, and it raises more questions than answers. For starters, the sheer number of children involved in that difficult episode that official sources have cited would need further study and wider dissemination of facts. The use of children as a playing card in the game of politics is too dirty a chapter, whether by one party or another, and, in the case of Operation Peter Pan, it seems to have been the wildcards of two contenders, not just of one.

One of the most basic questions could be that if the Cuban government mobilized the nation in 1998 to recover the child Elián, even so far as to paralyze the country because of the colossal political campaign, even though -it was known-, the father had all the rights and advantages to win the case, as eventually happened, why were those thousands of children, victims of the operations of the CIA, not claimed at that point? Was it that other interests besides those of the dark agency were at play? Was it that Cubans, who have a special sensibility for children, wouldn’t have mobilized themselves in favor of the plight of those children? Why didn’t the magnanimous and just revolution call on its ever-enthusiastic people? After almost 50 years of that perfidy, in whose political favor did the Operation Peter Pan result? Who are all those who were responsible? Did not one of the thousands of affected parents try to recover their children? What help did the revolution offer these parents? I do not know the answers.

Operation Peter Pan, despite its dramatic burden, is not studied in Cuban History school programs, apparently the Protest at Baraguá or the current 5 heroes are more important than the virtual kidnapping of thousands of Cuban children. They are not spoken of in classrooms, they are not remembered, and they are barely mentioned tangentially in brief and sporadic references of the official press, as in this one presented by Granma.

Nonetheless, there was some semblance of reality in the CIA conspiracy. The revolution snatched the parental rights from millions of Cuban parents though not de jure, but de facto. Just a superficial review of these 50 years is enough: at first -and for a sufficiently long time- the government took advantage of its popular support and charm and cleverly manipulated the psychology of the masses to achieve its purposes. Many parents agreed to the separation of children from their homes when they were barely teenagers. Let’s remember, what ages many of those who were sent to alphabetize were, those who were separated from their families at the behest of the revolutionary government to venture into the most remote parts of the island? And the peasant women welcomed into the famous program “Ana Betancourt”? And the “little Camilos” who studied in military schools under a regime of internship from the seventh grade? Later on, what would start out as “volunteerism” of parents and children would turn mandatory: the Field schools, where adolescents stayed in rustic shelters and promiscuous conditions for 45 days, far from their elders. In the 1970’s, Field schools were opened, with students placed on a voluntary basis at first. First there were the secondary schools (ESBEC), after that, the pre-universitary (IPUEC) and “vocational (IPUEVC) schools, with the last two schools ending up as mandatory in the 1990’s for anyone who wished to attain a high school graduation.

Skillfully, over the years, the revolutionary government introduced a wedge which tended to separate children from their parents in order to brain-wash them at will. Towards that end, it centralized and monopolized education, and eliminated any alternative to the official indoctrination without any help from the CIA. This government has been responsible for disavowing the family and supplanting it in the rearing of children, now we are reaping the fruit of such a purpose: the young have not found the bright future that stepfather State had promised, and they do not respond to the interests of the revolution any more. But, at the same time, many of them, brought up far from home, have lost the concept of family and the values that were traditionally passed on. The revolution has meant, in a thousand different ways, the fragmentation of the Cuban family, and, with it, a cultural loss that could be irreparable for purposes of the Nation. Surely, the CIA could have created an occasional monstrosity called Operation Peter Pan decades ago, but the “educative” work of the Cuban government –half a century of permanent abduction of children- could very well have been plotted by Captain Hook himself.

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Restaurant Europa

Jun 24, 2009
cafe-europa

In the early days of this blog I wrote a post dedicated to what once was the most popular pizzeria in Old Havana, located at the corner of Obispo and Aguiar. At that time, I made the comment that a luxurious restaurant with elegant glass doors had opened up there after many repairs and beautification work. It had elegant glass doors engraved with the initials R E, lamps, glassware, exceptionally white tablecloths and all the paraphernalia that makes up the pomp and trappings of elitist, exclusive and expensive places. So upscale was that place that they did not allow me –in my strident plebeianism- to take pictures of the interior and I had to be content with an image of the entrance, shut out due to the indiscretions of an impertinent native, a photograph that I published along with the text.
Readers can imagine my surprise when, during a recent stroll by the central corner where the restaurant is located, I found the most rampant decadence: the zealous doormen, the refined atmosphere and air conditioning had disappeared; all the doors were open wide, the restaurant’s menu was posted on the façade of the carefully framed main entrance, such that –and here is where you can appreciate the full scope the apotheosis of Cubanism in socialist conditions- the most visible in the setting is a coarse slate board covered in the sloppiest handwriting, advertising a tempting offer that, transcribed faithfully to the point where this blogger could, read as follows:

