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Archive for July, 2013

The government is campaigning for the ‘loss of ethical and moral values’ in society, but what about the disrespect of entering into armament arrangements with the North Korean dictatorship?

The title refers to a memorable documentary that many of us Cubans everywhere must have seen, based on the testimony of those who suffered stark arbitrariness and terror introduced by the Castro regime in the purge unleashed some forty years ago. Improper conduct was an illegal crime figure established in the 60’s and 70’s of the last century by the Castro regime to suppress what was officially considered sexual deviations (homosexuality, “sentimentality”), ideological deviation or anything that could be interpreted by the authorities as politically incorrect. Many intellectuals, artists and ordinary people were arrested, ousted, sent to labor camps or simply made to feel as strangers in their own country.

Most of the anonymous victims of the witch hunt, which was established as State policy were men, for committing the serious offense of wearing their hair long, their pants too tight, not joining the “people’s harvests” or who preferred a certain type of music, among others. No one escaped the close scrutiny of the Inquisition and its olive green zealous executives. Anyone could fall out of favor against the rigid revolutionary parameters.

The repression continued for a time, but the methods changed.  Some of what was once condemned became tolerated, and, currently, schematic guerrillas have been forced to take on new poses and to even accept certain differences. Without apologizing for the damage, without admitting that the unprecedented persecution or the attack against basic rights of free people, that same government now pretends to be in charge of the defense of those rights, and, to prove it, it promotes campaigns, holds events and even organizes parades and festivals.

However, following the speech by the General President at the recent session of the National Assembly, in which he announced a crusade against rudeness and social indiscipline, he said that the wind of censure against “the loss of moral and ethical values” is once again blowing through our streets. Some people claim that fines are being applied to persons who “swear” or profess rudeness in public, who board the bus through the back door or who don’t pay their fares, those who are loud and disturb their neighbors, who throw garbage and debris on the road, etc. In principle, it would not be such a bad thing if it weren’t just one more campaign, or if there were just one Cuban free from all these sins in order to fine the sinners or, if applying these measures didn’t interfere with the rights of other citizens.

For instance, a few days ago, a teenager whom I will call Daniel, residing in the municipality of El Cerro in Havana, was returning home after his high school graduation. With the ease and ideas of spontaneity typical of his age, feeling himself without the responsibilities of schooling and under the harsh summer sun, he had rolled up the legs of his ugly and faded yellow school uniform, and his shirt was partially unbuttoned and hanging outside the waistline of his pants. Carefree, he walked while concentrating on the music blaring in his ears, so he was taken by surprise when a man, very authoritatively, abruptly stopped him in the middle of the street, after demanding the boy take off his headphones and unroll his pant legs immediately.

Instantly, Daniel doubted whether the man was in his right mind, so he demanded to know who he was and why he should obey him.  Then the individual identified himself, not by his name but as an “inspector of minors”, he accused him of incorrectly wearing his uniform, “a symbol of the mother country that the Revolution had given him” and because of that, his parents could be fined and he could be detained in a “care center for improperly behaved youths.”

Not allowing himself to be too impressed, Daniel explained that he was not in uniform because, in fact, he was returning from his high school graduation, so he wouldn’t have any more use for it, that he was going home after having stood in the hot sun in the schoolyard for a very long time, listening to the required speeches before getting his diploma, and that, as he understood it, the symbols of the motherland were the Cuban flag, the national coat of arms and the Bayamo* National Anthem and not an old pair of pants that -to be exact- the revolution had not given to him, but that his mother had bought at an excessive price in the black market after, a year ago, he had outgrown the one rationed to him. The man persisted with his threats, demanded the boy’s identity card and even tried to hold Daniel by the arm. Then, the teenager shook him off and, seriously scared, ran all the way home.

The event, unconditionally true, is based on the direct testimony of the boy and his family. But, in fact, the important thing here is not simply to determine if Daniel acted correctly or not. For many years it has been customary among our teenagers graduating from different levels to perform this kind of rite of passage which desecrates the old uniform, considered by them -and by previous generations, no longer so young- a symbol of the control that educational institutions exercised over their lives. It’s merely an innocent act of rebellion, typical of this stage in their lives, that results in disparate forms of expression: from having their shirts autographed by their classmates to intentionally tearing their uniforms into strips while they are wearing them, without any major consequences.

