Archive for January, 2011

Covering the Sun with One Finger

Luís Posada Carriles. Photograph taken from the Internet

In the absence of a complete chronology of the struggle for freedom of the press in Cuba, it is possible to follow, step by step, the increasing deterioration of the “national information system.” Tune in to radio and television newscasts, or browse through the newspapers which, as a rule, repeat misinformation or misrepresentations of what happens in the world. This emphasizes, in uppercase, all that is omitted, and with it, the lack of freedom, initiatives and opinions by industry professionals. The official “journalistic” activity on the island is now an occupation lacking in  veracity, dignity or in the minimum decorum, with very few exceptions. And it must be really hard to serve a master as deceitful as the Cuban government while maintaining respect for a profession that is as old as it is necessary in a globalized world at the height of the age of the Internet.

Examples to support what I’m stating abound, but one of the most typical is being created right now. This past January 10th all the nation’s media announced the start of the trial in the United States against Luis Posada Carriles on charges of fraud, obstruction of justice, perjury and false statements, “despite his long history of terrorism against Cuba.” That day, the Round Table TV talk show was also devoted to this conspicuous character (on that occasion, the TV evening ritual was titled Posada Carriles and the Route of Terror, and it had two parts, aired on successive days), and — if that were not enough — the Cubavisión channel aired a special evening program conveying what they usually call “new evidence” against Posada, based on the very credible testimony of a Salvadoran rumored to be a confessed terrorist, sentenced to a 30-year prison term in Cuba, whose life was spared through the generosity of revolutionary justice, (which was exemplary and inflexible with three young Cubans shot against the wall in 2003 for highjacking a passenger vessel).

At this point, I leave a personal note: I do not defend Mr. Luis Posada Carriles, nor do I condemn him until, beyond any doubt, his participation in the heinous 1976 Barbados crime is established, as well as other criminal acts he is accused of by the Cuban government. I condemn any acts of violence, mainly those that threaten innocent lives, even if they wear the make-up of any supposedly higher ideal. To blow up a civilian airliner in flight is as criminal as to down planes or to sink ships full of defenseless people, so a much longer and fuller bench is required to judge the culprits of terrorism.

Daily since its beginning, the Cuban press has reported details of the trial being held in El Paso, Texas. Posada Carriles was, once again, the media’s supreme obsession, until someone from up high was forced to react to the dust under our own rugs: alternative bloggers again, with the usual nonsense, were pointing insistently to the absence of trials in Cuba for the murders at Mazorra. So, on January 17th, a week after choking us with the terrible shortcomings of the judicial system of the enemy Empire, which continues to ignore the proverbial Cuban government impartiality, the authorities allowed its anti-informative spokesmen to issue a brief, bare-bones note announcing the beginning, that same day, of the trial “against the principals involved in the untimely death of patients” at Havana’s Psychiatric Hospital that took place the previous year. The note closed with a significant sentence: “Once the judicial process has been concluded, the results will be made public.”

After that, Cubans have continued to learn everything about Posada Carriles’s trial that the authorities have seen fit to disclose, while the process that follows the deaths of scores of psychiatric patients in Cuba has remained a stubborn official silence, despite the impact that the crime had in people’s sensibilities at the time. Needless to mention that the transparency of the El Paso trial, with the disclosure of what happens in a U.S. court, contrasts against the murky conspiracy brewing inside the inaccessible and secret confines of a Cuban court. Management of information in Cuba, with its typical contempt for public opinion, has reached unparalleled heights of shoddiness.

Meanwhile, and in the absence of official reports, popular opinion declares that there are many obscure points in the trial being held in the capital’s Provincial Court. It is said that “all who should be there are not,” that filling the courtroom with people chosen by the authorities is not really “in public view,” that among the notable absentees from the bench of the accused is the then Minister of Health José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera, one of the darlings of the lesser Castro. It is said that, once again, a selection of scapegoats will cover responsibility for the corruption and the lack of scruples of the higher-ups. Only the naive and the morons will settle for the results of this farce.

The Cuban press, as always, is silent, but many people are not. And the national state of disbelief at the government is not the only thing, but the general discredit that employees playing a part in the media suffer in their unhappy compromise with a dictatorship doomed to extinction. Obtusely lacking common sense, they are a manifest reflection of the deceptiveness of the system, and, in the long run, as responsible as their master.

Note at closing: Today, Monday January 24th, the official press published the following information: “sentence ruling concluded in trial for the events at the Havana Psychiatric Hospital.” I suggest to readers that they visit the official website cubadebate.com and assess the news for themselves.

January 24, 2011

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Changing at the Pace of a Bolero

Casa hostal en Centro Habana. Fotografía tomada de Internet

Home-based Inn in Central Havana. Photo from the Internet

Let it be known that I am one of those who are pleased with the changes in Cuba. I even think that some minor things are already starting to change. That said, what I’m not convinced about is the pace, because, while it isn’t fitting to rush to immediate solutions in a fragile socioeconomic situation like ours, and in the absence of a coordinated and consolidated civil society, neither is it healthy to maintain this slow pace as if we were to live as long as a freshwater tortoise. The reticence of government actions that have taken place reveal the government’s fear that things might get out of their control; the implementation of measures (reforms, adjustments or whatever they are called) indicates the inescapable need to find a way out of stagnation and out of the critical state of the Cuban economy.

