Sunday, January 31, 2010

Tremors on Internet.

Over the past few days Cuba has launched a sustained attack against the most iconic blogger in Cuba’s blogosphere: Yoani Sanchez. Without any doubt, it is the result of its irritation, fears and incapacity to silence a voice they don’t know how to crush, and how to fight. Over and over and far from achieve their intentions, the voice of Yoani is the voice of the new Cuba emerging from the dust, little by little. It is the standoff of a society tired of being silenced and in an endless escape from their natural premises.Tremors in Internet

Against the phenomenon represented by the iconic blogger Cuban authorities don’t have any easy cure. The independent bloggers are expressing their inner voices, their opinions in an easy and relaxed style, without the well-known slogans and without the stiffness any official ideology show. Beside, Cuba’s government responds to Yoani headache too late, when the blogger where all over the places, with renowned awards and mentions in every single international media. Today, Yoani is a brand and it is unstoppable in her own way.

But here is where the danger comes. The most prominent and visible a dissident voice becomes, the closest it is to be silenced by the ultimate resource: imprisonment. Today, the authorities are harassing her surroundings. Last Friday, the professor of photography in her Blogger Academy. Tomorrow could be her husband who publishes another blog.

Cuba has tried every single move against bloggers, but the authorities don’t have too many resources, and today they are launching probably their last attack, this time through a social network who has proved how effective was in the case of the Cuban independent bloggers: twitter.

On and on, the only tools they had exhibited is to discredit their names, but never answer the questions Cuban bloggers are raising constantly. It is a game with dividends in the past, but fruitless with the new technology. In the other hand, times erode any old tool Cuba employed with dissidents. They had been left alone and today the network is trembling with impatient nervousness on their side.

The Estate Department Security is fencing day after day more the circle around Yoani and other bloggers. They follow her wherever she goes, try to capture every move she does, and with despair follow her trail to any single place she head.

It is outstandingly amazing how a government, a whole nation is at stake for the simple opinion of one of its citizens, but one opinion expressed without fear and naked in its honesty. It talks a lot about the fragility of a society based in immobilism, intolerance and fear.

Cuba and Human Rights activists have the task to preserve the space of opinion opens by the independent bloggers. They are the open door to our future Democracy. They are the real tools to switch the system and throw away the servants of the Estate of Fears in which Cuba became after 1959.

Today, tremors are traveling around internet. They are noticing the light at the end of the tunnel and they fear with helplessness the final stages of the decease that has been this Cuban Involution. In vain, the final will come... sooner or later.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Disencounters of the nation.

Yesterday a meeting between some Cuban exiles and Castro’s authorities finished in Havana. Three days of interventions, three days of almost a monologue, three days were the most important aspects our Diaspora face in daily basis have been ignore.Disencounter of the Nation

From the beginning of the encounter to the slogan the conference claims you could appreciate the selective character of the people gathered there: “Meeting of Cubans Resident Abroad against the Blockade and in Defence of National Sovereignty.” Great, you have to sign it, you have to repeat it, and you have to swear it.

There are some questions Cuba and its guests have to answer: What kind of encounter is this? Where are the results? How many of those Cuban exiles ask to the authorities to lift all the travel restrictions to Cubans? Did the authorities agree to lift those restrictions?

The ending words of Ricardo Alarcon are the pieces to complete this puzzle: nothing. They talked three days and the restrictions weren’t over the table. We still have our stamp of approval in our passports, the selective entrance according to our opinion and “behave” abroad, the easy money to pay to Cuba’s government in order to receive our Permission of Entrance to our homeland, and we have to request our mandatory Cuban passport even when you are a citizen of another country. We continue being the lucrative merchandise in Castro’s hands. Those are the remittances all of us are paying to the tyrant. You have to remember his relatives never take care of him, never had send the desired dollar Castro claimed to Roosevelt when he was a child. We have to supply him his lost dollar.

We cannot lose our perspective about how and when these meetings began in Havana. The first was in 1994, precisely in the worst moment of the so called Special Period in Cuba. Its historic reference is the first encounter of the 70’s, and it was a push of Castro through his supporters in Puerto Rico. It came only as a necessary concession for a historic process in need of oxygen and nothing more.

Cuba’s authorities had opened their doors only when all other doors had been closed. Then, they turn to the only group of people left in the business: the Cuban exiles. We are only leftovers, the last choice to claim any sympathy and the only one to request their long list of restrictions. They will only talk with people who surrender their will to their demands.

Don’t forget, this is a government who confused Homeland with a party, a Nation with a political process ended in a tyranny, Nationality with partisanship, Citizenship with unlimited fidelity to one leader and Culture with ideology. You won’t obtain from intolerance any concession to its will. You will only pick leftovers up from over the table with reluctance and despise.

As a master of ceremony, Ricardo Alarcon finished his speech with one of his typical cynicism: “Migration has always been an essential part of the Cuban nation and its eager quest for independence and justice.”

Yes, Mr Alarcon, this our essential point in our agenda: independence and justice from the system that had claim to many lives, too many voices, too many people out of their country and too many deep wounds in our homeland. Meanwhile Cuba’s government won’t surrender its restrictions against its citizens, we will continue our quest for independence and justice of that Estate.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Cuba is Different.

Recently, when I was sailing through that amazing social network that it is twitter, I stumbled with an expression that captured immediately all my attention. Someone said, in one of its twits: Cuba is Different.Cuba is Different

I have to agree with the fellow. Cuba is so different you have no idea. For instance, Cuba’s authorities care about here and there, from Haiti to Venezuela, from Angola to Singapore, from Bolivia to US. The only place that Cuba’s government doesn't care is about Cuba. Castro’s officials send doctors, nurses and medicines to Haiti and Venezuela, and empty out our Health Care institutions of all of them. Who cares then that 40 mental patients died in Havana Psychiatric Hospital? Those little people are just insane.