Special Offer
- Rolls and bread and Butter
- B & B (don’t ask me what this is, I don’t know for sure, but logic dictates that it should be the same item as on the first line -bread and butter, by their English initials)
- Caribbean Soup
- Caribbean (an illegible word follows) Soup
- Filet of Fish Grillé
- Grilled Filed of Fish
- Coffee and Caramel Flan
- (there is an illegible line here)
Price: CUC 6.50

I swear that when, unable to avoid a smile, I stopped to read the blackboard, a solicitous waiter (or the maître d’himself) came out and approached me in order to encourage me politely to enter and savor an offer he described as “exquisite.” Nothing at all, times are bad and, seemingly, even the most hoity-toity have started to drop their tufts. Anyway, I declined because I did not have any intention to have lunch there: I cannot allow myself costly experiments of dubious results for my digestion; I prefer to welcome my cheaper and safer home cooking. Moreover, if the seasonings there have the same degree of exquisiteness as the entrance’s blackboard… I don’t know, I cannot go in. And the truth is that very few decide to do it, judging by the few customers in the place at peak lunch time. I still think that, whether it was as the former lunchonette that occupied that space or as the pizzeria that I knew, any one of Europa’s pasts were, without a doubt, better.

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Apologetic memoir of an old building

instituto-de-la-habana

Who’s going to sting? The wasp
Who’s going to win? Havana
Who’s the most astute? The Institute
From where? From Havana

I trust that many readers will recognize the building in the photograph. To those who do not know it, I tell them it is the “pre” in Havana, or –to those who are more attached to the good old traditions- the Havana Institute of Secondary Education. Many generations of Cubans went through this massive and compact building to egress proud with our brand new Bachelors of Science and Letters diplomas –that is what the official document said- full of illusions about the next upcoming admission to university classrooms.

Watching this building always brings me a flood of memories, all of them friendly and surprisingly close, despite the 32 years that have passed since I finished high school. I can almost see the happy student groups in white and blue uniforms; perceive the shocks of the exams; recall the projects for the future, so remote then, but definitely different from the reality we ended up with; listen to the constant jokes and laughter; surprise forbidden conversations complicities, fleeting love affairs, the first cigarettes. Dozens of faces are drawn in my memory, some closer and more familiar than others, but, today, all of them definitely endearing. So many of them dispersed now around the world!

We, the young people at Havana Institute had a strong sense of belonging to its spaces. We loved its solid structure of blocks of stone, its wide staircase, its sunny inner courtyards, its hallways, the glittering stained glass windows of the Aula Magna, solemn and big, with its imposing podium and mahogany furniture, the upper porch overlooking Zulueta street; the lobby, decorated with classical columns and ending at the majestic marble inner staircase; the elegant grid work on the ground floor windows; the classrooms’ glass blackboards, its well-appointed laboratories… A building designed for teaching the way they don’t build them anymore. When I was a student there, the Pre still had its own newspaper, “La Avispa” (The Wasp), edited by a group of students -barely the thinnest of periodical rags, printed on an old mimeograph in the basement of the building, -with quite an irregular publication, but somehow carrying in it the reminiscences of the past, something like a breath of autonomy of the old republican times, when the building’s classrooms were a strong outpost of freedom and civil society discussions through the voices of its students. We were aware that, in the past, a good portion of the pillars of the Cuban intellect, of the leaders of civic thought of the Republic had been shaped there.

