Reflections from Compañero Juan Juan

•February 2, 2015 • Comments Off

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As the debate continues, visitors come and go. It’s normal and forms part of the process of re-establishing relations between the United States and Cuba. Also in this exchange, in a not-too-distant future, the American government will return to its Cuban counterpart the territory occupied by the naval base at Guantanamo. And to reciprocate, the government of the island will accept that finally the imperial eagle will return to its original nest at the top of the two columns that, together with the canons, human figures and chains, compose the monument to the victims of the Maine explosion.

I feel that both these things will happen, and I’m not making up scenarios in order to encourage a debate.

Time has shown us that, although the present economic environment is still challenging since there could be negative surprises, as far as the political structure goes, the Caribbean has been and is one of the most stable zones on the planet. So that keeping a military installation of such size in the heart of a place where there are no international conflicts, not even of low intensity, represents an excessive waste of time and an important squandering of money.

The Guantanamo Naval Base was established in 1898, when the United States military occupied the island after defeating Spain in what many of us know as the Hispano-Cuban-American War. Later, with the signature of the first president of the Republic of Cuba, Don Tomas Estrada Palma, on February 23, 1903, the U.S. obtained that much-discussed perpetual lease. It emerged as an historic anomaly and today makes no sense. Neither military, strategic, or regional.

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For its part, the monument to the Maine was constructed in 1926, and in 1961 the man who “reflected” on it* ordered the imperial eagle taken down from the pedestal, because its figure was warping the new marketing image of the revolutionary government.

But given present circumstances and the indefinite absence of the insufferable “reflector,” the eagle means nothing more than the piece needed to complete the sculpture. I would dare say that because of the strange culture of rejection that we islanders have for everything that daily surrounds us, out of the two million Cubans who now live in Havana, not even 100 of them have bothered to read the inscription at the foot of the monument.

The return of the territory occupied by the naval base in the municipality of Caimanera in Oriente will be welcome, as will be the return of the image of the raptor to its environment on the Malecon.

Both events will be historic, but of no value. Since nothing about this presses the principle of democracy for a country that requests change and transformation, from the interior of a tempest hidden below a sea of apparent calm.

As that Cuban virtuoso said, known for being the king of the tambor** players and for the charming way he told a joke: “The agendas of governments are divorced from the people; politics get done in the street. The others react with the same naivety as an inexperienced mother.”

Translator’s notes:

*Fidel Castro’s column in Granma newspaper is called “Reflections of Fidel

**African drum

Translated by Regina Anavy

The Betrayal of Humboldt 7 or the Legal Art of Looting

•January 27, 2015 • Comments Off

Humboldt 7* in Havana, Cuba.

Christmas is a tradition which goes beyond the limits of the Catholic religion. Before the birth of Christ, the Incas used to celebrate the 25th December as their Cápac Raymi (a religious prehispanic celebration in honour of the sun); and also the ancient Romans, with their Natalia Solis Invicti or, “The birth of the unconquerable sun”.

There is agreement between various cultures; it is a celebration of family joining together and happiness. But, this Christmas not everybody received the gift of happiness. My friend, Osvaldo Fructuoso Rodríguez, (son of one of those young people who accompanied José Antonio Echevarría on March 13, 1957 in the attacks on Radio Reloj and the Presidential Palace) had his application to visit his sick mother in Havana turned down by the Cuban authorities.

What was the reason, or caprice, which justified some nobody in denying the legitimate right possessed by Cubans to travel to our country?

Some say that he is not allowed to enter because, in effect, Osvaldo took part in the organisation of the dramatic and almost incredible escape of Alina Fernández Revuelta, daughter of Fidel Castro, in 1993. Others consider that Fructuoso Rodríguez Jr. is simply paying for having close and affectionate ties to the deceased General José Abrantes Fernández, ex Minister of the Interior, who was for years a staunch enemy of the current leader, Raúl Castro.

And obviously, those who like over-hyping things associate the unjustifiable refusal with an article entitled “Humbolt 7 and the man who betrayed my father”,
written by Osvaldo Fructuoso in April 2007, in which he questions certain people linked to the upper echelons of the Cuban military.

