Cuban Doctors are Sent to Brazil Without a Stopover in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

•July 20, 2015 • Comments Off on Cuban Doctors are Sent to Brazil Without a Stopover in Cuba / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 25 May 2015 — To ease the growing popular discontent, soften Petrobras’ recent and resounding scandal and regain credibility, President Dilma Rousseff, taking into account that “improving health” was the principal demand during the June 2013 demonstrations, wants to repeat history. She has asked the Cuban authorities to increase the number of physicians in order to help strengthen the “More Doctors” program and calm the majority who, as always, are the most needy.

According to official figures, up to April 2015, the health project “More Doctors” counted 18,247 professionals in more than 4,000 municipalities. And I celebrate this: healthcare should be the right of everyone without exclusion; it’s a pity that commercialization puts at risk the lives of those who can’t pay for lack of resources. It’s difficult not to consider the Brazilian request, which, although clearly without half-measures, conveys a clear Party intent, requiring the Cuban Government to send only experienced doctors. But the Cuban rulers, using and abusing an effective disloyalty, without consulting the Bolivians, respond without delay to the chords of this samba, even affecting the long-term commitments they have with the Venezuelan health programs.

So it is, because to earn money, the Cuban State always remains more open than the doors of an airport restaurant. This past Saturday, May 9, from a poorly lit corner in the office of the Cuban Ministry of Public Health, Roberto Tomás Morales Ojeda released a signed circular directed at each manager of ASIC (Areas of Integral Public Health) in Venezuela, and at the managers of the medical missions in the different states, so that through their CENREC and the Centers of Attention (or vigilance) collaborators, they contact, with strict discretion, the first Cuban doctors, who, by the sole fact of having the approval of State Security, already have been selected to travel directly to Brazil without the need to return to the Island or embrace their families.

The doctors selected have the right to say no, since — according to this document — some of them have already fulfilled the time of the “mission” and are waiting for their relief; but, like subliminal blackmail there is a catch: they have to give a written argument explaining the reason for their refusal.

The list of names is extensive. It includes specialty, medical category, passport number, identity card, province of origin and more. But for obvious motives of security and understandable ethics, in addition to protecting my sources, it’s not prudent for me to publish the document in question in total.

Those interested, above all those who have family members working in the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela, can contact me. I have in my hands the list of the Cubans chosen, who, without even knowing it, have already been selected; and during this whole week, from today the 18th up to the 22nd of the current month, they will be convened and ordered to accept transfer to this new mission, “More Doctors for Brazil.”

The motive is convincing; the logic is repugnant.

Translated by Regina Anavy 

Cuba’s Automotive Heritage Has Been Virtually Plundered / Juan Juan Almeida

•July 15, 2015 • Comments Off on Cuba’s Automotive Heritage Has Been Virtually Plundered / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 11 May 2015 — With the relaxation of relations between the United States and Cuba, speculation has been unleashed and is causing mischief. Some experts guarantee that several U.S. companies are ready to buy the famous “almendrones”* on the island. It could be the arrangement is real; there is always some nostalgic person whose passion, need or disinformation makes him confuse reality with desire or imagination.

Absolutely out of focus, Cuba’s automotive heritage has been virtually plundered. Most of what remains – Cadillacs, Chevys, Studebakers, Pontiacs, Thunderbirds and Buicks – which still circulate on the island, had their engines replaced to be used as collective taxis (“boteros”), and upon losing originality, they also lost their exceptionalism.

In the middle of the ‘80s, the Cuban business, At the Service of Foreigners (CUBALSE, for its acronym) capitalized on the large amount of collectible cars that existed in the country. It acquired them by referring to their technological importance (Spanish-Swiss, 1930 Cadillac V16), 1918 Ford T, 1930 Baby Lincoln), or their universal historic significance.

I don’t think it’s necessary to explain that CUBALSE bought them at laughable prices; for a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, or a Jaguar or Bugatti, it paid with Russian vehicles.

Several of these rolling jewels are found today in the Automobile Museum located on Oficios Street in Old Havana; others, like “The Little Pink Shoes”** are guarded and excellently maintained in the private garages of the upper elite. The rest were sold at very good prices, mostly to Swiss collectors.

