Juan Juan Almeida, 8 February 2016 — Some say that Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro — also known as “the Crab,” “the Grandson-in-Chief,” “Raulito” and even “Arnol-mal” (or Evil Arnold, an ironic nickname referring to the former body builder, actor and politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, and also a slight twist of pronunciation on the Spanish word anormal, or abnormal) — is considered to be among the contenders for the Cuban crown.
I can see that, but a crown without scepter is simply a Pamela.
Inept and dangerous — a bad combination for those who confuse folly with merit — Raul-the-Grandson can exert influence to get foreign businessmen expelled from the country. (According to one headline, “Raul Castro’s Grandson Expels a Spanish Investor from Cuba.”) He can do as he likes without suffering any repercussions.
But there is a huge difference between those who have power and those, like him, who only have access to those who have power. And for the record, this is not just a play on words.
Some time ago I wrote a short profile entitled “Raul Castro’s Racist Grandson.” The grandson’s Paris sideshow led some people to ask me, as someone who knows all too well the cloth from which this family is cut, “What will happen in Havana after this fiasco?” Actually, nothing.
Raul Castro’s visit to France, during which some ten agreements were signed and where the Cuban president awarded his French counterpart Cuba’s highest honors, was a response to what François Hollande had effected on the island in May 2015.*
It is worth noting that Cuba’s leaders have an interest in Hollande because they need his help in securing a favorable treaty with France to restructure Cuba’s debts. Beyond exploring the prospect of new business deals, they are trying to signal to those European countries demanding greater individual freedoms and human rights in Cuba that they will have fewer opportunities than France in the new “business-oriented island.”
I will bet that, if the satirical commentary by the Gallic press and its echo on social networks got Raul and Vilma’s grandson riled up and affected relations between the Castro family and France, the French chancellery will have sent a note verbale (a diplomatic communiqué that is actually written rather than verbal) to the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations in an effort to downplay the issue.
There are those well-versed in Cuban affairs who insist on placing Raul Guillermo at the forefront of possible successors to the throne of the Castro clan, a herd made up of uneducated, arrogant individuals, who are short on gray matter and ignorant of the most basic principles governing diplomatic norms, protocols and proper behavior.
*Translator’s note: In May 2015 Cuba announced an oil exploration deal with France in the Gulf of Mexico after the French president, François Hollande, made a historic visit to Cuba in which he called on the United States to end its trade embargo on the Communist-run country.
Juan Juan Almeida, 18 January 2016 — Why don’t the countries which are implicated carefully investigate, in a reasonable period of time, the disappearance of these Cuban migrants? Why doesn’t the Nicaraguan government carry out an effective judicial investigation into these cases?
The accusers whisper, but, out of fear, do not accuse. They speak cautiously about dozens of Cubans abandoned in the jungle.
We will only have a rough idea of the number of those who have disappeared when those who are arriving and those who are still in Costa Rica, decide to break their silence.
Although for now there is no exact number of Cubans who have disappeared, whether assassinated, or lost, we are beginning to hear worrying tales, referring to the Nicaraguan jungle as a mass grave, where the bodies of some of our countrymen are hidden.
Sadly, while they ignore all this, the useless media is pleased with itself, and entertains itself scrutinising with disproportionate voracity and exaggerated delight, the motives, whether political or economic, which oblige these people to abandon their country.
This Friday, the first group, out of the thousands of Cubans who are stuck in Costa Rica, arrived in Laredo, in South Texas. According to the authorities in the Central American country, the selection criterion for this group of 180 was how long they had been there, that is to say, the date they entered the country.
But no one says that the list was modified because, in spite of the order of arrival, or the date of entry, some of them didn’t have the money – over $550 – to pay to continue their journey, or because, simply, they had disappeared.
And little or no attention is paid to the predictable slipping away of Cubans who, fed up with waiting, unwise or impatient, under their own steam, or with the help of traffickers – and most of them know who they are, where they live and how to contact them – decided to enter the jungle in order to get to their destination and today are dead, or locked up in Nicaraguan prisons.
The accusers whisper, but, out of fear, do not accuse. They speak cautiously about dozens of Cubans abandoned in the jungle, and of some mutilated with machetes, but they don’t say how many. They also, between themselves, say that some countries in the area know about this, but are not saying anything. It is serious and brutal, like a small-scale extermination.