One fateful day in the 1990’s Havana Institute ceased to be. All of the city’s pre-university education centers had gradually been moving to the countryside since the mid-80’s by official decree, and, inexorably, our turn came too. Thereafter, high school students were required to study under an internship regime in the horrific prefab dorm blocks that, -for better indoctrination, away from family influence and control- had been built. For a time, the classrooms and hallways of the ancient building became silent, orphaned of its youth and the spirit that it had sheltered over almost a century. Under the auspices of the city’s Historian, they worked towards its complete renovation and finally reopened, this time as an “experimental” basic secondary school -a title usually given here to institutions that enjoy special attention-, “focal point” (another of the system’s nobility titles) and model showcase of what the authorities understand as an example of excellence in average education. Needless to say, the openings for admission of adolescents to the school are very sought-after and are awarded after previous careful selection by the officials of the Municipal Department of Education.

I have recently learned that soon the secondary school that occupies the building will be moved to the Convent of Bethlehem. It is said that this building will again become the Havana Preparatory Institute and, in a certain way, it makes me happy that it is so. My fertile imagination makes me suppose that the economical critical conditions and the lack of government liquidity have become unable to sustain the charge of thousands of interned students, which the government –in virtue of its own laws and the brilliant initiatives of our “invincible” leader- is obliged to ensure, albeit minimal, food, uniforms and provide elemental material involving accommodations and transportation. But perhaps these are merely my own assumptions and the reopening of the Institute only represents the whims from on high or -more probably- one of our Historian’s impulses of nostalgia. Anyway, in this case, I couldn’t but appreciate that his bursts of nostalgia will have a more effective result than those of this obscure blogger.

But I don’t know. Something tells me that things will not be the same as before. I don’t know if any of the excellent teachers that the Institute had then are still left; I don’t know if, under the current conditions of widespread deterioration, there still will be enough professionals with such zeal for the quality of education; I don’t know if students are as naïve and trusting or if they will have so many hopes as we and the ones before us or the ones shortly after had then. I would like to believe that indeed, one day the Institute with the greatest tradition in this country will once again be what it was and even better. I would like to believe that maybe in that place the illusions of many generations of Cubans will be forged in a possible and relatively near future by the forces of love, will and dreams, and that they may be capable of reconstructing and creating something valuable and permanent on the ruins of Cuba. And, on reflection, I also believe that, after all, it is best that they never be as naïve and trusting as we were.

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esbu-baragua

At the end of the 2002-2003 school year, a new way was implemented in the high school students schedules in Cuba: henceforth it would be called a “single schedule”, according to which they would be required to stay from the morning until the end of the afternoon session without the usual lunch break at their respective homes. Since the times of the crisis known here as the “Special Period” that began with the demise of the USSR and the collapse of the socialist camp, school lunches in primary grades had begun to decline until their almost total disappearance. For their part, secondary grades by then no longer provided that service. From the time of the introduction of the “single schedule”, lunch for high school students would be reintroduced in the form of a free snack, generously secured and distributed by the government. Food would be prepared in a “processing center” in each municipality, and would consist of bread with some “protein component” and a beverage of a milky appearance, -and only in appearance- which is soy yogurt, it is said. The ration: bread with whatever they put inside it and a glass of the mysterious liquid for each student.

The establishment of this new schedule was not, of course, optional. An example of this was the parents’ meeting convened on the yard of the “Protest of Baraguá” secondary basic school in Centro Habana at the start of the new schedule, where a civil servant and teacher, to the disapproval of many present and, sadly, the approval of some others, hollered with the greatest flippancy that we are “not asking permission from the parents, but simply informing them that, in the future, their children would not go home for lunch and would remain in school until the afternoon dismissal time. Period.

The single-schedule -as was established- was created on the basis of great outlays by the state to resolve the problem of working parents who thus cannot prepare lunch for their children, as well as to prevent teens from hanging out on the streets without the control of their elders. In turn, it would ensure adequate nutrition for those children whose homes have scarce economic resources, that is, in order to improve nutrition and for the school to keep control of the students at such critical age period, between 12 and 15 years old. Put this way, and with the exception of the mandatory nature of the measure that once again juggles the responsibility and duty of parents in favor of the State, it might even seem somewhat positive. Notwithstanding the official speech also used, for lack of better arguments, another old pretext: the school snack, since it is the same for everyone, “equalized” the students, eliminating differences between those who belong to families with lesser incomes and the more advantaged. In order to enforce the sacred egalitarian principle that always applies to the people (and only to the people), teachers would prevent school access to those parents who chose to take the initiative to bring lunch for their children at mid-day.

