Thursday, December 31, 2009

Requiem for the passing year.

Goodbye, 2009, and welcome 2010! The last year was a year with good vibes and hopes. In first time in history, an African-American took over a presidency in US and began a period of good will, closing doors to a period of time when all the hopes were bet to a warrior. Obama opened the door to American diplomacy rather than the armed muscled.Requiem for the passing year

With regard to Cuba, Obama ended all the prohibitions lifted by the Bush Administration: lifting the ban to Cuban exiles to travel to their homeland, allowing the remittances to their relatives and, in an unprecedented gesture, allowing to telephone cable companies to negotiate any deal about internet connection, all at one showed that what Obama promised in his electoral campaign wasn’t just simple words of a young politician, but the good will of a mature and more realistic leader.

I need to add a little bit of salt to this. I hope Obama show in 2010 a higher stature in regards of Cuba, allowing our fellows Americans to travel to our country as well. As I said in another post: (“Embargo and Immobilism”), “with the American dollars would be travelling freedom, democracy and concepts unknown by Cubans”.

What’s left it is the matter of the Cuban government which, by the way, it didn’t show any visible signal of openings and approach. Rather than that, Castro accused Obama, in the same old language well-known of his brother Fidel, to try to destroy the “Revolution”. At the matter of fact, Cuba stepped up its anti-American rhetoric and set in the Council of State an old hardliner from the 60’s: Ramiro Valdes.

Is that a signal for the times to come? We don’t know.

Recently, Newsweek announced its predictions to 2010. Within them there is the probable death of Fidel Castro, which is something, honestly, insignificant in the Cuba of today. I mean, you could probably say that the old Castro is shadowing the new Raul’s, but the truth is we are not facing a different policy or a different approach. Raul is not as charismatic as Fidel, he doesn’t have the incendiary attractive voice and it is less diplomatic at the time when he has to announce something. But, without any doubt, he is not lacking his own voice and showed he can jump “theoretical” barriers, when he has to settle in some throne “some old personal opponents” (some analysts had said Ramiro Valdes is an old opponent, there is no evidence whatsoever).

2009 came as a year of new challenges and goals to the civil society. Internet saw a surge in blogs and websites, even when internet is not reaching Cuba, internet definitively is approaching Cuba. And the real sign is that Cuba’s government paid attention to that phenomenon as usual as it does: repressing its surge. That is always in Cuba the signal that what was something insignificant is becoming dangerous to the establishment.

November and December were months when our civil society received the baptism of fire of Raul Castro’s policy: sometimes attacking its more visible figures abroad, for instance Yoani Sanchez, sometimes creating more pro-governmental blogs, or even trying to open accounts in some services in internet, like twitter, to confuse the net surfers about the dissidence voice within Cuba. But even the more traditional and well-know dissidents, like the Ladies in White, felt the surge.

December 9th and 10th were days of intense activity against dissidents. Cuba detained around 80 of them in their houses, in public spaces and even before they tried to move and participate somehow. Today, there are some of them holding stands up, especially in Holguin, in solidarity with a political prisoner, Orlando Zapata Mayo. We have to gain support for them, that is our task.

Personally, 2009 was the year of my launch on internet. In October 21st, I wrote my first post, named “The Seven Planets”. I wrote in that: “Cuba is still in time”. But it is not. Cuba is moving little by little, and we have to move with it. I have the purpose to reach out a wider audience, somehow, open the doors to a new Cuba from a new approach. I would say it is not as easy as I thought, because my blog is not intended to the Cuban audience worldwide. I want to reach Canadians, Americans, people in English language because we need them on our side to reach an Open Cuba.

2009 is gone, 2010 is just few hours ahead. I don’t expect an easy year in Cuba, I don’t expect Fidel Castro death as Newsweek did, and I don’t expect an Open Cuba. But I do expect an increasing push to reach our goal. There are signals ticking everywhere, we only need to push forward in every different directions possible.

Who were thought we were here today? Nobody

It looks as for Newsweek Fidel Castro’s death is a goal, not for us. We are not in a brink to wish the death of a person, a leader or a dictator (he is all in one), even when his own disappearance could allow our goal. We are trying to destroy a system that broke our dreams and our freedom to be ourselves.

What it is in front of us is not a person, even when that person personifies the system. In front of us, we have a system designed to crush our hopes and our voices, and we have to raise the voice of everyone inside and out of Cuba to achieve the new.

Do we have any leader? No, we don’t. But he will come.

Do we have a huge social movement towards? No, we don’t. But it will come.

Do we have a date to Open Cuba? No, we don’t. But that day will come, sooner or later.

It will come inevitably... It will come.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Plucking daisies over the stream...

The current year is passing by and with one day to go, we will be in 2010 and a new year will bring new goals and new inspirations to try new ideas. The end of the year is the perfect moment to look back and reflect. How was our last journey to here? How many friends do we get and lose? What will we expect of the future?Plucking daisies over the stream

A year is gone and Cuba looks even more like that isolated planet gravitating around in its own lost orbit. Almost three years later Castro vanished from the public eye, and three years later of speculations and dreams, today we are facing the reality Cuba will be more like the citadel announced by Castro during the latest 80s, when he rumbled loudly about Numantia. The only thing is, we are not besieged.

Three years passed and the dreamed reforms are smoke signals vanishing with the early first blow of air. I still remember how the snow ball was rolling here and there. Everywhere you go, in any newspaper or radio station or TV channel, the news was hitting your gut: the reforms are coming! Sadly for everyone, but not surprisingly for me, the fact was made with a statement in National Assembly as a Christmas message: no reforms, same of the old philosophy. And to sweep any trace of doubt, a new-old Vice-President was elected to the Council of State: Ramiro Valdes, a signal for the times to come.

So, the question today, one day before the end of the year is: where are we? To where will we go from here? What do we have to expect of the “new” old Cuba?

I do not expect anything. The few grains of salt our government gave up in the two last years are concessions to blow a ghost through the world, the ghost of the reform, and to catch some time facing the unexpected in US: the election of the first African-American president with a charming smile, and a charisma never seeing before.

More important, with Fidel Castro out of the equation, Cuba was missing a leader with, at least, a charisma at the same level of Obama’s. Neither charisma nor personality, Raul Castro is a bleach silhouette in front of his brother’ shadow. The only missed here is the long speeches we have to suffer from the big brother.

In National Assembly, the little brother threw a cryptic speech about the expectative of some well-intentioned people about reforms and changes, to add immediately that those reforms will never arrive.

I wrote previously in another post: “After Castro, another Castro took over and we are living a second hand of the same tyranny with different first name”. Here we are, after Christmas with the same message.

So, after almost three years of speculations and false expectations, we are at the beginning of our circle of life, in the same point in which we were yesterday, plucking our daisies over our stream of wishes and dreams, waiting for someone who never had the will to change our history.

It is not his brother’ shadow what is holding his hands to move our country forward. It is not the so-called blockade, the US voracity, the menaces of an invasion from US or anywhere else. It is not the CIA, the Cuban-Mafia in Miami, or some obscure plan against Cuba. What is freezing Raul Castro’s hands is himself. And let’s face it. He is doing what is supposed to do: staying still in time.

Any other expectative could be catalogued as a dream made come true for people who only need a headline in a newspaper. We don’t know where we are going because our government never knew, past and present, where to go. Our leaders were always unpredictable. They caught any lost hint here and there and flew. Yesterday was Russia, today is Venezuela, tomorrow anyone else.

We are like that poor little guy with a broken heart at the top of the bridge over the river, plucking daisies in hope of everlasting love and at the brink of a suicide: she love me, she love me not...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Guitar Incarcerated

“They asked that man for his time, A guitar incarcerated

So he could link it to the History.

They asked him for his hands,

Because for trying times

Nothing is better than a good pair of hands...

They explained to him later

That all this donation would be useless

Unless he turned over his tongue,

Because in trying times

Nothing is so useful in catching hatred or lies.

And finally they begged him,

Please, to get walking,

Because in trying times

This is, without a doubt, the decisive test.”

This is the first poem of “Out of Game” by Heberto Padilla. And I am putting here for a double purpose. First, it is a tribute to his memory. Padilla wasn’t the first intellectual to suffer the soldier boot over his conscience but, without a doubt, he was the first Cuban writer to suffer a public shameful discredit by the huge hatred machinery of Castro against dissident intellectuals.