What this is about, essentially, is that no officer or agent of the government has the authority to coerce a child, whether in private or in public, thus transgressing the rights of that teenager, as well as those of his parents and of other adult family members. The significance of the matter is that, in different hues and in another scenario, official impunity and people’s defenselessness are repeated, counter to the supposed “changes” that the Government advocates, which should immediately set off fire alarms in the population.

And because this is about fines and punishments, the government is not able to take up the slack. These days, Cubans are the ones who should analyze what actions to take about the unspeakable rudeness on the part of their government of entering into arrangements with our other planet’s dictatorship, the North Koreans, cheating the Cuban people and offending the civilized world and the international organizations of which we are members. Castro II should explain this and many other violations that betray the government’s lack of ethical and moral values before attempting to apply enforcement action over his “governed”.

We should also have to include in the analysis the direct responsibility of half a century of totalitarian abuse in the loss of ethics and moral values of our society, not to mention the systematic violation of citizens’ rights throughout all that time. Too bad this same government has also deprived us, with the suppression of civic institutions, of the tools to demand explanations and ensure compliance. Without a doubt, the hour is getting close for the beginning of real reforms in Cuba, starting with policies.

*Cuban National Anthem’s original and traditional title

From Diario de Cuba

Miriam Celaya | Havana | July 26th, 2013

Translated by Norma Whiting

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Ghost ship. Graphic taken from the internet

These days, mothers of babies are in search of disposable diapers, missing from almost all stores of Havana. Shortage crises of such articles take place every once in a while, a product that is so useful, and needed so desperately by mothers today, and despite being marketed only in convertible currency. Gone are the days when women had to boil with soap again and again our children’s antiseptic cloth diapers, and hang them in the sun to keep them pure. Fortunately, these days women have left behind slave labor to take up, as far as possible, the benefits of innovations, however expensive that may imply in Cuba.

But the same is true with other essential items, such as sanitary napkins and cleaning articles like mopping cloths, descaling products, toothpaste, detergents and toilet paper, among others, whose intermittent disappearances from store shelves become a nuisance to the people, given how much time is wasted in pursuing such products, going from store to store, many times without results.

On the other hand, some other popular products that are more “economical”, such as butter — for months absent at the foreign currency stores, the only place where it could be purchased — some chopped poultry (such as Canadian chopped turkey, the most popular), hot dogs, and many others, without any explanation on the part of store management… and even fewer explanations through the official “information” media.

Cubans, with a deep awareness of insularity, sown from the very beginning of the colony, without information about what drives these empty spaces on store shelves, and for decades used to not having anything produced here and everything coming “from outside”, have coined a phrase, half joke and half truth, to explain the shortages: “the boat has not arrived”. A kind of imaginary vessel that could come full of anything that has disappeared, from flour, needed to make bread (oh, the favored bread, the first point in the Cuban political agenda!) even the spices that caused so many wars in antiquity and, for many here, almost entirely unknown, or oil with which we cook our humble daily rice. Just comment anywhere that there is a shortage of anything for the popular answer to make its appearance: “they are waiting for the boat…”

A grocer in my neighborhood is of the opinion that we don’t need for the boat to arrive, but a flotilla to take us all out of this Island, while an illegal loudmouthed street vendor of air freshener and clothespins disagrees and has an easier solution: “Nah, with just one boat they can take all of THEM and their relatives, and you will see that then there won’t be any shortages!” In our Cuban cryptic language we all know who “THEY” are. These are quaint touches of everyday life that begin and end in such a castaway complicity as sterile as the system itself.

So, these days, Havana mothers anxiously await “the boat” of disposable diapers with which to alleviate, at least to the extent allowed by each pocketbook, the burden of keeping babies clean and neat, without ruining hands, nails, and wasting time in the process. And meanwhile, they pray that soap and many other cleaning products won’t fall in the cycle of disappearances, just in case the ever-awaited “boat” is delayed.