Immediate experience would prove the failure of the measure: parents who have financial potential send their children to school with a bowl of home lunch in their backpacks, or they get it across to them at midday by passing it as “contraband” through the school fence, or tricking/bribing the monitoring teachers. That is, not only are the abysmal differences among students who “have” and poorer ones maintained, but in addition, -by the work and grace of the official mandates- now those with meager recourses must be content with consuming the unpleasant government snack or go hungry (almost the same thing) while they watch with their own eyes the food that the more fortunate ones can afford, such differences that previously were kept discretely hidden within the intimate familial framework.

Side effects were not slow in arriving: students who reject the official ration dispose of it right into the trash, which constitutes a real and unnecessary squandering of resources, there are known cases of teachers who collect the snacks the students discard for the feeding of animals or to sell whatever is between the slices of bread, as is the case with the melted cheese (so often rancid) that the pizza merchants recycle, in some centers there have also been cases of students grabbing the lunch of the weaker ones; transportation for the distribution of snacks is often late, or has defective refrigeration, resulting in the deterioration of the food, which does not mean replacement or suspension of its delivery.

Once again, the generalizing of arrangements shows its proverbial ineffectiveness. Poverty technocrats cannot understand that -whether they want to or not- there are differences among the population, counter to teens and young people attending the same schools and having the same teachers. As for the feeding of schoolchildren, a preliminary case study would have allowed the children of working parents or cases of economic hardships to benefit with the reestablishment of the school lunch as it existed in previous years. This would have also meant savings of state recourses, which could be used to improve the quality of the diet of the children and young people participating in this program. But neither should we be naïve. We know that the real intention of government is not feeding or caring for our children but to play politics at their expense. This is demonstrated on a daily basis by speech and the official press, and it is repeated by the external slaves of the regime, comfortably wedged in the limbo that in Cuba defines the boundaries between misgovernment and the misgoverned.

Photo: ESBU “Protest at Baraguá” located at Pocito Street, between Castillejo and Hospital Streets, Centro Habana.

* A version of this post was published in the digital journal Contodos that was published in the desdecuba.com website until recently. However, since the blogs are visited more often than was the referenced magazine, due to the important that I think this issue has and since I have always felt a special interest in disclosing and discussing the issues that directly affect the younger generations, I allowed myself to reproduce it here.

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Iran: technology’s role on freedom

June 18, 2009 at 17:48

tower

The official Cuban press has said little about the events surrounding the Iran elections and the demonstrations that have erupted after the reelection of Ahmadinejad, who proclaimed it as a “victory of the Iranian people”. Of course, the Island’s media has not mentioned the violent repression in response to demonstrators of the opposition in Teheran, nor the seven dead resulting from it. Everything that happens there –states the media- is the result of a destabilizing maneuver by forces hostile to the nice Mahmud, benefactor of his people, besieged by (guess!) the interference of the North American imperialism and the internal traitors who object to follow “the path of dignity and development” the people have elected (again). The West is the insidious devil that fuels the hatred of the naïve “Persians”, such is the Manichean and dumb view with which the press offends the intelligence of Cubans here.

But it is clear that they will not disseminate the facts as they are. The Island’s government cannot afford to divulge images that belie the friendly version it has always presented of the Iranian president, especially if those images went out into the world to a considerable degree thanks to that country’s bloggers, who successfully covered what the regime wanted to silence by not allowing access to the foreign press. They could not acknowledge the powerlessness of a dictatorship in the presence of the possibilities that technology offers to those who seek to break the siege of censorship. The fear that the example of the Iranian bloggers instills in them drives them to throw dirt on the eyes of public opinion.

What has happened in Iran once again puts on stage the importance of being aware of technology and to place it at the service of freedom of speech and of information, despite limitations that may play off against us, a right Cubans on the Island have lacked for half a century.

