"Better Plastered than Perfumed’" Revolutionary Fragrances / Juan Juan Almeida

•November 4, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The uproar from the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba was of considerable proportions. At a presentation of the recent Labiofam* 2014 conference, two new perfumes were introduced which, according to company officials, had been named “Ernesto” and “Hugo” in an attempted tribute to Ernesto “Che” Guevara and Hugo Chavez.

At first I thought it was a logical reaction, given that its creators described Ernesto as having a woodsy and sweet bouquet, and Hugo as having hints of tropical fruits. Some expert “noses,” however, insist that both essences smell more like public restrooms at Carnaval.

The official announcement published in the newspaper Granma left more questions than answers, and was less credible than Alejandro Castro Espín’s mechanical engineering degree. After years of using the names of both men to christen parks, lodges, schools, factories and even cantatas without proper consent, the Cuban Communist Party said through its official news outlet that “initiatives of this nature will never be accepted by our people or the Revolutionary government.”

The collective memory of Cuba’s leaders appears to be failing. They seem to have forgotten that on July 27, 1983 Celia Sánchez Manduley*, described as “the most beloved flower,” became synonymous with a useless textile manufacturer, that an ineffective building contracting business was named after Blas Roca Calderío* or that the name for the unproductive construction company Almest was created out of the last names of Juan Almeida* and Armando Mestre*.

It is worth remembering that in 1994 — the same year Fidel Castro agreed to pose for the magazine Cigar Aficionado sniffing a Cohiba Lancero — Labiofam brought to market three fragrances imported from France: colognes labelled Alejandro, Celia and Havana. As a press statement of the time indicated, “the first two are products with allegorical names for figures of the Revolution.”

José Antonio Fraga Castro — nephew to Fidel and Raul and director of Labiofam  — wanted to repeat David’s feat against Goliath and pave the way to their loyalty with the asphalt of this odiferous hypocrisy. But he did not know how to use the sling and ended up with a huge bump on his head. He forgot that the iconic image of Che, which was launched and promoted by his uncles, has its own copyright. Fidel Castro is the product, the pedestal, and the only official model which can promote the Cuba brand, as Raul has decreed

In 2002, the village of Birán* — a hamlet within the municipality of Cueto that is about 45 miles from the city of Holguín and about 19 from Marcané — was declared an open-air museum. It was crowned a National Monument in early 2011 by government decree and became an obligatory overnight stop for tourists to the area looking for a distillery.

In case you didn’t know, the profitable home rum authorized by the Revolutionary government, which according to its official news outlet “does not endorse projects of this kind,” was given the name Comandante Fidel. It is exported by the Cuban firm Tecnoazucar, and bottled and labelled with Fidel’s image by the Spanish firm Abanescu, S.L., located in La Jonquera, Catalonia.

As an old urban prophet author ot Politicaductor, or a new translator of Cuban political thought wrote: “Better I smell Kurdish than perfumed.”

*Translator’s notes: Labiofam is a Cuban veterinary and pharmaceutical products company. Alejandro Castro Espín is Cuban president Raul Castro’s only son. Celia Sánchez Manduley was a leading figure in the Cuban revolution with close personal ties to Fidel Castro. Blas Roca Calderío  was a revolutionary figure who later served as head of Cuba’s National Assembly. Juan Almeida and Armando Mestre were also prominent figures in the Cuban revolution and the former was this blogger’s father. Birán is best known as the birthplace of Fidel Castro.

Spanish post
7 October 2014

Cuba: The fight against Ebola is the new theater of war / Juan Juan Almeida

•November 4, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Every interesting story has light and dark parts, epic actions, and a protagonist who inspires. The rest consists of weaving reasons and emotions together by way of origami.

The Cuban government knows very well how to put into practice its habitual juggling act in order to locate itself opportunely at the center of all news flashes. Cuban doctors have been sent to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, and by taking advantage of this, the government feeds the false image of having no self-interest in this new theater of war, where everything is tested, even human sacrifice.