Cuba is Different. We have a leader who in his weekly column in some obscure official newspaper, the one and only published in Cuba, talks about the US troops in Haiti, or the abuse of prisoners in Afghanistan, the Venezuelan Revolution and the contamination produced by the western democracies worldwide. He never talk about the Cuban repressive troops who jolted and pushed a small group of defenceless women claiming with only a flower in their hands the freedom of their dear relatives, all of them in prison for their opinions.

He never talks about the well-known documented abuses our prisons against those political prisoners reported by Human Rights Watch either. And, of course, he talks about Chavez’s Venezuela because, for obvious reasons, there is nothing to talk about Cuban Revolution, that one is completely lost in the past, what left are only leftovers to the lackeys.

The last discovering are contamination and environmental causes, of course, elsewhere. For other obvious reasons he forgot he tried to dry the Zapata swamp in the sixties, and threw ripraps across the sea to join Cuba’s keys to inland to build hotels and resorts, not for our own inhabitants, but his favourites citizens: foreign tourists. Of course, the roads over the sea disturbed and destroyed our marine fauna in those places, but who cares? This is Cuba not Haiti or Venezuela.

Cuba is Different. Oh, yeah! We need permission to travel abroad from our government. We need permission from our government to visit our family members and relatives in our own country. And, of course, we do have to pay every single detailed document to our dear authorities. And don’t count that if one of our family members are visiting us abroad, we have to pay every month of his stay in our resident country. You can add a few more lines: we need to be quite, never complain and never ever say a word against Castro. If so, you lost your key to open the door to Cuba.

Cuba is Different. All the Cubans think with only one brain, one thought and only one believe. Dissidents are not citizens of Cuba, they are CIA agents. Opinions different to the official Cuba is a capital crime punished in our Criminal Code. And every single disaster, natural, artificial or humankind had been caused by the embargo. Probably, hurricanes are being plotted today in the Pentagon to send to Cuba.

We are so different that probably we are orbiting outside this world. We are no more in Planet Earth. In fact, we had been a satellite of somebody: Soviet Union, China, lately Venezuela. We are always looking for someone to whom later we could blame our problems and never pay our debts.

Cuba is Different. We have Heath Care free, Education free and paradise on earth, but our people is flying away to the monster our newspapers and TV is blaming about our disasters: US. How bad is that place that everybody wants to know?

Ah, my friend, Cuba is so Different. We don’t produce one kilo of potatoes, one ounce of meat and one litre of milk, but we are marching every May 1st through Plaza of the Revolution, sort of. Our children are so happy when they lose their milk at the age of seven that they are ecstatic. They arrive at school and swear our national flag with a dollar in their pockets to buy something in their break time. The dollar doesn’t have our patriots on the bill, but who cares?

Cuba is so Different. We have double everything: double currency, double president, double Cuba. We earn our salary in the currency that we cannot buy anything, but we are content. We have a president in Cuba and the real thing in Venezuela, but we are CastroChavistas, so everybody is please. And we have a double Cuba: one for our diminished native citizens, and the paradisiacal one for our favourite inhabitants: foreigners.

Cuba is Different. We are not in the same line of the world: we are out, left alone with a mutated ideology who nobody knows what it is and what its meanings are. We are not Communists anymore, actually we never were communists, but we are not Socialists either. In fact, this is only what it is: a tyranny.

Cuba is Different... for the worst.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Canadian Apartheid.

The picture of Cuba through the posters hanging on the walls of many of Canadian travel agencies offices is a country of sun, splendid beaches, voluptuous mulatas and old American vintage cars. It is an icon tireless repeated on and on in every little agency marketing Cuba. If you add the fact that almost 1 million Canadians are travelling to the Caribbean island and Canada is one of the biggest investors in Cuba, you at least would expect a little bit more of attention from the Canadian media, Canada’s government and for every single Canadian travelling or not to the island.Canadian Apartheid

Cuba is one of the most important touristic destinations for Canadians, and probably the farthest in politic and social interests for them. They escape winter sun bathing in Varadero, or enjoying the transparent water of Cayo Largo, or even wandering in herd through Old Havana. Cuba is for them: mulatas, sun and old cars. Nothing more.

It remembers me the long struggling fight in South Africa against the segregation system. The picture of the tiny white population living in a paradise of comfort and luxury, when the huge black inhabitants were segregated in the most tragic ghetto would be the most appropriate in any of those travel agencies. And that is not any exaggeration.

Thousands of Canadians travel to Cuba every year, the majority of them ignore with despicable indifference how Cubans live, how it is their life, what they do to survive. They are segregated in luxury islands of splendour, enjoying the sun and taking funny little pictures of vintage Cuba. A few of them adventure to go to Havana and wander with the occasional tourist guide through the old colonial side of the city. A very few notice the signs of poverty, the shattered face beyond the colonial postcard sold by the travel agencies and what lay hidden far away from hotels and touristic sites.

Canadians are living in an oasis within Cuba. Across Varadero’s bridge they only venture in placid buses to visit other oasis well-preserved in Trinidad or Old Havana. The bridge and the police stop the real Cuba to enter the easy going lives in the oasis. It is like the warning posters of “Only for White” in South Africa.

It is really outrageous how the own Canadian government and the media in Canada ignore Cuba. Canada was, as Mexico, the only two countries who never broke their diplomatic ties with the Caribbean island. But that doesn’t move a millimetre to Castro’s government to acknowledge that fact. Actually, if you read every single reference about the embargo and diplomacy from Cuba’s perspective, it looks that was only Mexico who kept diplomatic ties the last 50 years. No western society will obtain any compliment from Castro in any possible way.

Canada had kept a policy of engagement but it hadn’t make any difference with Cuba’s government either. Canadian companies are probably the more represented in Cuba in all the areas of its economy. Big and small companies, with huge investments and millions of dollars spent every year. But it doesn’t matter to the government of the island to pay in time, or to give any preference to Canadians. In fact, there are millions of dollars frozen in Cuba’s hands that had refused to free for more than one year. So, where is the laudable Canadian policy of engagement?

