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Archive for November, 2009

Ration card: R.I.P.?

As the year nears its end and 2010 approaches, uncertainty is increasing around a popular topic that has been the center of concern for those Cubans whose economic situations are more vulnerable to official dealings -some people like to call them “reforms”- to try to alleviate the crisis: the possible quick demise of the ration card.

November made its debut by hitting the “basic market basket” of the amounts granted with the “freeing” of two great players that have eased the general hunger for decades: potatoes and peas, now at prices well above the so-called subsidies of the ever-paternal State. If, when the ration card regulated these products, the price of potatoes was 40 cents and peas 30 cents (per pound, in both cases), now they have climbed to 1 and 3.50 pesos, per pound, respectively. Rumors predict the gradual elimination of other “rationed” products with the consequent increase in price, such as the indispensable coffee and eggs, the other folk heroes. It is speculated that by 2010 the ration card –the more naïve around here prefer to call it “the provisions card”- will be completely eliminated, and the increase in prices will emphasize the futility of salary incomes, and consequently, the obsolescence and nullification of state wage labor.

Other clauses and items have been perceptively affecting the meager pockets of most Cubans, such as the elimination of workers’ dining rooms, directly affecting the poorest workers, who were able to save the scarce supplies of the family basket when they ate lunch at work for a modest price, and, indirectly, those whose chances of bringing their own bagged lunch from home will also decrease due to the new upward avalanche in costs. On the other hand, some speculate that the “freeing” of crops, such as potatoes, the only agricultural product whose production and marketing has been entirely carried out by the state, could translate into the simultaneous release of the state’s production commitment and the future market shortage of that tuber, coupled with a new surge in prices: the vicious circle of poverty managed from power.

Thus, the eventual elimination of the ration card is, in short, another reflection of the absurdity of the Cuban economy. Beyond its not being this system’s invention, but a stopgap created in other countries to face wartime economies and abolished in a relatively short period of time, as soon those countries overcame the crisis, the Cuban case of the ration card is quite the contrary: far from having an interim character, it has remained in effect for over 47 years. Its demise, instead of being the effect of an economic surge, would mean that the crisis is so deep and the infrastructure is in such ruins that the bankrupt state is unable to guarantee the population even the minimum basics necessary for survival. Cuba is drowning in a sea of debt abroad and in a growing and alarming economic and social crisis within the Island while the government, not yet having officially declared the definitive end of the so-called “subsidies”, cleverly tries to size up these peoples’ capacity for endurance, perhaps fearful that –like the ration card- such docility may not be eternal.

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The naked pack of hounds

Last Friday, November 20th, the consecration of the official violence against the blogger phenomenon was reconfirmed: the army of gunmen who, with irrational rage, attacked Reinaldo Escobar and a large group of civilians -among whom other bloggers, the journalist’s friends and one of the brave Ladies in White– the clearest manifestation of the powerlessness of the regime in trying to prevent, at all costs, for the blogosphere to expand its sphere of influence by jumping from the Internet to the streets. “The streets belong to revolutionaries” was one of the phrases that one of the dinosaurs directed at Eugenio Leal while, among blows and kicks, he was being shoved in a car that would take him to a police station. “You don’t have Obama’s protection” another one uttered mockingly, in another clear reference to the recently published survey on Yoani Sanchez’s blog, which must have had the effect of a lethal potion on the power lords. At the same time, with complete malice aforethought, a huge henchman kept one of Eugene’s feet trapped, while he slammed the car door directly on the ankle of the defenseless blogger: really very gallant, those defenders of the imaginary and vanished “Cuban revolution”.

This instance resulted in the largest group of civilians hurt by the aberration of un-uniformed mob of thugs. There was also more fury at the perpetrators. It is clear that the fear grows, perhaps in a manner proportional to the will of the bloggers to continue to exercise free speech and also to defend their right to move around the streets, visit public places and attend cultural and other events of a civic nature. This time, the foreign press was present to document the event with vivid and impressive images, so that there won’t be any skeptics left to deny reality; they do not intercept the foreign journalists’ cameras, nor delete their photos or videos, as the hired assassins always do with the Island Alternative bloggers, and, thanks to that, the world has been able to peek at the hidden identity of the dictatorship, and many have become sympathizers of the real Cuba, the one repressed and censored that does not appear in tourist guidebooks, the one that has no voice in events of high international politics and is ignored by the warring native oligarchy that –in a kind of trap of the subconscious- is more occupied in erecting and polishing their own lavish mausoleums that in running this Vessel-Island, doomed to be shipwrecked after half a century of drifting madly.