Photo: E. Leal. Ministry of Communications and Informatics Antenna tower, Havana

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An inadequate comparison

An inadequate comparison
Junio 16, 2009 at 10:56 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión

monumento-23-entre-c-y-d11

The reading of messages sent to my blog and the comments that readers post produce in me the great satisfaction of feeling close to each and every one of you. Your words are proof that my hours in front of the computer, my lack of sleep and worries about the inadequate Internet access are not in vain. They are also my compensation. The comments produce in me varied reactions: sometimes they amuse me, other times they enlighten me and provide me with information and knowledge I did not have. Not to mention the ones who surprise when they misinterpret my ideas, but all of you who visit the blog, read my proposals and show an interest in sharing this space that was created for that purpose, justify my work.

However, friends, I refuse to create a false image of me. So I ask those who classify me as a “heroine” to rethink it: I do not accept so big a responsibility. Above all, I do not agree with the insistence of some to compare me with the official matriarch, Mariana Grajales. It is clear that not all of us have the same perception of this lady, whose only merit seems to have been giving birth to sons to later send them on to war: the least maternal attitude that, in my modest opinion, one could have. There is no significant event in her biography beyond the birth of the famous “titans” and “lions” of the wars of independence, with all due respect to the founding fathers. Nor do I believe that a woman’s worth is just being someone’s mother or wife; I know of barren, as well as of other women who have decided against becoming mothers –a decision that I do not share, but respect deeply- who are great people; and I also know of mothers who are utter scoundrels.

In the case of Grajales, I find it particularly monstrous to send her children off to kill or die, especially when such a task comes from a being entrusted with the natural gift of giving life. That is precisely the “quality” that the official policy has exploited the most in order to control as it pleases the feminine psyche, always manipulated from the cultural (and deeply chauvinist) fetishism of maternity as the supreme role of motherhood, only that, now, Cuban women must give birth to children not so much for the supposed defense of the national independence, but to safeguard the interests of the Cuban government, even in other countries. Hence we have the experiences of Ethiopia, Algeria, Bolivia, Angola, Nicaragua and many other war-like episodes, after which the medals with the image of Mariana Grajales pinned on the breasts of many Cuban mothers constitute the prize and consolation that the warring oligarchy lavishes to them from its throne for the irreparable loss of her child. The scowling mother of the Maceos is the most appropriate icon of the consummation of official hypocrisy.

Anyway, the maternal paradigm does not mean much to me, but the attitudes do. I definitely do not like Mariana. Thus, although I know the mood of those who –inexplicably- compare me with her is not offensive, I respond without offense, but with energy: “more Mariana Grajales are you!”

Illustration courtesy of Eugenio Leal. Partial view of the republican monument to Mariana Grajales arising on 23rd Street park, between C and D, Vedado: the sublime mother kisses the forehead of her son, armed with a machete, while her finger commandingly indicates his destiny: war.

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Cheeky ideology

Cheeky ideology
Junio 9, 2009 at 17:56 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión
combatientes-se2

The more I walk through the streets of the city, the more irrefutable are the signs of general ideological fatige. An example is the system’s graphic propaganda, in complete state of decay, especially that linked more closely to “initiatives” to be met by local leaders “decorating” the walls and public spaces with symbols and slogans for government affiliation, or rather, reinforcing the official word. Usually, the old buildings would fall down without having received the necessary care to prevent it, but the bare walls remaining after their collapse were soon dressed up –by the work and grace of government vicars- with the colors of the ideology in power: Cuba yes; I will be faithful; Commander in Chief, command!; They will return!; Steadfast like in Baraguá; and a whole repertoire of signs and similar allegorical images would appear in every corner of the dilapidated urban geography, and some were regularly and lovingly retouched and others were renewed, demonstrating the political importance attached to the message, managed from the seat of power as a function of the permanent indoctrination of the masses.
Today, when all the fragile stability seems to be wobbling, none of the zealous ideocrats of yesteryear are very concerned about the outdated slogans. The advertising billboards with “revolutionary” messages, so ambiguous that they say nothing, timidly being renewed, if at all. In a sort of silent recognition of this failed catechism, they have allowed their idleness to even reach their own doctrine in whose name they have remained, by blood and fire, in power. Whether or not you want to see it, it is a sign of defeat. And the few signs that certain public retailers are forced to touch up out of their own meager resources, result in caricatural images, more like ill-concealed scorn than sincere belief.
Especially tragic are the inevitable five little heads, their faces twisted, on a wall at the Cuatro Caminos intersection or on the facade of the farmers’ market at Ayestarán and Estrella (Centro Habana), as if the notorious agents of State Security infiltrated in the United States had been subjected to torture before being embedded in the walls of these central points of the city. In an untidy shop in Infanta, adjacent to the Las Avenidas restaurant, –a building that has begun to collapse because of the roof railing- an unrecognizable, unskillfully painted Martí on the back wall helping with the grinding of the dirty sugar cane from which a greenish-gray cane juice will be extracted. The distorted picture of the Apostle is, in this instance, a kind of guard against the evil eye of government that “sees everything” though it suffers from incurable political myopia in practice.
I confess I can’t stop enjoying, with certain morbidity, the growing decline in revolucommunist propaganda. Because, after all, why spend on marketing for a product we know has no market?