I am afraid my second purpose has a more pragmatical intention. That poem is a jewel when it comes to reflect the muddy waters in which the so-called anti-establishment artists are swimming in Cuba today.

I was a child when Silvio Rodriguez, Vicente Feliu and Pablo Milanes created a new wave of song-writers named “La Nueva Trova” to make some differences with the old generations of song-writers which, guitar in hands, were playing their romantic songs with their smoky voices.

Silvio and Pablo were immediately trademarks in Cuba’s underground and suffered not only incomprehension, but even repression. Pablo Milanes was secluded in the UMAP camps and Silvio was banned from national TV and send to travel in a fisher ship, where he wrote many of his more beautiful and outstanding songs.

His song “Ojala” (Let’s hope so) became a national underground anthem and “El rey de los judios” (The king of the Jews) was passing hand to hand to become one of the most listened songs in Cuba underground, by a new generation marked by the absence of religious spirituality. Silvio was attached by the regime with the feared label of dissident and immediately disappeared from the public. Both were saved by the Moncada’s heroine Hayde Santamaria, and “Casa de Las Americas” became the precinct where you had to go to listen to them.

The story of “Ojala” is a mirror where you can see the evolution of our Silvio dissident into Silvio sponsored by Cuba’s authorities. A story so many times repeated nowadays with many others. The lyric of that song gives hints here and there, with metaphors, about someone you want to kill “with a shot of snow”, or someone you want “to erase suddenly”. Word of mouth was he was talking about Fidel Castro.

During latest 70’s he moved on and whispered a different story tale saying that song was made to reflect what happened to him with the President of our National TV. In the early 80’s, the story changed again and his trademark song became just a song about a broken heart and broken lovers: something that anybody believe. After all, the lyrics couldn’t be change.

The evolution in Silvio shows the evolution in someone who passed from being an artist with a personal voice, non-conformist in essence and anti-establishment in lyrics, to be devoured by the same system he denounced with poetic metaphors in so many songs like “Sueño con Serpientes” (I dream with serpents). In the 60’s and 70’s, he was the most successful artist of Cuba even when nobody could see him in public spaces. With his success came his own devouring process by Castro’s establishment. Ironically, Silvio never wrote any other song like those written in Playa Giron’ ship: his dreams about serpents became reality. He was wolfed down by them.

Today, we have lot of artists walking over the same track. Recently, Carlos Varela slashed out to Yoani Sanchez, the most famous name in Cuba’s underground, and praised Cuba in his visit to Washington. It is a far cry from where he was when he was singing “Guillermo Tell”, and admonishing Castro’s about a new generation who wanted to throw the arrow instead of him.

There are more names: Pablo FG who was tearing off margaritas in Miami’s TV and praising Cuba a few months ago. Did I mention Juan Formell? The famous “Van Van” director was blasting US policy in from of thousands in Havana during the “Concert without Frontiers” to get immediately a plane and travel to Miami. I mean, what is that?

Pure opportunism, that’s the word. They have plenty of money in their pockets to praise Cuba’ society and run to get the plane to the same soil they blasted. It does not matter to them that, their compromise with a regime, cuts off wings and freedom to many others great artists whose voices had been buried in mountains of shame by the regime.

The list of names overwhelms: from Lezama Lima to Cabrera Infante, from Virgilio Piñeira to Humberto Arenal, from Ernesto Lecuona to Pedro Luis Ferrer.

Today the regime tries to bring back, shamefully, many of these big names and tries to cover with a thin layer of smoke and lies the long and dark period when they were covered with menaces, discredit and shame. Cuba official culture policy is a bloody mercenary in active service to Castro.

And for that, I come back to Heberto Padilla and his poem:

They explained to him later

That all this donation would be useless

Unless he turned over his tongue...

I would rather not add any more comments.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Castro, Copenhagen and Big Brother

Sometimes, it is extraordinarily useful, in order to decipher the real essence of Cuba, to know how the national oracles, which in fact is only one, are banging over and over about one simple issue that already is vanishing in news media.Castro, Copenhagen and Big Brother

Like smoke signals floating over Havana to its allies throughout Latin America, Castro is boring again about COP15. I already add a little spice over that dish in an old post, but it is really important to establish here some honest principles and bring some actual facts to the table.

In the latest 80’s Cuba replaced its Soviet fuel oil with domestic crude containing 6% of sulphur. That crude is used in power plants and to run cement factories. Those are still running with the same crude, even when today Cuba receive crude oil from Venezuela, which Cuba sells in the international market.

In 1999 those industries used 2.2 million tons and cover with their fumes a population of 800 thousands. The two most important sources of sulphuric gases are: the old thermal power plants of Tallapiedra in Old Havana, the same receiving thousands of tourists every month, and the Antonio Maceo plant in Regla, across Havana’s Bay.

In both of these neighbourhoods, there is the highest level of environmental pollution, above 7.7 mg of sulphides per square decimetre per day. Concentrations above 4 mg could be found most of the municipalities surrounding those plants: Old Havana, Central Havana, Regla, 10 de Octubre and Cerro. 800 thousands of inhabitants, it is important to remember because the human factor is the key role here.

One important explanation to those who are not too familiar with sulphides: Sulphur oxides, residues of combustion produced mostly in power plants where sulphur-rich fuels are burned, create respiratory problems and cause acid rain. You could actually see it when you wake up early morning in any of those municipalities and open your window. It is not a fact registered in scientist documents, news reports or any philosophical speculation. Havana is living trapped in sulphur oxides.

Is it enough? I would like to add a few numbers more.

There are 430 million cubic meters of water contaminated with industrial and urban wastes and those are dumped into the sea annually. 2 270 million cubic meters find their way into the rivers. Could I remember you Almendares River? Just go and look at it. Or better, get the little boat traveling between Regla and Old Havana and stare to the sea surrounding you: it is virtually an oil container.

To your knowledge: Havana Bay is one of the most polluted marine environments of the world. The bay is the most important trade hub of the island as well as the preferred dumping site for its surroundings: domestic garbage, sewage, industrial waste and the refuse of the growing commercial ship traffic are
routinely disposed there.

For too many reasons, the media, the TV channels and journalists ignore our countryside. First, Havana is the main source of headline news in our country: the government is there, the western journalists are settled there, and it is easier to report an event in Havana than to run through Cuba and catch some little event far away. But, our pollution problems don’t stop in Havana.

The Pedro Soto Alba plant settle in the one of the East provinces of Cuba (formerly, Moa Bay) dumped more than 12,000 cubic meters of untreated liquid waste into the sea daily, containing 72 tons of aluminum, 48 tons of chromium, 15 tons of magnesium and 30 tons of sulphuric acid.

And this is to Castro: the treatment standards for wastewater in the US has a limit of concentration of chromium to a maximum of 0.32 milligrams per litre, 12 times less than the daily dumping into Moa Bay by only one of the three nickel plants operating in the area.

Did you get it?

Is this the guy who has any moral voice to speak out about any environmental issues?

There are more. The main source of water pollution lies in more than 300 industrial facilities and more than 4,000 service entities located around the bay. 53 industrial facilities are located in the immediate proximity of the bay, and another 84 industries produce waste discharged into it. The port activity itself is also one of the major sources of contamination. By estimates, the ships served in the port generate 150,000 tons of refuse per year. The Nico Lopez oil refinery spills their waste directly to the sea. There had been some tries to stop that huge problem with no success.

I think I had opened a bit any close eye to this area of Cuba that anybody in the world knows. Cubans stumble in daily basis with those facts and, surprisingly, they don’t even notice them. In the other hand, the newspapers, National TV and Castro itself ignore those facts to come the, to COP15, to create a show against the UN.

There is a phrase in Spanish that prays: don’t talk when your roof is made with glass.

Castro is making noise around and catching some headlines everywhere: what for? To spread a cloud over what it is going on within Cuba. The world champion for the 3rd world is an irreverent hypocrite whose finger and tongue are pointing out to somewhere else when its own people is piled up in waste, pollution and lies.

Like Big Brother’s rule and I am quoting:

“If all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed – if all records told the same tale – then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past,’ ran the Party slogan, ‘controls the future; who controls the present controls the past’. And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting. It was quite simple. All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. ‘Reality control’, they called it.”