I don’t personally share any of these arguments. I don’t believe they are confused; but they are only following an incorrect line of reasoning, since, on the one hand, the ex Minister of MININT died, was killed, or left to die, in January ’91; and Fidel’s rebellious daughter today travels regularly to Havana without being bothered by anyone.

As far as I am concerned, this travel permit refusal has less to do with the past than the present, and with a phenomenon which is growing in dark corners of Cuban society.

The word “theft” is an important noun in the national sound effects, and the Cuban leaders, experts in the art of looting, achieve the loudest notes in a network which functions with the precision of a top of the range Swiss watch, and with the complicity of the Ministry of Employment and Social Security, the Ministry of Justice and other institutions.

The business deals with finding people, preferably elderly, and with no family in the country, who are sick or with some kind of mental incapacity. With the help of social workers, hospitals, nursing homes and CDRs, they register them and convert them into targets.

The intention is to take control of the lives of these defenceless and unprotected individuals and rob them of all their possessions, with the support of the law. After identifying them, a select group of lawyers enter into this mean little game with the strategic mission of disinheriting the heirs, altering, changing or falsifying wills, powers of attorney and guardianships, in order to totally sever any legal link between the victims and their families.

This happens every day all over Cuba, and we need to take notice. Sra Marta Jiménez (mother of Osvaldo) is one more victim; alone, with a house in Nuevo Vedado, a house in Varadero, and a significant art collection, which, as you can imagine, featuring among others some important work of the vanguardista painter Servando Cabrera Moreno, became extremely valuable.

The ideological glasses get misted up, this is a major crime, committed in the murky environment of government power where money cannot be tracked and the illegal is made legal.

*Translator’s note: Humbolt 7 refers to a massacre which took place in April 1957 when the National Police killed certain revolutionaries who had survived a failed earlier attack on Batista’s palace as well as the taking of a radio station.)

Translated by GH

6 January 2015

The Most Rehearsed Funeral in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

•January 24, 2015 • Comments Off

So much passion and apathy for “Our Country or Death, We Shall Overcome” has ended up creating a certain inclination toward false patriotism and a funeral mentality. This was in evidence at the end of last week, when yet another widespread rumor of the ex-ruler’s death came to light.

With this new passing, the tagline “Fidel Castro Dies” stands out from other trending topics on social media, triggering a kind of hypnosis, a carousel of emotions. It is like a wistful zombie apocalypse in which fabrication becomes information.

It is not the first time nor will it be the last that rumors swirl around the former Cuban politician. This is why I find the widespread alarm so odd. I had the same exaggerated reaction when I turned twenty-five and had to face the loss of my childhood and my hair. It seems that, rather than wanting to forget, there is a need to preserve this ancient, ubiquitous presence who, because of age and illness, saw fit to withdraw from the scene.

One day he will die, like all human beings. But I doubt it will be on a day when Alejandro Castro Espín, one of his nephews and the most powerful man in Cuba, happens to be strolling through Greece, as was the case in this instance. In fact, the odds are better at winning the lottery.

As dictated by the protocol, the death will not be announced to journalists at a press conference in the International Press Center (CIP), but through an official statement issued by the Council of State and Ministers of the Republic of Cuba. At a time to be announced, all coverage on national television and radio will be linked, as happened on the night of July 31, 2006.*

It should come as no surprise that the funeral has already been rehearsed (even by the future deceased), which I discussed some time ago. There will be the twenty-one-gun salute, the eulogy, the mournful ceremony, the complete soundtrack with maestro and orchestra. As expected, some will be dressed in black, others in military fatigues. It will also include popular participation, foreign guests and a plan to “safeguard the physical integrity of the nation and preserve order.”

Several official documents indicate that, like Juan Almeida and Raul Castro, Fidel is to be buried at his command post in the Sierra Maestra, out in La Plata, along the foothills of Pico Turquino. But that could all change. I recall on one of my visits to Biran, the birthplace of the Castros, a guide pointing to a nonexistent spot. Like a soothsayer in a trance, he prophesied, “Here, next to those of his mother, will lie the remains of the commander-in-chief.”