Illustration: Facade of the agricultural market at Ayestarán and Estrella, in Centro Habana. Some irreverent person added his input to the group, scratching two small horns on the forehead of one of the unrecognizable combatants, the one on the lower far right

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Naked on the roof

Naked on the roof
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June 13, 2009 at 08:26 in Sin Evasion Classifieds

Inexplicably, after the barrage of insulting epithets with which the Cuban press has been attacking the Organization of American States (OAS) in recent weeks, offending indirectly, by the way, the dignity of the member countries of the organization, including its friends Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, among others, announced joyously the cancellation of the resolution that kept Cuba from this hemispheric organization since 1962. Everything is, says the press, a new defeat for the United States policy versus a crushing Latin American integration The text of the Resolution, which was published in Granma on June 4th, states “that Cuba’s participation in the OAS will be the result of a dialogue process initiated at the request of the Government of Cuba and in accordance with practices, purposes and principles of the OAS”. As usual, the prior United States proposal to the Permanent Assembly to establish a dialogue with Havana to discuss the reinstatement of Cuba to the OAS was not published.

Many Cubans afoot scratched their heads in disbelief: Why so much noise? Hadn’t it be said loud and clear that “Cuba does not want to belong to that organization which is a political corpse” and that “we will never return to the decrepit house of Washington? What kind of dialogue does the Cuban government request in order to air “the practices, purposes and principles” which it has been reneging for decades with increased rancor in the last few days, prior to the XXXIX OAS General Assembly? Why didn’t the Cuban press ever report that “application for dialog”? Why hasn’t the Cuban president made any statement about an event as momentous as this historic cancellation which has been described by another lover of pompous verbiage as “the acquittal” that “Fidel’s and the Cuban peoples’” history has made?

But let’s put aside the histrionics of the occasion and see the positive side of the event beyond the particular interpretations that have been made according to the political interests of each party, the fact is that the Cuban government finds it ever increasingly more difficult to maintain its inaction against the bridges extended to it from the outside. Now the point is not whether the doors that are being opened to the current process of relaxation (Europe repealing Common Position, Obama betting on the dialogue, the international agencies favoring an atmosphere of inclusion of the island in all forums) is the result of “the honorable position” or of the Cuban dictatorship’s “heroic resistance”: we know it’s not like that. The point is that these policies of rapprochement and dialogue have left the old warlords naked on the roof for all to see: the myth of David against Goliath inevitably falls apart. Only hostility procures their olive green garments.

On the other hand, the scenario is quite different from 47 years ago; it is clear that in current times membership in any civilized organization requires requisites that the Cuban side is unable to secure, especially with regard to democracy and human rights. It is here that maxim of my grandmother’s comes true. She used to say “you cannot darn on old cloth” If, to make matters worse, the Cuban politics is also an old machine, the patching cannot come out successful. The Declaration of the Cuban Government just published by Granma on June 8th is the aided kick, Castro-style with which the negotiation table has been knocked down again. The dialogue that was requested “by the Cuban government” without any debate having been mediated, without having been submitted for consideration by the “Parliament” as the supreme organ of the Peoples, without it having taken place (that we know of), the roof’s tenants decided abruptly that Cuba would not return to the OAS. And any other pronouncement could not be expected, because the distension and the dialogue are lethal ingredients for dictatorships.

Illustration: Photo by Eugenio Leal

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