A brilliant pupil of Big Brother: Castro.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cuba and mystical numbers

Cuba is a mystical place where you are traveling back in time and back in numbers as you can say. Every time you try to decipher Cuba’s Economy, or Cuba’s picture you are drowned in numbers, quotes and statistics that never give you the real face of what it is behind those numbers.Minolta DSC

Recently, Raul Castro threw a few blocks of statistics in from of the deputies in our National Assembly. He said our economy in 2009 suffered a plunge. According to him the exportations dropped a 23%, the importations a 37% and the annual investments a 16%. Those numbers mean nothing to the citizen who is trying to find his daily sustenance.

For a long time we had been exposed to such a heavy shelling of numbers through our leaders speeches, especially to the grace of Fidel Castro, who always was a fanatic shooter of those numbers in public to show our amazing achieves, that we already lost our faith on them.

My memories about those long speeches are lost in my childhood. The first image of our leader is in front of the TV or in a public space tossing his hands and throwing a 4 hours speech with numbers. Mystical numbers never confirmed in any real improvement in our streets.

There was the times of the children nurseries followed by the times of the Doctors’ offices followed by whatever. Today, many of them are empties or in need of maintenance, or their physicians are in Venezuela. The children nurseries are lost in the past: nobody talks about them and also in need of maintenance.

Recently, in the Miami Herald, Carlos Alberto Montaner wrote an article talking about Cuba’s Economy which I recommend. In it, Montaner said, with his proverbial capacity to bring numbers to the real context, how our first industry, Sugar Cane, in 2009 produced the same amount of sugar that Cuba produced in 1902, when our fellows didn’t have electricity, trucks and tractors.

I’m not sure if those numbers are correct, by for sure, in 2003, 71 sugar cane factories were converted into metal scrap by the recycle industry, ordered by Fidel Castro. Meanwhile, Cuba has plans to build 9 of those factories in Venezuela.

That is our mystical Cuba: scraping our national economy to create wealth abroad. And then our mystical leaders are painting a gloomy landscape to 2010 in our Parliament, close to Christmas, as a sort of miraculous message to our nation.

Sometimes I had just imagined Fidel Castro with a bouquet of daisies walking silently, his Greek silhouette crawling over the quiet tombs of Colon Cemetery in Havana, and praying in front of the shrine erected to Amelia Goyri in that cemetery, knows as “La Milagrosa” (The Miracoulous”).

I know it sounds silly, and out of question it is improbable, but even though you know it is not going to happen and it never happened, you have to realize that or he was dreaming a dream every time he predicted any of those dramatic “predictions” about Cuba, or the most probably he forgot he was in front of millions of people and not begging to our “Milagrosa”.

That image came to me that afternoon when he predicted our nation will be the most cultured in the whole world. I mean, come on, how many times did we hear those assertions on TV?

Just the whole idea about Castro walking through the tombs with a bouquet of flowers is hilarious, but the spirit is so accurate in essence, isn’t it? I just take the poetic licence to add a bit more. For me, he is holding in one hand his daisies and in the other he is carrying a broken hourglass clock. Then, when he reaches our dear “Milagrosa”, he put down both and asks her what to do.

I know what you are going to say: he is not the appropriate person to beg her in favour of our people, mostly because he never did. I guess our “Milagrosa” listens ordinary people begging her about some deaths, failed hopes and resignations, but she never bring hope to a person who, during his entire life, has been publicly announcing the same assortments without any conviction.

I would add, “La Milagrosa” never listens tyrants, basically because they never bring faith.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Island of Thorns

Children listen without any doubt. We are living our daily routine, sometimes overwhelm by the cost of living, or the bills we have to pay or simple families issues, and you see those little persons running and playing with any toy of their invention, and you don’t stop to think they are listening in daily basis what you are talking, or swearing.Island of Thorns

I was a happy child. I had a privilege of having lot of toys and souvenirs. Home for me was Heaven; I was that child in the center of people’s universe. So, my childhood didn’t know about any sort of shortage of anything: toys, affection and love. But my surroundings were plenty of them.

I only had to open my door and look in front of me. A row of little wooded houses with their facades peeling off crushed my sight every time I opened my door. Even though their lives were wild and innocents, my friends were those, the ones who didn’t have too much to share, too much to bring to my games and I wasn’t rich.

I remember Mayra, a little black girl living in one of those houses, and Sergio, my friend of too many misdeeds. Our street wasn’t pave and we played baseball there, in the very center of the street, dodging cars and people who from time to time were yelling at us. We were happy, for sure, even when our surroundings were scrambling in hatred.

For instance, Sergio’s father was a political prisoner. And Mariano, other of my friends, his father was living in Miami. I didn’t know at that time where was Miami, but people usually living there were our “enemy”, even when Mariano wasn’t my enemy.

Children listen, that’s true. And we played war games between American and Cubans. I always wanted to be a Cuban fighter, even when my physiognomy wasn’t too Cuban as you can say. We grew up in a world where the grown-ups were in despair and divided and that was part of our life.

In school we were taught how hideous the Americans were with us, and the first thing to do early in the morning was to salute our national flag and yell: Pioneers by the Communism, We will be like Che”. And I knew who Che was but, honestly, I never understood what it was Communism.

For children the world is simple, but I would say for adults the world is even simplest. My whole life I had a friend named Eduardo at school, he lived far away from home, but in school we were always together. Later on we even disputed the same girl named Maria del Carmen, she was my first girlfriend but ended marrying him. Ah, life is surprisingly amazing. Anyway, Eduardo’s father one day was detained and was in jail, I don’t know how many years, long time I would say.

Suddenly, my whole world changed. Every time I was trying to reach Eduardo to play any child game, my teacher, some adult or even other children were admonishing me not to meet “the traitor”. Do you know how a little child could be a traitor?

It comes to my mind, as a flash, those clever few words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

“Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again”.

How clever!!!

I grew up and now I am not that little child anymore. But I am coming back to my childhood today, maybe because Christmas was yesterday and I have so many beautiful memories of those times where my family was together, and we were having such a good time with cousins and uncles, and people who I don’t have any idea, today, where they are.

I grew up in a world surrounding in suspicions and fears. In a world where people were leaving to somewhere and you don’t even notice when it would happen. Today you were somebody else friend, tomorrow that person was an enemy, you couldn’t even talk about.

I remember even names removed from our history books, radio stations and TV shows. My father had an old record-player, those ones who usually play big black plastic discs, I think its name is PVC discs, and my mother was a huge fan of Celia Cruz, which I adore because it brings me such lovely memories. And I still remember my mother playing the record not too loudly and giving me a name which it wasn’t her real name. That memory is stuck in my mind with flame letters. She didn’t want to tell me the real name afraid, I would say, that I could repeat at school.

I don’t even remember the name she mentioned, but I am positive it was Celia Cruz because I still have her records. Celia Cruz was a wretched name officially. As result of all of that, my friends were disappearing one by one, leaving a trace in my memories but vanishing in our daily routine.

Today, they are only names, small stories hidden in my memories. Today Cuba is more and more divided by fake barriers. I am sure that like my memories many of us have the same one with different names and places. You could change details and nuances, but deeply inside us there is the same story over and over.

Our school system is leaning to make our future citizens suspicious and consider any dissidence a betrayal to the Revolution. It is not educating integrally a citizen as a guard of universal values, rather than that, it is filling our children heads with ideas of hatred and intolerance.

They leave their school, they grow up, and they become part of the mob that tomorrow could be reprimanded people with different ideas, far away from what they were taught in school.

Our little island is carrying a crown of thorns. Our little children are the first victims of that massacre.

We need to stop that. We need to save our little citizens of tomorrow !!!!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Home is where the Heart is

For so many years the Cuban family has been affected and divided by artificial barriers. More than three generations of Cubans are living abroad, spread out around the world, in the most unexpected places: from Chile to Alaska; from Australia to Israel.Home is where the heart is

When I said goodbye to my classmates in 1992, we were a bunch of friends who were sharing in daily basis our thoughts and expectations, our dreams for the future and our disappointments in the present. Times went by, and at the end of 1999 I was merely one of the few who stayed back home, living in Cuba.

My friends were in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, Madrid, Montevideo and Mexico City. At the beginnings, we were in touch each other through emails here and there, but through the times we were stranded into oblivion and ended forgetting each others.

