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Archive for August, 2013

For some time and with some regularity, many Cubans have received refills on our phones thanks to the generosity of friends and advocates who support us from the outside. Many others receive it by the kindness of family and friends living outside of Cuba

These refills, promoted by a subsidiary of ETECSA, CUBACEL, S.A, the telephone company responsible for cellular telephone service in Cuba, are announced through a message that appears on our phones with the following content: “CUBACEL Reports: PROMOTION . Recharge the balance from overseas from 20.00 CUC and get twice the amount recharged”, then it shows the beginning and ending dates of the promotion.

And this comment is stressed by the writer because I have always been shocked at the explicit declaration which, by all accounts, is discriminatory, harmful to Cubans living in Cuba and violates their rights to enjoy a service even if they have the ability to pay. I have asked several employees of the Príncipe branch on Carlos III Avenue, and their answers have been evasive, if not incriminating: “It’s management’s decision” “We only work with the public, we don’t make the rules” “Why are you asking me? you should be asking Raúl” I wish I could ask him, though that would be the least I would ask him.

That is, it’s not just about the real and true fact that CUBACEL and ETECSA take it upon themselves to arbitrarily interrupt at will telephone communication of those pesky customers who don’t have, according to the system’s standards, the “correct” political leaning, thus, ETECSA violates the contract’s conditions, but, in addition, it voids everyone’s rights, including those of people who are obedient or quiet, who don’t bother with political matters.

In short, I would like to know what this policy is about. It is exclusionary for Cubans residing here, whose money seems to be of absolutely no value for this telephone company managed by – how well we know it — the Ministry of the Armed Forces, that is to say, Castro II.

So I appeal to the imagination, information or wisdom of readers to help me understand what, needless to say, the employees of the Cuban revolutionary telephone company will never explain. How is it “politically” possible that a Cuban who has 20.00 CUC to recharge his cellular phone will be unable to benefit from his own country’s company promotion? Could it have anything to do with the criminal imperialist blockade? Could it be that the evil “Big, Bad Wolf” and other stateless Cubans can’t prevent us from having émigrés recharge our mobile phones and yet have the power to influence media policy dictated by the no less big, bad Cuban dictatorship?

No doubt, the communications issue is extremely delicate for the aging olive-green cupola. It isn’t merely about the undeniably most expensive cellular telephone service in the world, but, in addition, the only one that discriminates against its clients for the simple geographically tragic fate of living inside CUBACEL territory.

Translated by Norma Whiting

2 August 2013

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Days ago, I had the opportunity to read a smart and funny article by Eugenio Yáñez, in which, based on the age of the highest representatives of the government, the writer was questioning the “youth” proclaimed by Castro 2 in his recent speech for the 60th anniversary of the assault on Moncada barracks. Almost at the end of that article, Yáñez successfully launches a judgment referring to the olive green gerontocracy still in power in Cuba: “Instead of trying to distort reality, it would be better to clear the way for new generations that will do it better, because it’s impossible to do it any worse”.

The extent of the case, as simple as it is accurate, brings to mind a debate a couple of years ago with several of my friends that focused on a discussion about who could be the alternative political actors we might consider for the presidency of a Cuba in transition. On that occasion, there were very interesting analyses around opposition figures and programs of the most diverse leanings and positions, including the dissident spectrum from the last part of the ’80s decade until today. The opinions of those debating were, of course, also very different and emotional at times.

I will not fall into the naïve temptation of retelling a version of that reunion here, or the viewpoints of each participant because, after all, it was not about trying to decide the Cuban transition in a simple dialogue among friends, nor does Cuba possess the necessary minimal conditions for freedom and democracy, political maturity or enough civility, even among the dissident ranks, to tolerate criticism or opinions that are different from their own evaluations. In fact, almost every figure carries within him the messiah virus or the belief that he eats the egg of absolute truth for breakfast every morning, and only the more honest ones, the best, have the ability to recognize the evil in their own hearts, and to keep it duly restrained and not allow it to expand and dominate them. Even the people seem to interpret the criticism of any leader or program as a divisive attempt. Often, people seem to need idols more than freedom itself.

But back to the question, the fact is that at that unique and unforgettable meeting attended by several intelligent and acute individuals, the idea that raised the most debate was that of a fellow member who closed the circle, declaring: “Anyone who is democratically elected and supports civil liberties conducive to the exercise of all human rights will do as president for me, since, if that were the case, we would be guaranteed the right to criticize him, to speak out against his administration, to demand, to force him to listen to demands and, within a reasonable period of a few years, to remove him from office in new elections if he doesn’t meet the voters’ expectations”.

