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Archive for December, 2012

Hallucinations?

Pierrot and Harlequin. Work by Paul Cezanne

Apparently, two weeks of home confinement, a prisoner of TV, have left me somewhat dopey. Flat out in bed, in a forced rest and without Internet access — except through some merciful friends who texted me with information not reported here, and another one who brought me a recap of news articles he downloaded from the web — I resigned myself to follow televised excerpts of the Seventh Legislature of the National Assembly and news of the schedules. In addition, I listened patiently to all the “reports” of each of the ministers, and I even stoically put up with the General’s euphoric speech in his eternal boring and nasal manner. It’s all in vain, it turns out I don’t understand a thing. The worst part is that Cuban TV seems to cause hallucinations.

I don’t understand, for example, why the “complete” repair of a stretch of 24 km of rail — which has a total of 800 km — conducted throughout the year 2012, is considered an achievement. If one adds the additional fact that the plan for 2013 is to “complete” 40 km of this important pathway (suggesting that only 16 km will be repaired in the coming year), is it not also a plan to go in reverse?

Another issue is that, if almost all parameters projected for 2012 have failed, such as agricultural production, housing construction, production of construction materials, the export plan (with an alarming increase imports of food and other goods), etc. If, in addition, the eastern region was hit by a vicious hurricane that caused huge losses to the economy and the already inadequate and deteriorating housing stock, if an important coffee crop and other crops were lost, among other items, and the few sugar mills we still have, which should have started producing sugar this harvest have been unable to do so… I wonder how it is that the economy has registered a growth in GDP of a respectable 3.1% and what indicators the General took into account to declare that, in the year about to end, “the favorable growth trend was preserved”; that we have been able to maintain a positive correlation between the growth in median income and productivity, which contributes to the internal financial stability” and that Cuba moves ahead in a “gradual reduction of its external debt, on the basis of strict compliance with its financial commitments”? I am so very confused!

I must confess that in the midst of fragments of this and that official trite speech which I have been listening to these past few days, unsurprisingly, I fell asleep. Let my reading friends have consideration for the real torture my brain, already sluggish because of the flu, underwent. The truth is that, though much of it was about economics, I never heard anyone speak of numbers, nor did I find out for sure what the total budget for 2013 was, though it was approved unanimously, as always, by our seasoned representatives. Small omissions that make me suspect that perhaps they too were suffering, like me, from a bad case of the flu and that’s the reason they were somewhat obtuse.

Closing this post, the stellar news this Sunday, December 16th, just released a report that has increased my confusion: Fidel Castro Ruz has been nominated for deputy of the National Assembly. How do you like that? In other words, the zombie politics includes reintroducing the Decrepit in Chief in life, symbolically, I would imagine, through the superior organ of the “people’s power”.  Or maybe such a great farce is only one of those morbid pre-mortem tributes which are the fashion in Cuba in which old age seems to be the greatest merit of the honoree. I wouldn’t be surprised if they invent the post of “Absent Deputy”… just saying. Nothing new: in some ways it reminds me about the case of that other dictator, Augusto Pinochet, who achieved his last fantasies of retaining some political power through his appointment as Senator for Life. Latin-American dictatorial histories have a curious recurrence.

But we must not be too surprised.  In short, judging by the inefficiency of the system, dusting off the sacred mummy could very well be part of Raul’s strategy for the “renovation” he has undertaken in this kingdom of the dead.

December 17 2012

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Convalescence and Gratitude

My readers must forgive this long and abrupt absence. After so much talk about the Cuban health system, I ended up getting sick. Luckily, it was not cholera or dengue fever, but I just had the most aggressive flu that I can ever remember, and it kept me home for many days without even having a chance to play with the computer keyboard, since I had an acute case of conjunctivitis as a complication. Not for nothing, but they “threw everything at me”, but they haven’t been able to do away with me… at least for now.

