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About the previous post, which -as expected- elicited many well and ill-intentioned comments, I noticed one in particular, a reader commenting about what used to be our digital magazine Consenso, which the commentator himself referred to as having opened a Cuban window on the world. I happen to agree with him and, as part of the management group and the editorial board of that magazine, I thank him for the memories and the praise.

But the truth is that his comment inspired me to search through those articles that were published at the time in Consenso, among which I found one from my friend and colleague Reinaldo Escobar relating to the subject of the debate: money. Because, though some were biased in reading my post and tried to twist the meaning of what I said, attributing it to my personally attacking those “who did not like14ymedio.com”, when read correctly, it shows that what I attack is the vice of envy, questioning other’s finances, exactly the same matter that Reinaldo Escobar discussed in Consenso in 2007. Contrary to my habit of not posting here articles I have not authored, I reproduce it today, with the previous authorization of the writer. You be the judge about its worth, and I hope you enjoy it.

Money Bristles

Reinaldo Escobar

It seems almost superfluous to explain that any political activity generates costs, from the essential existence of a professional staff, dedicated to party work on a full time basis, to the development and dissemination of documents, including trips involving transportation, food and lodging outside the cities where they reside; organizing seminars, meetings or press conferences, or simply connecting to the Internet. Can you think how it would be possible to carry out politics without these things?

There isn’t the slightest possibility for an entity in the nascent Cuban civil society to establish anything like a lucrative business to cover the costs of political work. There are no cafeterias, rental rooms, bicycle repair shops or birthday clown entertainers willing or able to meet those expenses. Not even one of the leaders of the internal opposition has his own resources, family assets from before the revolution, or has jewelry to sell or an inheritance to enjoy; most of them do not receive a salary, they are unemployed. However they engage in politics in a professional manner, they secure their own transportation and stays away from home, they undertake conferences, print documents, receive and send emails. Where does the money come from?

The Cuban government’s answer to this question is that the money comes from the US, be it Florida exiles, independent foundations, or the American government itself, which, if there ever was any doubt, has just approved an $80 million budget to this effect. It is known that some EU or Latin American countries also contribute, but it is clear that, according to the official interpretation of the facts, this last source of funds is, when all is said and done, from the US, by way of an extensive and tangled pathway.

Perhaps the most interesting question is not where the money comes from, but under what conditions it is received.

José Martí raised funds for Cuban independence from selfless Tampa cigars manufacturers, but also from wealthy American, Mexican and Cuban philanthropists. There used to be a picture at the Museum of the Revolution, long ago removed, where Fidel Castro was seen sitting at a table in front of a mountain (a small mountain) of dollars. The photo was taken in New York, while raising funds to buy the yacht Granma, plus weapons for the 82 revolutionaries. Were these donations subject to any conditions? Of course they were! The funds were donated, in the first case, to end the humiliating Spanish colony and in the second, on condition to overthrow Batista’s dictatorship. There is no evidence, not even hallway gossip, giving the impression that the money was used for the personal benefit of the apostle [as Cubans call Jose Marti], who always wore the same threadbare black suit, or on luxuries of the foremost leader, who, it is rumored, did not cross his legs in public so none could see the holes on the soles of his shoes.

The triumphant Cuban revolution received lots of aid from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, and I am speaking just of what is euphemistically called “fair trade between poor and developed countries”. I’m talking about ships full of weapons and other war supplies, about college scholarships, technology transfer, collaboration of police intelligence, even of space travel, which would have never happened if Cuba had not complied with the condition of becoming the first socialist country in the Western Hemisphere. It is a historical fact that when Che Guevara traveled to China, a joint communique was issued on completion of his trip, as is the custom, in which the Chinese, bragging with sincerity, objected to the qualification of “disinterested” made by the Cubans about the support the Asian giant was giving the small island.

In those early years, parallel to the subsidy of the revolution, the financing of the counterrevolution began. It is well documented that at least between 1959 and 1965 almost all the opposition activities were directly funded by the CIA, the Pentagon, and the US State Department. The central characters themselves have stated so, and all of them justified this financing, so obviously stipulated by the fact that the government of Fidel Castro was supported by Communist powers.

Today, Cuban dissidents are imprisoned when it is shown, or when there is a conviction, that they have received money from the US. That was, in every case, the heaviest accusations resulting in disproportionate sentences to which the 75 of the Black Spring of 2003 were subjected. This went as far as to include in the same boat journalists receiving payment in exchange for articles in foreign newspapers. It led, among other consequences, to new divisions among the internal opposition: those not receiving money and receiving it through the U.S. Interests Section, and those who did not receive funds from the US, but from independent institutions in Europe and Latin America.

What almost no one asks is where the money comes from today to publish all those costly national and provincial newspapers, organs of the Communist Party, of the Union of Young Communists, or the Central Cuban Workers Union. How were the open forums financed all this time, the militant marches, the whole material base of the “Battle of Ideas”, the campaigns for the rescue of the five combatants of the Interior Ministry, jailed in the United States, the trips abroad, the foreign guests at political events, billboards on highways, t-shirts with slogans, or the little flags.

Would it be possible to pay all that with the monthly member contributions to these organizations, which isn’t even enough to pay the salaries of thousands of professional cadres scattered throughout the whole country, in every province, in every municipality, occupying premises that do not pay rent, where water and electricity are consumed, where there are phones and secretaries, gas-guzzling cars that include a chauffeur?