Translated by Norma Whiting
19 July 2013

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Greased Lightning! / Miriam Celaya

It is Sunday, July 7th, and in Centro Habana, only the Belascoaín and Zanja Bank ATM is working.  The line is long and wide. The other two ATMs facing Zanja are empty of funds and the Banco Metropolitano, of course, is closed today.

The line is two and three people deep, and they are chatting among themselves.  It is made up of several dozen people wishing to withdraw funds.  They had trekked, without success, through several ATMs in the city to finally end up at the only functioning one, at least in many blocks around.  People cannot understand what is happening.

A young girl comments that she has been at the ATMs at Galiano and Monte and they are out of commission; a middle-aged gentleman came from Calzada Infanta, where he found two ATM’s were also out of commission.  Another person is sure that the one at Monte and Infanta is out of funds. The one at Carlos III, corner of Marqués González is not working.  In fact, the same ATM (CADECA) at this location and the one at Infanta and Estrella have been closed for the past few weeks. Not just a “bump” that occurred today, but something that is happening regularly. It is rumored that some CADECA’s have been “shut down permanently”, though nobody knows why, so –as usual, in the absence of official information- speculation is running wild.

And, since everything that is “is shot out” here ends up as nonsense and, since every bit of  nonsense is possible in Cuba, each person has his own theory on the subject, and those who are “informed” are never far, the ones with a friend or relative working in banking or finance, so they know more than the rest of us mere mortals. So the word out on the street is that “they are going to unify both currencies, so they are reducing the circulating currency”; that “there is a lot of counterfeit money, so the government wants to detect it and take it out of circulation by closing down the ATMs (?); that there is “no liquidity”; that the network is down”; that “the armored trucks broke down”; that “they discovered a chain (another one) of corruption on the part of many employees and bank executives, so they have ‘frozen’ all the ATMs” and a whole lot of  other rumors that would be funny if it not were for all the obstacles against the rights of people to their own financial property.

“Efficiency” is the general-president’s vocabulary word. However, the use of banking digital technology in Cuba has never resulted in monetary transactions that are efficient, simple or optimal in the service that should be expected, theoretically.  It is just like applying technology all at once in the Paleolithic era. So in stores that accept only foreign currency, the procedure to pay with a card issued by the National Bank is that a person goes through the hassle of simultaneously handing over his identification, writing down his name, address and “customer’s” card number on a form, and signing a receipt that will be carefully filed under the cash register. That, as long as the rare and happy event that the “network is not offline”, while people line up behind the owner of the card to transact their payment. And, paradoxically, the public gets upset and impatient at the customer who pays with the card or with the cashier who has to go through the steps of the complicated procedure.

But back to the line at Belascoaín this Sunday, a 70-something grandmother finally showed up with her hypothesis: “perhaps last night’s thunderstorm affected the functioning of ATMs. Maybe a lightning bolt; these things run on electricity… who knows!” To which a wise old man, with an expression of mischievous complicity, quickly replied: “Yes, ma’am, it was probably lightning, but not one that struck last night. This one struck in 1959 and the truth is that it ruined everything!”

Translated by Norma Whiting

12 July 2013

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"The business is to deny visas, not grant visas" Granma newspaper, 28 June 2013

“The business is to deny visas, not grant visas” Granma newspaper, 28 June 2013

There is an old tale about a husband who comes home unexpectedly and finds his wife in bed with a pair of men’s feet sticking out from under the covers. Angered by her infidelity, he challenges: “Slut!, whose feet are those?” To which she, serenely, replies: “Oh, husband, you never ask me where the food you enjoy so much comes from, which we could never afford on your salary, or how I manage to pay all the bills with the meager amount you give me, and how we get to the end of the month without any hardships…” to which the husband, after pondering for a minute, wisely answered: OK, wife, but at least cover those feet”.

Obviously, the husband in this story was not exactly a two-timed husband; he had simply miscalculated. Just like what happened to the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, the Granma Newspaper, when it recently published an accusation, without names, proof, or foundation, against executives of the Interest Section of the United States in Cuba (SINA) for “having accepted bribes from Cuban citizens for granting them visas” and to the US government in Washington for “profiting from applicants who want to travel for family reasons”.