Back in the past, we left our yearly meeting at the end of the course in University. I was even surprise the first time I went to Cuba, after began my life in Toronto, and unexpectedly find one of my old girlfriends at those times and check how different we become in time. She succeed where she was living, Austria, but her marriage was a disaster and I couldn’t believe how old and awkward we became.

Life changes everything. I remember looking back and to our initials goals in the earliest 90’s. Here and there we lost friends, some left the country, others were working too close to the government machinery and we just didn’t match anymore. I was getting more and more sceptical about Cuba.

And then, I reached the point of no return. That moment when you realized you don’t have any other choice rather than throw the fighting gloves and leave. And the first thought it came to my mind was, how many of my friends reached that particular moment and just go, without any goodbye or a little message in our email.

Years later I found myself here, in a strange place with strange people with strange surroundings and my first question was: how could we end our long road through life here, far away from home?

That is the first question that comes to my mind today, Christmas Day. Because Christmas is about home, family, friends, and people who really mean something to you. This is the time of the year when you look back and reflect how you do end your long stroll through life in this point and start to pull petals off from your daisy.

All roads lead to Rome as you can say. And our Rome is sleeping fresh and carefree with his family and lackeys, and throwing darts to keep this ugly business on. Our families and our friends are divided by fake frontiers lifted by people who don’t even care about their own family ties. Can we mention names?

Yes, we can mention names, but today is Christmas and my mood has been touched by that feeling Christmas bring to us: reconciliation, forgiveness and peace.

So, I woke up early, turn off my computer and start my day reaching out there to my friend first, and to my family in Cuba. I wrote a note to everyone saying I hadn’t forget you and I am here standing by you, as always I was.

We need each other to turn the page in our disappointments and hatred. We need to move on in life, turn back when we were happy and rebuild our future, because it is the future who counts. I have that goal dangling in my Christmas tree for the next year and I had begun that path today.

Because Home is where your Heart is, no matters where you are, how you are living, what you are doing, and what you are wishing to happen. Home is in you, wherever you go, a piece of Cuba is travelling in your heart and stay with you forever, no matter those inquisitors who trying to steal your identity saying you left it back.

No, Cuba is in you, forever. Merry Christmas !!!!!!!

Ladies in White: Christmas letter to Raul

two faces

To: Raul Castro, President of the Republic of Cuba and Counsel of Ministers.

      Minister of Interior.

From: Wives and relatives of the 75 political prisoners.

Mr President:

It is the first time we address to you, and it doesn’t have to be strange after the event happened to us the last December 9 and 10th of the current year, 2009.

In Christmas Eve, day of the Sacred Family, we want to remember you how Lina Ruz, your dear mother, joined with your sisters, relatives and friends of the political prisoners who attacked the Moncada headquarter went out to the streets requesting your amnesty.

The former President Fulgencio Batista considered one of the bloodiest dictators our homeland had suffered listened to the claims made for them and the Catholic Church.

We went out to the street with the same grief and love, because those feelings don’t have any political colour, and like those women we hadn’t been paid by anybody. Our pacific actions are moved by our requests of freedom for our political prisoners.

Those events organized by the Cuban government, under the supervision and coordination of the Estate Security Department (DSE), in conjunction with the Youth Communist League (UJC), the Communist Party and paramilitary troops concealed as “the people of Cuba” are intolerable. To those women, in such difficult times, Batista didn’t mistreat. In the currents days, the wives and relatives of the “5 Heroes” (Cuban Five) either, then Why is this happen to us?

As I did in the letter sent to your brother (Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz) in March 2005, I want to repeat to you, faced with the possibility of others acts of that nature, that we are forced to claim responsibility to Cuba Estate headquarters and its organizations for anything that could happen against our physical integrity. We do not rule out that our blood would be spill fighting peacefully for the freedom of the political prisoners.

Mr President, we formally request to you the proper tolerance to practice the same rights enjoyed in their moment by the relatives of the prisoners, who claimed their freedom from Batista’s prisons.

We consider our activities within the current constitutional framework. Just take into account our actions are pacific and within objectives perfectly clear: Put an end an unjust and weak moral an ethical act.

Sincerely,

Ladies in White

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Darts and Royal Palms

Whether or not it is a state policy, an improvisation threw over the table at the last minute or it is something deeply calculated and a consequence of a long road from the Cuban Revolution beginnings, the selectivity of our foreign policy is, more than questionable, embarrassing.Darts and Royal Palms

For years I watched in Cuban National Television our Commander in Chief, as he prefers being by his people, drawing the guidelines of our foreign policy in long speeches ornate with numbers, quotes and florid phrases. My questions of the time was whether those arguments were over the spirit of the moment, or they were just a solid piece of argument intelligently backed in strong and immovable principles of the Cuban Revolution.

It is just funny, because I remember Castro setting out crystal-clear arguments about this and that, and a few years later I could find myself listening him in opposite ways about the same topic. For instance, could you remember how many times Castro change his political compass about China?

In the 60’s, China was a monster at which we have to fight. The seventies came and a period of peace in heaven closed Castro’s relationship with the Chinese. Then, some strange incidents happened between China and Viet Nam, and we found ourselves in the brink of break our relations with the red flag of the orient.

Today, China is the bride to complement and flatter. And even the western media is quoting China as a reference to Cuba’s future. I have the same memories about Christmas. In 1969, Christmas was over. We were creating a new era in the world where Christianity didn’t have any place. Then, in 1998, Pope John Paul II visited Cuba, and Castro opened the door to Christmas.

Cuba’s policy is a mercenary tool in our leaders’ hands, and our diplomats abroad are only a well oil piece of machinery rolling over principles never established, and changeable as the wind is blowing East, South or West. I rather let North out of this business.

Bringing this up in today’s news, Cuba reprimanded a few western diplomats located in Havana as result of their deploy in the surroundings of the protest held by the “Ladies in White” in Havana, the latest December 10, International Human Rights Day. A journey full of outrage and abuse against a few women armed only with flowers.

According to the news, the Minister of Foreign Affairs called to Diana Melrose and Claude Robert Ellnert, British and German ambassadors in Cuba, and also to Jonathan D. Farrar, Chief of US Interests Section in Havana, and reprimanded them for their presence in the premises of the protest held in the International Human Rights Day.

The point here is not what it is worldwide normal or standard, or even what it is a completely legal activity of any diplomat in any democratic country, because Cuba is not a normal and democratic country, and its policy doesn’t endorse what a normal country worldwide endorse. But there is something more.

As you can say, Cuban authorities were hostile with those countries because some of their representatives in Havana were in the premises of the protest, but the second secretary of the Canadian Embassy, Mr Marc-Antoine Dumas, was well-noticed in the same premises, and mostly along Neptuno Street, and nobody disturbed him and his chief in charge.

Thumb up, Mr Dumas, at least we can congratulate Harper’s government by held such a moment of honour not commonly held in the past.

In the other hand, a question is raised. Why did Cuban authorities admonish US, UK and Germany diplomats and didn’t call Mr. Dumas?

If the principles are the same, the guidelines are well established and Cuba’s policy is coherent, how is possible those principles can be hold against some diplomats and not against others?

We all agree Politicians are mercenaries when they come to principles, and there is nothing different with Cuban politicians. The only difference is the colour dressed in their opinions. Canada was let out of the list because Canada is the most important economic key that Cuba is holding safety in their hands in this moment, if any.

So, there are no principles. It is just a darts game in which you have to hit the proper note in the proper moment. And like our Royal Palm trees scattered throughout our territory, Cuba sees each of them separately, with its own agenda, its own colour and its own interchangeable principle.

Yesterday were the Russians, today are the Chinese or Venezuelan, and tomorrow could be the North Pole. There are too many palm trees in this world and all of them are different. So, let’s change our dress, folks, and dance a new rhythm.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Deputies in Charge without a Voice

Writing my post last Monday I found out there were more issues that I want to tackle when it comes to our National Assembly, our sort of Parliament without named in that way. For too many reasons, our moderns “forefathers” (not really) felt that the term Parliament was leaning too much to the western democracies, especially avoided in terms and in symbols in a Cuba crowded with guerrilla signs.Deputies in Charge without a Voice

616 men and women are in charge of decide what is going to happen in Cuba, what laws have to be approve, how to distribute our annual budget, how and when any single law have to be overruled, which minister have to report to the assembly and render to it his expenses. Six hundred people elected the Council of Minister and Estate, the especial organs in charge of governing our country in between every session of the Assembly. And, formally, the national Assembly is in charge to elect and approve our President. Pretty job, I could say... on paper.