Coward the government that, sheltered in absolute power, denies the rights of its citizens and condemns them to live in the material and spiritual poverty of slaves. Cowards the servile repressors, who, sheltered in their limited, momentary, and fragile impunity, believe that the executioners will always be safe from justice. Cowards also those poor wretches -fortunately, the fewest- who, disguised as dissatisfied, and unable to shine under their own light, today operate as occasional allies of the regime by launching slanderous libel against the alternative Cuban blogosphere to try to smear the good citizenship and honesty of those who have had, so far, only the capital of their own effort, their degree of talent, and that extraordinary treasure, so painfully deficient: a sense of shame.

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“Energetic” measures

min-ind-basica

When you think that you’ve seen everything, reality, far exceeding any ravings of your imagination, surprises you . This is a curious quality of socialist surrealism. So, as the general crisis marches on, the landlords of the broken leadership watch the  dwindling of the scarce small coins destined for distribution of the people’s poverty, so they intensify “measures” to try to extend the social limbo that guarantees their permanence in power.

These days, saving has become the most important segment of the Cuban economy and -as it always happens- it is also the main goal of each institution, workplace, or government entity. Saving, states the official press, is the word of the day, the option for survival (of whom?) and a way to get in tune with ecology. Indeed, because every adversity here suddenly becomes an opportunity to make us righteous: we must save energy because we are irresponsible spendthrifts. When this passes, we will be the defenders of the ecological balance by avoiding pollution from the use and abuse of fossil fuels used to produce that energy.

One area in which the authorities have been strong is in the application of measures against wasting. From now on, the offices of many centers that had already suffered “cuts” and were only allowed to turn on the air conditioners from 1 PM, are now absolutely forbidden to turn them on at any time of day, nor is it permitted to turn on refrigerators intended for workers’ use. It doesn’t matter if the equipment –in which set amounts of foreign currency capital investment were spent- deteriorate and break for lack of use, the word of the day is save…at any cost. In accordance with this, long hours of power cuts have been established in some areas of the country, and there are even companies to which the supply of electricity has been cut because “they have overdrawn their consumption”, in addition, as retroactive prophylaxis, the press is responsible to disclose the provinces that don’t comply (and are punished the most as a consequence), and which ones excel.

But perhaps one of the wildest measures in the midst of the great national blunder is that the José Antonio Echeverría University Center (CUJAE) for students at top-level technical careers will close from December 18th until the New Year because there has been an over-consumption of electrical energy at the school, and there won’t be enough to cover the whole school schedule for the month of December. Of course, the curriculum must be maintained and fulfilled, so, in January, teachers and students will have to face some restructuring to cover the material in less time that had been allotted in the original syllabus, with the corresponding deterioration in the quality of teaching and learning: a price that will have to be paid, above all, by the future engineers who are who are trained there.

We don’t know if there is a provision for the quantification of economic losses that have been incurred by the concept of “saving” and those that will continue to accrue, but we trust that our leaders will render, as they have always demonstrated to us, some intelligent response to what is to come. I am sure that, at least with regard to energy, a lot of hard work is being undertaken in pursuit of solutions or in creating new savings measures, as evidenced by the many lights and air conditioners that remain on day and night at the offices of the Ministry of Basic Industry, on Avenida Carlos III, Centro Habana. I am witness to that commitment.
Illustration: Building of the Ministry of Basic Industry (former Cuban Electric Company) located at Carlos III, corner of Soledad, Centro Habana.