Meanwhile, the Canadian media ignores every single aspect of Cuba beyond Hotels and sunny beaches. It is only touristic Cuba who keeps its attention busy. It doesn’t matter Cuba is owing millions to Canadian investors, or the presence of a Canadian diplomatic representative within the premises of the protest held in the International Human Rights Day in Havana. Cuba is only a place for a holiday, not a source of bad news.

It is absolutely a Canadian Apartheid. Day after day you search helplessly and you find nothing, or the well-known touristic report about oasis Cuba. It looks like our country only exists as Canada’s exclusive resort. Castro’s government had exploited it with that factor in mind.

Bad news about Cuba doesn’t report dividends to the huge paradise’s business. Bad news about Cuba means to all the investors in Cuba’s touristic industry less Canadians travelling to Cuba and less money in their pockets. So, there won’t have any bad news to the Canadian market.

For Canadians, just imagine your country and your people with restrictions to travel abroad for reasons of opinions, earning a miserable salary that never reach $20.00 per month, with a double currency and salaries in the one currency you cannot buy anything available, where the resorts, hotels, any exclusive golf court or touristic premises aren’t for the citizens of the country, win only one political party, one man in power for more than 50 years, and no freedom of any kind to express disagreements at any level of the society.

And then, you have the paradisiacal oasis on the hands of any traveler: indifferent, irreverent and unconscious of all that is surrounding him. We are not asking any law to ban Canadians for travelling to Cuba. We are not asking to the Canadian government to disengage and break diplomatic ties with our country.

We are requesting to Canada at a whole: Canadian government, Canadian media and Canadians themselves to pay a little more attention at what is happening in Cuba beyond luxuries hotels, sunny beaches and old American vintage cars. That is the only thing we are requesting

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Streets Excavengers

At the first look I thought the man was one of those mad men you could find wandering aimlessly Havana, but then I noticed the bike with a little cart attached carrying two sacks full of something undefined at my distance. He was almost digging with both hands the big garbage bins on the back of the Chinese embassy, looking for plastic bottles of any kind. When I was closer I could see the man digging and selecting “his merchandise”: putting aside what it was “eligible” and throwing derogatorily what it was not. Street Excavengers

He was a young man of around 26 or 27 years old, with a green old pant and an unbuttoned colorless shirt. He was a “Buzo”, a “Diver” as we called them in Cuba. Many of them walk Havana collecting any sort of material to later sell them in the black market to those who use them selling any sort of food or drinks. In his case, he was picking plastic bottles for an unknown destiny.

Havana is full of little family-run business who sells any sort of food, drinks and ice creams, in many of them you can identify the plastic bottle that our friend was selecting in the garbage bin at the back of the Chinese embassy. It is a reality well-known to many who, at any risk, travel across Havana finding those little treasures to support their families.

They are not the only ones who claim their merchandise from the garbage. Time to time you could see the local insane dragging plastic bags of any ragged material, plastics and little things, or the homeless with any family ties who is living in any porch of any church, parks or sidewalks, who is digging the garbage to find any trace of food.

But there is another type of diver who only visits places surrounding embassies and consulates, looking for more exclusive material and recyclables, and even food to feed their breeding. People who know at what time the local clerk bring out the garbage, and even in what embassy he could find the proper material to his business. It is a job well-planned.

It is not casual that in a nick of time, you could see a group of them fighting to take over a garbage bin well supplied and claimed for more than one of the divers. It is a nasty reality growing in today’s Cuba.

Garbage bins had found other uses rather than being the source of protein, business material for family-run cafeterias or even entertainment in Cuba. Years ago, when I was living in Old Havana, I remember seeing a couple of employees bringing out from a Tobacco Warehouse a big garbage bin every day at the same time to one or the corner of my block. A few minutes later, an old Chevrolet stopped close to the bin and you could see another two guys withdrawing something from the inside of the bin and leaving the premises.

That routine was hold day after day, weekdays and weekends, raining or storming, the whole year, and I would say if you try to go close to Havana train station at 7:00 pm, you could find today those people doing the same trick. The guys were making their money stealing Cuban cigars from the Warehouse to sell them in the black market.

The uses of the garbage containers in Cuba had broken all the imagination and fantasy. It is a business to a growing population of Cubans without any other form of survival. Excavengers who are digging deep to find in the garbage the last piece of hope they already lost with the mankind.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Fifth Red Beret Republic of Cuba.

Since Chavez stormed Venezuela in 1992, he became the desirable pupil Castro was looking for a very long time. And after he took over Venezuela’s presidency in 1999, Chavez became the devoted visitor to any event hosted by his tutor in Havana. The sort of devotee who years later became the personal spoke person of the island ruler. Today, the government of Cuba, though formally is headed by Fidel Castro’s brother, looks more like the maritime province of Venezuela with Chavez in charge of its presidency.The Fifth Red Beret Republic of Cuba

It is astonishing to notice how the political gravitational center of Revolutionary Cuba so romantically attached to Che Guevara, guerrilla and Socialism had moved out to Miraflores, and today Chavez is inheriting the will passed on by Castro.

The ups and downs in Cuba history are the ups and downs administered by Castro in his whimsical way to draw in Cuba’s foreign policy throughout the international balance of power among the big nations, but always with one point of deflection: US. We went through China, Soviet Union and lately we landed in Venezuela.

Ironically, rather than Cuba evolve toward Venezuela, it is the last who is involuting toward Cuba. Expropriations, TV stations’ suspensions, energy rationing plans, blackouts and repression against students and opposition, those are the components very well know by Cuba and lately applied in Venezuela. To finish the show, Chavez had self-declared publicly as Socialist. I guess it is something that everybody knew long time ago, Mr Beret.

But there is still hope in Venezuela. Chavez hasn’t been able to crush Venezuelan civil society. Internet, radio stations and a few TV channels are still fighting the long battle against totalitarianism. And on the street, week after week you can see the people of Venezuela protesting publicly against Chavez. It is something that our civil society in Cuba has to appreciate.