I must confess that at that time I wasn’t 100% on board with his proposal, though I could understand he had made a good point. Maybe I was driven by distrust in imagining what the performance of certain shady characters would be when anointed with legitimate power leading the destiny of a nation in the turmoil of a transition that will undoubtedly be difficult. That prospect terrifies me still.

However, Yáñez’s article has made me think about the Cuban reality and once again taken me back to that memorable gathering where, as so often happens, a group of friends discussed the hypothetical future of a democratic Cuba. That friend and Yáñez are both right: the Castro regime has deliberately performed so badly that no one else could do it worse, not even the worst of the worst hidden kingpins we have in every sector of Cuban society. But, to elect “the wrong thing” so we won’t have the worst one, doesn’t sound to me like a good political sense.

Definitely, in the presence of a democratic election, I would not vote for just anyone. However, due to the stubbornness of the eternal Moncada octogenarian boys who cling to power, I can’t help but to recognize that any other option would be preferable, at least for the majority. The dictatorship has become the point of reference to such an extent of what a government should not be that it has sealed the evil within the fate of the Cuban people, even long after it’s gone. And so, paradoxically, it could still play a political role, in case it becomes indirectly responsible of an unfortunate future election of the transition that awaits us.

Translated by Norma Whiting

9 August 2013

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mcjiclip_image001In Cuba there are no institutions that guarantee the rights of the most vulnerable. Prostitution is not even mentioned as a problem by the Government.

It is said that prostitution is the oldest occupation in the world. There aren’t any cultures whose histories have not recorded the practice of sexual services in exchange for money or something of value. Other forms of prostitution are fashioned in exchange for favors or privileges.

Prostitution’s time-worn persistence throughout the ages offers an almost infinite variety of forms, circumstances and considerations, sociological and psychological as well as historical, economic, gender-associated and even political. The darker margins of the phenomenon today refer to the trafficking of women through international networks specializing in human trafficking for sexual means –- victims of which are illegal immigrants and young people in impoverished areas — slavery and, specifically, the trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.

Prostitution in ‘Revolutionary’ Cuba’

Recently, the Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald published an article about the so-called prostitution’s “hustling” (George Porta, El Jineterismo es una Forma de Genocidio [Prostitution is a Form of Genocide] ), which brings into discussion the issue of prostitution in a country that was considered a territory free of the sex trade in the decades following 1959.

“Hustling” is the expression in the marginal vocabulary that defined the prostitution that started to proliferate more strongly in Cuba since the decade of the 90’s of the last century, fueled by the economic crisis after the collapse of the former USSR and the socialist camp, and the increase of tourism as an alternative, developed by the government to generate foreign exchange income. Thus, it is all the more controversial because Cuban prostitutes in the last 20 years don’t stem from — as often happens in other underdeveloped nations — social sectors hit by illiteracy, ignorance and other similar afflictions, but are members of generations formed and indoctrinated in supposedly superior moral principles of “the new man” and many of them hold significant educational levels.

The image of the poor naïve country girl, deceived by some wily suitor who “disgraced” her and ended up exploiting her in some brothel in a provincial city center or at the capital was left back in pre-1959 history. Today’s prostitute is usually a young woman who has completed at least the ninth grade and who consciously uses her sexual attributes to achieve, in a brief time, the material benefits that she knows she cannot achieve from a salary or from the practice of a technological or professional university career.

The “hustling” does not represent a homogeneous caste either. This is a well-differentiated phenomenon in layers or strata, by category, age, physical attributes, qualifications, aspirations, relationships and other factors, of the young woman in question. Thus, there are different types, from the cheap street “jineteritas”**, that satisfy quick sex in a car or in a hallway or small room in a hovel to the spectacular and expensive prostitutes at gyms and spas, beautiful and refined, providing a more “personalized” service, many of whom dream of an advantageous marriage to a dazzled foreign tourist or to some executive at a mixed-capital firm, or to accumulate sufficient funds to emigrate by themselves.

Between both extremes is a world of prostitutes of the most diverse conditions and goals, many whose minimal objective is to survive day-to-day, with no plans or ambitions, dependent on a reality without expectations for a future.