We could see that during the recently-concluded Summit of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America Trade Treaty of the Peoples (ALBA-TCP) the moment of emotion was at the meeting of the heads of state, delegations, and invited personalities with the Cuban collaborators from the medical brigades, who that same night, October 21, left for Liberia and Conakry, Guinea.

Hail, Caesar; those who are about to die salute you. They know that if they become contagious they can’t come back to the country until they are cured or die. A hard but wise decision, because the island is not prepared to receive the sick without activating the usual chain of errors that, as we already know and even have suffered, facilitated the epidemic proliferation of conjunctivitis, cholera, chikungunya, dengue fever, and a long list of contagious etceteras.

The photo of the Summit is beautiful, but the Summit didn’t provide much. A declaration with 23 points of agreement and little money. Cheap politicking. The illness continues unabated. According to data offered by Mr. Bruce Aylward, the Assistant-Director General of the World Health Organization, the situation is alarming. They have confirmed cases of infected people in seven countries, and it’s estimated that by the beginning of this coming December, if things continue as is, the number of people infected with Ebola could reach 5,000 to 10,000 cases weekly.

It’s clear that the Cuban government wants to pursue more than just aiding and combating the mortal virus. With this new crusade, in addition to confronting an emergency, it will receive a spurt of dollars to spend excessively without needing to justify it. The government is developing a strategy to favorably influence the UN vote on human rights and the American embargo. A key point.

It’s clearly persuasive. There is no greater veneration in the human condition than for the action of saving lives — even more captivating when the effort means risking your own.

We can criticize them or see from the computer how General Raul Castro and his buddies are gaining space in Realpolitik (practical interests and concrete actions). The other option would be to equal or, even better, to surpass them. To silence, with real actions, the humanitarian chatter of the Cuban revolution, its hapless friends of ALBA, and its cousins in the TCP.

But for that we would have to be ready not only to  help the needy but also to define who we are and what exiled Cubans can do. To act together with international organizations who work in the center of the crisis. To buy medical and hygienic supplies, protective uniforms, stretchers, gloves, disinfectants, and instruments for the centers that treat the sick. It’s not difficult.

Certainly we can continue believing that we create a homeland on the Internet, or we can grab the limelight away from the revolutionary government. But that, paraphrasing the title of the bolero, is for you to decide.

Translated by Regina Anavy

27 October 2014

Chinese Businesses on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange? / Juan Juan Almeida

•November 1, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Photo: martinoticas.com

The physicist and nuclear energy specialist Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart* recently led an official Cuban delegation to Hong Kong, though the news happened, as we say, behind the scenes. Xinhua, Prensa Latina and other news agencies did not report it, perhaps because the visit was not important.

Or perhaps it was because the eldest son of the leader of the Cuban revolution found it inconvenient to reiterate, somewhat unconvincingly, that he has no political ambitions, though he serves as scientific advisor to Uncle Raul, currently President of the Republic of Cuba. Or maybe it is because this is not his first visit to China.

Back in October 2011 the bearded sexagenarian — he was born September 1, 1949 — who says he spends hours surfing the internet, was a guest in Beijing, where he met with the septuagenarian Liu Yandong, who at the time was Chinese state councilor and is now second vice-premier of the People’s Republic of China. Such is the diversity in China that she is one of only two women members of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

But more to the point, on that occasion the Cuban academic, who is a graduate of Moscow’s Lomonosov University and the I.V. Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, showed an interest and looked for areas of cooperation in technology and nanotechnology between Cuba the Asian giant.

So it would be reasonable to assume that had returned to scrounge up investors. But that was not the case, though he was seen yachting around Victoria Harbor, contemplating the city’s majestic skyline. He was not at this famous port looking for financially solvent businessmen. This time he had a more urgent task: He was seeking access to technological and financial advisory services.

He is not waiting around. The Hong Kong Stock Exchange is one of the eight most important in the world and seems to have become the focus of of Cuba’s business and development ambitions, which involve floating shares of Cuban state enterprises on the exchange, especially those related to science and the pharmaceutical industry.

I am not an economist and cannot confirm whether this is a move by the Cuban government to simply to play one of its cards or an attempt to rig the board. But as has been pointed out by various observers who have been studying China since 1978 — the year Deng Xiaoping put in place the reforms in agriculture, defense, science and technology known as “The Four Modernizations” — the new Chinese policy represented a change in focus toward economic development and marked the beginning of a new Chinese openness to the world.