I would like to point out that Santa Ifigenia is not an option. Fidel Castro is not about to share it with Jose Marti. And if someone decides to fix up this historic Santiago de Cuba cemetery, it won’t be to bury Fidel Castro but rather because January 28 marks the 162nd anniversary of the birth of Cuba’s “Apostle.”

I do not have a crystal ball and we are living in unusual times but there is also another option yet to be determined and it would be during one of those Sunday family lunches in Rinconada (Raul Castro’s house) in which the future of Cuba is decided.

The Castro family (which embodies the state, the nation and the government) which may decide to give Fidel an intimate funeral and quiet burial. He is no longer head of state, no longer first party secretary, so a low-key death would not be a violation of protocol.

And as in those dark novels that deal with injustice, Fidel Castro might remain the only dead person who never passes away. A thousand prerecorded programs and scripted epitaphs would be erased in one fell swoop. As my grandmother used to say before she began her prayers, reality always trumps fiction.

*Translator’s note: On this date Fidel Castro temporarily transferred the duties of the presidency to his brother Raul as he underwent a surgical procedure.

14 January 2015

Raul Castro’s Few Options / Juan Juan Almeida

•December 23, 2014 • Comments Off

Presidents Barack Obama and Raúl Castro shortened the 90 longest miles of all history, and it begins to melt the ice in the Cuba Libre [lit. “Free Cuba”; also the name of a drink served over ice]. It is a historical conversation that tries to put an end to years of confrontation and zoom in or zoom out, depending on the approach, to the day in which we Cubans can finally decide our destiny.

The news was welcomed with satisfaction by several personalities. The wind of cordiality blew so strong in South America that in less than 24 hours, the guerrilla group FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army) announced a unilateral ceasefire for an indefinite period starting on December 20.

On one side of the political scale, this is the wish that we Cubans all have of enjoying a country free from tyrants. A dream which, to some extent, we have not been able to achieve due to our disunity, the lack of strategies, and an excess of posturing. On the other hand: It is that to improve the bilateral climate between the two warring nations, an isolated Russia with financial problems, and a changed relationship with Africa and Latin America — especially with certain extremist groups and the ALBA countries (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America) — with the United States.

It is no secret that the global energy map has changed, that the current price of oil has dynamited the political capacity of Venezuela, and with the Port of Mariel Megaproject wavering from lack of investors, Raul remained without options; he has none, other than to get aboard the train and open up to investment, trade, and American tourism.

In logical reaction, the pendulum leaned towards rapprochement. Whether we like it or not, I understand that the circumstances and the life lived by each one of us define the way in which we approach certain things; but realpolitik, which deals with practical interests and concrete actions, unfortunately does not pass through human rights, nor a multi-party system, nor civil liberties.

The images have been very eloquent; the physical condition of the three Cuban spies is far from that of Allan Gross, including dental care, which clearly in the Cuban penitentiary system does not exist.

What’s next?

The increase in tourism and trade between the United States and Cuba will create new sources of revenue which, undoubtedly, will benefit rank and file Cubans, especially those who do not have relatives abroad. A new outbreak of bricklayers, gardeners, restaurant owners, bartenders, tenants, taxi drivers, etc.

But in the current circumstances, with the import permits in the hands of State-owned enterprises, no Cuban can market products for his private business; no entrepreneurs in the agricultural sector can import farm implements or quality seeds to increase their production, or animals for breeding stock; no cuentapropista [self-employed entrepreneur] in the field of construction or mining, can import any machinery. And that’s not going to change; at least for now.

Other freedoms will be opened up, yes; but I see little chance of General Raúl Castro permitting any political opening. He gave the speech dressed as a General from his old office, located on the 4th floor of the MINFAR [Ministry of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces]. Impressive symbolism.

The government will fight to maintain control, increase repression, and the methods and resources of its repressive forces.

No, it is not the end of the Castros, but the beginning of a stage in which all Cubans have to learn how to fly using our own wings.

Translated by: Hombre de Paz

23 December 2014

The Cuban Wall and the Changes of 1989 / Juan Juan Almeida

•December 18, 2014 • Comments Off

Twenty-five years later some people are still trying to knock down a piece of the Berlin Wall.