At the end of the ‘90s, there were almost no cars on the island of the 100 percent original collection in the hands of the population. CUBALSE stopped buying, and the baton of patrimonial rape passed to an exclusive group of artists, who didn’t sell their works at the prices they do now but knew how to cash in, with more than innate talent, on their government connections in order to buy antique autos, adorn them with four strokes and, under the status of “work of art,” take them out of the country and sell them in the exterior.

Thus, by sea, like rafters but with special permission, American cars left Cuba at the request of a foreign market that demanded, fundamentally, 1946 Chevrolet trucks, 1941 Ford Mercurys, 1956 Buick Roadmasters, Chevrolet Corvettes and 1957 Chevys.

In the craze for antique four-wheelers, Cubans and foreign residents with commercial vision came together. Then, with an economic option, the Government retook the business with companies like Cubataxi, which acquired antique cars with a certain national history, not to sell but rather to rent, at the price of a prostitute, to tourists who would pay to ride a Harley Davidson that Camillo Cienfuegos used, the Chevrolet Impala that belonged to Almeida, and what some say is only a fake version of the Chaika limousine*** that Fidel used for years.

Putting together these simple pieces of the commercial puzzle of the car in Cuba, it’s very easy to understand that, of the almost 60,000 antique cars that still circulate on the island, with certain isolated exceptions, in the possession of some nationals there remain only hybrid autos, armed with the loose criteria of an ingenious mechanic, which of course he could sell, but they are not even approximately the gold mine that their owners believe they are.

Translator’s notes:
*“Almonds,” because of their shape.
”**A poem by José Martí that school children learn and that often is satirized.
***A Soviet brand car.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Exploring the Role of Alejandro Castro in Cuba’s Future / Juan Juan Almeida

•July 6, 2015 • Comments Off on Exploring the Role of Alejandro Castro in Cuba’s Future / Juan Juan Almeida

Alejandro Castro Espin, son of Raul Castro, in Panama

Juan Juan Almeida, 22 June 2015 — The prestigious agency Reuters is exploring the role that Alejandro Castro Espin could have as his father’s successor, drawing on three sources: a former CIA official who supports his views with experience studying a still-unknown family—their fears, habits, tastes, preferences, mores, and even the personality of each of its members; a former Cuban ambassador now living in Brussels in fear because one day he decided to provide refuge in the diplomatic residence to two of his grandchildren and a daughter married to a former Russian citizen who fled the armed conflict in Chechnya; and a Canadian historian who wrote a book about Raul Castro the strategist.

It is absurd to assume that Alejandro, just because he is Raul’s son and is a colonel, has the support of the military high command. It is like believing that Nicolae Ceausescu could have ruled indefinitely in Romania and then have been civilly succeeded by his beloved son Nicu.

I find it extremely disrespectful, or at least ill considered, to analyze the future role of a significant figure ignoring that he is Cuban; that he lives in Cuba; that our island is located in the area of influence of the United States; and that there is no doubt that although U.S. policy has erred on many occasions in its position with Cuba, the changes that will occur will be along Western lines. Cuba is not North Korea, geopolitically in the sphere of influence of Russia and China.

Alexander came to the fore long before December 17 but, despite his six-foot-two stature, he is a bland character, absolutely incompetent at communicating or commanding attention.

To compare the way Fidel Castro used his brother Raul with the way that Raul uses his son Alejandro, is to display a lack of intelligence, a total ignorance of national history.

Sure, Raul Castro inherited Fidel’s political base, but he participated in the attack on the Moncada Barracks, he went into exile, he journeyed on the yacht Granma, he was chief of the eastern guerrilla front in the Sierra Maestra Mountains and, although he was not highly educated, fifty years of practicing in the ruling elite of the Cuban dictatorship taught him the trade, or rather the art, of power.

The male heir of the Castros, as history tells, is not career military, let alone a combat veteran. He is not a member of the National Assembly nor of the Central Committee. They can do it, of course, but it won’t matter; the only way that Alexander could transcend his father would be through a pact with the future government, using it as a guarantee to protect the immunity of Raul and the family.

If the Cuban opposition continues doing what it has been doing, and if the government continues ruling as it has until now, the chances of a real political change in Cuba are minimal. But it is one thing to say that expectations are low, and quite another to admit that they are nonexistent.