Political work involves disbursements, be it from the opposition or the government. If the party in power has at its disposal boxes of public funds to cover expenses and those in the opposition, besides not having even legal recognition, also don’t have, literally, a place to drop dead, what is the recommendation? To let the government do whatever it wants without offering the slightest resistance, or to limit the action only to within earshot, without even a megaphone to amplify it?

The only option the members of the opposition on the island have been cornered into, in order to be able to exercise their specific political tendency, is that of accepting financing from whomever offers it, unless they are OK with being a “family faction” without the least echo in society. This is part of the deliberate intention on the part of the government to disallow any alternative of political change in Cuba. This intention stretches from a long series of die-hard slogans (socialism or death, we are ready to shed the last drop of blood, the Island will sink in the sea first…) to the modification of the constitution to enact the immobility of the system. The harder it is to dissent, the better for the government. If the material and legal obstacles aren’t enough, if fear of going to jail is not enough, that’s where the ethical scruples (prejudices?) come in, preventing decent people from accepting funds that automatically turn them into mercenaries of the imperialism.

Ideally, the Cuban media should not be the party’s fiefdom, but a public space for all political persuasions; with the state budget partially allocated to fund the work of civil society and of political parties duly registered under the law. If the state, instead of distributing all these funds and resources in an impartial manner, funds that proceed from the working class, monopolizes them only for the favored party, it loses its moral right to ask where the opposition’s money comes from. Additionally, it should not deny anyone the possibility of becoming a disinterested donor or a calculating investor. The state should protect those citizens who have a political proposal, the right to defend it and have it compete publicly and on equal terms, without being forced to sell their souls to the devil.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Posted 9 June 2014 by Miriam Celaya

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As expected, the birth of the new site 14ymedio.com attracted immediate attacks from the servers of the Cuban regime. A few hours after the media’s first appearance, it was redirected by official cyber-hosts to a dedicated page (oh, the satrapy’s supreme homage!), not to the disqualification of counterrevolutionary journalistic medium as such, but to its “insignificant” manager, the multi-award-winning – and multi-abominated — Yoani Sánchez-Cordero, evil among the worst.

Interestingly, the essence of the invectives against Yoani the terrific is not the legitimacy of exercising the right to free opinion, of creating an information media to and from Cuba, or of the desire that the media become, in addition to a source of diffusion, an enterprise producing income to Yoani and her associates, paying for her collaborators, promoting independent journalism and creating sources of employment. “The chicken in a chicken and rice meal”, as the ever soporific Lázaro Barredo might say, who had been director of the libelous “Granma” for a brief period, but who has currently disappeared from the public scene. It is about questioning what capital this blogger has available to fund such an enterprise, whether or not she deserved the awards she has received, and about the nature of her fabulous emoluments, which, in the imaginary collective of her embittered detractors is close to half a million dollars.

However, what is truly amazing is that there are some petty characters in the internal dissent (and even more conspicuous, characters of “the external”), who have joined the same chant, thus indicating that the perverse nature of the olive green autocrats has soaked into the conscience of Cubans beyond suspected limits, also poisoning a sector of those who call themselves – and indeed are — enemies of the Cuban dictatorship.

This virulence has reached such magnitude that it instills pity. How mediocre can an individual be who even feels threatened in the presence of the mere presumption of the success of others? Why must the prosperity or the awards and recognitions received by others be a cause for concern, especially when those “others” not only were and are our fellows in the cause, but at times have opened space and have shared with us their fortunes and misfortunes? What dark Cuban trait deprives us at times of the greatness of rejoicing in the victory of others?

In recent days I have been a witness to, not surprisingly, attacks launched on the new newspaper 14ymedio.com from our own “trenches” as if we were their worst enemies. Fortunately, many more words of praise and encouragement have been sent from the most diverse points, than the sour bile generated by the ever resentful.

The most poisonous reviews, of course, come from the most mediocre subjects. Some of these consider themselves “journalists”, perhaps in response to some magical genetic inheritance, though not necessarily from qualifications or pedigree, or because they feel they have exclusive rights of “antiquity”. If the latter were true, then we would have to recognize the special rights of the political power of the regime that has been exerting them for over 55 years in Cuba.

Also not missing in this sui generis repudiation meeting are certain top dogs inflamed with messianic aspirations, those who always know how, when, and where things should be done, and who cannot conceive, much less tolerate, something that is as healthy as it is helpful for the development of freedom which is simply called competition.

There are those who claim that competition, in order to be healthy, must have fair opportunities, which remedies the disastrous (and false) vulgar egalitarianism imposed by the Castros, whose deplorable consequences we know so well. They are clueless, despite living on “information” that such a thing as “equality” does not exist in any part of the world, and that one has to go out and seek the “opportunities”, such as wealth, they have to be conquered, creating them by intellect and efforts, because they do not fall from heaven, like divine grace, on anyone’s shoulders. And when one reaches them, there is absolutely no obligation to share them. In fact, it is morally harmful to do so.

Believe it or not, there are individuals from the Cuban dissidence who – in tune with the government itself — consider others’ successes as an obstacle to their own fulfillment, and, in the licentiousness of their personal frustration, they take hold of what action they deem appropriate, including complaints and catharsis about the hardships of the “un-rewarded” or the “unfunded for professional performance” –what we often call a cry baby – with such resentment that it reminds us of the national motto: “I don’t want to be as well-off as the Joneses, I just want for the Joneses to be as fucked up as me.”