Cuba needs that Venezuela opposition wins the battle against Chavez. Our civil society is still weak and all the machinery that Venezuelan president is trying to put in place there, Castro established 50 years ago without any important opposition. From that disease we have these pains today, and our dissidents are overwhelmed by an apparatchik who has all its mechanisms well oiled and proved.

I do know that winning Venezuela’s opposition means Cuba could lose its more valued sources of oil and some other supplies. But those supplies are not reaching Cuba, many of them have been resold to the international market to pay investors, old debts and to finance tourism. All those activities are out of reach for the people of Cuba. So, there is no damage to Cuba at all: the damage will be to Castro’s regime, something that could help our civil society in its fight against 50 years of isolation.

Cuba’s civil society has to find its way to grow through the next years. It has to fight not only repression and intolerance; it has to fight dissension and discord among itself. But Cuba’s civil society has also to help Venezuela to win its battle against the machinery Chavez is installing in that country, following the shrewd and wicked instructions of Chavez’s tutor: Fidel Castro.

There is still time to stop the red beret to finish what it started in 1999. To let him go further would be a disaster for both nations: Cuba and Venezuela. Cuba because we will be farther to break the walls lifted in 1959, and Venezuela because Chavez could be unstoppable. You can’t forget Miraflores’ tenant has what Cuba never had in its hands: a huge gold mine in oil to sell, buy and stay in power forever.

Last year, I saw a picture published in one of those few pages printed in Havana under the regrettable denomination of newspaper. It shows a person holding a small poster in the traditional parade of May 1st saying: Viva Raul (Long Live Raul). It would be more appropriate if the small poster had said: Viva Chavez (Long Live Chavez). Don’t you think?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Useless People

Goya was the father of the modern art, his paintings were from the jolly and light-hearted beginnings to the deepest and pessimistic vision of his endings. His portraits of the Spain’s royal family, who employed him, are the deepest look through the eyes of the non-pleasant artist to the characters of the decaying monarchy of Charles IV.Useless People

Some critics theorize that his last paintings were inspired by a madness caused for some hideous components in the paint used by him. But when Goya painted “Saturn devouring his children”, he left a fresco with deeper meanings for decades to come.

For Cubans the lecture of Goya is more practical and more grounded to the pieces of the brain-breaker that the Cuban Revolution represents. What it began as a step into the democratic transformation of a country plunged for 10 years in a bloody tyranny, ended in another type of system more twisted, more intolerant and more personalized in the name of only one person: Fidel Castro.

As a consequence, big and small names had been left as useless throughout 50 years of dictatorship. Big names like Hubert Matos and Camilo Cienfuegos vanished, the first in prison for long years, the second in a very rare and suspicious accident after beinginvolved in a process headed to the imprisoning of the Commander of Revolution Matos. I do not mention that some of those figures are nameless and under Castro scrutiny means not less than a heresy.

A long list of names, big names in Cuba history have been buried through the years, but those names at least have a place in history and news. People know them, time to time some journalists, or intellectuals or dissidents mention them. But the little names who swelled the list of Castro’s guerrilla are disappearing forever in the dark with no mention in books, news and remembrances of any kind.

Useless people who build the bunker in which Castro has lived through 50 years, you could only see them, time to time, and when the moment is favourable to offer a small audience of old famished figures with faded old uniform, and a few faked gold medals over their chest. That is what the revolution they helped to install in power gave to them: medals, a few words of glory in public ceremonies, and maybe now and then the hypocrite handshake of the man for who they fought with total abnegation.

Useless names with nothing achieved, living many of them in old poor houses, with a little pension and millions of broken dreams, all of then unfulfilled. As Octavio Paz said in his book “The labyrinth of Solicitude”: “Every Revolution flows into the cult of its leaders”.

In his track to hold the power until his death, Castro cut off any single name who tries to scratch a little doubt to the walls of the tyranny that all of them helped to build. But how many unknown people did vanish without a single mention, and even worshiping his name as a sacred sorcerer? Nobody knows.

You still catch a few of them every anniversary of Moncada assault. They look fatigued, tired of the same old promises vanished, but they still go to the places Cuba’s government assigned to them: there is no choice, and it is the only moment those men are remembered. When the speeches finished, and the crowd left the premises and the music and slogans ended, they went back to their frugal and gloomy lives with nothing in their hands, and hopes flying away until next year to the same rehearsed comedy.

The revolution had devoured its children, cut the wings of freedom and prosperity, and it is burying the names of everyone who helped claim one name to the world history. There were useful people in the past, today life had turned them into useless shadows with no name to claim.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Havana’s Living Streets.

Life in Havana is to live in the sweaty streets of the city. Day and night Havana downtown is noisy, vibrant and restless. Early morning is mostly quietly, and as time passes the hustle and bustle of the city is lifting the spirit of the sleepy shattered capital of Cuba. Havana's living streets

During the morning hours could be a bit quiet, but as noon is approaching and the dusty stores are opening their doors, the soft murmuring is changed by a loudly noise: old cars’ horns, people screaming from their balconies across the streets, the lousy hawking of someone selling something door to door, the blast of the police cars or firefighters trucks, a radio or record player with the volume at the highest level imaginable and people yelling or screaming side to side.

On the streets is where you can find the medicines you don’t find in the pharmacies, or the last movie or soup opera recorded from the satellite channels illegally installed in a few houses, or even the news that no newspapers are publishing in Communist Cuba.

From mouth to mouth, Cuba has a huge geography of rumours, news and stories hushed up by the official media: crimes committed by high ranked people or little ones, robberies and corruption, and a huge market of jokes about Castro’s health.

Havana’ streets are long corridors of young partying people, seating on the sidewalks selling illegal products and illegal sex, playing domino or drinking alcohol, asking for a chewing gum to the occasional tourist or proposing any business to obtain the survival dollar. Cuba’s streets are dissidents in their core, deeply illegal in their heart and essentially survival in their philosophy.