Although a lot has happened during these days and, of course, there are many things to comment on, today I just want to announce that I’m back and to thank everyone for the many e-mail messages, asking about my health. I also would like to take this opportunity to extend my deepest appreciation to everyone who, all through this long and difficult 2012, have shown their solidarity in the most diverse ways. You have really helped me, and the medications that you sent me on occasion came in handy on this critical juncture. I also want to thank you for your PayPal donations that allowed me to buy internet connection time in Havana hotels when I can’t get on line through more friendly venues; the numerous times you have made possible my cell phone recharges, which allow for immediate communication with my “fellow travelers” and protect me against any potential adverse circumstance with the boys of the repressive forces; text messages that quickly inform me from the outside about events not published in the press within Cuba, and finally, all the words of encouragement that inspire me to return to this blog to meet with you in the ongoing effort to push down the wall together.

Without you, I’m sure the road would be a thousand times harsher. Thank you with all my heart. We will, once again, meet here next week.

December 14 2012

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A Comment and a Controversial Article

I originally published the article that follows on the website Penúltimos Días last November 26th. Since there are several and conflicting opinions about the post, I will submit it to the regular readers of this blog for their consideration. I just want to make a preliminary clarification: what some may consider inadequate demands of the Spanish government, which, according to them I should also make of the Cuban government, I will remind that my words are based on words of the Consul of that country in relation to Cubans who have obtained Spanish citizenship, which includes me, and which gives me the right to review the decisions and actions of that government’s policies. On the other hand, readers have witnessed my habit of demanding the rights that are due me as a Cuban.

Here goes:

Ravings of a Cuban-Spaniard

A few days ago, I read a note published by the editors of Cubaencuentro, dated in Madrid on October 30th under the title “Spanish Consul in Havana asks Island Hispanic societies to welcome new Cuban-Spaniards”, which seemed a bit perplexing to me. Besides offering some interesting facts, the article deserves careful reading: often, the essence is in the details, especially when it is a diplomatic discourse, full of omissions and half-truths.

The issue of the Cubans who have crowded the headquarters of the Spanish Consulate in Havana in order to qualify for the nationality of their ancestors under the Law of Historical Memory is an eloquent sign of how depreciated the condition of native-born Cubans is. Suffice it to check the figures to get an approximate idea of the mobilization unleashed by hundreds of thousands of Spanish descendants who in the last three years have sought to restore the citizenship of their grandparents.

According to that note, admissions by the Consul General of Spain himself, Tomás Rodríguez  Pantoja, at the end of 2011, 65,000 new Spanish citizenships have been granted, and 70,000 have been obtained to date, while 140,000 requests still remain. If we add to that the 28,000 Spanish nationals who were living in Cuba before the application of that law, you can easily conclude that the number of citizens of this country (i.e. neo-Spanish Caribbeans) that have emerged in a few years almost exceeds the total Spanish immigrants who arrived in Cuba in the first third of the last century. These figures do not include the tens of thousands of Cubans of Spanish descent who, for various reasons, have been unable to obtain the necessary documentation required for requesting Spanish citizenship -as, for example, the grandparents’ birth certificates- and, consequently, have not even submitted their applications to the Consulate.

In a meeting held with the leaders of Spanish associations in Cuba, the Spanish Consul stated that “one of the biggest challenges we have, and I ask you to take this with the deepest affection, is to integrate into our societies the vast number of new or old renovated Spaniards, Spanish-Cubans who, through the Law of Historical Memory, will recover their ancestors’ nationality” and he asked that the Spanish communities assume “the responsibility of integrating them into the spirit of Spain” since some of the nationalized [Spanish] Cubans “can’t even tell the difference between communities”. He had previously stated, in another instance, that these people “don’t yet have the Spanish sense (…), don’t feel for our country or are united onto our reality, though they are as Spanish as we are”.

As a recent Spanish-Cuban, I must admit that, to a certain extent, the Consul is right: around here, we don’t even have the vaguest idea of how “having a Spanish sense” might feel, at least not in the same way as the diplomat might regard it. We are, simply, and purely, Cubans, regardless of the number and variety of citizenships or passports that we might come to cherish if we could. It is no secret, even to the consul, that the overwhelming majority of those who have benefited from Spanish citizenship has done so in the hope of emigrating, and, by the way, a Spanish passport is not in as much high demand as an American visa.