For one of those people, who didn’t want to give his name, because he is still there with his family, the fact of not hiding the bodies of Cubans who tried unsuccessfully to escape from Costa Rica, by way of the Nicaraguan jungle, has two explanations: lack of interest in or respect for the fate of a Cuban, and a clear warning, with an element of threat, directed at the rest of those stuck in Costa Rica: “Don’t even try to get through the jungle.”
Fortunately, everything seems to indicate that our countrymen will arrive at a safe port, but, unfortunately, we will only have a rough idea of the number of those who have disappeared, when those who are arriving and those who are still in Costa Rica decide to break their silence, which casts a shadow over their complicity, and when all of them arrive in the United States and the families of the lost ones start to ask about their relatives’ whereabouts.
With so many unanswered questions, I wonder why don’t the countries which are implicated carry out diligent investigations within a reasonable period of time into the disappearance of these Cuban migrants? Why doesn’t the Nicaraguan government carry out an effective judicial investigation into these cases? Why doesn’t the press, both here and there, make any comment about what seems to be a badly-kept secret? There is no choice, we will have to wait, investigate and ask questions of our arriving fellow-countrymen.
Translated by GH
Juan Juan Almeida, 11 January 2016 — Racial and gender designations were fundamental in the dynamics of international politics, basically dominated by white men; but, fortunately, and like the rough action of a Russian-made Aurika washing machine, there are cycles with an expiration date.
Several penal codes in the world sanction racism, homophobia and whatever other ways to exclude human beings; and, disgracefully, there are people and groups that, clinging to outworn concepts, tarnish themselves by raising flags, at least in Cuba, that are shameful and unrestrained.
It’s clear that bad news is always the most fascinating, and segregation of whatever type is an image that, by being unpleasant, seduces the media and certain politicized groups. But I don’t think that Cubans who live on the island are racist or homophobic; it’s more a matter of being “classist.”
Discrimination, whether racial, sexual, religious, ideological or by social condition, is a phenomenon that came to our hemisphere long before Columbus. Fidel Castro didn’t invent it, nor did the so-called Revolution create it, although, without doubt, in a purposeful moment they used it. This “divide and conquer” stimulated resentment and generated a cruel individuality that, paradoxically, ended up dynamiting the essence of an “egalitarian nation.”
Demonizing wealth had the opposite effect to the one desired by the Revolutionary leaders. It ridiculed the “way of acting that had been established as the way of the proletariat” and created a negative image of the working class. They started to disrespect the sacrifices of the journalist, the soldier, the housewife, the engineer, the builder, the street sweeper and everyone who was working. Thus, the work of those who were able criminals was glorified.
The pyramid inverted itself, and the persistent spectacle of indoctrination saturated everyone. By force of repetition, the echo of the word “discrimination” contaminated all of us and converted us into a transmitter of a thought that, I’m not saying is a lie, but yes, truth was exaggerated so much that today I consider it worthy of study.
It’s true, Cuba is a dictatorship where the consumption of any hallucinogen is better than Raúl Castro for social health. We don’t have a multiparty system, much less a free press, and it’s shameful to see how every day the percentage of the population that finds a solution by fleeing the island is growing. But to say that apartheid and homophobia are growing is a mistake or a very studied manipulation of those who analyze the phenomenon from a single side of society, and identify it as a generality.
It’s a serious fault, I think, the fact of seeing things in a provincial way, clearly biased, and not taking personally our social responsibility; but this appears to be a subject that is as interesting as the problem of mating between a drone and a queen bee.
No one can deny that there exist racists, homophobes and a pack of people who feel superior or with the right to exclude others in Cuba, but this isn’t the majority. It’s a shame that the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the National Center of Sexual Education (CENESEX), and even some opposition organizations seem to be pushing strategies that, instead of helping, are stimulating the fracture of Cuban society.
The reality is that today in Cuba, with rare exceptions, Cubans don’t discriminate by black, woman, old, gay nor religious; they discriminate against the poor, and more so when the underdog shares the aforementioned conditions. Without a doubt, the rejection, marginalization and differentiation by social status is frightening.