These kind of individuals don’t consider talent, hard work, drive, courage, will power or – let’s say it brazenly and give it its due –ambition. For them, from 14ymedio.com, there is “unfair competition”, just because Yoani Sánchez has received funding (oh, what a damn word!) and because she can count on a decent enough comfortable place to work, so she doesn’t need to use the conjugal bed as a sofa. I would consider this an advantage a bit more hygienic than a status symbol, but – of course — I understand that we don’t all think alike. What is true is that, for some of the more stubborn enemies of the Castros, comfort and money (other people’s) are as dirty as for the olive green elite itself.

However, many conveniently ignore that they have received (or are receiving) financial help — something that I sincerely admire and hope never runs out – way before 14ymedio, before someone was awarded, and certainly, before the independent Cuban blogosphere was born and developed, otherwise they could not have sustained their newspapers or magazines, a reason for having allowed payment for collaborations for some time now. And congratulations.

That’s something, for instance, that the magazine Consenso, and later Contodos (2004-2007), could never do just because they lacked financing, a reason why many of them did not collaborate with that project, since they have always worked for money, as is normal and reasonable, though there have always been romantics that do certain things for free. It is understood that nobody is obligated to do it. So what’s the problem? Why are they wearing themselves thin attacking other independent projects? Isn’t it better that we have the greatest possible number of publications in order to continue penetrating the wall of the regime’s information monopoly?

Another practice that the “pure ones” demonize is marketing. They call it “media hype” as if it were something obscene, and they talk about “inflated ego”, “lack of humility” (a special merit that they apparently believe abounds among them). Because, at the height of perfidy, Yoani Sánchez is not settling for creating a newspaper, period, but she aims to “create the best newspaper”, states a critic (or should I say a criticizer?). And the question arises, what harm is there in pursuing perfection? Why shouldn’t anyone wish to reach that goal at a healthy pace, particularly when they work so hard to that end?

Personally, as a citizen journalist, I am in the habit of believing that the better I do my job, the more my readers appreciate it, whether or not they are in agreement with my opinions. So, with every effort I undertake, I go beyond, getting close or not to a certain extent, the perfection I aim for, why settle for less? Why should this be a flaw?

It is curious that certain people often parasitize on the opinions of others and present them as their own (which in itself is unfair, and even fraudulent), people who lack education, training or qualification — academic or self-taught — people who “decorate” with lies or hype the information given to them, who make up non-existent people in interviews they publish and limit their relative success in the overwhelming mediocrity (even more) of those around them – which, de facto, melds them into mediocre individuals — might seek to establish themselves as champions of honesty and virtue as well

And, since excessive vanity inevitably leads to the ridiculous, the sorrowful orphans lie or misrepresent reality: 14ymedio.com has never claimed to be the first independent digital medium in Cuba, or declared itself “anti-Castro” (or “anti” anything, but rather, “pro” rights, although it seems that the same is not equal), which is why, from the opposite ends, Yoani is accused of falling into “ambiguities” because there is always some moron who, despite lacking his own projects, feels he has the right to issue guidelines about what the projects of others should and must be.

And, finally, to finish off so much Castro-socialist drivel, designed for those masterfully defined as “perfect Latin-American idiots” by three academics a lot wiser than I am, let’s leave, once and for all, the eternal posture of the mentally herniated poor little victims, who will have to be fed and subsidized forever. Neither Yoani Sánchez nor 14ymedio.com, nor absolutely anyone else, other than the same individuals, are responsible for their own lack of success or of “financiers” to overcome their woes.

The formula for prosperity, dear idiots of this island village, is not to wait for generous patrons to appear, but to have something to offer. You should not have to sit down and wait for some bored mogul to want to “do justice” and throw you a financial bone.

Perhaps the wailing crew of the day should use the energy they employ in lamentations to work more efficiently and creatively. Incidentally, it would not be a bad idea for them to get up to date with the present. Don’t feel put out, none of that! These are only a few suggestions. That said, be adventurous, take risks. I am referring, in particular, to financial and professional risks, so don’t come back again with the morsel that this one or that one was taken prisoner, or that they take their lives into their own hands “on the street”, because that is a risk that all of we Cubans take, from the daredevil who establishes a political party or who writes independently to the poor devil who steals three pounds of meat from a warehouse. This is another one of our best entrenched myths. In Cuba, jail does not depend on anybody’s merits, but on the whim of the satrapy.

And if someone chooses to be personally offended by this post, know that I can’t be bothered with such tackle, but I respect all your conscious choices. If I have not mentioned names, is not to evade confrontation, but because I will not give them a single hit or a smidgen of brain cells, to a debate that, in addition, would be useless. We know that some people are hopeless. Time is usually a wise judge. Also know that making enemies does not move me, but false expectations are not believable: I pick my enemies. I don’t know if the recipients of this post are at the height of the conflict or in the process of getting there. At any rate, I wish you much success.

Published June 2nd, 2014, by Miriam Celaya
Translated by Norma Whiting

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1398445396_etecsa

Photo from the Internet

According to a recent official statement by Empresa de Telecomunicaciones de Cuba (ETECSA) [Cuban Telephone Company], the technical difficulties in messaging service and other cell phone problems are due to errors in miscalculating demand.