Said that, my questions begin to emerge.

When do our deputies report to their voters about all those issues?

How many times do they ask a question in the Assembly about the issues in charge during the session, if any?

When do they request any explanation about plans unfulfilled, promises never accomplished and mistakes happened?

How many times do they meet their voters to explain their vote within the Assembly?

I could fill pages with questions that I don’t have a real answer from “our deputies”. Last Sunday Cuba’s Parliament listened to the Minister of Economy rendering his forecast and his numbers. I don’t have in any report saying that the parliamentarians asked any key question or doubt or clarification to the minister and to the presidency.

I mean, how could be possible that in a crowd of 6 hundred people nobody ask?

What is our budget to the next year in numbers and details?

Does our deputies inform to their voters about the session held in Havana?

Our National Assembly is a mute organism use to vote in mass with no vote against any issue, report or candidate. It is a block with no voice to express discomfort, or questioning or the simple doubt about any plan. In merely one day they solve what in any other part of the world takes a minimum of few weeks.

Is our society uniform and solid as a rock with no hesitations of any individual?

You stroll through Havana up and down and you will find that our society is diverse and the behaviour of our National Assembly is an absurd. We don’t even agree in Baseball as you can say, then how could you agree without any opposition or doubt in something more essential and vital?

The core of the problem is in the membership of our National Assembly. The voices that could speak there are compromised with the status quo. People like Randy Alonso, the host of the TV show “Mesa Redonda” (Round Table), a figure that is a “Yes Man” in flesh to the regime. Or Hassan Perez Casabona, hunting dog with an inflamed oratory easy to stir the more basics and contemptible spirits. Or Roberto Fernandez Retamar, who is well-known as an old literary hit man of Castro’s, responsible for too many censorships and incriminations against his fellows’ artists.

Then, here you are, with a bunch of people who are preserving his status, or whose are accomplices of the Cuban government, the ones who are seating in the front row of the National Assembly, or an obscure citizen with no voice to raise and just an arm to approve what everybody is approving.

That is our Parliament: an obscure mass of people without a voice to rise.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The light in the darkness: Jaime Ortega

Since John Paul II opened the door to Christmas in Cuba, the atmosphere between the Communist government and the Catholic Church had been more relaxed with a few incidents and up and downs. This year, the Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega will read a Christmas message on state television for the second straight year, a small sign in a relationship riddles with controversy.Arzobispado de La Habana

After 1959, the Catholic Church started a period of confrontation with Fidel Castro’s regime marked with subtle criticism turned into a totally open war with the high ranked Catholics when Castro announced the Socialist tendency of the Revolution. Since then, being a catholic in Cuba was a stigma that caused the exodus of attendants to mass, and the isolation of an important group from our society. In the highest moment of that confrontation, Castro expelled all the Spanish Bishops from Cuba, in 1961, in an act of arrogance and intolerance, not too strange to his standards.

In 1969, with the justification that the celebrations of Christmas interfered with the 10 million sugar cane harvest, the same Castro abolished it. Christmas made its come back during the visit of John Paul II to Cuba, in 1998. Through all those years, the relationships between both institutions were marked by hostility and suspicions.

Since John Paul II we are a bit more free in a sort of way, and even when the act of enter to a church could be interpreted as suspicious, the truth is the Catholic Church has been rebuilding its trust with the Cuban society and restoring peace in their parishioners.

Framed it in this context, we can judge that our Cardinal Jaime Ortega has been trying to gain ground between a society completely divided and polarized. That battle has been riddled with misunderstanding within Cuba and abroad, where our Diaspora is settled, basically, in Miami.

In Cuba, Cardinal Ortega passed through periods of really frontal confrontations when the Conference of Catholic Bishops, in 1991, sent a harsh and incisive letter against the Communist government, which was read in every church in Sunday mass.

In the other hand, in Miami, he has been slashed out for being too timid to criticized Castro, and being extremely benevolent with the regime. I could agree with some of his critics, but the truth is there is nothing easy when it comes to deal with the Cuban government. They even hadn’t been shy to throw their crowds inside the church and create tensions between the Catholic Church and other religious denominations in Cuba.

That is why, when I read the message delivered last Saturday to the people of Cuba by Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino for Christmas, I tried to be more comprehensible and open. But at the end, still it is too bland and gentle to my taste.

There are only two moments to highlights. At the beginnings, when he mentions the first verses of The Gospel of Saint John the Evangelist: “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.”

It is almost slashing out, gloomily, to the government and the times when the Catholic Church and its people were pulling out of their premises.

And the last part of the message, not for what he said but what he didn’t even mention. And I want to quote him:

“The families are happier this year by receiving their relatives from US when they couldn’t do it before.”

He didn’t mention who lift the ban (the Obama’s Administration), he didn’t mention also who keep some other restrictions (Castro’s government), but you can read between lines that Cardinal Ortega is pointing out more than he is saying.

It is pretty sad, anyway, than even such high authority in Cuba is still timid when it comes to speak out about our day by day tragedy. He didn’t mention the political detainees in Cuba. He didn’t mention the repression against our civil society registered a few days ago. He didn’t mention the gloomy threat threw last Sunday by Castro in the National Assembly against the same civil society.

At the end, we can only congratulate our Cardinal in succeed to reach a deal with Castro’s government to allow broadcast not only his Christmas Message, but also the Christmas concert held in our Cathedral last week.

Personally, I just want to add the joy I felt the first time I could enter our church in the eve of December 24, 1998, without the nervous tingling in my eye, a signal that accompanied me every time I entered my church for so many years.

It was joy. It was happiness. It was peace. I hope that feeling remains in Cuba forever.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Message in Havana

Yesterday was the winter session of our National Assembly in Cuba, sort of Parliament which only sessions two times in a year, and now and then with an extraordinary meeting. Western societies use to the idea of what it is a Parliament could associate these meetings in such a way, but it is not.Christmas Message in Havana

Our National Assembly had been designed in the way Roman Emperors addressed their people: they give their speech and people listen. It takes one two days and no more, our leaders don’t have too much time to dedicate to their subjects.

It is just impossible to understand how six hundred people could discuss anything in one day, have an analytical approach to the issues they have to deal and reach any consensus. You could add a few interventions of a minister in question, some formalities to start the approval process and we are heading to the expected conclusion with the leader in charge, Raul Castro.

Well, that’s happened yesterday December 20 in Havana. Raul Castro delivered a crisp and short speech addressing in a few words what it is happening, what is going to happen or not. Like the emperor addressing Rome.

Our Christmas message was gloomy: 2010 would be worst than 2009. I mean, since I have memories I can tell you that’s the same words I heard in every session of our “Parliament”. He didn’t stop there. Aiming his complains at Obama’s administration Raul Castro accused the American President to continue his predecessor’s policy to destabilize Cuba: “The US government has not renounced its goal of destroying the revolution”.

Castro also accused Washington of organizing protests, referring to the pacific protest hold by the Ladies in White in the International Day of Human Rights without mentioned them. Gloomily, he added: “I will simply remind you here, that there are people willing to protect, at any price, the conquest of the Revolution”.

That was our Christmas present yesterday: a sombre menace against our small civil society, arrogance and bad news. To those who were expecting changes and reforms, to those who talked about Castro as a reformist and pragmatic, to those who saw signals of change in Cuba: Wake Up!

The Christmas message from Cuba to their people is clear: they are getting the same of the same after 50 years. They are holding an American prisoners who was distributing some equipment between our civil society in Havana, and as a signal of the future, the National Assembly “voted” to include as a VP of the Council of State nothing more and nothing less than Ramiro Valdes who was the first Minister of Interior in Cuba after 1959, a well known hunting dog against dissidence.

There won’t be any change possible and any positive approach to Cuba until those key members of our Socialist Empire disappear as a natural result or as a result of a social movement against them.

Late in the evening, the National Assembly adjourned. Probably nobody in Cuba watched Raul Castro addressing their “deputies”. People are bored to death of those rehearsed shows. They know our spurious Parliament is a montage, a circus to ours Emperor in charge. The only thing they are satisfied is we have no more to bear 6 hours listening Fidel Castro.