In recent months, Raul Castro has been injuring his own political base, by slowing the adopted reforms and by his clear failure to manipulate the levers of power. Alejandro is more awkward still, his presence will suck the air out of the room among that group (ministers, military hierarchy and government officials) that now supports the power and will begin to destroy the appetite of tomorrow.

General Raul Castro may be unaware of the scholar Brian Latell, the professor Carlos Alzugaray, or the historian Hal Klepak, but it is certain that he knows exactly the limitations of each of his children, and also knows that to promote his son Alejandro as a possible successor, passing over so many other personalities with the same ambitions and better characteristics, would be counterproductive even for his own family.

In gathering information to write this note I spoke with a senior Cuban army officer and asked him about Alejandro. He replied: “Juan Juan, you surely know the famous Latin phrase cogito ergo sum. Well, the Cuban economist and historian Regino Boti said that in Cuba we use a freely paraphrased version of the French philosopher René Descartes’ ’I think, therefore I am’ and call it ’I command, therefore I know.’”

And that is Alejandro Castro, the argument taken to the absurd. So can the Fidel Castro model be repeated in Cuba? No.

Art Is A Bridge That Unites Miami And Havana / Juan Juan Almeida

•June 30, 2015 • Comments Off on Art Is A Bridge That Unites Miami And Havana / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 1 June 2015 —  In 1984, at the suggestion of Armando Hart and Marcia Leiseca, Lilian Llanes, then the director of the Wilfredo Lam Center, the Biennial of Havana was created, and since then, the dialogue of the Revolution with Cuban culture has seen itself obligated to change, passing from an intense tone to a prudent one, and it’s truly regretful that our opposition hasn’t ever managed to capture the attention of this brotherhood.

The Government knows that no respectable social movement exists without artists in the vanguard, and it also knows that the Biennial is the place where artists get together to promote art.

What’s interesting is that this cultural rendezvous, the Twelfth Biennial, in addition to converting Havana into a world center for contemporary visual arts, and invading Havana with an artillery of paintings, regiments of video art, battalions of sculptures, squadrons of installations and platoons of performance art, is creating a new manner of communication and collaboration among artists residing on the Island and in Miami.

It’s good to know that the works of Manuel Mendive, Arles de Río, Roberto Fabelo, Rafael Pérez, Osmany (Lolo) Betancourt, Eduardo Abella and Luis Camejo, who these days get the attention of everyone on the Havana Malecón and other seats of the Biennial, were made in Miami, in the studio-casting ASU Bronze (Art & Sculpture Unlimited).

The question is: Why is it practically impossible in Cuba for drawings and sketches of plastic artists to materialize in the art of casting?

There’s a surplus of talent in Cuba. But the quality of production work in other places, the shortage of materials and inefficiency of the State, plus the fatigue from facing the constant complexity of everything associated with the production of a work in Cuba make the elaboration of a piece on the Island an exhausting process that doesn’t make it easy for artists to organize to fulfill commitments or establish deadlines for exhibitions.

Unfortunately for them (the artists) and, hopefully, new entrepreneurs will take note, there is only one business in all of Cuba that is dedicated to these requirements. To cast art is complicated: you need specific machinery, tools that are fabricated for a determined work, special instruments, access to raw material and other gear to complete the structure. Nor does there exist in the country a photography laboratory capable of offering a wide range of services that include printing on metal, wood or methacrylate.

Today Cuban artists make magnificent art that they try to show to the world, but when they leave Cuba and face the mega-exhibitions in New York or Paris – to mention only two examples – they find that the works exhibited have a deadline that they can’t meet on the Island.

To introduce works in international circuits, each time more demanding, requires fulfilling parameters and patrons of artistic production who they can only meet in workshops like the Factum Arte in Spain, which is dedicated to producing art for artists.

Then the Art & Sculpture Unlimited (ASU Bronze) appeared in Miami, which, in addition to being geographically and operationally closer to Cubans, offers solutions, accessible prices and competent completion. It counts on the exquisite supervision of Lázaro Valdés, an excellent sculptor who, by being educated in Cuba, understands perfectly the language of his profession, his nation and his generation.