It is more likely that the government intends to show some accomplishments in Congress next April and, consequently, one would expect some progressive momentum in the small-time economy, among others. It is remarkable how many Cubans are already breaking the ice and have embarked on the adventure of applying for licenses. Those engaged in the sale of food (cafés and restaurants popularly called “paladares”, the latter with a maximum capacity of 20 seats) stand out, as do some lessees who have legalized their rooms for rent, primarily for hosting CUC-paying foreigners. It is clear that people need to survive, and not a few believe that being first at this initiative will ensure a good position against the competition they expect will come sooner, rather than later.

Foto tomada de Internet

Photo taken from the Internet

The picture is interesting, more so because — as seen in this first phase — there is an obvious service-market primacy of goods production, and because in such a depressed economy investment recovery becomes slower and more difficult, while “allowances” are simultaneously being eliminated, and some products are unrestricted and become more expensive, which affects the entire population as a whole, and diminishes the purchasing power of those who use these services… at least in theory. We must not forget the number of layoffs that will occur in the coming months either, a sure source of social tension. We will have to monitor this process of experimentation, taking into account that — as my colleague Dimas Castellanos has posed in his controversial blog — the pace and depth of changes, in the absence of other enforcing agents, are determined by the very government that dragged us to our demise. And, so far, we are moving at the rhythm of a bolero.

Taking just some general examples, we see, in panoramic view, that:

– At least two years elapsed before the General realized that it was feasible and even necessary to expand the size of lands given in usufruct to the farmers who make them produce.

– At least 34 years elapsed since the establishment of the latest political-administrative division and the organization of the Popular Power to discover the monstrous bureaucracy that flows from the system, and to propose — also experimentally — the division of a province in two, which began with a new administrative style in 2011 (makes more sense, they say) and a minimum outline in the structure of their governments.

– At least 50 years elapsed since a novelty was revealed: the ration card, far from being an achievement, is an anachronistic and obsolete ballast that produces an incalculable burden on the State… and must be eliminated.

– Over 50 years elapsed before the government understood that the Cuban model doesn’t even work for us, and started to look to transform it, though, to avoid such a public confession, it labeled it as “a renewal of the model”. Now they are inventing a primitive capitalism of castes, with no middle class.

Given that each small local experiment that Raúl Castro is implementing involves at least two years of waiting for its results before going on to the next small step that will lead nobody knows exactly where, we must have more patience than a Buddhist monk to finally get to enjoy the proclaimed benefits. Unless,somehow magically, Cubans start winning civic spaces that will transform slaves into citizens (as a reader friend likes to say) and we manage to impose our own rhythm and complexity on the changes we want.

January 14 2011

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A Memorable Evening

Yoani junto a un grupo de amigos. Ceremonia de premiación del 7 de enero de 2011

Yoani with a group of friends. Prize ceremony of January 7, 2011

Last Friday, January 7, in a simple and warm ceremony attended by her friends and family, Yoani Sánchez received the Prince Claus Award from Mr. Ronald Muijzert, Ambassador of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. After the words of Ambassador and his reading of the opinion of the jury that awarded the valued prize to our noted blogger, Yoani read her brief speech. It was an electric, vibrant address that permeated deeply into everyone’s hearts. Far from corny and trite, far from complacency and self-pity, the words of this “little blogger” — as she is often called — were also a prize for those gathered there, dedicated to also recognizing the support received from her traveling companions, and calling us together in our differences, in the new challenges we face, this year and in the near future.

When I hugged her, shortly afterward, she was trembling. Nervous, emotional, and happy, with the joy of one who has received compensation for the many days of work, dedication and dreams.  She has a head full of projects, a bright outlook, and a soul full of confidence. At least that is the spirit transmitted to me by this young friend, an untiring girl who almost doesn’t sleep, a girl who seems moved by an energy greater than her fragile figure.

And so I think it was precisely her speech that was the memorable touch of the evening, because from my personal experience I know that every one of Yoani’s dreams is usually quickly converted into a kind of “Utopia realized” followed immediately by another and another; because her words find an echo in those of us who have hopes and who are convinced that the Cuban we want will our own achievement: this exercise of faith that allows us to get up every morning and take on the demons of disinformation, the lies, exclusions, isolation and the fear, in pursuit of a freedom long-awaited.

Listening to Yoani on this pleasant celebration of January 7, also evoked the recent past, when we were just a handful of six or seven friends, I was still “Eva González” and the blog Generation Y was beautiful creature, recently born. So many experiences since then, so many friends, so many emotions, so many hopes! Just over three years have passes, but I always remember like a gift to my spirit, that question with which Yoani — perhaps naively, perhaps with mischievous intention — infected me with the blogger virus: “So why doesn’t Eva open a blog?” That day, between doubts and enthusiasm, I answered that I would; but now, when my humble blog is reaching its third birthday, I would like to dedicate to Yoani another word that rises from my heart: Thank you!