One of the most significant steps was to get Chinese state enterprises listed on the Hong Kong exchange. Thanks to market speculation, some of these companies — even those with very low levels of financial efficiency — managed to be among the top performers of the exchange’s index.

I believe that the strategy of floating shares in Cuban state enterprises in this or some other international stock exchange would not only be a major development; much more importantly it would mark an interesting shift in the traditional approach the Cuban government and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Investment now take of rejecting or approving the participation of foreign investors in the Cuban economy.

Just a thought.

The calendar indicates that today is the feast day of the patron saint of Cuba, Our Lady of Charity of Cobre, whom we ask to grant us health, liberty and the unity of all Cubans.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro Díaz-Balart is Fidel Castro’s first son by his first wife.

8 September 2014

Cuban Government: Two Strategies / Juan Juan Almeida

•October 15, 2014 • Comments Off

The man looks like himself.  That’s why, I don’t hit it off with hate.  It’s true, I was born and raised surrounded by men who love to speechify and believe themselves owners of the absolute truth, so much that they imposed it by force with total impunity.

Maybe that’s why some days ago was I surprised myself thinking that separating myself from that government group to which I am genetically tied, more than anything, was due to a strange defect or capacity that I have for accepting criticism and enjoying those insults that for some are attacks and for me, charming primitivism.

I learned.  As also I learned to look at Cuba without passion and to see that the Cuban government makes itself stronger every day relying on division and that’s why it uses two principal strategies:  one — which is a matter solely for Cuba and Cubans — and another for outdoors, directed to planetary opinion and solidarity transforming our small country in sustained headlines of magazines and news headlines.

Internally it divides society, twists co-existence and feeds the ineffective culture of confrontation between generational groups, between revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries, desirous of prominence, but fundamentally between rich and poor because — as we already know — socialism loves the poor so much that it multiplies them to make them overrate charity.

Before the world it is something else, evident these days.  The government took advantage of the insufficient response of the international community in the face of the crisis unleashed by the spread of the Ebola virus, and executing a maneuver that besides humanitarian is attractive and magisterial, turned itself into one of the main assistance providers to western Africa sending 165 Cuban health workers and preparing, always publicly because without applause there is no victory, the departure of another group with 296 doctors and nurses.

Ebola went out of control in such a dizzying way that it made the health systems of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone collapse; then Cuba, the greater of the Antilles, the “blockaded” country, delivers with false altruism economic and human resources to the noble work of saving lives.

Impossible not to praise; before such colossal facts what does it matter to Ban Ki-Moon or any other important member of international organizations, that in Palmarito de Cauto they kick another “delinquent.”  Understand the irony, the correct thing is to say dissident.

I am not a red, I am a realist, which although it begins with R is not the same nor is it written the same.  I clarify because I also see that the Cuban opposition continues gaining popularity, above all in virtual spaces, but still it does not capitalize on the discontent of millions of people, of a real population that is disappointed by the system, that does not want to be represented by anyone who victimizes it.  They forget that Cuban society has been saturated with stories of sacrifice and raising pedestals.

Reality seems to walk in the opposite direction desired by many. Cubans want to smile and get to the end of the month without predicaments. That’s why they look with respect and even with a tad of healthy envy at the new entrepreneurs (I don’t like calling them self-employed) and at the artists that prevail at opening doors.  For them, these are the real symbols of individuality, the true vanguard and the most effective creators of popular inspiration because today even sovereignty is a personal concept.

Translated by mlk.

14 October 2014

Radio Florida Disinforms / Juan Juan Almeida

•October 8, 2014 • Comments Off

Photo taken from Payolibre.com

Radio Florida Camaguey informs of the recovery, after a ton of years, of some land covered with weeds and the invasive marabou, used until recently as trash dumps, which today according to journalistic reports in the official media, is a super achievement.