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And yet, it moves…

Noviembre 15, 2009 at 14:44 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión

galileo-galilei-demonstrates-his-astronomical-theories-to-a-monk

The universally known phrase that Galileo Galilei, –it is said- mumbled after recanting his theory about the Earth’s motion following his experience of the persuasive methods of the Inquisition, could well apply today to the state of public opinion in Cuba, silenced for decades under the double yoke imposed by official censorship and social fear. Something has started to move here, creating an expectation of hope: apparently, personal opinion is being reborn, or –better yet- civic criteria are winning the game against the slogans.

Some signals have come from the hand of technology. Although meager, inadequate and very costly for our pockets, the Internet offers a real possibility of expression, including through the ridiculous Cuban “intranet” that semi-controls the pseudo-access of some sectors of society (primarily medical and cultural personnel) benefiting from legal installations of “private” e-mail service at home.

So it is that documents have leaked out, which, usually in the form of open letters, circulate widely among ordinary people, who see their concerns and criteria reflected there, where spontaneous expression exceeds the critical narrowness of the official press. In recent months, for instance, some letters have appeared, from a Ciego de Ávila writer to sports commentator Julia Osendi, from actor Armando Tomey to friends and colleagues in the artistic sector, and from Luis Alberto García to Lázaro Barredo, the director of Granma, all of them full of questions that, alive and without much adornment, lay bare many of the sociopolitical and economic problems of the system, while evidencing a general sense: we are fed-up.

This movement of opinion has been recently joined by the demand of the official journalist José Alejandro Rodríguez (Against the demons of kidnapped information, Juventud Rebelde Digital, October 16th, 2009), widely disseminated and discussed by the foreign press and well-known, although more slowly and “on the rebound”, by ordinary Cubans.

Other areas of expression that no press has been able to cover, for obvious reasons, are the discussions that are taking place at work and higher education places. Unofficial testimonials render an account of the high level of discontent that reaches the most diverse of social sectors, and the strong challenging of the up-to-now unchallengeable State policies: events that had almost disappeared over the past half-century, and unthinkable just a couple of years ago.

Some skeptics believe that it is only about specific events, that those who have expressed themselves “have permission to do so”, or that it won’t change a thing in Cuba, while some foreign colleagues, instilled in quite different situations than ours, believe that ” there is nothing extraordinary in people expressing what they are thinking”. However, in our case, it is extraordinary that society has spontaneously begun to surmount the wire fences of fear, and face the dangerous zeal of autocracy. Even supposing that the official media are really faking some breach in public opinion by allowing criticism against the system -doubtful play, since they already know that it could turn out to be deadly- it is still a good sign that this kind of open debate is starting, which will be gradually joined by anonymous voices of society, the ones that have always been generically classified under the heading of “the people”. The public has begun to taste the delicious morsel, to express themselves and to request accountability for was is owed them, a good tool to crack the persistent wall of censorship and win the first spots of civic freedom for themselves, even though many still don’t have the slightest awareness of it.

True, there are still those who lower their voices when they talk about “this thing” or “the situation”, even when speaking on the phone, as if there were a gremlin lurking within the headset, ready to hand him over, or an agent of the political police, ready to betray the discontent. There are those who persist on looking around before asking, with an air of complicity: “What’s the story with…?” But, at each turn,  fewer are fearful. Above all, students are undaunted, young people waving their freshness and unabashed recklessness against power, because they are unwilling to succumb to paralysis or to blind faith, as did their parents and grandparents.

Galileo was right, because, when all seems lost, a little light begins to shine, and then, you can’t but recall his famous dictum: And yet it moves


 
 

 

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In order to avoid confusion

ruinas-del-puente-de-boca-ciega

In recent days, I received some unfortunate information: a leader of the opposition made statements indicating “bloggers have no link with society”. This position is not new: since the blogger phenomenon started to become known, especially abroad, and later when it started to permeate sectors of society within the Island, a kind of uneasiness spread among many opponents -not all- who apparently felt threatened in their leadership niches.