In the case of Raul, He shoots straight to the point to kill the monkey and leave the circus.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Questions behind the Embargo

Since I was a child I remember listening people to talk about the Embargo, they called it “Blockade”. It was the Blockade who killed Christmas in 1969 at the eve of the 10 million sugar cane’s Harvest. It was the blockade who ripped off “The Three Wise Men Day”. It was the blockade who diminished every single item in our monthly ration book. It was the blockade the cause of every single bad news in our TV.Questions behind the Embargo

Then, as time was going by, I grew up and went to high school, University, and I started to think twice before to judge that something has the Embargo involved. I have to say, I was a little sceptical but reluctant to let the Embargo goes as a source of all our misfortunes.

Could I say that every single Cuban get stunned when they arrive to a new country? Yes, I could. In Havana, 1999, I was completely reluctant to admit that our failure was the result of the Embargo, I can’t be shy to say now I already passed that.

By sure, I have questions to ask to the Cuban-American politicians anchored in Miami, but these are not for them. Today, I would like to ask questions to our new royalty seated in Havana.

Let me put some numbers and facts, first.

1992 - USA exempted medicines and Health Care supplies from the Embargo.

2000 – USA lifted the ban on agriculture exports.

2008 – USA was the biggest supplier of food: $710 million.

I saw by myself American chicken packages sold in CUC’ stores in Havana and many others items. For too many leftist worldwide, Cuba represents Heaven and they are blaming the Embargo about everything. I would like to ask them:

Is our soil under the Embargo?

How much land is covered with sickle bush (Marabu in Spanish)? Are those under the Embargo by the USA?

There is a move worldwide today to produce organic food, with no chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides. So, why Cuba is unable to produce those produces?

Recently, Obama Administration allowed cable supplier’s companies to have deal with Cuba’s authorities to link with optical cable American and Cuban soil. Cuba refused it alleging security issues (I was expecting that), but they are making a deal with Venezuela and the cost is higher: $70 million to Venezuela against $18 million with USA.

Where is the Embargo here?

Recently, Havana admitted a shortfall of 60% in Cuba’s annual construction goal. They were unable to provide reasons for that, but Hotel’s industry is flourishing all along the island.

Is there Embargo to build Cuban’s houses and no Embargo at all to lift a flamboyant Hotel in any single new resort?

Along my entire life I heard so many promises made by Fidel Castro. Actually. I could write a book about promises unfulfilled. Behind every one the Embargo takes a lead to justify the disaster.

1970: the sugar cane harvest without 10 million promised.

“Anillo de La Habana” (Havana’s Ring). After the embarrassing of the 1970, there was that lunatic idea to create coffee’s fields around Havana. Pure Bananas, folks!!!!

I am quoting earliest disasters. Are you remembering the social workers? Me either.

For all those disasters there weren’t any Embargo. How about our “War of Ideas” after Elian’ saga with little flags and every single Saturday broadcasting a crowd bored to death with the same slogans about “The Five Heroes”?

There was any Embargo, wasn’t there?

Our land remains infertile, our cattle industry is inexistent, even our first industry almost disappears: the sugar cane industry.

All our dreams back in 1959 are gone and some are still speaking about the Embargo. Could you move on, please?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Reasons behind Numbers

A few days ago, in an old post (Cuba is leaving Cuba, Nov 29th), I tackled in terms of numbers how Cubans had been emigrating everywhere. I would like to turn the page and talk a little bit about reasons rather than numbers. Reasons behind numbers

I observed in many websites this issue has been tackle a bit superficially. I’m not talking about websites supporting Cuba’s point of views. We know how those are working and what it is the “truth” behind those posts. I also read a document emitted by ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) claiming that just 8% of Cuban population had emigrated, which in terms of number are 912 thousand. That report added our numbers are below the standards of other Latin-American countries.

What that report failed to say is that the source of those numbers is the Cuban authorities. Ironically, nobody in Cuba publishes that report, even when the numbers are conspicuously smaller than the reality (just read my old post).

Another source, the University of Havana’s International Migration Research Center (CEMI), claims that at the latest 90’s, the migratory potential in Cuba was between 490 thousand and 700 thousands.

All those numbers are estate secrets in Cuba, but there are posted in official’s websites. Something very usual in Cuba’ standards: Cubans don’t have internet to look at. But still those amounts are controversial.

The facts are, we are leaving Cuba and the reasons are more important that numbers. I have friends in Spain, the States, Uruguay, Argentina and France. All my old classmates are abroad. By the way, I was the last to leave Cuba.

Those reports didn’t say a word about how those migrations are composed: how many children, youth, adult, women, professionals, etc? Raw numbers never speak too much. And I have the sense our youth is leaving. It is a dream of everyone in Cuba. There is the fact that young people don’t even finish their career in University because then they have to wait two year to get the permission to leave the country.

Even people with a higher standard of life are getting out in any way possible. The most worldwide renowned case was the Elian’s saga. Her mother was working in tourism, which is one of the most privilege sectors in Cuba’s economy. And still she left the country and fatally died.

The reasons are many: lack of opportunities to grow economical and financially (there is always a top to get notice by the Cuban authorities); low salaries; the housing market is inexistent and many generations are forced to share their life under the same roof; real poverty and real lack of civil human rights.

Regardless of all the propaganda and slogans about the future and the leadership in Cuba, the offspring’s of those same leaders are living abroad, plus the enormous privilege of those to get in and out of Cuba without any permission, something that is denied to the huge majority of Cubans.

They are frustrations piled up from years that people are not able to understand and believe. And rather than try to change, they prefer to give up and get out to another place.

Finally, there is disbelieves about our politicians as huge as hypocrisy to confess that truth. Nobody wants to be a role model as politician. The ones having positions in the government are keeping them without any truly convictions in what they are repeating after.

In Cuba there is only one source of everything, and that one is impossible to deny it, or at least, without any cost.

So, numbers are numbers. They are ruling out the real face of what it is the reality behind our diaspora. We are not numbers, we are reasons.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A long tale written through pictures

January 25th 1998, the USS Maine made its entrance into Havana Bay and began a chapter in our history which hasn’t been enough investigated.

uss-maine-habana1

The Maine was an American second class cruise, built in 1889 and made of steel with 94 meters in length, 17 beams and of 7 drafts. With a crew of 392 men, the USS Maine was commanded by Captain S.B. Sigsbee.

In February 15th, 1898 a strange explosion caused its destruction meanwhile its crew was aboard causing 266 casualties. That explosion was used as a pretext by the Congress and government of USA to declare, in April 21st of the same year by t President McKinley, the war to Spain and intervene in the Hispanic-Cuban conflict.

Here is a picture of Maine’s wreckage of that period of time:

Wreck_uss_maine

In March 8th, 1925, the Cuban government erected a memorial to the victims of the Maine on the Malecon in Havana, in commemoration of the assistance of the United States in acquiring Cuba's independence from Spain. At the ceremony assisted Alfredo Zayas, then President elected of Cuba, the General John Pershing, Admiral Dayton and the Minister of Spain. The memorial was designed by the Cuban engineer Felix Cabarrocas who won a design competition.

In the center was an elaborate pedestal inscribed with the words “A las victimas del Mainemaine 3 el Pueblo de Cuba” and “Joint Resolution: ‘The People of the Island of Cuba are and of right ought to be Free and Independent’ Congress of the United States of America, April 21th, 1898.” The pedestal featured statuary, the plaque with the names of the victims of the Maine explosion and relief views of the tragedy. The pedestal was surmounted by two Corinthian columns supporting a short lintel with the word “Libertad” inscribed upon it. Atop the lintel was a large eagle with outspread wings.

Soon after, October 20, Cuba was struck by a massive hurricane. The Corinthian columns were toppled and broken, as were the eagle and lintel.

MaineMonument1200On February 15, 1928, in the thirtieth anniversary of the sinking of the Maine, a ceremony was held to reveal the restoration of the memorial. During the ceremony, the American Ambassador Henry B. Fletcher said:

“It is the altar of the firm and lasting friendship which joins Cuba to the United States. Here. Our spirit of comradeship is renewed and restrengthened evey year. Here while anniversaries go on in the coming years, the sacrifices of the martyrs and patriots, Cubans as well as Americans, for the cause of liberty, will be brought to mind; and here also shall be annotated the fruits of those sacrifices.”