You can find the homeless sleeping in the corner of any church, or the mad man driving an imaginary car across the scorch pavement, the charming and generous mulata dancing voluptuously under the rhythm of any catchy song, the pair of drunkards fighting for some money or some old debts, the rude and bad tempered police catching any helpless citizen and eluding the well-known criminal from whom he is frighten, and time to time the strolling of foreigners looking side to side between astonished and amassed.

The streets are crowded of people all day and night long, and even at the latest hours you hear the noisy life creeping over the crumbling buildings. A later party in one corner, and the decrepit bar in the other side screaming an old tune, with the three eternal drunkards breaking the peace made Havana a dark city of ghosts. At night, its streets are dark and dingy with a gloomy atmosphere only broken in large avenues and in important interceptions, a few of them.

The city is lacking places of entertainment for the youth, with the exceptional corner of Coppelia in Vedado, and a few other spots mostly afforded in CUC (Cuban convertible currency). Clubs, hotels and restaurants belong to who are carrying dollars: tourists, people who receive remittances, high ranked officials in Cuba’s ladder and the outlaws of Cuba.

Nightlife belongs to the underground Cuba, whose life begins after 10 pm and finishes when dawn is close: the time when police vanished living the premises free to the other Cuba. The Cuba nobody mentions in newspapers and TV news. The Cuba of nocturnal flowers and criminal activities never accounted in blogs and statistics. The Cuba never reflected in Castro’s reflections and public speeches: the Cuba of prostitution and drugs, petty thieves and worthless youth.

A few pairs of lovers in Malecon, groups of rowdy young people screaming and swearing to any motorcycle or women passing by, the lousy living life waiting for the end of the blackouts in some parts of the city, or even people who only wish to reach their sleep after a long journey of survival: a long life of broken dreams are carried through the streets of Havana.

But Cubans smile, sing their song and make their joke against the odds of their life. Nothing is too serious for a well-done mockery to their leaders, or terrible in their life to deserve a laugh. Meanwhile the comedy is absent of our official Cuba, our streets are the vibrant scenery for everything that we let go in the last 50 years.

After all, in our streets life is living by its own laws with no restrains and no tyranny possible. It is the only territory free in our suffered island. Although time to time, their life is broken into pieces with the boots of the Estate henchmen, but it doesn’t last too long. We are living in an Estate governed by tides. In high tides our streets are lifeless, when the tides fade Havana’s living streets come to life and the circle of life begins.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Cuba Libre

There was a moment in the 60’s when you could find Cuba Libre (Cuba Free). Free of a government that for 10 years had been killing people on the streets. Free of Batista and his clique imposing their iron fist on the street of Havana, and on the fields of Cuba. Free of a tyrant who stole national funds and financial resources from our country. Free of the repression machinery in which brilliant people were killed.DCF 1.0

In 1959, we also had Cuba Libre, Cuba Free with no government, no democratic institutions and no clear laws ahead. Cuba was free of the American embassy, the American investors, the American owners and the American acceptance. We were Free, free of private properties, free of private schools, free of religions and Christmas, free of bishops and the Pope.

With Castro we also had Cuba Libre, Cuba Free of foreigner tourists in our hotels (just for a while), free of too many different newspapers with too many different opinions and too many political tendencies, free of middle and high classes, we were poor forever, but we were happy. Who would say it?

In the 60’s, our country was Cuba Libre. Free of Guevara and Bolivia, free of thousands of doctors and engineers, free of politicians, artists and intellectuals, free of Lezama and Virgilio, free of Celia Cruz and her Siguaraya, free of prostitutes and pimps (just for a while, I would say), free of the outlying areas of Havana city (for a while, at least officially). We were free of voting: there wasn’t any election at any level, so we don’t have to be worry about who was in charge, what could be his electoral platform and what we could expect or not from the politicians-to-be.

After 1959, we were free of salt and alcohol, and land with private owners. We also were free of worries about food and medicines, everybody was supplied with a monthly ration book: for food, toilette paper and clothes, if you find them. We don’t need to wear suits and ties, so we were free of any etiquette in formal parties and official meetings. Everyone hung over his body a faded green uniform and we were ready to go.

In the seventies we were continuing our travel through Cuba Libre. Free of the best writers and thinkers. We were free to call Marti our Apostle: now he was a National Hero, don’t forget we were made free of religion and its difficult denominations. We were free of the old 1940 National Constitution and democratic organs of power, and we released our solid and advanced Socialist Constitution, with only one party to follow and only one voice to hear: what a relief!

During 50 years you don’t need to worry to read pages and pages of news, and sail our radio stations and two TV channels to have an idea what was going on in this shattered world. Your reach the first you find it and that’s it. You felt so free with the new achieved freedom: you, your neighbour and the man in the corner were thinking the same: we were in Heaven, and the CDR were making us so happy with its new task of keep miserable our enemies.

Since Castro freed us, we could watch TV without any commercial break, any sort of celebrity marketing a new brand of toothpaste or a marvellous flavour in a new brand of beer: we were in Cuba Libre, free of beer, toothpaste and celebrities, they were gone for dancing in Miami TV stations and marketing the same brands there. Of course, we were free of their music, their pretty faces, and their glamour and gossipy. After all, we were kind of guys more serious and with a more responsible sense of humour. So, we were free also of comedians, political jokes about bearer leaders and crazy plans around Havana.

We were so happy then, so free and so rehabilitated that when we reached the 90’s our future was doomed. Again we have to be slave of newborn religion, little dissidents groups and some soviet leaders talking about freedom of speech in Communist Heaven: what a joke!

We are missing our golden age of freedom, when we celebrated with throwing eggs and revolutionary slogans those CIA henchmen with own opinion who deserted and set off for Miami. We were free then of criminals, mad men and gay people, we threw them to the Americans in 1980. Then, we didn’t have the necessity to build concentrations camps like UMAP for gays, dissidents and nonconformists with our freedom. What a beautiful Orwellian life!