Translated by Regina Anavy
Juan Juan Almeida, 7 January 2016 — Tired of family conflicts, without a future, restless by today and without a better model for living, clandestine fights become a place where hundreds of Cuban adolescents believe they can fulfill the dream of becoming famous and earning “a lot” of money. It’s a shame that they receive little interest from the State and no sensitivity.
The phenomenon is already part of the underworld, a jungle that seems to combine sports, barbarity and human decadence; something that for the time being can’t be confronted, because it’s impossible to put the brakes on those who have nothing to lose.
A trainer and former member of the Cuban team that participated in the Sydney Olympics explained to me that “with only 5 CUCs (or its equivalent in national money) and the appropriate contacts, anyone can come to those closed and shady places to witness an interesting spectacle.
“The boxers are young people from the slums who dream of having the money and fame that a professional boxer gets. They’re bored with looking in the mirror of family frustration or of the retired glories of the amateur sport, the national flag having been raised for a gold medal at the Olympics. They don’t have enough money to consume anything, not even in the cheapest makeshift shop.”
“To attend these clandestine coliseums you only have to pay, put yourself on a list and wait; the response arrives by SMS message, which almost always originates from a cell phone with a blocked identity, where they tell you the day, the time, the place and the program.”
The rookies begin charging, depending on whether they win or lose, from 25 to 100 CUC for fights of 4, 6 or 8 rounds, performed in boxing rings built in such an artisanal way that, instead of a ring, they look like cages. And, as in the movies, before starting the fight, the employees register all the bets.
The fighters wear gloves, boxing shorts, mouthpieces and almost never a shirt; and, in spite of looking like outlaws, the support team consists of trainers, ex-martial arts sportsmen, chiropractors, nurses, doctors, sports and health professionals with connections in clinics and hospitals in case of emergency, for any injured boy who needs it.
The PNR (National Revolutionary Police) pursues them.
It’s known that these “illegal circuses,” almost all located in the Havana municipality of Cerro, take place in private gyms and with a business license as “instructor of sports practices,” which, by being designed for a Cuban clientele, would have had to close if they hadn’t struck this vein.
They’re easy to detect, and because of that, there are periods of frequent raids. Although many guess that the earnings from this type of business are impressive, those arrested can’t be indicted because — according to an expert in reliable gossip — it’s not an illegal game but a sports exercise with certain legal guarantees, and there doesn’t exist, as far as I know, a legal description in the penal code that conceptualizes the crime.
Surely the Cuban authorities, moralist and complicated, are thinking about legislation; but the solution is simple and can be found behind that door that still resists opening: authorizing and supporting professional boxing.
Translated by Regina Anavy
Juan Juan Almeida, 29 December 2015 — More than six million dollars is the tab to cover a 2015 collapse caused by a riotous orgy of negligence. This is how they are describing the Cuban Ministry of Public Health’s most closely guarded secret. I will explain it but will try not to burden you with too much scientific jargon.
Accompanying photos (click here) show the construction of an ultramodern cyclotron unit within the confines of Havana’s Medical Center for Surgical Research (CIMEQ), which was intended for use in teaching and research.
The collapse of a floor, the result of egregious violations of building code regulations which cover such facilities, has led to losses that have yet to be disclosed by Cuban authorities. The losses include a unit for producing radionuclides for medical use, a radiopharmacy laboratory for producing and storing radiopharmaceuticals and various chemical synthesis modules.
A cyclotron is a particle accelerator that produces a short-lived radioisotope that, when added to glucose, is injected into the bloodstream and serves as a diagnostic imaging tool in nuclear medicine. Cancer cells rapidly absorb the substance and then emit radiation, which allows physicians to identify the cells’ location through the use a positron emission tomograph.
Once it became operational — something which of course will now not happen (at least not as urgently as initially planned) — Cuba had counted on being a world leader in the field of medical diagnosis through nuclear molecular imaging.
In other words, it is an advanced technology which makes it possible to safely and painlessly detect medical pathologies before the first symptoms of a given illness manifest themselves.
For example, it allows doctors to diagnose early-stage and late-stage cancers as well as residual and recurring tumors, and to qualify and quantify myocardial metabolism and blood flow while identifying living tissue in areas of infarction. It also enables physicians to diagnose Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, benign brain tumors as well as congenital and degenerative diseases, psychoses and/or mental disorders such as schizophrenia.