On November 9 and 10, 1989 Germany experienced an event that quickly and with just enough lubrication sent the rusty wheel of history spinning. It was an event that marked the beginning of the end of European socialism: the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Such a seminal event did not come out of nowhere. It was not a coincidence nor did it happen spontaneously. There were events leading up to it.

Protests were growing in Leipzig, Dresden, East Berlin and other cities demanding democratic change. The government of the former German Democratic Republic was unable to cope with the ever growing number of its citizens fleeing to Federal Republic of Germany and West Berlin.

Looking for a way to ease the pressure of an untenable situation, on May 2 of that year a group of Hungarian soldiers dismantled the barriers at the border with Austria and for the first time opened the door to the free world, allowing Germans to flee west through Hungary.

But rather than serving as a release valve, it turned out to be a boomerang. Popular discontent grew in breadth and scope. By October a revolution seemed imminent.

Faced with tangible indications of the beginning of a mass exodus and widespread social unrest, the members of the Council of Ministers were forced to resign.  A couple of days later the borders separating the two Germanys and the two Berlins lost their reason for being.

This event and everything that followed were historic. There were also consequences for German unity, for employment, subsidies and the retirement age.

When the archives are opened, which will one day happen, we will be able to delve into and fully analyze the reasons why the roar of communism’s collapse did not create a tsunami in Havana.

During that time Cuba’s leaders certainly were not bothering to hold meetings. As never before, the state and government were subject to the rulings of the Communist Party.

On Fidel Castro’s orders, and without protest or any opportunity to question, an already fragmenting society was shattered to pieces. Propaganda strategies were devised to neutralize opinions coming from the other side and filtering out of Cuba. Warnings were issued and limits were set on free expression.

The ghosts of loneliness, of war and stoicism became the fuel that provided justification for the shift of the nation’s economic development into reverse, which in turn attracted cash and sympathy from overseas Cubans who, as was reasonable to expect, rushed to lend aid to family and friends living on the island.

It is virtually impossible to imagine that at any given moment a massive social uprising would occur in light of the aid coming from family members and because the stagnant economy forced many Cubans to adapt to circumstances.

The government used cunning to alter people’s better judgement. Twenty-five long years have passed since that event and Cuba’s dictatorship is still in place. Isn’t it about time to change strategy?

21 November 2014

Cuba: From Beacon to Firefly, But the Clock Is Ticking / Juan Juan Almeida

•December 15, 2014 • Comments Off

Back when I had hair and could comb it, someone from a certain group of commentators coined a popular phrase: If Moscow were Hollywood, the world would be communist and Cuba would be its Humphrey Bogart.

This did not make sense to me but years later I came to understand that the Cuban Revolution was not an isolated phenomenon that morphed into a “trending topic” by virtue its own talent. It was part of a process that arose in the midst of the Cold War.

Without trying to get into a detailed analysis of historical precedents because I don’t want to be tiresome and because I assume we are already familiar with them, let’s just say it evolved into an obedient patriotic-nationalistic movement.

More than elsewhere in the communist bloc, it became a biography (often exaggerated) of men and women who knew how to exploit popular enthusiasm and personal charisma to monopolize the attention, power, media, sources of information, economic strength and entire institutional framework of the country, causing damage far beyond the financial.

But Bogart died, conditions changed and leaders grew old. They lost their sex appeal and their charm because, among other things, the Internet came along and made ninety miles seem a lot shorter.

Such was the fate of the Caribbean’s dominant player. The beacon of Latin America became a firefly. And no matter how much effort is stubbornly spent promoting it, the Cuban government realizes it cannot revolutionize the revolution.

A recently published study — one to whose statistics I give little credibility — claims that one in ten Cubans live in poverty in spite of being employed. This is interesting because, whether the number of poor Cubans is correct or not, I believe that this level of poverty is a result of past policies that were designed by the government to indoctrinate the public, emphasize the importance of egalitarianism and counter bourgeois habits. But they had a boomerang effect that brought the crisis back to the regime’s doorstep.

I therefore find it hard to understand why, in combating the government, some armchair observers cling to old theories and focus the discussion on widespread victimization, laying the blame on fear and poverty, while ignoring the visible examples of the island’s young entrepreneurs who, though not in open opposition, turn their backs on the state and manage to escape its middling egalitarianism.