Now we are condemned to watch our children asking for free internet access, cellular phones and dollars. In the sixties and seventies, even in the eighties we were free of those chains. There were no jeans and no hear highlights. In fact, we were free of them from the entire school system and, if it was possible, from our country.

Even children cartoons were easier to remember: there were a few choices so you could watch them one in a week and you were content, the rest of the days we were in blackout, so we were happy. Today, everything is more complex: too much variety, but the blackouts are still happening. Life turned very complicated.

Today everything had changed. You could still say: Viva Cuba Libre (Long live Cuba Free!), but I don’t understand as a whole what it is the meaning. In fact, was there any meaning at all?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Raising your little voice to God

January 21 marked twelve years since the Holy Father John Paul II visited Cuba, in one of the most historic and expected visit. Twelve years had gone, twelve years with ups and downs in a road undermined and with a country more devastated and impoverished.Raising your little voice to God

When times are hard and hopes fly away, people turn their voice to God. Faith is the last trench in any devastated life, in any haunted place. Almost four generations of Cuban grew up in a country isolated of faith. From the very beginning, the newborn revolution opened with religious jitters across the nation. The church was turning up the volume at the rhythm Castro was opening power to Communism. The war against faith was the first consequence, and the catholic bishops the first casualties.

Castro couldn’t admit a second ideological power in Cuba and he knew the bishops had a huge influence amongst Cubans. In the history of the relationships between Religion and Castro in Cuba, the latest had tried hard to rewrite the long history of differences and animosity between the two, especially with an opportunistic intervention of old catholic dissidents priests like Frei Betto. But the truth remains unabashed.

The turbulent 60’s ended with the expulsion of 131 priests in September 17, 1971. That day, and simultaneously nationwide, groups of men dressed in Castro’s militia arrested priest and nuns. From the total, 33 priests were Cubans, and the rest were mostly Spanish and Canadians. Those men of God were arrested without their personal identity, without any piece of clothing and without any previous advice, and embarked in a ship anchored in Havana harbour named Covadonga. They were expelled from the country they served without any reward unless their faith in God.

The reasons behind were obvious: Cuba’s churches had became the only place Cubans could express freely their opinions against the regime. Castro couldn’t allow any second power, so the faith in God had to be crushed. After all, and accomplishing his new believes in Marxism, Religion didn’t have any place in the new man of the new era. Christ had to be defeated.

The expulsion of the catholic priest was the last chapter started with the vanishing of Christmas in 1970, but it was in the long term plan busted of the ideological agenda in the new power installed in Cuba. It is very important to remark that that process began before even the church began opening people’s eyes against the new era under Communism: dismantling all form of religion in the school system, the prohibition to access to any local and national media to the church, and in consequence the isolation of the church from any institution and social organization. Faith became a dissident in Cuba.

During more than 30 years, Cuba buried his faith in their family premises. Nobody allowed himself to confess publicly his faith in God, even when deep in their homes and souls Cubans kept their sacred images well-preserved. Our country had been a nation of faith and hope, our spirituality had been preserved over the year despite slogans, prohibition, prosecution and lies, and with time the old Cuba came alive again. God never left Cubans alone: it was its government who tried to expel God from Cuba.

In a process extraordinarily described by the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, in the welcoming remarks to the Holy Father in January 24, 1998:

“I present also a growing number of Cubans who had confused the fatherland with the party, the nation with the historical process we have experienced in recent years, and culture with ideology.”

In 1986, Castro gave to Frei Betto a long interview and tried to rewrite Cuba’s history again as Big Brother did. In the long and best seller book, Castro sold his now well-known self-eulogy about religion, and tried to justify, with pretty phrases and liquid dogmas, the crusade against the Catholic Church. The whole truth doesn’t resist any justification possible, what was in stake was the beginning of the crisis in Eastern Europe, and the collapse of the Socialism as a system worldwide. Castro was shoring up a crumbling building in Cuba in prevision with the collapse of the Communism. It wasn’t premonition: the signs were there forever, but now history was passing its check.

The factors and components that pulled down Eastern Europe are in Cuba for a long time. The revolution who ask for spirituality, freedom and faith in the new men of the new millennium finished fencing all the civil rights. There is no spirituality when you lack of freedom to express your honest opinion about anything.

With the catholic bishops Cuba had expelled artists, journalists, intellectuals, men and women of faith, people of all races, believes and sexual orientation. The country became a fenced land with an ideology refused by our forefathers from the beginnings of our independence. Castro freed all the forces against any dissent with a steady campaign of fears about the inevitable crushing of the proletariat’s revolution in the hands of its enemies. It is not out of context to remember what our Apostle Jose Marti said about Marx:

“To set men against men is an appalling task. The forced bestialization of some men for the profit of others stirs our indignation. But that indignation must be vented in such a way the beats ceases to be, without escaping its bonds and causing fear.”

That fear escaped its bonds in 1959 from the very moment Castro unfold his war against any form of dissidence and opposition. Today, when that regime is fading with his figure and name, thousands of Cubans are returning his faith in God, raising their little voices to claim the spirituality Castro’s Revolution exiled from their homes and showing everyone that faith is always close to our hearts and is home of the best feelings in reconciliation.

The end of one era is coming; the beginning of a new is ahead.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Surfing Nightlife Cuba.

Carlos could be a doctor, and engineer or an accountant, instead he chose to be “Johnny”. He grew up in a family where surviving was the word daily mentioned. He didn’t know about comfort, a nice pair of jeans and holidays in Varadero. They were three brothers and a sister, living in a small little room no more bigger that 4 metres squares and with his mother in charge of the family: no father figure, he didn’t know his father. Surfing Nightlife Cuba

At school, Carlos was smart and a good catcher sort of speak, but as soon he discovered that girls were fond of him, math, grammar and history was left behind. It was the beginnings of his life as “Johnny”. The nickname came as result of his American kind of look: blond, blues eyes, tall and fit. Something absolutely unusual in a country that is a rainbow of races. His brothers and sister were completely different to him, but he never took account of that. As a matter of fact, he always thought he was different.