The fact is doubly sad when you consider that the Cuban opposition has the unquestionable merit of demonstrating, in very difficult circumstances and long ago, (let’s remember that the 90’s were the peak period of growth of these movements) that government opposition movements did exist inside Cuba, and that the government was eventually forced to acknowledge the existence of internal dissent. Opponents also have shown signs of courage in dealing openly with the longest dictatorship in the Western world, even recognizing that it would not hesitate to apply repression -as indeed it has- against them, so it is inexplicable that some leaders are opting for the disqualification of a growing number of Cubans who have opted for the exercise of free speech and that, far from being a threat, they are humbly, but steadily, contributing to Cuba’s independent civil society.

To my knowledge, bloggers are not a political party, nor does the exercise of opinion and discussion of criteria per se imply party militancy. The blogger phenomenon, however, is so varied and diverse that it does not exclude that some militant opposition member may also be a blogger, and may propose political platforms from their own blog.

However, to falsely rave against the efforts of others for petty fears of an imagined “competition” or because those “others” refuse to be spokespersons for the old opposition leaders is –at the very least- dishonest and replicates the government’s behavior: “he who is not with me is against me.” In any case, the work of the blogger supports the revival of civil society and propagates civic debates, even with the known communications limitations that exist on the Island. In a very short time, we have succeeded in filling a humble space that wasn’t handed out to us and that any smart political leader should applaud, because, isn’t in a free society where honest politicians earn their places? Isn’t civil society the ideal breeding ground for the healthy development of the multiparty system that opponents claim to defend so much? Apparently, some “confused ones” just don’t get it. It is not about digging personal trenches here and now, but about rebuilding broken bridges.

The most spontaneous, varied and steadily growing event that has taken place in recent times may be the blogger phenomenon. It isn’t better or worse that the opposition movements. It simply is different. The blogger’s link with Cuban society is undeniable, because our blogs are fueled by the popular beat: we walk the streets in direct contact with people, we establish links among diverse social sectors and are carriers of the feelings, concerns and dreams of many Cubans, without egging them on to wear political labels or to answer to any ideological program. The blogger phenomenon is not elitist but inclusive, and the fact that our technical support is the Internet has not prevented our efforts from becoming increasingly known and respected among Cubans inside and outside Cuba. However, we work hard, with a lot of enthusiasm and hope, because we know that the political leaders of tomorrow stand among the thousands of Cubans who read us, and among the millions who will one day be free. Perhaps they may be cleaner and more self-assured, perhaps more laborious, but, above all, I’d like to think that the best of them will feel that politics is a profession of service to the whole Nation and not a mere stage to shine among the footlights.

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Don’t lecture us

Noviembre 7, 2009 at 14:36 · Clasificados en Sin Evasión

bandera_cubana_al_viento11

A regular reader from Spain (as evidenced in the way he hollers and other spins of the language), who signs his comments as “Deivi” says we don’t understand –referring to Cubans- when we criticize Moratinos’s undertakings during his recent visit to Cuba. It is interesting, however, that, in order to substantiate his assertion he resorts to (as if he were one of those Cubans who don’t understand) extreme and opposing positions.

For starters, it seemed positive to me –to call it “great” would be an exaggeration- that Juanes came to Havana, because the event provoked extensive discussions about Cuba, the conditions in which we live, and the Island’s future. But comparing Juanes and Moratinos is, at least, unfortunate: the artist is not a diplomat representing a foreign government, so we could not pretend that his presence here might mean a change in policy. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s. Nevertheless, I have sufficient ground to be sure that Juanes did want to have contact with representatives of the independent civil society, but the stranglehold of the political police, who followed his every step, prevented it.

Following the order of the concerns of our dear reader, criticism of the use of diplomacy on the part of the Spanish government toward the Cuban dictatorship does not necessarily imply that the other options are “turning a blind eye” or “waging a war”. I think a skilled diplomat should have enough munitions to find a third option: to put pressure in order to take steps to respect human rights (which he touts to defend) while maintaining a flow of communication and official exchange with the government. In any case, Moratinos can’t claim that his visit —driven primarily by his country’s economic interests- constitutes a breakthrough in political matters or the possibility of a democratic begining in Cuba: this is completely hypocritical and deceitful.