Information is a right that downplays the truth once it becomes a commodity. When reporting on Cuba, many press outlets focus on only one aspect of reality while ignoring those elements that may not appeal to certain segments of the audience. Our country is much more than that. It is no longer a society in which its citizens mindlessly repeat the same thing.

Clearly, there are still people like that but it is undeniable that the island’s watches have begun ticking. The evidence is in the ongoing, in-depth debate that, without any organized political effort whatsoever, is starting to be heard in bread lines, bodegas, at bus stops and in homes.

The topic revolves around how to pressure the government to do a second evaluation of the travel and housing restrictions on Cubans living overseas, allowing them to return to the island without having to file applications or to meet selection criteria.

Housewives, workers, the unemployed, farmers, soldiers and even party members are all participating in this spontaneous initiative without having to be convened because they all have suffered and do suffer from family separation… O.K., and because the money doesn’t hurt either.

That’s how it is in Hollywood. Don’t forget that it was Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon who said, “We didn’t exactly believe your story… We believed your 200 dollars. I mean, you paid us more than if you had been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it all right.”

26 November 2014

Cuba: Access to WiFi or When Ingenuity is Penalized / Juan Juan Almeida

•November 29, 2014 • Comments Off

It is a paradox that on Friday, November 7, the 151st anniversary of the death of a singer of innocence and virtue, the Matanzas poet Jose Jacinto Milanes, at the People’s Court of Cardenas in the same province of Matanzas on the same day two Cuban citizens are awaiting sentencing — Rolando Cruz (age 46) and Livan Hernandez (35) — charged with “illegal use of the airwaves” and “illicit economic activity.”

Of the five arrested only two were charged. Both Hernandez and Cruz, instead of punishment, deserve recognition for demonstrated skills and support for development looking to the future.

The frequency of this network, according to the propaganda in the Girón, managed to link computers, videogame consoles and smartphones, across more than 26 kilometers. It never interfered in the frequency of the Telecommunications Company of Cuba SA (ETECSA), which means it does not constitute an illegal to use of the Cuban airwaves.

The court, as usual, was forced and ignored that Law Number 62 of the Cuban Penal Code in force as of April 1988, in addition to being obsolete, has absolutely no concept of the use of WiFi connections and without a law that sanctions it, there can be no penalty. That is: Nulla crimen, nulla poena sine praevia lege. (There is no crime, no penalty without previous law.)

Rolando and Liván violated a resolution that had been signed by the Revolutionary Commander Ramiro Valdés when he was minister of information technology and communication. However, this being an administrative order by a particular agency, the men’s activities could only be deemed a misdemeanor and not a crime.

After five months in jail, under the terrorizing pressure of a process of “instruction,”the accused agreed that the users of that network could access the Internet. However, during the trial the magistrate called to the witness stand five residents of Cárdenas, who said that the connection was only good for gaming, watching movies, and chatting amongst themselves.

The invoices for the servers were produced, and these proved that the purchases were made in Canada and brought legally into Cuba. It was also demonstrated that the accused charged not a single penny and that the users had made only two monetary payments — one for 6 CUC and another for 10. These were for improvements to the network infrastructure, not usage fees.

The prosecutor — an awful neurotic and somewhat loudmouthed version of the famous Dr. House — took the wild recourse of accusing the defendants of “illicit economic activity.” She reminded the tribunal of the guidelines from the Attorney General’s office regarding the severe penalties that are to be imposed for such activities, because of the “ideological danger” that they pose for the Revolution.

The defense attorney, one Nestor González, performed spectacularly. The defense was courageous, convincing and articulate — but hardly effective. The accused had already been sentenced way before the first hearing. It was the usual: the idea is to make examples of the violators, produce a sort of electroshock as a reminder and to demonstrate that in this corporate military era the director general doesn’t want any flight of money, as well as to ratify that the Revolutionary government cedes no space.

Therefore, keeping in mind that in this case there is no crime but rather a country that lacks a legal structure capable of functioning independently from the mandates of the government, we await the sentence.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison and others.

12 November 2014

 
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