Archive for April, 2008

Hygiene is not health

As has been happening for the last few years, the appearance of the Dengue fever’s first cases once again marks the beginning of its fearsome cycle through the city.  They are definitely not being officially reported in the media yet, but the official alarm is reflected in the increase in visits by different agents of the anti-carrier campaign (or “the mosquito people”, as they usually call themselves) and by the medical students bearing surveys (“Have you had cases of fever in this area?”, “If you should have one, go to a doctor’s office immediately.”)  Obviously, in principal, these visits are nothing bad.  It’s good to maintain control over the focal points and the cases that do arise, in order to avoid an epidemic.  However, such a deployment contrasts once again with the permanent lack of hygiene in the city, with the accumulation of water in the potholes and blocked drains in the roads–above all in the most populated neighborhoods–and with the garbage cans and dumpsters almost permanently packed to the point of spilling onto the streets and sidewalks.

Curiously, many of these centers of infection are situated near establishments where food is sold, such as the corner of Jesús Peregrino and Santiago, in Central Havana, where an agricultural market, a sugarcane drink stand, as well as a family doctor’s office, converge.  On the opposite corner, Marqués González and Jesús Peregrino, a mere step from another doctor’s office, another pothole filled with sewer water has found a permanent place in the geography of the city.

No less disgusting are the gigantic dumpsters, said to be made in China (just a coincidence!) that accumulate, over days, enormous quantities of scrap and waste, producing delicacies for the rats and roaches.

Nothing, at least nothing that the mosquito boys knock on the door for, creates in the population the illusory idea that–still without hygiene in the city–the good intentions of the authorities are keeping our health safe.

April 14, 2008

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What use are closed parks?

Whenever I walk along the streets of the Historic District in Old Havana, I notice the number of barren lots and other areas that have been converted, through the wonders of restoration, into beautiful, green, shady parks with stone paved paths, and even, in some cases, sculptures and fountains.  Certainly, some of these small plazas, true oases in the midst of the aridity of the city, are public spaces or freely accessible by the public, although they are in the minority.  Others, however, are the height of absurdity with their bars and locks displaying not only the evident intention to block access to them, but also the negation of the very essence of the social function of the park itself.  I refer particularly to the little children’s park located on Cuba Street, between Amargura and Teniente Rey.  There, stoutly protected by bars and uniformed guards basking in the sun or lounging in the shade, is a set of equipment originally intended for small children’s play and recreation.

By itself, the scene that it offers is an invitation to enjoyment for the young or for their elders: Colorful slides, swings, and assorted equipment for the little ones to exercise on, as well as shaded benches for the comfort and rest of the older ones while they watch the kids.  But no.  My personal experience has shown me that the park is an unattainable temptation, a sort of “museum of childhood recreation,” because each and every time I have passed by (which is more than a few), and at different times of the day, the park remains empty, silent, and securely closed to the public.

By contrast, on the same block and along the adjacent blocks, groups of kids of various ages can be seen playing dangerously in the street, with no protection from traffic. They amuse themselves any way they can with whatever they have, just playing around, because childhood is an all too brief time for fun and games, when every child seeks happiness at any cost.  They have the park right in front of their eyes but they can’t use it.  It’s possible that the parks and the railings aren’t meant for us, the people of the city, its soul and reason for being, but rather are part of the made-up face that we show to tourists: See?  We have a city whose officials worry that children should have enough space to play in…  And if some foreign idiot asks why this park is empty, we can say that during the day our children are in school or in day care, as they should be.  Isn’t that obvious?

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China Apologist

For some time, they have been feeding Cubans on the Island news and culture from China by the plateful.  Cuban TV has even begun showing a program called “Looking At China” on one of its four national channels, evidently aimed at making the Chinese–and above all, Chinese things–seem less strange, different, and distant to us.  Now, everything Chinese is nothing less than marvelous: its food, dance, music (!!!), products, political leaders, its colossal growth and development, its culture in general.