At the end, high school was a line up of girls and pretty faces, and when he reached eighteen he thought that what Mother Nature gave it to him he could make a good use of it. Life was hard and he had to endure, but it couldn’t be in that way if he will make a good use of his charms. So, here you are, one day he left his tiny little cave with his older brother to go to catch a “Yuma” (slang for tourist in Cuba) whoever could be found. He was a fast runner.

After a few weeks, his name was changed to “Johnny” and his old pants were thrown into the garbage bin. His star was raised forever and the old Carlos with nice young Cuban girls never came back. He was particularly successful with Spanish, Canadians and Italians, women and men, even when he always declared himself as heterosexual, but he wasn’t afraid to refuse anyone, especially when in occasions the competency became tough and few tourist could be found in Havana.

His succeed let him also to leave his family. Under any circumstance he would five up what so hard he was earning in his daily struggle with life. On and on, his mother particularly requested him to share his money with his other siblings, who at that moment were also drawn into the same “business”, but with not too much success. Johnny decided to escape forever from the trap.

But he didn’t have to be worry too much. It was just occasionally when he found himself in his old little house in Centre Havana. In daily basis Johnny could be found in Varadero, or with a group of Spanish girls in a house in Miramar, or with a Canadian couple travelling Cuba. But every time when he returned from those trips he found the bitterly life his family was living there: fights, jealousy and envy. A life filled with insecurities and fear for the future. Johnny decided to do whatever he could to leave that life forever.

Since then, he tried more harder to find something more secure, what it means, someone who pay him for all his expenses, someone who could give him a life in Heaven. To the height of that time, he already had regular customers in “his business”, but he needed someone who could be the real deal in his life: his lottery ticket.

Day and night you could find Johnny in “La Cecilia”, or in the night club in Melia Cohiba in Havana, or even in the exclusive Marina Hemingway with some “friends”, mostly girls, but at that time, he didn’t care if it was a girl, or a group of them or a man. In fact, he found out that men paid better than women, and his philosophy was also not to look back, just get it done. One year in his personal battle paid off: he found his gold mine.

Today, Johnny is living in Miramar where his partner bought an apartment for them. He is driving a nice Nissan who belongs to his dear friend: a Spanish fellow who has partnership with some Cuban institution. A credit card to his expenses, cash in his pockets, a cellular phone hung in his belt, expensive clothes and perfumes, and a life floating in the clouds. He doesn’t care what his friend is doing in Cuba, and what his businesses are with Cuba’s government. When he goes with him to any dinner or party, he tries very hard to show off he is a nephew of the charming guy, not his lover, even when everybody smiles and understands the meanings of his relations. But for him, he is living the Communism.

His life is the living dream for many of our citizens. He is not a doctor, he is not an engineer and he is not an accountant. In fact, he is nobody with the highest standard of life that you could ever image in Cuba. When his “friend” is not in Havana, he is hanging out with a pair of girls around the city. He never works, someone hired by his partner cleans and sometimes prepares dinner for him and his guests, when he is at home. But for the majority of his time, he is enjoying his life around Cuba.

Every single door is open to him, because every single door is open with a dollar bill in Cuba. No matter you need, you only need to show the money and whatever you ask you get it. In the other hands, his partner knows he is not alone, and he encourage him to do it with no consequence, because he knows Johnny is not going to leave him. After all, he is his winning ticket to Heaven.

An afterword about his family: he cut all his tights with them. Today, he doesn’t know anything about their whereabouts, he never call them. Since he was eighteen he made his promises to leave that little cave of mice, and he stand by.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Borrowed Lives in a Borrowed Country.

Nobody remembers when Cuba began giving up its will in the hands of Castro. By far, five generations of Cubans had been dragging their existence and today, a decade after a new century, they forgot the very moment went the clock stopped its ticking and time stood still.Borrowed lives in a borrowed country

For some, Cuba sank the moment Castro crushed Manuel Urrutia, the first Cuban president after Batista, that unforgotten evening of 1959. For the most, when Castro declared Socialism in Cuba in April 1961. Since then, day by day, law by law and word by word, any sign of democracy had been buried in the name of the proletariat.

The education system became one block of indoctrination, religion was a blasphemy and 1940 Constitution was a heresy. The laws were rewritten point by point, crushing any trace of civil rights and constitutional guaranties. New ministries were created to control any single move of each citizen nationwide. Housing, land and food were rationed to the most excruciating detail and supervised by new institutions. The society was under a supervised release program under the eyes of the CDR (Committee for the Defence of Revolution). Literally, it is under “house” arrest.

We left our democratic premises to begin a new life in a borrowed country, where you don’t own your own life. It is astonishing how Cuba allowed a bunch of people to install the most Orwellian society in the western hemisphere, and in a country characterized for being one of the richest in social and political history, and maybe one of the most unrested in Latin-American.

But here we are. Since we are born we are a line in the monthly ration book of our parents, a line in the address book kept by the CDR, a line in a book in the military register kept by our army, a line in a book of every single organization, institution and government infrastructure. As the result, you are trapped in books and registers, and you own nothing.

Even your house is something borrowed to you meanwhile you are in the line with the government. Don’t move, don’t sell, and don’t open your mouth to tell your truth or what you understand as your truth: you could finish loosing even your own clothes. Your belongings are borrowed properties by the estate. As soon you realize Cuba is closing its doors to you, and you want to leave, the unsigned contract with the totalitarian owner is over.

Our national emblems, our homeland and our national heroes are private properties of someone erected as the ultimate forefather: Fidel Castro. He is the only one allowed to use and misuse them at his whim.

Our homeland is a borrowed country under the siege and the law of one man. We are citizens of nowhere, and our lives are borrowed in this country of us. The revolution started in 1959 ended in this monstrosity where our citizens are defenceless against the law, against the institutions whose essential roles have to be to defend and protect our citizens, but instead they finished castrating your rights against the rule of one person.