It is the system’s universal principle to come up with an inverse explanation to every difficulty, which could be interpreted as follows: it is not really the inability of the only telephone company in Cuba, but that there are too many users. That is, we are more addicted to communication than officials imagined.

Since this past March 3rd, when the new cell phone e-mail access system (nauta.cu) went into effect, considerable delays were experienced in SMS access, as well as additional service outages. Now the Central Director of Mobile Services, Hilda María Arias, stated that for over a year they carried out research and completed investment processes required for this service, however, they “did not calculate the fast pace for its demand in this short period of time”, and, due to transmitting of data, “more network resources are being used”, which has slowed e-mail, SMS reception, and cell phone service

Of course, while this official explains that steps are being taken to counteract the difficulties, the solution must come from an increase in forecast investments.

ETECSA, as we know, is the name of the communications monopoly in Cuba, controlled by military business leaders, who have now committed to expand services through new base stations that expand possibilities for Internet access, transfer the balance between cell phones and extend the expiration date of cellular lines.

Indeed, if this promise is fulfilled, this would be good news for those of us who are addicted to information and communication. In any case, to justify the current service difficulties after one year of researching the project, and knowing the huge demand for cellular service among Cubans, despite its high cost, seems more than mere miscalculation.

Translated by Norma Whiting

25 April 2014

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Arrogance is a personality trait impossible to hide for those who suffer from it. In fact, it becomes more obvious when an arrogant individual tries to cover his proverbial petulance under a cloak of feigned humility. The worst of such a subject, however, is his histrionic ability that allows him to deceive considerable groups of people, particularly those who desperately need someone to speak “for them” or those who, quite the opposite, enjoy the blessing of authority.

In the case of Cuba, where freedom of speech, of the press, of information and of association are among the major shortages of this society, it is not difficult that, from time to time, some savior may appear self-proclaiming to be “the spokesperson for Cubans” which–it’s obvious–betrays immeasurable insolence, not only because it lacks the allocation of powers, but because it previously assumes an often repeated lie that, for some chumps, has become the truth: Cubans have no voice. Allow me, Mr. Arrogant and his troupe, to correct your mistake: Cuba’s Cubans do have a voice, what they lack is the means to be heard, not to mention the great number of deaf people in the world.

But, of course, a shining hero will always appear–usually with credentials and even with a pedigree–who, from his infinite wisdom, will quickly delve into the deeper intricacies of the Cuban reality and will be the only one capable to interpret it objectively because he, balanced and fair, “is not at the end of the spectrum”. Interestingly, these specimens proliferate virulently among accredited foreign journalists on the Island.

Since I don’t wish to be absolute, I suppose that there are those who are humble and even respectful of Cubans and of our reality, only I have never had the privilege of meeting them. It may be my bad luck, but, that said, to practice journalism in Cuba armed with credentials of a major media outlet and with the relative safety that your work will be published and–very important–duly financially rewarded, seems to have a hallucinogenic effect on some of them.

Such is the case of quasi-Cubanologist Fernando Ravsberg, to whom I will refer as “R” as an abbreviation, a journalist recently fallen from grace with his (ex) employer, the BBC, who has written a plaintive post following his clash with the powerful medium and, oh, surprise! after many years of working as a correspondent in Cuba and having collected his earnings has found that “he does not share their editorial judgment” as stated in his personal blog, Cartas Desde Cuba. R, inexplicably, took longer to find out the editorial standards of the BBC than to get acquainted with the intimacies of such a controversial society as that of Cuba. (more…)

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Mass demonstrations in Venezuela. Image taken from Internet

The news agencies don’t have a moment’s rest these days: a satrap in Ukraine has been overthrown through demonstrations and street protests amid the harsh winter, people stand on long lines to see with their own eyes the pomp and pageantry in which the ex-ruler, an ally of Russia, lived.

In Venezuela, student demonstrations continue, supported by opposition leaders finally came together to confront the Maduro government. In Ecuador, the opposition has just delivered a commendable blow to the government authorities by winning an unquestionable majority vote during local elections this Sunday February 23rd in important places like Quito and Guayaquil, putting the brakes on the rampant President of the “citizens’ revolution.”

The world is moving at breakneck speed, changing scenarios and uncovering new players, while we in Cuba remain in the political Jurassic era, with a government of dinosaurs perpetuated in power.

Judging by the official Cuban press, external reality does not seem to exist, so the “events” may be a gray “syndicate” congress in a country where no syndicates exist, a few “reforms” that do not reform anything, or whatever is dictated by a government that misgoverns a colony of ants that spends its days striving for sustenance, untouched by the joy of the liberated, ignorant of the will and courage of the opponents of Nicolas Maduro, the civility of Ecuadorians who opted for the polls to control the excessive power ambitions of a thug vested as president, and of everything that happens in the world beyond the reefs of a damned Island.

Venezuela hits us especially close, because of its shameless sponsorship by the Cuban dictatorship, obsolete and ruined, extending its evil shadow over a nation rich in natural and human resources. Fortunately for them and for us, Venezuela is not a country of zombies. Nevertheless, it causes sadness and apprehension all at once to see evidence that other peoples are capable of what we are not.

Pity our country, Cuba, whose children choose silence and flight instead of exercising their rights against the olive green satrapy that condemns them to slavery and poverty.

Translated by Norma Whiting
24 February 2014

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Tula

The recent declaration of the birthplace of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Camaguey, 1814-1873) as a National Monument on the 500th anniversary of the city’s founding, originally named Villa de Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe, (today, Camagüey) awakens in me the evocation of a special woman who has always resonated in my spirit.