Neither does it seem respectful to me the view that “those who write here” have “all their basic necessities covered” and don’t care about the rest of the unfortunate people who suffer in Cuba. We must learn to disagree without offending. I will let this reader know that, at least in my humble opinion, freedom is a basic, unquestionable need that none of us here have “covered” and that I have devoted myself to systematically denounce all the evils that afflict Cuba, though they may not affect me directly. Since I do not embrace a herd spirit, I do not consider that having enough to eat, dress or a place to live are the limits of human aspirations: tens of thousands of years separate us from cavemen, whether we live in Cuba or in any other point in the planet.

And, following his impassioned speech, what exactly is “the isolation” of Cuba? Perhaps our friend overlooks that not isolating the Cuban government does not prevent in any way that the Cuban people live in absolute isolation. Does he think, for instance, that Cubans have ever benefited from the government’s dealings and its agreements with foreign businessmen? I am sure that his sensitivity ignores that many foreign companies (Spanish too, yes sir), profit unscrupulously from the exploitation of many of the Island’s Cubans, who make up one of the cheapest work forces in the world.

Comparing the actual conditions in Cuba, under the longest dictatorship known in the western world, with the dictatorship that Spain experienced is not effective either. The reader himself states it: Spain pulled out of the economic crisis brought about by its civil war through the “development of the 60’s”, and he adds that “this was accomplished because Spain’s integration into international organizations gained became acceptable”. He doesn’t understand –he cannot understand it, it is clear- that Franco’s dictatorship never meant the abolition of [private] property, much less the imposition of a communist regime, where all individual initiatives and capabilities are eliminated as a function of a false collectivism that allows the Government-Party-State to dispose, in a totalitarian manner, not only of all the income and riches, but also of the country’s human capital. Without wishing to elevate either one, the difference between Franco’s and Castro’s dictatorship is abysmal, beyond the time in which each one has existed.

No foreign agreement or flirtation has led us Cubans to “better food supply” or a “decent life”, with all respect. I do not believe, therefore, that it is important that European governments include us in their agendas in the manner they include us. That is, I would be happy if Cuba were included in those illustrious agendas in such an intelligent and well-intentioned manner in order to force the government to at least comply with the commitments it has signed about Human Rights, something that has not happened until now because, of course, us Cubans are not the priority of any government (starting with ours) and because it is not the people or good intentions that devise politics.

I want to make this very clear to our mistaken friend (who should be helped so he may understand) that it is not up to us Cubans to demand the repayment of their Spanish debt from the Castros. We have been neither party to nor beneficiaries of such affairs. If Spanish entrepreneurs chose to do business with the olive green bandits, including seeking immoral advantage over a population both hungry and full of hardships, it is the job of those companies and of the Spanish government to demand what is owed to them. Perhaps the penance of the Spanish lies in these Cuban defaults, which ultimately is the thing between bandits.

Finally, let me make a disclaimer: far from encouraging negative feelings for the good Spaniards, I feel a deep affection and friendliness for them. All my paternal ancestors are from Spain. They were hard-working, simple and honest people whose main family legacy has been precisely those values. From my father, the son of a Basque man and Navarre woman, I learned the love for truth and a sense of justice. To set the record straight, that is not the exclusive legacy of the Spanish. I’d like to think that our referenced reader may also be driven by a sincere concern and solidarity with Cuba, and it is appreciated, but his effort will never be comparable to the love I feel for Cubans. Please don’t lecture us. 

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Terror: the last recourse

no-violencia

Terror is the supreme recourse of dictatorships. Curiously, it is also the most pronounced manifestation of its own terror: they fear the word, freedom, lucidity, transparence and dignity of those who dare to challenge it. The Cuban dictatorship wasn’t going to be the exception, only that it decided to stop the sham of discretion behind which it hid its fierce side and now show its dirty fingernails. The assault and battery inflicted on Friday, November 6th on Yoani Sánchez, who was lifted by force and in broad daylight onto a car with private plates by several unidentified burly individuals in plain clothes, demonstrates not only the degree of helplessness of people under dictatorial regimes, but also the rampant immunity of the gorillas and of the regime that allow such outrage against citizens who cause them discomfort. Uniformed police, meanwhile, enthusiastically supported the revocation of the pack’s privileges, in turn, driving the blogger Claudia Cadelo and Orlando Luis’s girlfriend in a patrol car and leaving them on a corner of the Nuevo Vedado neighborhood as well.