It is worth noting that this type of equipment and testing generates radioactivity. Accordingly, there are international accords designed to regulate building standards that guarantee the basic safety of such facilities and ensure protection against the dangers of radiation.
All facilities that process materials containing radionuclides are, quite logically, governed by a single body of regulations. Except in Cuba, on the grounds of CIMEQ, they were violated.
According to universally accepted building construction codes, such a specialized and sophisticated structure requires micron steel plates, reinforced concrete and other special materials. However, because of irresponsible decisions to cut costs and find innovative solutions — suggested and approved by members of a long chain of command that will never be punished — these materials were not used. Or they were used but not correctly, so the building collapsed.
All the commotion created by this unforeseen event attracted a lot of attention. Local authorities, negligent but cautious, displayed extreme indifference. They chose to play down the event, resorting to the trite saying “We lost a lot more during the war.” As part of their inspection, they tirelessly scrutinized all the cell phones of workers and eyewitnesses in order to — as they put it — prevent unauthorized photos from appearing in the media and on social networks.
They tirelessly scrutinized all the cell phones of workers and eyewitnesses in order to — as they put it — prevent unauthorized photos from appearing in the media and on social networks.
Juan Juan Almeida, 1 December 2015 — As a part of the basket of measures relating to the migration crisis concerning Cubans in Costa Rica, and with the obvious intention of protecting human interests, starting from 1st December, Cubans wanting to travel to Ecuador will have to get a visa to enter that country.
The regulation is an attempt to control the stampede; but already the human traffickers, taking a bird’s eye view and with financial resources, are trying to find new routes to connect Havana with the United States. Now it seems crossing the last frontier is the latest thing.
I would like to make it clear that not one single letter of what I am writing here is any attempt to encourage illegal emigration; but, to write about the matter with my eyes closed or making political points, is to make myself a central part of the problem.
Crossing Central America, Cubans in the hands of traffickers have to confront the dangers of the jungle, get around conflict zones ruled by guerrillas and drug traffickers, and put up with the aggravation of being constantly ripped off by corrupt locals. Things more improbable, but just as dangerous as the Siberian steppes.
The latest madness also costs 10,000 – 12,000 CUC per person.
Cubans, conscious victims of people traffickers, fly Havana – Moscow by Cubana de Aviación (CU0470) 1.156,00 €, or by Aeroflot Russian Airlines (SU0151) 627,39 €.
Arriving, still a few at a time, at Sheremetyevo International Airport, the Cubans are received by guides who put them up in previously-reserved houses and hostels. I have been told that it is all quite a challenge, they give them warm clothes, something to eat, and then, like polar bear cubs, God knows in what conditions, they get onto a whaling ship and cross the Bering Strait to arrive in Alaska, which is American territory.
We know the rest, the Cuban Adjustment Law.
The situation in Costa Rica, will eventually be sorted out. How? I don’t know. That is for governments and diplomats to work on. But let’s not kid ourselves. The problem exists and the exodus continues.
Already, Havana is whispering that Oceania is another way, heading toward the Cook Islands, Niue, Tuvalu and Samoa, states which have visa-free agreements with Cuba, nothing complicated, and from there travel to American Samoa, which, as its name indicates, is also American territory.
The person I was talking to told me something which shook me: “Water should be free, drinking it is a vital part of a human being’s existence; but water gets bottled and sold. Don’t you think that is profiting from life? Getting people out of Cuba, people who are going to flee anyway from that country, is less shameful than selling bottled water.”
We did not dramatise the tragedy saying that in order to control the migration the rules of a million dollar organisation are going to change. It isn’t like that, we know that the Cuban and United States governments, and the whole region is working to trap the traffickers; but this is tackling the effect without doing something about the cause. The solution is to create a Cuba with rights, liberties and opportunities. Then, no-one would want to escape.
As you know, when hope dies, so does love. That, for a disillusioned people, the traffickers are seen as strange roses growing in the ashes of a disaster; but, I think that the most dangerous thing is not the traffic in Cubans, but that the island will be converted into the most perfect location for the transit of people from many other countries, who are seeking the same destiny; but with a different objective: Terrorism.
Translated by GH