Tula is that great poet who once chose the pseudonym La Peregrina to publish her poems, never imagining that over 150 years later, this obscure writer would borrow her familiar name to use as the distinctive signature of my own work. Because Tula Avellaneda was my first pseudonym as citizen journalist, a personal way to hide my identity behind the name of a Cuban for whom I have great affection, admiration and respect, as if she were a close friend. The strength of her dynamism was a kind of symbolic shield in the process of exorcism against the demons of fear. Tula is, in short, the only woman for whom I secretly keep a friendly complicity not devoid of a trace of envy.

Because, you know what? I’ve always preferred the Tulas over the Marianas. The nineteenth century was rich in extraordinary Cuban women. Most of them, however, went down in history for their relationship with the wars of independence, and in particular for their link — either maternal or marital- – to men who were the protagonists of these military contests. A few were warriors themselves, so they transcended as patriots for a nation that, unfortunately, has always rendered greater worship to violence than to poetry, love, and literature.

To date, the women warriors are “Marianas” (after the Grajales saga, enjoining her youngest son to grow up to go to war for an ever bloodthirsty Motherland), but, by the same token, they were relegated to the perfect stereotype of the patriotic stoicism that offers the glory of the memory at the same time that it strips away humanity, to such an extent that I can’t recall any portrait of Mariana Grajales where she is smiling, or at least with a kind and loving facial expression. In fact, her effigy was built more on hate for the enemy than on love of any kind.

A similar fate befell on the portraits of other famous and respectable matrons of the nineteenth-century’s patriotic altar: hieratic expressions, frowns, pursed lips. Such rigid perfection that it becomes alien and distant. Accordingly, they have been stored in our memories, but not in our hearts.

Tula, on the other hand, transcended through her human essence which ran over in her literary work and in her disobedient character which defied the conventions of her time. An intense, passionate and creative life was her personal crusade, breaking gender taboos. A single mom, passionate lover, free spirit and controversial, her tempestuous character shows through even after the majestic serenity of her portraits. She never felt sufficiently loved by those she loved — although she outperformed all — never understood by her contemporaries, she was respected and feared at the same time, and often condemned by the moral values of her time, but she prevailed over adversity and was a successful woman in a world where success was an eminently masculine scepter.

Her talent as a poet, novelist and playwright was the liberating gift of femininity sentenced to containment and censorship for women of her time. That was her way of transcending and rebelling, so her legacy goes beyond the narrow confines of her Nation and of a time, and she is remembered with pleasure and nearness. Tula was (is) beautifully imperfect, therefore credible.

Now, two hundred years after her birth, few Cubans know of her life and her work, but her house in Camagüey has been officially declared a National Monument. I don’t know whether, had she ever imagined it, Tula might feel satisfaction over such a late tribute as part of her city’s half-millennium celebration. Knowing her personal genius, I suspect that when she died she knew that she had constructed her own monument with the flair of her pen and the fiber of her peculiar nature.

Either way, I appreciate the opportunity that has led me to write this poor tribute to La Peregrina, my old and eternal spiritual friend, who scored, with her strength of character and the grace of her verse, the young soul of this fan who’s already traveling through the twenty-first century and, with much less talent but with equal passion, disobeys other taboos in the Cuba of today.

Translated by Norma Whiting

7 February 2014

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Act of Repudiation. Cuba

“Reagan wears a skirt, we wear pants, we have a commandant whose balls roar! (revolutionary slogan made famous by Felipe Pérez Roque)

Sunday, January 19, 2014 | Miriam Celaya

Havana wakes up early, and before 8:00 am and there is a swarm of voices and movement. Old cars and buses rattle around the city, people crowd at bus stops and at the curb, the new day of survival sizzles. Just one block from Carlos III, a main avenue, dozens of teenagers huddle around the “Protest of Baraguá” middle school staving off morning classes as much as possible. Regardless of gender, lively, haughty, irreverent, almost all speak loudly, gesticulating and shouting from one group to another, from one sidewalk to another.

A neatly dressed and beautifully groomed student stands on her toes while she places her hands on either side of her mouth, like a megaphone:

“Dayáááán … Dayáááán ! Hey, you, don’t pretend you can’t hear me…I’m talking to you, what the f… is it with you?!”

The kid in question, half a block away, turns to the girl and laughs:

“Hey, Carla, what’s the problem? Did you catch the hash? Now you can’t stop itching and I gotta go and “scratch” it?”

“Oh, honey, you wish! You aren’t man enough for that!”

The brief dialogue is accompanied by exaggerated, lewd gestures.

Dayán approaches and they greet each other with a friendly kiss and much fondling. They join an adjacent group of classmates chattering among themselves. Every once in a while, strong words fly, like the morning sparrows in nearby trees. I look carefully at the big picture. Greetings among these young people can be a spank on the bottom, a kiss, or an expletive straight from a tavern of pirates, with an ease borne of habit.

I approach the group and identify myself as a reporter. I want to ask them some quick and simple questions before they have to go through the school gates. I make it clear to them that I will not need their names, that I will not record their answers and that I will not take their pictures if they don’t want me to do so. Some move away a little, just in case, but stay in close range, as if to hear everything. None wanted to be photographed.