Yoani, along with writer Orlando Luis Pardo, was literally kidnapped from the very central Avenue G, in Vedado, beaten and pinned down before the astonished and terrified gaze of dozens of people who had the dubious and involuntary privilege of attending a scene that accurately reproduced those starring Batista’s henchmen, Pinochet’s soldiers, or any other dictators that History has ever known, not to mention its similarity to Mafia methods or those of the Colombian narco-guerrillas. Fist blows against Yoani’s slight body, inflicted by men who kept her, half suffocated, head against the floor, in the back seat of a car, justifying the grotesque abuse by screaming that it was about counterrevolutionaries; such nonsense in a country where there isn’t even a hint of revolution any more!

They want to curb the Island’s growing citizen rebirth with terror. And the truth is that, somehow, they manage to sow fear. In my case, for instance, I feel a deep terror on thinking that when this happened I was not there to support Yoani and other friends. I dread imagining that they might lash out with their fury against any free Cuban and I might not be close-by to scream with all my might against such repression and call for an end to tyranny. The fate is finally sealed: terror is the cowardice of those who apply it, not of the recipient; it is the beginning of the end of dictators. 

With this public act of bestiality against a helpless woman, the Cuban dictatorship has just abandoned the pretense and has entered the era of impudence: a clear message of what can happen to those who might feel emboldened to exercise freedom. We certainly can expect more repression and more violence because this government is truly predicated on hate. Let’s see now how those eternally near-sighted, who pretend to seek a pious veil about the Cuban reality, justify this and continue to conciliatorily shake the dirty hands of the Castro regime.

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The Swan Song

November 2, 2009 at 16:31 · Sorted in Sin Evasion

monumento-camilo

In contrast with the ramshackled economy, the inescapable state of malaise that prevails in the island and the clear signs of the system’s breakdown, the Cuban régime has seen fit to invest in a monument to its ideology once again. This time, in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Camilo Ciefuegos’s mysterious disappearance, which would result in one of the most famous and “poetic” rituals of the revolutionary liturgy, sustained by the massive pilgrimage to throw flowers into the sea or -in its stead, into rivers, dams and lagoons- required of children and adolescents throughout the country, each October 28th, the silhouetted image of this man’s face is erected, more myth than reality, for generations of Cubans.

The familiar face appears to have been brought onto the scene to assist once again in the official discourse. It is located behind the Ministry of Information and Communications building, so that it can be visible from the Plaza de la Revolución. Not by chance, they have added the phrase “You’re doing well, Fidel” so that it will be very clear to everyone what it is about. Enrique Ávila, the assigned sculptor, is also the author of “The Heroic Guerrilla” which threateningly guards the façade of the Ministry of the Interior, a strange way of wasting talent.

The October 28th, 2009 Granma edition stated that “At the request of the highest leadership of the Cuban Revolution, a dozen companies executed this task, which enshrines the people’s homage to the Lord of the Vanguard” and it adds that, for the implementation of this project “a wall was built mimicking the type of finish where El Che’s image lies…”, a real squandering of money for a country where hundreds of thousands of families either don’t have a roof over their heads or their homes are in dire straights because, among other reasons, there is a shortage of construction materials.

It would be mindless to try to estimate how many resources were assigned to the useless task of trying to perpetuate the crumbling glory of a dying power in the popular conscience by evoking someone who has been considered “the people’s image”. This is, paradoxically, another indication of the contempt for those people and their pressing needs. But, better yet, and even if no one knows exactly how long the death rattle can linger, the selection of the honoree and the circumstances of the tribute could not be more fitting. Camilo left the scene under confusing circumstances at the beginning of this painful saga; maybe now –in a kind of trick of the subconscious- the ritual is an invocation to chair the funeral of the process. It is possible that, ultimately, this new ideological boasting of Castro’s is nothing more than the swan song of “the revolutionary sculpting job”.

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