The initiative is excellent, the effort to turn a trash dump into a garden; and hopefully they will do so frequently; what is calamitous is how surprisingly quickly and in full view of everyone, gardens, parks, streets and even hospitals in Cuba become the dumps overnight. I merely challenge the mathematics, the order of the factors in this matter, if it alters the product.

18 September 2014

Cuban Children Will Celebrate World Peace Day / Juan Juan Almeida

•October 7, 2014 • Comments Off

Photo taken from Periodico Escambray

The periodical “Escambray” published a somewhat contradictory note.  It said that next Saturday Cuban children and adolescents would send a message of hope, unity, happiness and love to their contemporaries in the world and to all humankind to celebrate in advance, “de San Antonio a Maisi”, the 21st of September, the day of International Peace.  According to the spirited newspaper, Cuban youth will occupy the main plazas, parks and streets of every corner of the country in order to celebrate with different motivations between those who emphasize allegorical songs of the Revolution, stilt races, sack races, and we repeat, stilt races, sack races; stilt races, sack races; stilt races, sack races. And after so much repetition, I am not sure I know what they will celebrate.

18 September 2014

The Unknowns Behind the Cultural Exchange / Juan Juan Almeida

•September 16, 2014 • Comments Off

Before the Portuguese awning maker and salt merchant Matias Perez* disappeared in the world, already Cuba and the United States were maintaining solid ties, including cultural exchanges, which continues being today an important part of our history and identity.

Just by glancing we can find Cuban elements in American culture and vice versa, so much so that “Cuban-American” is the highest expression of that cultural ethnic fusion between both nations.

The cultural reciprocity was frequent, artists came and went constantly. The thing got complicated during the first half of the 20th century when both governments–and I’m going to tell the truth, like it or not–began to have a relationship based on political principles so conflicting that paradoxically they made the arts sector, that of the expression of the spirit and creativity, a prisoner of circumstances.

The Cuban Government historically has used art and culture as a machinery for social control and as influence, as much national as international. Today, in the era of globalization, the internet and social networks, much more so.

It was for this purpose, and in order to undermine with patience and subtlety the controversial law of the embargo, that at the end of the ’90’s the “Battle of Ideas” was created, a real strategy that built new masks.

In 1998, with a depressed economy and more than fifty percent of Cuban artists unemployed. The financial strain was such that it managed to break even the connection with inspiration and many important names decided to emigrate. But this time, the Cuban Government was not prepared to lose so easily its cultural heritage.

For such purpose it invented the figure of the “independent artist,” a category that still permits them to enjoy more of the destination than the trip, to give them the possibility of, paying a paltry sum of Cuban pesos, establishing legal residence indefinitely outside of Cuba, even in the United States, without losing the status quo.

Other less well known artists also managed to find a legal loophole, many times covered in false work contracts that they get weaving a net of bribes, in order to be domiciled outside the island.

That is how various actors, writers, filmmakers,  musicians, artists, dancers and even lecturers leave Cuba, like they left the mango marmalade the coffee, and the guava shells, to produce in liberty.

On living outside the island, these artists hold accounts abroad. Today they come to the United States for cultural exchange, they act, they triumph with poses of lofty urban climbers, and although none of them says it, nothing keeps them from collecting. The embargo law sanctions sending dollars to Cuba; not so the rest of the world.

As a Cuban, I don’t like to stimulate the climate of hostility that separates us as a people and that also serves as a political and economic platform for groups that manipulate us from both shores of the Florida strait.  I believe that contact with exponents of the culture coming from the island is a good thing. I am in favor of exchange; but not this lie that turns it into contraband.

Translator’s note: From Wikipedia: Matias Perez was a Portuguese born, Cuban resident, who started a canopy business in Havana in the 19th century. He was carried away with the ever increasing popularity of aerostatic aircraft, and became a balloon pilot, ascending at least three times before he disappeared while attempting an aerostatic flight from Havana’s Plaza de Marte (today, Parque Central) on June 28, 1856. A few days earlier he had made a successful attempt, flying several miles. His second try, however, became part of Cuba’s folklore: when somebody or something disappears into thin air, Cubans say: “Voló como Matías Pérez” (it flew away like Matias Perez)

Translated by mlk

4 September 2014


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