Where did you learn to express yourself like that? Do your parents allow that at home and your teachers at school? Have you been brought up in a violent family environment? What is your interpretation of rudeness or cursing? How would you define the language you use? Is your vocabulary found in any of your Literature or Spanish Language books?

After some hesitation, it’s Dayán himself who breaks the ice.

“It’s OK, nuttin’, auntie, it’s normal. Everyone speaks this way and everyone knows what those words mean. At home, you have to be careful, because parents get upset if you swear a lot, but they do it just like nuttin’. Teachers rarely butt in. There is nothing wrong with that. Look, at home, there is no violence like that. I have never been hit. OK, so maybe I got smacked when I was younger and did something bad, but ‘normal’ like everybody else”.

Then others jostle to talk and offer their opinions, interrupting each other. All agree that what is happening is that in “my era” they did not talk this way because they were behind the times and there was less freedom, but “that was before”. Cursing is now “normal” (let’s say very advanced). It is true that our vocabulary is not found in books, but books are one thing and real life is another. The same is true of TV, for example. I dig a bit more and discover that not a single one of them has ever read a novel. They don’t even know about poetry. To sum it up, vulgarity is not so vulgar for them, and foul-mouthed expletives are the norm.

The school bell warns that morning classes are about to begin, and the kids push each other as they go in, laughing, having fun. I am obviously “over the hill”, kind of a brief anachronism for that day. Some, very few, say goodbye to me before turning their backs and walking away.

But just as not all young people are vulgar, the vulgar are not all young. The epidemic of rudeness that has become endemic is not a generational thing, but a systemic phenomenon.

In the afternoon, I go to a nearby avenue and skirt the lateral passageway of the Carlos III Market, by Árbol Seco Street, where taxi drivers hang out to gossip daily between fares. They drink espresso or refreshments for their parched throats. Every once in a while, profanities sprinkle the talks, especially in the friendly, loud discussions about national baseball series or car prices, whose sales were recently allowed by the State. Adolescence is far behind them; many have some gray hair to comb, others have even lost their grays.

I ask the area’s septuagenarian parking attendant if the regulars always use such foul language or if it is only in the thrill of the moment. “That is normal here. They always curse, even in the presence of women and children.  There is no respect, and if you say something to them, it gets worse, so it’s better if you keep quiet”. I make it clear to him that I will not say anything to them.

Indeed, if I tried to complain to all those who express themselves using profanity, my whole day would be spent doing so, and would have gotten smacked more than once. In Cuba today, correcting someone’s manners and language is considered unjustifiable prudery: aserismo* prevails . But how and when did it all begin?

¡Asere, ¿qué bolá?!

Hey,you, wassup?

While it’s true that there have always been people who are vulgar and people without manners, only lately has rudeness invaded Cuban society, so much so that it is impossible to avoid. Contrary to the official discourse that advocates for education and culture of this society, vulgarity as a particular form of violence seems to be here to stay. From using the most foul language to the very masculine impudence to urinate in public and in broad daylight, our daily lives are becoming ever more aggressive.

If we were to explain the history of the empire of vulgarity on the Island using some of the prosaic words that have been incorporated into everyday speech at different times in these 55 years from vulgar egalitarianism imposed as state policy, probably only a Cuban brought up in this environment could understand something of the lexicon. Perhaps the story could be summarized as follows, and readers will forgive me, as I only intend to illustrate:

At first it was a guy who stormed a barracks with a group of ecobios, although when he left he was on fire when the shooting began. It became pretty bad and lacking in cold, and the ones who went to prison were better off. But, since they were such crazy dicks, at the end, they and the other cuties who joined them along the way took the bunch here, by their balls, gave Batista, who was a weirdo, a good poison, and that is how this dark affair began since here everyone is the same salsa, so whoever has an itch should scratch it, and if not….tump tu tum tump tum, bolá. Politeness and sentimentality ended, and shake it so it goes off* which one is it?

The spread of foul language and loss of good manners is already a feature of the Cuban society of the times, to the point that the general-president himself, Castro II, has publicly expressed alarm at such vulgarity. Social vulgarity, that sort of bastard child that the regime now refuses to recognize as its own, has passed out of the masses and reached the sacred threshold of its parents. And it scares them. What if one day such uncontrolled crudeness becomes violence against the throne?

Diligent criers, meanwhile, have responded immediately to the master’s whistle. Language, Did Good Manners Take a Trip? is an article where the official journalist Maria Elena Balán Sainz, after lamenting about the rudeness of speech and manners currently governing Cuba, especially among the young, delves into an analysis of the origin of the Spanish spoken in the Island and its lexical relationship with other countries in the region, on the evolutionary theory of language, its importance in human communication and care, about which she insists that, “Although it seemingly may fall on deaf ears, we cannot stop the battle for the proper use of our language, although there are marked tendencies in recent times toward popular slang language, occasionally with vulgar ingredients”.

Even she could not escape the clichés that in Cuba each issue becomes a “battle” and where all “official strategy” gets shipwrecked in sterile campaigns, though we can recognize the good intentions of her article. However, her article seems to imply that the vulgarity and crudeness emerged suddenly and spontaneously among us without cause or reason, as naturally as if it were fungi on animal feces in a pasture. Balán Sainz does not mention, even once, the coarse rusticity of revolutionary slogans, swearing in repudiation rallies, vulgarity in assaulting and beating by those who think as indicated by the olive-green creed, or rudeness stimulated and wrapped from power to try to nullify those morally different.