And at this point I want to emphasize that I am the exception to the rule: I have no interest in escaping from Cuba, or settling in Spain (or any other country) and if I decided to take my grandfather’s citizenship, a Basque born in Busturia, is because I have the right, and if one day I have the possibility of visiting Spain, it would be better to do so as a citizen of that country, with a passport that would open the doors that my Cuban passport closes for me. I’m definitely an incurable addict when it comes to rights. I’m not interested in “asking for help” to be a parasite on the public purse sustained on the taxes of the Spanish, to which they contribute with their work and effort.  I have neither a lazy nor a beggar’s soul.

Personally, I have no idea what the consul means by “a Spanish sense” I don’t think that a nationalist feeling is necessary to experience deep emotion in the presence of the Spanish history and culture. The great masters of the art of Spain, her artists and the numerous geniuses of her literature, especially her poetry, with Antonio Machado as my favorite, the force and uniqueness of her music and dance, the richness and variety of her traditions, the fascination of her rich history, full of light and shadow, which largely holds the key to the very course of the history of my country, Cuba, and also explains the idiosyncrasies of my own nation and identity, are sufficient elements to understand the singular empathy between Cubans and Spaniards.

Spain is closer to me, in addition, since a reverse migration began to take place: decades of dictatorship have contributed to the displacement of thousands of Cubans who have made Spain their adopted country. Many of them do not have Spanish citizenship, and a considerable portion hasn’t even obtained legal residence, but they do their best to survive from a disadvantaged position in the midst of a prolonged and severe economic crisis. I love Spain more since it has become home to so many of my countrymen, and since, for the past five years, I have received the support and affection of Spaniards who write to me and follow my digital blog, because, though this may not be important to Mr. Consul, I understand that the Spanish government might not have made a good investment when it gave me my citizenship: I am an unrepentant dissident, and I oppose any authority abridging my rights. As a Cuban, I oppose the Cuban government, and as a Spaniard, condescending speeches aside, I would love for the Consul, representative in Cuba of my other nation’s government, to clarify some of my doubts.

I would be interested to know, let’s say, how the Consulate is going to help those Cubans who are recovering the nationality of their ancestors “have a sense for the country (Spain)” or “join” the Spanish state of affairs. Let’s say, for instance, that the Spanish diplomatic seat in Havana could start by introducing practices that recognize the rights of Cuban-Spanish as the same ones of  Spanish-born citizens, since, so far, treatment given to the former and the latter is markedly different, as evidenced by the detail that native-born Spanish need only present their passports or their Spanish identity cards to gain access to the embassy, while Cuban-Spanish are required to use their Cuban identity card to do so, though they have Spanish passports. Are we second-class citizens without pedigree, amateur Spanish?

The passport is another fundamental point. It is almost as cumbersome to obtain a Spanish passport as to get a Cuban one. In my case, I was given notice of having been granted my citizenship in October, 2011, and over one year later, I have yet to procure a passport, and I don’t know why.  A lot of Cubans who got their citizenship after I did already have theirs.  For lack of answers, I have applied several times, without success. I am registered in the Havana consulate, but I am an “undocumented Spaniard”, without knowing what bureaucratic ineptitude (if only that were the case!) prevents me from accessing the document that identifies me as a citizen of Spain. Could it be that the Spanish passport is as selective as its Cuban counterpart and certain people have no right to it?

I know of no new Spanish-Cuban who has been invited to the Columbus Day celebrations held each October 12th, and haven’t heard any news that the consulate has given any attention to this sector of its “nationals”. For example, despite the known limitations of Cubans to access the Internet, all consular procedures require prior appointments to be requested by e-mail, however, the consulate has not seen fit to enable a location with access to the web, even for the use of Cubans who have already obtained their documentation as Spanish citizens. The service is likewise not offered in cultural Spanish associations. Wouldn’t this be an effective way for the Madrid government to demonstrate its good will and a way for the new Spanish citizens to be better informed about their adopted nation? Aren’t the new computer and informational technologies the most expeditious means to the free cultural exchange in the so-called global village?