This sort of indoctrination has been reinforced by the massive entry of electronic appliances, computers, and even busses made in China.  These last ones, a relief for our battered public transportation fleet, at least in Havana, have now even begun to be assembled in Cuba.  Obviously, these benefits constitute a debt that we’ve obliged ourselves to, not only in the material and financial sense, but also in the political.  It’s for this reason that, in Cuba, the press, which never mentions nor explains, for example,  what the facts were about Tiananmen Square, has stood up in defense of China’s imperial rights.  Now Cubans must support the Chinese cause in Tibet, as in Taiwan.  Everything the Chinese government considers its possession automatically is, even though we don’t know for certain the history of each region, the nature of their conflicts, much less what might happen there.

However, we’ll have to be careful.  If we take Tibet as an example, we can conclude that the Chinese are the type who come to stay and take ownership of things.  And we know that they are exclusivists, like our Russian occupiers were in the 70’s and 80’s.  The Chinese, whose first immigrants arrived on the Island during the colonial era, never really integrated themselves into society.  Even now, the few native Chinese who entered during the days of the Republic continue to have closed societies and still speak to each other in their own language so that we can’t understand them.  Understand that I really don’t have anything against the Chinese simply because they are here; but faced with the reality of the situation, I can’t help but be a little startled each time I pass beneath the enormous Chinese gate that the Historian of our city has had built at the entrance to the neighborhood of this name.

April 12, 2008

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A close friend with whom I usually exchange news and other gossip maintains that Cuba is the only country in the world whose principal newspaper, the official organ of the Communist Party and, therefore, the voice of the government, has the ridiculous name of “abuelita” (granma).*  In effect, “Granma,” a word which perpetuates the memory of the yacht that brought so many bad things (though at that time, possibilities) from Tuxpan, is the contraction of the English word “grandmother.”

In this way, Granma, a term that calls to mind the most pleasant and tender memories of childhood, is used on the Island to designate the pages of the supreme mandate, the imposed, that which is not open to appeal.  However, with the passing of the years, the name of this newspaper no longer seems so preposterous; for some time its principal menu has been the idle pursuits of Granpa.  It definitely does not, not even remotely, call to mind the idea of a Granpa that we all more or less think of; but, however dry, surly, admonishing, or grim he proves to be, however thugish and cold-blooded, he doesn’t stop being a grandparent—so that, at least, it relates the name of the rag to its principal and permanent “collaborator.”

From its lean pages, Granpa tells us stories and recalls glorious anecdotes (in which he himself is the protagonist, prophet, and judge), selecting those that we “grandkids” should know about, and amazing us with the blinding light of his wisdom.

In his most recent entries he has been showing signs of a surprisingly practical sense. In order not to be repetitive, and above all to avoid unnecessary fatigue, he has decided to write his intellectual articles using the simple technique of “cut and paste.”  So he accesses the reports published on the internet by numerous press agencies, which many of us have already read, cuts out the fragment he considers relevant, and pastes it into the middle of his personal commentaries.  And yes, he always mentions the source, a beautiful lesson in ethics and modesty.  In any case, it is precisely his commentaries that are the most interesting part, the crux of the document, the key to its lucidity.  If anyone doubts it they only have to go to the first paragraph of what was published en “el Abuelita” this past March 18, 2008, where it reads:

“The cable agencies transmitted rapidly.  The news wasn’t laughable, but still, it was ironic.  Each one spoke with its own voice.  There was competition, that is to say, they competed.”  Before this, I only recall one statement of equal sagacity, fruit of the intelligence and the hangover of a famous athlete, who declared something like, “the technique is the technique and without the technique, there’s no technique.”

If a newspaper with international reach publishes a document like this, without making even one correction, then the author, without doubt, is the owner; therefore the Granma newspaper belongs to Granpa.

Taking into account that over the last 18 months his senile efforts, presented under the modest rubric “reflections,” have gotten worse, and that the old man in question writes and publishes with impunity whatever he pleases, and that this, with a few variations, has always been the case, it’s completely justified to rename the newspaper.  In the future (and as long as God–Oh, so tolerant!–wishes), the official organ of the Communist Party should begin to call itself “Granpa” (abuelito), so that it would better match the proprietor of the newspaper.  I swear that this is an innocent proposal.