At that time, the wings of the eagle were designed horizontally instead than the original vertical position to avoid future damages.

For what happened later, during the earliest 60’s, it is important to know the meanings behind the memorial according to its original creator, Felix Cabarrocas.

The marble base symbolise the indestructibility of the Cuban feeling. The bow facing North means from where Cuba received help to fight for its independence. The two identical columns with the cannons and the chains belongings to the real cruiser Maine show the equality of both nations, Cuba and USA, not in terms of power or material values, but in sovereignty. Finally, and more controversial with Castro’s point of view, the American eagle on top of the monument “is starting to take fly to the North looking for its homeland”.

As you can see, there is nothing implying interventionism, imperialism or dependency to USA in the original spirit of the creator. He added the statues of three presidents: McKinley, who proclaimed the war against Spain, Leonardo Wood, the first administrator of the island and Theodore Roosevelt.

Those last elements are more controversial and could be avoid in the memorial. But the artist chose to included, and in my point of view, it shouldn’t be removed without the authoring of the creator, or at least a public referendum.

maineThe last chapter in the fate of the monument was after 1959, during the first years of Castro’s regime.

The memorial was damaged by Castro’s government crowds following the Bay of Pig invasion in 1961 and the eagle on top was broken and removed. The wings and body are in a National Museum of Revolution. The eagle’s head is in the USA Office of Interests in Havana. Today the memorial looks as the picture shows.

There is a last detail added to the monument by the current Cuban authorities.

maine 5 Over the original inscription, the Castro’s added its own inscription blaming "imperialist voracity in its eagerness to seize the island of Cuba" for the Maine disaster as the picture’s detail shows.

One last thought. In the original plaque, the author wrote “to the victims of Maine from the People of Cuba”

Is that offensive to anybody?

Is it talking about the government of USA?

Again, the original memorial said: “Joint Resolution: ‘The People of the Island of Cuba are and of right ought to be Free and Independent’ Congress of the United States of America, April 21th, 1898”.

Is there something shameful to subscribe literally?

My last question: the fact that Castro crushed the inscriptions, is that mean then that he doesn’t care about the victims?

Cuban authorities vanished those inscriptions when in fact there was nothing offensive on them against our sovereignty.

The history of this memorial show how intolerance took over our country when Castro got in power. And it is still there.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

St. Lazarus Sanctuary

St Lazarus Sanctuary 

Every December 17th thousands of Cubans expressed their faith to Saint Lazarus by making a pilgrimage to its sanctuary, 20 miles west of Havana.

The shrine of San Lazaro (Saint Lazarus) was built in 1917, and is of such importance that it was included in Pope John Paul II’s 1998 visit to Cuba.

The pilgrims, many of them barefoot, paid tribute to the saint by leaving offerings of flowers, candles, cigars and cash, mostly coins. Some pilgrims go in wheelchairs and some walking on foot. Many of them go with their families.

Many of the pilgrims wear purple, a color associated with the saint who is usually depicted with wounds on his legs and accompanied by several dogs. Some wear clothing made of burlap, the rough fabric used to make sacks for gathering and storing agricultural products.

Amid the throng, those keeping promises to repay the saint for his intervention walked on their knees, crawled or dragged their bodies along the ground over long distances and arrived at the sanctuary exhausted and muddy.

The religious procession has been a long-standing tradition, despite Cuba's only recent acceptance of religion since the revolution. The Cuban government has never banned the annual pilgrimage, although heavy security is usually deployed as past years have attracted dozens of dissidents.

It is well-known that in 1993, a very numerous group of people shouted “Libertad, Libertad” (Freedom, Freedom!) inside the church in the mass offered on the eve of December 17. But for a long time, the shrine of St. Lazarus has been a place where the two sides of Cuba face a silent battle. Dissidents usually take advantage of their safety inside those premises and the actual tolerance of the church. It is a place where the government have to play with more discretion and many times just watch who are the leaders and make those moves. Ultimately, they arrest them outside the perimeter of the sanctuary.

The sanctuary is also a place where you can find any kind of illegal activity: selling candles in the color of the saint, images of Saint Lazarus, and even the succulent sandwich of roasted pork. During that day, El Rincon, the tiny town where the sanctuary is located, comes to life and for a few hours it is the center of the storm of pilgrims, police officers and security agents of any kind, to vanish again by returning to its normal life: a small dead town with a popular landscape.

But every day you go, you will find a few pilgrims paying respect to the saint who is more popular than the Pattern of Cuba: Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre.

It is a place where most Cubans have made the journey at least once in their lives.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The age of lost dreams

When I was a child and I was in primary school, there was that lecture of history where my teacher was telling us how our old people many times finished their life like our “Caballero de Paris” (Gentleman from Paris).The age of lost dreams

The renowned Gentleman from Paris was a beggar of the 50’s who used to walk the whole Havana, up and down, and when people asked him who he was, the poor gawky guy always answered: I am the Gentleman from Paris.

I still have a romantic image of my Havana, the Havana I knew in the earliest 80’s, when the Soviet Union still was our source of supplies and many people dreamed to go to the old Russia to study anything. I also remember the figure of this poor old lad on National Television. And believe it or not, the Havana of my dreams was a beautiful city where absolutely everything was perfect. Happiness was raining from the skies as we could say it. But it wasn’t.

How many old people do you stumble with in any stroll through my old Havana?

I have no idea. Many, too many, I would say. I remember this old lady, seated in the steps of Neptuno and Galeano (the very commercial center of Havana) with her hand stretched out asking me for a coin. I looked at her and from the deepest bottom of their eyes a desperate tingle of light came out and squeezed my heart.

You walk through the city and you can find many of those new “Gentlemen from Paris” here and there. Some of them with little figurines of Saint Lazarus, a few little pictures of Virgin Mary or our Lady of Charity of El Cobre (Pattern of Cuba) and begging for help of any kind, mostly money.

In an age when all their dreams had to be fulfilled, people like the one in the picture are walking through their lives without hope and with their dreams lost. And the statue of our old well-known friend, the Gentleman from Paris, standing in one of the streets of Old Havana, came to my mind in a flash.

Eusebio Leal, the well-known historian, couldn’t resist the idea of the old Havana’s walker and entrusted the statue of the legendary beggar to be nailed down in front of the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi. It is part of the global marketing plan of Havana by the Cuban authorities.

It doesn’t matter that images like that one are thriving in flesh rather than in stone and cooper. The livings aren’t in the marketing plan. They don’t count.

Sadly, people stumble with and they don’t even notice them. They are only shadows within the city.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lack of arguments

The International Day of Human Rights in Cuba took place as a journey of repression against a small group of pacific women armed with flowers and dressed in white. The ladies in White stormed Havana pacifically, but the intolerance of the government couldn’t allow 48 pacific protesters to claim for their relatives in prison.Lack of arguments

As a pack of hounds, the mob mobilized and perfectly rehearsed by Security Agents threw their fury against women lifting their fist with only a flower as a weapon. Between insults and blasphemies, the army of agents surrounded and jostled them through ramshackle Havana.

That was the way the regime of Havana showed to the world how should be prescribe democracy in the island. The formula is the best premiere for the new Cuban political film: Raul Castro in charge.

To be honest, it is not that the Castro brothers only know that method to silence their opponents. At least, it is not completely in that way. I must say, the lack of arguments is the answer.

It was lack of arguments what made the mob to attack to Reinaldo Escobar, and it was the lack of arguments what made a pack of hounds howl to the Ladies in White in December 10th, in Havana.

Nowadays, that lack of arguments is channelling through the officials Cuban websites to discredit the most important figure in the Cuban blogosphere, Yoani Sanchez. The intention is well-known and is an old weapon in the hands of the Castro’s. They attack the figure, but they can’t answer any of the questions that our blogosphere is throwing to their faces.

The lack of actual arguments makes them desperate to discredit names and brands, but at the same time, create a snow ball that at the end would be their own grave. Usually, they try to ignore the resonance of names and dissidents in the western media. And they succeed as far they don’t cross the border of the public recognition in Cuba.

December 10th marked one important step in Cuba history: the government freed their pack of hounds against a few defenceless women requesting justice. For the first time people saw it. I mean, really saw it. The mob crossed almost the core of Havana. I even saw my old house through the images I capture on internet. And that, my friends, it is a huge mistake on their count (could I say a regressive count?).