Nor do I know of Spanish-Cubans who are freely contracted and considered as such by Spanish companies that have invested capital in Cuba.  What prevents them to be hired as overseas Spaniards and enjoy the same benefits and labor rights? Similar exclusions extend to those who have decided to become independent from the official employer –the Cuban government- after obtaining their Spanish citizenship. I know of Cuban cases that, while they were contracted through an official Cuban employment purse, they could practice their profession in Spain without the need to be re-qualified in that country, however, when they tried to get employed as Spanish citizens doing the same work, now they demand Spanish education credentials. Could it be that there is an agreement with the Cuban government to limit the rights of Spanish abroad? How can the “Spanish feeling” be consolidated this way? How would the consul explain such discrimination and how does he suppose these neo-Spaniards will be able to “penetrate” the economy of their companies when in principle they are marginalized?

I don’t think Mr. Consul is very clear in that integration cannot be sustained only on “trade and cultural activities.” That is, tambourines, castanets and bagpipes seem all well and good, but as “rights”, they are insufficient. Spain’s government could do much more for the Spaniards on this Island and also for its own nation if it conceived effective policies that stimulated them [Cuban-Spanish] to remain in Cuba while benefitting the Spanish economy. In fact, that is just what men like my Basque grandfather and hundreds of thousands of Spaniards did.  Like him, they arrived on this Island hopeful to work, prosper, and help their relatives in the distant homeland.  We are not talking about offering handouts, but drawing mutually beneficial strategies.  If only Spanish policy makers in Cuba today were so determined, creative and authentic as those immigrants, who long ago left their beaches to make landfall on ours!

November 30 2012

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The picture illustrating this post, which I downloaded from an official site, relates to one of many that exist on the intervention of Cuban doctors in Haiti after the earthquake that struck that country in 2010, and also about the cholera epidemic. Interestingly, on this December 3rd, Latin American Medicine Day, I failed to find any photograph of our doctors caring for victims of cholera in Cuba.

Of course, some might say that you cannot photograph what does not exist. Judging by the official press, and in the absence of convincing medical reports, it appears that what is circulating in Cuba -especially in the eastern region of the Island- is not cholera, but an outbreak of acute diarrhea. Another euphemistic phrase that a few months ago defined cholera in the official media was intestinal infection from water contamination, which in turn was also reported as being under control and eliminated.

Today we woke up with a phony media celebration. The TV morning news was pleased with the doctors’ day, and once again listed the countless achievements and sacrifices of health professionals, while Cubans on the Island continue to be exposed to the dangers of cholera and dengue fever, two epidemics that have already claimed many lives and remain hidden, concealed under the government triumphalist speeches and the accomplice silence of health authorities.

There is nothing to be celebrated this December 3rd. In actuality, we should be mourning the lack of freedom that keeps Calixto Ramón locked up in a government prison. He is the freelance journalist who first made mention of the presence of cholera in the province of Granma and other regions of Cuba, who has been on a hunger strike for 22 days, so far. We should be mourning the loss of human lives due to the criminal lack of responsibility of the government and healthcare officials. We should be mourning the helplessness of the people against the rampant lack of hygiene and the death of medical ethics.

What good is so much professional talent, so many hours sacrificed, working in appalling conditions, or the internationalists’ absence from country and family, if our doctors are unable to comply with the ethical obligation to disclose the risk faced by the population? When did the sacred duty of those who once swore to protect us become subordinate to the commitment of political ideology?

At present, only a few doctors dare to overcome their fear and compromise their personal and professional interests to alert patients about epidemics silenced by government policies. Most remain silent.

This December 3rd reminds us that there are very few doctors with dignity in this country, once such an example of medical care, that for so long had such a great primary care health system. So far, the silent docility of those who one day took the Hippocratic Oath constitutes a desecration to the memory of the illustrious Cuban doctor, Carlos Juan Finlay, born on this day in long ago 1833.

December 3 2012

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