Translator’s note:

This article is a play on words using, in the original, the English words “Granma” and “Granpa” along with the Spanish words for granma, granpa, grandmother and grandfather.  “Granpa,” in English, is the original title.  While the long play on words creates challenges in translation, the meaning is clear.  The source of the wordplay is this:

In 1956, Fidel Castro and his 81 compatriots sailed to Cuba from Tuxpan, Mexico in a 60-foot yacht which the original English-speaking owner had named “Granma,” after his grandmother.  After the success of the Revolution in 1959, one of Cuba’s provinces was renamed “Granma” in honor of the yacht, and the country’s main daily newspaper, the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, is also named “Granma,” a word with no meaning in Spanish.  The newspaper Granma’s “principal and permanent ‘collaborator’” is, of course, a reference to Fidel Castro, or “Granpa.”  “Its lean pages” is a reference to the fact that the paper is a small tabloid with only 8 pages.

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An indecent declaration

On Saturday, March 22, the Granma newspaper published the Final Declaration from the so-called “Meeting of Cubans residing abroad who are against the Blockade and Terrorism,” which took place in Havana between March 19th  and 21st.  From its first paragraph, the Declaration exhibits an absolute disrespect for all Cubans who aspire to democracy and freedom, whether living inside or outside the Island, when it announces: “We Cubans living abroad, committed to our homeland and the valuable work of the Revolution, united by a patriotic and Martí-based* vocation, have reunited in Havana during the 19th, 20th, and 21st days of March to share opinions and experiences concerning the best forms to express, in the present historic moment, our commitment to the fatherland and the continuation of its revolutionary project began in 1959.”

One might ask why these “Cubans” left the country, and why they don’t honor their commitment to the revolution by returning to live in the fatherland that they defend with such zeal, from abroad, against the meddling surveillance of the United States and the European Union, places where they have found a home and work, from which they earn a decent living, possibilities that we Cubans on the Island lack. They are, without a doubt, representatives of the heroic fighters for the State’s security, scattered around the world.

The declaration doesn’t let pass the opportunity to assure, “To our beloved Commander Fidel, whose unrivaled example has been, is, and will be, the guiding light of our fight, our commitment to defend the work of the revolution, wherever we may find ourselves.”  (Who can doubt it?)  And it finishes with a list of demands that must have been written up by Felipe Pérez Roque* himself, overseen by the “compañerito”* who maintains his false retirement.  It demands the removal of the blockade, the Bush Plan, and the Cuban Adjustment Act;  “the elimination of all restrictions preventing Cuban residents in the USA from freely visiting our country and maintaining ties with their relatives in Cuba”; the cessation of all terrorist actions coming from the U.S.; the immediate release of “our Five brothers,* unjustly kidnapped”; and the definitive elimination of the European Union’s sanctions and the EU’s Common Position* on Cuba.  Beyond some demands that could be considered justified, it’s just the same government speech.  It doesn’t include the right for Cubans living on the Island to leave or enter freely, just as it doesn’t include the right for Cubans abroad to return or invest their business capital in Cuba.  They also forgot to demand freedom for hundreds of prisoners of conscience who remain locked away in abysmal conditions in the prisons of the revolution for the simple “crime” of thinking differently and expressing their ideas.

The Final Declaration of this group of agents constitutes a provocation against free-thinking Cubans and the long and sad diaspora of the Nation, as well as an offense against the intelligence of the people.  Its shameful aspects here are the proposed continuation of the divisions between Cubans, and support of belligerence as a strategy to sustain the regime.  However, since in the end they won’t die for the revolution, nor even live with it, we will have to take care of their failure.  Before then, we will have to take precautions; it’s known that opportunistic germs don’t become extinct, they mutate.

Translator’s Notes:

Martí-based:  José Martí (1853-1895), Cuba’s national hero.

Felipe Pérez Roque:  Cuba’s foreign minister.

“Compañerito” refers to Fidel Castro.

Our Five brothers:  Also known as “The Cuban 5” or “The Five Heroes.”  Readers can google these terms for more information.

European Union’s Common Position on Cuba:  More information may be found by googling this phrase.

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