However, the causes of prostitution in Cuba, though they relate to the ongoing economic crisis and the rise of international tourism, are deeply rooted in the deterioration of other values not necessarily linked to the issue of gender inequality, sexism or oppression of women. The phenomenon is much more complex and has deep surges, a legacy of the vulgar egalitarianism that prevailed in the years of subsidized socialism.

Sometime after, there was an inversion of values in Cuba in the social appreciation of the prostitute. Many of these women who used to sell their sexual services to foreigners in the 90’s – previously a reason for disdain and social stigma – turned into a sort of popular heroines, when they became family providers and sometimes even benefactors of their distressed neighbors. In particular, the “class” prostitutes who often provided medicine, hygiene products or food to the most destitute, significantly changed the perception of the profession: to prostitute oneself was not only more lucrative, but could be considered as a source of solidarity and prestige. By the way, by then, we Cubans were not that “equal”.

The same transformation did not take place with the lower-class prostitute. Segregationist prejudice gained momentum starting in those years, stemming from differentiations in purchasing power which spontaneously settled among prostitutes as well. Before Castro, the poorest prostitutes were popularly known as “coffee with milk”. Today’s are “sugar water.”

Having said that, could a jinetera always be defined as a victim of gender and of poverty? Does jineterismo, as in prostitution in Cuba, adjust itself to the definition of “genocide” that the article in El Nuevo Herald proclaims? Personally, I prefer to turn away from the hype. It is a fact that prostitution as a social phenomenon favors the proliferation of related crimes: pimping, human trafficking, gender exploitation, drug trafficking, etc. It is also axiomatic that the material shortages, coupled with the moral crisis, stimulate the spread of prostitution in Cuba.

However, beyond social “tolerance”, experience shows that there are survival options not associated with prostitution that were adopted by most of the women in Cuba, even in the worst moments of the crisis, and that a high percentage of prostitutes voluntarily elected that profession as the most expeditious, for profit and not just for “reasons of survival.” Thus, a large number of prostitutes do not feel the need to be “liberated” from an activity that offers them what, in their perception, is defined as “freedom”: purchasing power above the Cuban medium.

It isn’t about denying the existence of prostitution either, or the importance of anticipating its consequences, but about more accurately interpreting the facts. Assuming the inevitable, everything points to the certainty that prostitution has returned to stay: there is no tourist destination that doesn’t attract this type of profession. So what will matter is how we’ll deal with it.

In principle, any adult of sound mind is the owner of her own body and of her acts, as long as she does not undermine the rights of others, so being a prostitute or not would be – in the first place – a matter of choice, depending on whether the law determines if it constitutes a crime or not, and whether they pursue related criminal activities. Another issue is when a person is forced into prostitution, in which case it is a flagrant violation of her rights as a human being.

It is reprehensible that there are no institutions in Cuba capable of guaranteeing the rights of vulnerable social sectors, that prostitutes are unprotected, that the prostitution of minors is not prosecuted and condemned severely, that the roots of evil are not confronted, and that laws are almost always limited to punishment (the so-called “re-education”) of the prostitute, the weakest link in the chain. Cuban prostitutes, especially the “street” ones, are more likely to be victims of violence, whether by a pimp or by police extortion. On not few occasions the pimp and the police are the same person.

The issue of prostitution is hot, and it’s even part of the political agenda in many developed countries. Some current proposals focus on the regulation of prostitution, previously legalized, though a strong trend has also developed in favor of criminalizing the purchase of sexual services and not their sale.

In Cuba, unfortunately, we are very far away from instituting an effective strategy on the subject. It is known that the first step is to recognize the existence of the phenomenon, submit it for public debate and study its scope and social consequences, which requires the political will of the government: all of it a chimera

In any case, this could well be an important point on the agenda of many independent Cuban organizations interested in problems with a civilian edge. So far, there are no thematic programs on the issue in the emerging civil society. Starting and sustaining the debate will be the initial stimulus that will unleash the proposals.

*Jinetera: female jockey or horse rider, used graphically in the context of hustling.

**Jineterita: diminutive form sometimes used to describe an unimportant, insubstantial, or young prostitute.

Translated by Norma Whiting

21 August 2013

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Image taken from Miscelaneas de Cuba

(A version of this article was originally published in Cubanet)

The exclusive news was first offered by Cuban TV’s Havana Channel, in an evening program on Wednesday July 31, 2013: six people had died and 40 remained hospitalized due to ingestion of methyl alcohol (wood alcohol). According to official investigations, alcohol came from an Institute of Pharmacy and Food warehouse. Stolen by two employees who had access, the alcohol was then sold illegally by a woman from Arimao, in the municipality of La Lisa, where all the poisoned individuals also resided.