Today, we can recollect here and there a few drops of poison in their websites. That is meaningless. What it is important and really relevant is that they already have acknowledged their own weakness. They don’t have any other weapon to surrender the opposition rather than the bravado attitude and repression.

The clock is ticking in their pockets, and it is going to be forever.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Matryoskas had arrived

When I was in high school, I remember a funny story surrounding a historic event concerning the japanization of Korea. Probably you are not too bookish about history, and I guess it is a little tricky to talk here about Korea, especially when my blog is actually about Cuba. But the funny thing is we were in high school studying that period of time where Japan colonized Korea.The Matryoshkas had arrived

Under the Japanese colonial administration the use of written Korean in education and publication was banned by the Japanese government (it didn’t help to improve Japanese in Korea anyway, I guess because after one hundred years Koreans are still speaking Korean). We were in that point where our teacher was explaining that historical event, when a friend of mine, seated behind me turned back and in a whisper turned into a loudly comment told to one of our common friend at the end of the classroom: “Peter, you will see we’ll finish here talking in Russian”.

Of course, it was really funny. We were just teenagers, and don’t even have any idea about the scope and the double meanings someone could make of that silly comment. But it really was. That day, my friend ended in the school director’s office and his face when he came back from there was distorted. After that event, he never made any other joke about Russians.

I am recalling this story, because in the last few years it looks like we are having a venezuelization in Cuba. I know the term doesn’t exist in any English dictionary, but I recall my fellows Koreans for help. If in the 70’s and 80’s Cuba was under the influence of the Soviet Union, and we had matryoshkas even in our soups. Now we are having Venezuela in every single aspect of our life.

The last chapter is a new common currency under the ALBA’s treaties and, of course, Cuba is going to be the first to use the new Sucre (that’s the name of the brand new currency: Venezuelan money, Venezuelan name).

Really. There is nothing wrong that our countries agree to join effort to develop local policies to help each other. In fact, there are many regions in the world where those unions exist. The point here is, what is Cuba doing there?

Another point: why doesn’t Cuba try first to be part of the existing organisms like OAS (Organization of American States)?

From the influence of the Soviets to the influence of Hugo Chavez, Cuba is showing that there is not a clear plan in the current government in the island. There never was a plan.

Yesterday, there was the Soviet Union. Today, it is Venezuela. Who will be tomorrow?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The end of Christmas

It was 1969, and the next sugar cane harvest was promised to be the biggest in Cuba’s history, but it wasn’t. Instead, the 10 year old Revolution showed the true colors of its leaders: making unthinkable promises, taking adventurous and risky moves in our economy, showing that our society was move more at the brink of their whims rather than with reasonable plans. The end of the decade brought us also the end of Christmas.The end of Christmas

Since the Revolution took over in 1959, everything changed in Cuba, its leaders took measures to reshape according to their ideology every single detail in our society. The opposition’s parties disappeared, the traditional celebratory May 20th was banished by obvious reasons (it is not easy for a tyranny to remember a republican celebration, which means democracy) and all the republican structures and organizations were swept away. Now, it was time for Christmas, and the logical justification was the sugar cane harvest of 1970 decreed by the revolutionary government.

In our country, we didn’t have the Anglo-Saxon celebration; instead we have the Spanish tradition about the “Three Wise Men”. It means that we celebrate the day the “Three Wise Men” visited Baby Jesus bringing him presents. So parents gave presents to their children as people do here on Christmas Day. The day before (January 5th) is when they supposed to leave presents in houses during the night and there were big parades all over the country. Those parades were banished after 1959, but the celebration was hold until 1969, were our Commander in Chief swept Christmas from our calendar.

With it, January 6th (the Three Wise Men’s Day) was changed to the 3rd Sunday of June to celebrate the Pioneer Organization of Cuba and give that day a more political meaning according to the new ideas. Christmas Day was banished as a free holiday and any reference to Christmas in stores and public places were replaced with signs and boards commemorating the anniversary of the Revolution, January 1st. The authorities even tried to substitute the spirit of “New Year Eve” with the celebratory spirit of the New Revolution in a subliminal way. Since then, the language in our TV and media focused to emphasize that date as the date that the revolution came to power rather than the more intimate and family oriented meanings.

A few years ago, the Embassy of Spain tried to mark those old times with a small parade with “The Three Wise Men” in Havana. The authorities weren’t shy to condemn and even threaten the diplomats in Cuba. It brought the fury of the tyrant. But it showed that our society still have memories and those memories are alive in our children.

Christmas Day came back to Cuba with the visit of the Pope John Paul II, in 1998. We are still waiting for our Three Wise Men’s Day. Instead of, and sadly, we had seen the spread of Saint Claus and the Anglo-Saxon traditions in a country where those celebrations are completely foreign customs.

Today, the government reluctantly sells a few Christmas items in stores, always in CUC (Cuban Convertible Currency), and in a few places you can see some public Christmas trees. But we are still missing the national celebratory spirit. It is sad that even in the Red Square in Moscow, close to the Kremlin where for the first time a Communist Revolution came to power, today is standing a huge Christmas tree. Where is ours?

For long time we keep Christmas in our hearts. It means more than a religious celebration. It touches our human sensibility and the little child we still have in our soul. It means hope and happiness and keep alive family ties which is one of the most important reasons of any society

Why the Cuban authorities still are reluctant to let our people free to celebrate Christmas?

Is it because it means hope?

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Havana in Copenhagen

According to news reports, Cuba will call “for the modification of the irrational patterns of production and consumption that has put the world on the brink of an environmental and economic catastrophe”. At least those are the words used by Orlando Rey, Director of the Environment Department at the island’s Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment.Havana in Copenhagen

Based on those reports, Cuba will bring the issue during the 15th UN Conference on Climate Change, which begins Monday in Copenhagen, the Danish capital. The member of the delegation to Copenhagen added that the “international public opinion demands more political will from those that are historically responsible for global warming”.

Right. Let’s jump over the point. What did Cuba do on its own to accomplish the Kyoto treaty and demand those amendments? What did the Cuban government achieve in Climate Warming Prevention Policies?

It is easy to point fingers to anyone else, but the story begins to be a bit intricate when it comes to its own premises. You don’t need to be and expert to know the high levels of contamination that our own capital city reach day after day. Just open your window and look at the chimneys stacks of the old thermal power plants of Tallapiedra in the Old Havana neighbourhood and the Antonio Maceo plant in Regla, across the Bay of Havana.

I just want to add one bit of information to open some eyes to those who are fast to credit too much to Cuba’s authorities. At the end of the 80s, Cuba replaced part of the vanished Soviet fuel imports with domestic crude containing roughly six percent sulfur. The fumes of those plants are covering premises inhabited by approximately 800 000 persons. What do you think now?

Well, let’s not look at the sky. What about our Bay of Havana?

I recalled an old Cuban news report talking about a project to clean the Bay of Havana. Where is that project? That bay is probably one of the most polluted marine environments in the world. To that bay, domestic garbage, sewage and industrial waste is disposed and nobody move a finger in Havana.

Cuba is fast to manage numbers and international reports from open societies and democratic countries, especially US, but the condition of Cuba’s environment and its effects on the society have been treated as state secrets. No newspapers, no public reports, and no public agendas detail what Cubans are facing.

It doesn’t cost too much to understand the scope of the problem when you walk through the city and see human disposal rolling over the streets, mountains of garbage overflowing its containers, or even take a minute and look at our Almendares River. That river runs through agricultural and industrial zones, military bases and densely populated areas, all of which dump untreated sewage into the stream. It runs through our capital city, Havana.

Now, the government of Cuba is heading to Copenhagen and probably would quote some old statement from US government, or more probably will accuse US with the embargo to blame about these topics. Meanwhile, we are going to hear along a defiant speech, populist by no means, about “the obligations agreed in Kyoto by the developed nations”.

The questions still is: Where are Cuba’s obligations not only with UN, but also and more important, with the people of Cuba?

Where is Cuba’s commitment to Kyoto?

What is the moral of a regime that ignores their people, their own public opinion and hide numbers and data about pollution?

You open your window, look from your balcony to an old American car running along the street, and the fumes from its exhaust pipe is slapping on your face as a testimony of what are the real words that Cuba’s authorities should have to say in Copenhagen, but they won’t.