Those waters brought this mud …

Now, using my own words for the review, I’d say that, at first, it was the violence of a social revolution that came to power by force, which expropriated, expelled, sowed exclusions, for political reasons, of religious faith or sexual preferences, which imposed egalitarianism, condemned traditions, separated children from their parents’ home in order to indoctrinate them, fractured families, condemned prosperity, kidnapped rights, stifled the creative capacities and independence of individuals, standardized poverty, pushed an infinite migration that plagues and cripples us. I cannot imagine greater vulgarity.

Now, when Cuba looks like a scorched land, her economy ruined and her values misplaced among old slogans and constant disappointments, the regime is perturbed by the rudeness and poverty of speech, which move along proportionally with the system’s general crisis.

But Balán Sainz is somewhat right when she reminds us that our lexicon is a reflection of our social reality. Lowly, vulgar and violent language belongs in an impoverished country, where each day we can feel more and more the frustration, the precariousness of survival and the tendency for violence. It is part of the anthropological damage, so masterfully defined by Dagoberto Valdés.

Are there solutions? Of course, but they will not be spontaneous. Only the end of the rude Castro dictatorship could mark the beginning of the end of aserismo in Cuba.

*Kimba Pa’ que Suene : a raunchy Reggaeton (Latin Reggae) glorifying masturbation.  Such music is currently outlawed by the government of Cuba.

By Miriam Celaya, translated by Norma Whiting

Cubanet, 19 January 2014

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Photograph from the Internet: No Comment.

Time goes on and the funeral of the famous first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, still occupies the pages of the press. Almost everyone feels indebted to praise the infinitely glorious Madiba, re-editing, in countless paragraphs, the deceased leader’s life and seeking to enhance his virtues persistently, to the point that we no longer know for sure if Mandela was a human being or a saint on earth. It is praiseworthy to remember with admiration and respect people who have realized valuable deeds, but I don’t personally react well to icons, paradigms or however they are defined.

Well, then, for all good things Mandela did for his people, for his example of relinquishing power when he could have retained it, due to his charm and charisma, his ability to forgive, so necessary and lacking among us, and all the good things he did throughout his long life, but I prefer to remember him as the man he was, an imperfect individual, as all of us human beings are, which puts him in a closer and more credible position in my eyes.

So, in the presence of so many stereotyped speeches and so much politicking brouhaha deployed at the funeral of a deceased who may have wished less fanfare, I decided to honor him in my own way: celebrating his existence because he lived to fulfill such lofty mission as freedom and justice for his people, during the pursuit of which he suffered repression and imprisonment, just as Cubans aspiring to the same ideals for their people are still suffering, as those who have lived in the confinement and injustices of a dictatorship not just for 27 years, but for over half a century.

But I will allow myself a special tribute to Madiba by modestly imitating him in forgiveness and reconciliation: I forgive you, Nelson Mandela, for the friendship with which you paid tribute to the vilest dictator my people has ever had, and for the many instances on which you exalted him and gave him your support. I forgive you for having been wrong in granting privilege to the oppressor instead of the oppressed, for placing your hand –redemptive for your people- on the bloodied shoulders of the one who excludes and reviles mine. I forgive your accolade to the myth that was built on violence, although you were a symbol of peace for humanity. I forgive you for having condemned us though you hardly knew us, forgetting the tribute in blood that my people made in Africa for which you, like a fickle mistress, thanked the satrap, who has never had the dignity to sacrifice himself for us, for you, or for your kind.

I forgive you, then, and I am reconciled with your memory to keep remembering and respecting the best in you. I know many, with vulgar hypocrisy, will demonize me for questioning you, but they won’t hurt me, because my soul is hardened by virtue of having been attacked and criticized before. It is my hope that this time my detractors will be so consistent with your preaching of kindness they seem to admire so much that they will eventually forgive me. May you also forgive this Cuban’s audacity and irreverence, who believes in the virtue of the good works of men, because she has no gods, but I was not able to resist the temptation to also utter what’s mine in the hour of your death.

And if either you or the mourners of the day won’t forgive me, I don’t care. At any rate, it will be further proof that, deep down, you’re not perfect; at least we’ll have that in common. Don’t take offense, in either case, you were a great person, and I will never match any of your many merits. Rest in peace, sincerely.

13 December 2013

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Rafters - Picture from the Internet

Rafters – Picture from the Internet

In numerous conversations with Cubans, émigrés as well as those “on the inside” (I share the experience of living every day under this Island’s sui generis [unique] conditions with the latter) surfaces a phrase, coined through several decades, whose credibility rests more on repetition by its own use and abuse in popular speech than on reality itself. “In Cuba, whatever is not forbidden is mandatory”.

I must admit that the former is true enough. If anything abounds in Cuba it’s prohibitions in all its forms: those that truly are contained in laws, decrees, regulations and other provisions of different levels, all aimed at inhibiting individuals and controlling every social or personal activity, what the coercive nature of the system imposes on us, even if not legally sanctioned, (for example, male students can not wear long hair, music of any kind may not be broadcast through radio or TV, people may not gather in certain places, etc.) and those we invent, that is, the self-imposed prohibitions of people who since birth have been subjected to fear, indoctrination, permanent surveillance and to the questionable morality of everyday survival that forces one to live thanks to the illegalities, that is, violating injunctions established by the government beyond common sense. It is natural that transgressions abound most wherever greater number of taboos exist.