January 11 2011

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As I had reported on this blog, in response to requests for a chance to add your name to this document, as of January 10, 2011 it can be signed here:  Civic Manifesto to the Cuban Communists. Interested parties also can now sign it via e-mail: manifiestoaloscomunistas@yahoo.com or by personally addressing any of the original signatories.

Text of Manifesto in English

January 10 2011

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Cafetería estatal modelo

State Cafeteria


Since all the talk started about the new process for awarding self-employment licenses, Gladys sharpened her pencil, did her accounts, and finally concluded that the time had come for her savings of many years, jealously guarded for “the bad times,” to be turned into an investment to support her precarious condition as a divorced mother with no work at all. She would open a coffee shop selling light meals and, with luck, in time recover her investment and begin to earn some profits. In her neighborhood, on the periphery of the capital, there were not a lot of establishments of this type, and so she was assured of customers. That and her cooking skills practically guaranteed the success of her little business.

So Gladys went to the offices empowered to that effect in her municipality, where she was directed to the first and indispensable step: she had to contact her polyclinic and ask for an inspection by the Department of Hygiene and Epidemiology. An official wold visit her house and determine if she met the health requirements to get her license approved. After three fruitless visits to the polyclinic, (the “compañero” was “working outside”), on her fourth try the persevering Gladys managed to find the most important official and ask him for the inspection. The man. imperturbable, hieratic, and silent, simply looked at her coldly from the majesty of his desk and pointed with a dirty fingernail to a paper hanging behind the glass of a cabinet, which she had not previously notices. It set out the conditions license candidates have to meet (or “new graduates” as popular humor calls them), the first of which is that the applicant must have two kitchens, one for the family and the other for cooking food for the public. OK, when we say “kitchen” in this case, we’re not taking about a simple stove, an investment that already would be very expensive. No sir. It must be a completely separate kitchen with stove, a tiled counter (preferably white tiles), sink, electricity and running water.

Gladys does not understand why, if she has a large and sparkling kitchen — which, incidentally, would also be subject to inspection — she would have to invest all her capital in building another one, without even having the space for it. “Those are the rules,” said the little man invested with Olympian powers; “What’s more, pay attention, you have to have two refrigerators: one for the house and one for the cafe.” There was silence, dense and brief, until, convinced that she had done everything possible and satisfied for having done her part, Gladys retired, a mysterious smile on her face.

I don’t really know anything more about it, but I have heard it said that from Gladys’s house are sold bread with croquettes and soft drinks that are the best in the neighborhood.

January 7 2011

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Unfinished Business

Santa Patrona de Cuba

Patron Saint of Cuba

One year goes out and another comes in while the exact classification for much “unfinished business” in the excessively long Cuban dictatorship fail to get a mention. And as if that weren’t enough the well-known major doubts — those that relate directly to the old yearning for freedom, democracy and human rights, as necessities that ever more Cubans demand — the regime still owes us answers to specific issues that arose, in the complex national life, in the year just ended.

For my part, I can’t help but remember that soon it will be one year since the tragic death of dozens of mentally ill patients at the Havana Psychiatric Hospital, known as Mazorra, in subhuman conditions and circumstances that have never been clarified, despite official announcement of “a commission to investigate the facts.” Of course, like all commissions here, this one is anonymous.

Curiously, the unfortunate crash of an Cuban Aerocaribbean plane in the center of the island in which 68 people — mostly foreign tourists — lost their lives in the last quarter of 2010, has already been investigated and explained, with the results published in the national press. True, the sad lunatics of Mazorra were all Cubans, which could be a determining factor in this case: the crazies are of little interest to anyone; and if, in addition, they are national crazies, they seem to be unimportant even to Cubans who indifferently pass by, believing they enjoy mental health. The average Cuban suffers from a ferocious amnesia… about anything that doesn’t affect him directly; so the government maintains the right to continue, without the slightest embarrassment, its display of solidarity on health care with other countries in the world, and what’s worse, it continues to be praised and recognized by international organizations which, it seems, are as insensitive and amnesiac as the people here.

The other matter pending which I want to refer to today is the release of the political prisoners of the Black Spring who remain imprisoned after the unmet commitment by the dictatorship to the Catholic authority and, thus, to Cubans. These are the prisoners who have refused to leave the country, those who reject exile, those who will not surrender. Everything indicates that the Cuban government, like the senior Catholic hierarchy on the Island and the brand new mediator of the occasion — the Spanish government — have agreed to to cover the unjustified prolongation of the euphemistically called “process of liberation” with a pious mantle, take a break, and quietly celebrate their Christmas: undoubtedly 2010 turned out to be, for them, a tremendously hectic year from the political point of view. The cardinal, for his part, had the kind charity to officiate at a mass in La Habana prison, Merry Christmas! It must be an almost burlesque phrase in that place. Perhaps the anointed also trust in the enduring Cuban amnesia will exonerate them of all charges. Or perhaps they have been infected with the same disease?

January 4 2011

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