The source Granma echoes, without investigation or process, is an article published on the blog of one of the most perverse Talibans of the regime, which is, so far, just a scam designed to create some new intimation in the regime’s ever-belligerent relations with the U.S. government, who knows with what dark intentions.

But the net they cast is not entirely barren: the use of calculations using the official media is always a good opportunity for reviewing one’s math, which never lies. Managing the numbers involves the possibility of multiple interpretations about the same phenomenon, not necessarily what the sources of the data intended, as in this case.

I would suggest to readers, for their entertainment, a practical exercise: let’s assume for a moment that Granma’s information was completely accurate and that the figures provided by the author of the scam-article are also accurate. That is, in an infinite display of our imagination let’s play at pretending that Granma is a trustworthy newspaper and let’s do the same calculations from the opposite angle.

We would have to assume, then, a scene of 600 Cubans applying for visas every day in the U.S. Interests Office in Havana, each of whom had paid 100 CUC at the offices of the Ministry of the Interior to get their passports, leaving the regime a profit of 60,000 CUC per day, 300,000 weekly and 3,000,000 every ten weeks. All this in a country where 100 CUC is the equivalent of about six or seven times the average monthly salary of ordinary Cubans. And these would be just those Cubans who apply at the USIS and not all those who apply for visas in many other diplomatic offices throughout the capital, who also must have spent staggering amounts to acquire their Cuban passport.

We could add to that the minor detail that most of these Cubans who want to emigrate received the US dollars needed to get their passports from relatives living in the U.S., which turns the ugly little blue book which officially makes you a Cuban traveler –always a potential emigrant and a source of tension at each border where it’s presented- into one of the most lucrative businesses that the government has ever devised at the expense of its peoples. Barely without investing any more than cardboard and ink, with horrible print quality, the emigration industry continues to contribute, directly or indirectly, to the gerontocracy’s juicy dividends, essential principle and reason of the existence of some three million Cubans and their descendants scattered throughout the world.

And let’s not discuss the additional revenues, such as the famous health check to be performed on those wishing to emigrate permanently, at a cost of 400 CUC per adult and 200 per child, which will go directly into the Castro coffers. If the U.S. government approves 20,000 visas per year, and we assume, hypothetically, that half of them are intended for adults and half for minors: the Castro profit would be a total of 4 million CUC for adults and 2 million for children on an annual basis. We would still need to add the title certificates and other documents, with a cost of 200 CUC each in the International Consultancy. Add it up: the result it a not so negligible currency harvest, I’m just saying.

But this is only an imaginary calculation, since we have no official statistics from emigration offices. In fact, statistics in Cuba are like diseases: they make use of them only when they want to realize some advantage.

Now let’s focus on the sociological aspect of the matter. There are no precedents in Cuba’s history of such a huge number of nationals who want to travel, with a large percentage of those eager to emigrate permanently. Without stopping to find out among categories of political or economic émigrés, somewhat absurd in the case of Cuba, where the policy of a dictatorship of more than half a century has devastated the country’s economy, the steady exodus of nationals of all ages and backgrounds has become a plebiscite, especially since, for decades, most of those who leave the country are not the representatives of the clichéd “predatory oligarchies, sellers of the homeland and exploiters of the humble masses,” but the prospects of the New Man, born and raised under the ideological doctrines of the communist party, planted into power, i.e., the peoples; and because even those who only stay away from the country temporarily are part of a family fractured by emigration, a clear demonstration of the political and economic failure of the system.

Granma does itself quite a disservice with the publication of such an unfortunate article. Not only because it is the most eloquent manifestation of the huge levels of shamelessness achieved by the regime, but because it honors that sentence about excessive pride clouding reason.

At this point, I return to the story with which I began this review, where the Cuban government parallels the “cheated on” husband, the people: the wife whose favors ensure prosperity at home, and the “imperialist enemy”: the lover whose feet poke out from under the covers. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if, instead of accusing someone, the regime took care to cover its own feet?

Translated by Norma Whiting

1 July 2013

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