Author: Juan Juan Almeida

Licensed in Penal Science. Analyst, writer. Awarded a prize in a competition of short stories in Argentina. In 2009, published “Memories of an Unknown Cuban Guerrilla,” a nonfiction work where he satirizes the decadence of the upper elite in Cuba.

Translated by Regina Anavy


Cuba Develops Its Plan to Create Connectivity Infrastructure / Juan Juan Almeida

•June 28, 2015 • Comments Off on Cuba Develops Its Plan to Create Connectivity Infrastructure / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 9 June 2015 — After receiving more than 120 million dollars to develop the Internet in Cuba, the government circulates this document to create its National Strategy For The Development Of The Infrastructure For Broadband Connectivity In Cuba.

Access to International Banks: Cuba’s True Objective in These Negotiations / Juan Juan Almeida

•June 24, 2015 • Comments Off on Access to International Banks: Cuba’s True Objective in These Negotiations / Juan Juan Almeida

Josefina Vidal, Cuban negotiator with the US


Juan Juan Almeida, 25 May 2015– For many, it was a surprise that the United States and Cuba should conclude its new round of negotiations without achieving the expected agreement, the reopening of new embassies–more so when both delegations described the recently concluded meeting as “respectful, professional, and highly productive.”

Thus does the Island’s government operate; it maneuvers with painstaking craftiness any process that entails sociopolitical transcendence for the country.

I hope (although at times I doubt it) that the US State Department and US authorities involved in these proceedings clearly understand that not Josefina Vidal–member of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party and director for the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Relations director for relations with the United States–nor José Ramón Cabañas, chief of the Cuban Interests Section in Washington, nor any other member of the Cuban delegation, have decision-making authority. They are simply employees who have been given precise instructions: explore the actions and reactions of their counterparts, buy time, maximize media coverage (which they easily do because all media around the world are covering the big story), and show toughness.

For the Cuban government–sorry, for the 7 or 8 individuals who today comprise the center of power–reestablishing relations with the US is simply the “rice” in the chicken-and-rice pot. The compass of this process–the “chicken” of this meal–is directed towards two goals: removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, and press for the end of the “Embargo.” All the rest is just part of the same theater showcasing well-rehearsed acting.

It is not hard to understand that to remove Cuba from that list will unleash an immediate effect on the banking institutions, which will cease to view the largest of the Antilles through the “anti-terrorist lens” and, concurrently, erase the shock of receiving a sanction for doing business with Cuba.

I cannot state with certainty that as of today our country conforms to the definition of a state that sponsors or supports terrorism. Although I have heard Fidel and Raúl denounce terrorist acts such as that visited on Charlie Hebdo;  and a high ranking Cuban military officer describe how a representative of these terrorist groups lives a comfortable and relaxed life, very near to the residence of the Spanish ambassador; and a good friend recount an amusing anecdote in which one day, through no fault of his own, he found himself turned into a gift to the Middle East, where he was presented to a group of Islamic leaders with hyper-radical tendencies who, through an interpreter, wanted to know personal stories about his father who, even in death, continues to be an icon of history, hysteria and schizophrenia.

The end of the Embargo will open to the country the doors to credit and funding and, with them, the real possibility of buying and exporting weapons, services, information, medical personnel, medicines, or any other product–harmful or not to world peace.

I have no doubt that Cuba will emerge from this controversy in a ready mode, will reestablish its relations with the US, and, if the wind continues to blow in the same direction, the Embargo will be lifted. Is this right? I do not believe so, but I learned to be pragmatic because, as my grandmother used to say after lighting up the same cigar butt for the fourth time, “In this world there is no justice, God forgives everyone.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Congress on Soil, where soil is not cultivated / Juan Juan Almeida

•June 22, 2015 • Comments Off on The Congress on Soil, where soil is not cultivated / Juan Juan Almeida

Juan Juan Almeida, 3 June 2015 — The 2015 Congress on Soil begins today, June 3, in the Convention Palace in the capital. Experts from more than 20 countries will discuss the sustainable management of this vital resource for food security. But if more than 40 percent of the arable surface in Cuba remains idle, what can Cuba contribute to this meeting?

Translated by Regina Anavy


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