It unofficially appears that said illegal dealer is a marginal person of low and irregular income and that her son was among the disadvantaged people who died.

In the days that followed, the National TV News and the written press have continued to update some facts about the case, while taking advantage of the tragedy to highlight the niceties of the Cuban health system and to stress the efficiency of the work of the Integrated Medical Emergency (SIUM) and Toxicology. There have also been testimonials, more ridiculous than moving, of some survivors who have promised their families, “and the Revolution”, that they will stop drinking, as if, in tandem with the bad experience, they had overcome the existential miseries that have pushed them to alcoholism, or as if, ultimately, they were not victims of the illusion they insist on calling “Revolution”.

So far, there have been 16 deaths, several people remain admitted and others have been discharged from hospitals, while they are still reporting some additional cases of poisoning, even in other municipalities, and a combined operation of the National Police and the Ministry of Public Health continues to be active, with a command post set up in a school district to monitor the situation.

Beyond the Events

(Image from the internet)

At first glance, what transpired in a Havana neighborhood might seem like a single isolated event, but such an impression would be misleading. While the high cost in human lives conveys unusual sensationalism to the official press, in reality, it is just the tip of the iceberg, the most visible external manifestation of a generalized crisis arising from economic collapse, the failure of the system, the lack of prospects, hopelessness and loss of values. Only under Cuban conditions or under those of other societies as broken as ours could similar events take place.

This time, there was the combination of rampant corruption, widespread alcohol addiction and low purchasing power of the poorest sectors of the population, all factors that contribute to the trafficking of various toxic substances in the illegal markets.

In fact, illegal trade of alcohol is widespread in the capital, where almost all neighborhoods have one or several of these dealers of spirits of dubious origin and composition, both from clandestine stills and from thefts of legal networks of stores and warehouses. Though trafficking and consumption have always existed, they have proliferated since the 1990s’ crisis, when even the ration card, unable to keep up the hefty subsidies of previous years, guaranteed a monthly quota of rum for each family nucleus.

Cubans with better memories will certainly remember the weekly meetings of the leaders of the [Communist] Party and the Popular Power, televised every Tuesday, which the people dubbed “Meeting of the Fatsos” because of the participants’ glowing looks, in contrast to those of the hungry and emaciated population. In one of the reunions the then First Secretary of the Provincial Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, Jorge Lezcano, cynically stated that what the population could not lack was rum. Alcohol consumption was, therefore, an official policy aimed at dulling people’s thinking: alcohol to forget our frustrations in the midst of the worst shortages in the last century of Cuban history.

As a consequence, alcohol consumption has increased through the years, at the same time as the average age of its consumers has significantly decreased.

For years, Cuban wit has dubbed these concoctions with different names which, in the way of the marginal language, translate into the effects of their ingestion: mofuco, tiger’s laughter, man and earth, train’s spark and the like. Though trafficking and consumption have always existed, they have proliferated since the 1990s’ crisis, when even the ration card, unable to keep up the hefty subsidies of the previous years, guaranteed a monthly quota of rum for each family nucleus. On the other hand, in a country where life offers more frustrations than expectations, it is not surprising that alcoholism has reached truly alarming levels

Thus, the misadventure of several dozen drunks has fired off the official alarms and, this time, events have cut across to the media, but the overall decay of the system is evidenced in all areas and levels of national life, far exceeding the government’s ability to address the crisis. It is the metastasis of a terminally ill system, without the means to cure the nation’s moral unhealthiness

The continuous succession of events demonstrates the irreversibility of corruption under this government: officials who get corrupted, illegal markets that grow and diversify, increases in prostitution, alcoholism and drugs.

There is little left to defend of socialism Cuban style, let alone the kindness of a system where the reality exceeded the macabre and corruption is a means of survival. Today, Cuba is a country where it is possible for stolen human fat from a crematorium to be traded as if it were pork fat, where you can buy a school exam, a surgery or a dental prosthesis, where individuals can applaud an official speech, attend a “Revolutionary” march and steal from the very government they pretend to support, where dozens of mental in-patients at a hospital can die of hunger or cold weather, and where most of the objectives are enclosed in the perspective of an exit with no return.

Translated by Norma Whiting

16 August 2013

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