Now, the “mandatory” is another matter. It is rather about a total legend that, be it through ignorance or for another number of reasons (irrational at that) it’s a legend that serves many Cubans to unconsciously justify their behavior and to embed themselves in the civic mess that is choking us. The list of “obligations” would be endless, but some of the handiest can be summarized as follows: belonging to organizations that are pure pipe dream, such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Women, Territorial Militia Troops, Cuban Workers Central, Pioneers Organization, High School Student Federation, University Student Federation, etc., all of them with payment of dues and attending different rituals according to the agendas, also supposedly of a “mandatory” nature.

But many Cubans seem to consider it mandatory to vote for the Delegate, attend meetings and accountability meetings, to shout slogans, sing the National Anthem, salute the flag, honor the martyrs of the revolutionary calendar, to sign political commitments, other documents and a very long list.

Actually, there is the assumption that failure to comply with these “obligations” would result in some reprisals, such as the loss of one’s job, our children not being accepted in some study centers, not being eligible for certain child-care or semi-boarding services for children of working mothers, etc.. However, many of us have found from experience that none of the above mentioned is in truth mandatory, but it constitutes the general answer to the fundamental prohibition that weighs over this nation: it is forbidden to be free.

Oh, Cubans! If ever the courage that drives so many to brave the dangers of the sea in an almost suicidal escape, to create a new life away from here, to survive in such precarious conditions inside, and to succeed against all obstacles outside of Cuba, could be turned into overcoming the fear of the regime, how different everything would be! If so much energy could be directed towards changing our own reality, we would make the world of prohibitions disappear in no time, that world that has kept us in chains for half a century, and we would stop feeling compelled to be slaves forever.  It is not mandatory, but it is also not prohibited.

Translated by Norma Whiting

25 November 2013

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UN Human Rights Council

The recent election that resulted in Cuba joining the membership of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) for a period of three years has aroused contradictory positions in various opinion sectors, both within and outside the Island. No wonder, since it means the recognition of a totalitarian government that has curtailed all individual and collective freedoms for Cubans for decades, and even today continues to deny rights as essential as those of association, freedom of press, speech and information, just to mention some of the most hard to conceal.

Some optimists, with exaggerated candor, consider that the presence of representatives of the Cuban government – not “of Cuba” — in the HRC could be positive as leverage over the government, since the authorities would be subject to greater scrutiny from the organization, and to fulfill the obligations characteristic of democratic systems, which would lead to an eventual easing or transformation of the human rights situation in Cuba.

Pragmatists, however, are of the opinion that, up to now, belonging to international organizations and commissions that, at least de jure, and with varying degrees of success in advocating the defense of economic, political and social progress for Humanity, has not been an important or sufficient element to promote democratic change in Cuba.

In fact, as the official press release boasts, “Cuba was a founding member of the Council, where it remained until 2012, (…), so we are returning to the forum after a year as a State observer” (Granma, November 13th, 2013, p. 5) without an incidence of any sensible improvement on human rights in Cuba. Additionally, the Cuban government has received recognition in such sensitive areas as health, education and nutrition on more than one occasion, despite the deterioration suffered by the first two items and the chronic failure of the third. Many Cubans interpret so much recognition as a mockery of the plight in which they live and as an affront to decades of resistance, sacrifices and efforts by the essentially peaceful internal dissent.

Of course, the official press is ecstatic. A Granma editorial (Wednesday November 13th, 2013, front page) proclaims Cuba’s election to the HRC as an “earned right” and “a resounding recognition of the work undertaken by our country in this matter”. And, so there be no doubt that the government will persist in applying human rights their own way, using the same excuses as always, that edition’s page 5 editorial reprinted a statement by Anayansi Rodriguez, the regime’s ambassador to the Geneva-based international organizations.

She said that this “is a victory of the Cuban peoples that have learned how to withstand more than five decades the U.S. embargo”, and later warned that “there are no unique democratic systems. Each nation has the right to determine, in a sovereign way, what is the most convenient system for its full realization of human rights”, an ambiguous phrase that Cubans know how to clearly interpret as “the Castrocracy will continue using access to international agencies as another resource to legitimize the oldest dictatorship that the civilized world knows and adulates”.

This is nothing new under the sun, which sometimes seems to show more spots than light, as demonstrated by other obscure members also elected to the HRC on this occasion: Russia, China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Morocco, South Africa, Namibia and Mexico, countries in which, independent of nuances and gradations, violation of human rights is part of everyday reality.

Obviously, for the United Nations and its various forums, the precarious global balance requires certain concessions, even those that hurt democratic values. Thus, for better or for worse, the Cuban dictatorship will have another three years grace to try to destroy this international organization.

It is known that, beyond Cuba’s negligible human or financial support to the UN, the primary mission of Castro diplomacy is to jeopardize the functioning of all the forums created for the promotion of democracy, to thin out discussions, to distort agendas, to create antagonism, to polarize the minds and to make use of the venues as platforms to attack the governments of free nations, particularly the US, though that country – of its own choosing — does not belong to the HRC.

The democracy dreams of Cubans, orphans of rights, will gain little or nothing with this pat on the backs of the Castros. The consolation prize (for chumps) is that they will not win over the HRC or democratic countries with such dubious membership either. To some extent, except for the gaps, we will both suffer punishment and penance.

Translated by Norma Whiting

15 November 2013

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