At the end, we are like that dog who is living cornered under a cart, or in any hidden place kicked by any unfriendly fellow in any given day. Living a life of orphan citizens, Cubans crawl to the end of their life with no possession of their own, until they leave...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Surviving Havana.

Maybe the most impressive image of Havana is the mixture of old scrambled buildings with the rumbling daytime routine of old cars throughout its shattered streets. When the first sunlight hits the smoky silhouette of the city, Havana begins its daily life with cars, bicitaxis and people walking around in their way to their job, or in their way to survive the hardships of a life that is counted day by day with no future in their hands.Surviving Havana

You walk along those streets and in the middle of the day you can find young and old people, children, adults, men and women seating on the sidewalks or fastening inside the few shattered stores in downtown Havana, and you could wonder how many people in that big city is working, earning their daily sustenance, and how many people is just wandering the city in their search of something. The answer could be astonishing: none and everybody.

In Havana everything is on sale: the avocado you can buy in the corner of any street, or even in the dark entrance of one of those cramped buildings surrounding Neptuno or Galeano; the vitamins you couldn’t find in the pharmacy across the street maybe somebody is selling in front of the next store; the old black man carrying a little cart with guavas, or any fruit stolen in any place outside the capital is looking around, trying to avoid any policeman to sell their precious bargains close to the empty grocery store around the corner; even inside the next store around the street you can eventually guess who is trying to find something, and who is trying to find someone to sell the same item but from the black market.

Cuba is a huge black market, and Havana is like the Capital City of that market. In every doorway of every store you could find groups of people selling something, and that something is coming from the arches of the Estate. It is a long chain of little robberies. The person who works in a hospital steal the essentials medicines to sell them to somebody who probably is selling computer components stolen from his job, and that one probably finds a client who already stole a pair of shoes in a store and who is selling the shoes to the first fellow selling medicines.

Life is a circle. And for the Cuban, life is a permanent robbery to the big thief: the Estate.

The philosophy is simple: the average Cuban salary is 15 dollars per month, and with that little misery you can’t live in a country where nothing is secure. What you found yesterday today could be too late to find it. When the ups and downs of Cuba’s policy, people had grew afraid to lose their most essential in life: hope.

After all, it is not the first time you woke up with the news that something that you did for secure yesterday today somebody took off from your monthly ration book and you have to find it in any way possible, and that way many time is ending in the black market.

Time to time the government had tried to battle the evasive black market, but it exists due the lacking of everything in Cuba. And the lacking of everything is blamed to the US embargo, but then you find out that the medicines needed in our hospitals are sent to Venezuela to the Program “Barrio Adentro” of the sponsored Hugo Chavez, and you begin to question then if every single item missing in your grocery bag is in someplace out there: in Africa, in Haiti or in the North Pole.

The Estate blames the embargo, but it had sponsored any single crazy plan conceived by Castro: from war in far-off places in Africa to weapons in El Salvador, meanwhile you have to “resolve” with a salary of 15 dollars per month. Is that realistic?

Our government is trading our economy to obtain leftovers of political support here and there when their citizens are lacking the essentials in their life. Then, it is not rare that when the welcomed tourist arrives to any hotel desk to change their currency the person in charge is charging him with an extra for his pocket, and that it is the reality in every single hotel desk nationwide.

Every cashier in any single store in Cuba had tried to alter the prices to get some extra money for their finances. Big stores within hotels had been found with merchandise which source is the black market. The franchise Caracol which trade merchandise, whose customers are mainly tourists in hotels, had found its trademark store in Habana Libre Hotel full of illegal merchandise whose destiny is the black market. And that is only the tip of the iceberg, because the same officials who found those illegalities had been involved in corruption in the main branch of the franchise. The, who is not stealing something in Havana?

Havana is the heart of all this huge black market, but the whole Cuba is a black market in its brink to survive. And nobody escape from this stigma: big names, and simple citizens. The big names don’t need to hide a pair of shoes, or steal a cigar day by day to later make a cigar box to sell in 25 dollars in the black market, or even steal supplies from any funeral home to sell to people who has CUC (convertible currency).

Big names had kidnapped the laws and hold in their hands firmly all the threads in Cuba. They even decide the life or death of our citizens, the silence or the voice of our media. They don’t need to steal what they already did in the past: the entire destruction of all the mechanisms that make any democratic country to question corruption, mismanagement and repression. They own the laws. They made the laws. They apply the laws.

Meanwhile, the simple citizen wakes up early morning bewildered about what it is going to happen during his journey to the night, what he needs to take from his job and sells to his neighbour or friend, or simple risk his life in one of the rafters crossing the Florida Straits to find a normal life at the other side of that sea who is decorating the seashore of our Havana.

Monday, January 18, 2010

An Old Pair of Shoes…

Whereas war is thundering in Afghanistan and Irak deceives with days of calm on the news, a natural disaster had came to pile up on top of all the miseries and misfortunes of Haitians. The earthquake in Haiti came over the world and took over news and international efforts to help the victims and cure the wounds in that shattered nation.An old pair of shoes

A natural calamity like an earthquake doesn’t have any political color. It does affect poor and riches, men of any race and religion, politics and preferences. But disasters bring colors to political behaviours, especially in nations whose policy over the years had used them as a platform to obtain political dividends.

When in the White House Obama reaches Bill Clinton and Bush in a non unusual sign of collaboration between former presidents, no matter what party they represented, Cuba is playing the same game too many times repeated in 50 years of Castro: sending his civilian troops to help others meanwhile his own people is dying in mental hospitals.

It is sad to admit it, but for all those magnificence gestures Cuba had obtained prominence and a huge army of followers that, later on, become the front runners against the justice of our civil society is claiming in and outside our country. And the problem here it is not the helping hand, it is not the group of people who go to those places and work with abnegation day and night. The problem here is the double standards our politicians are using when they are designing those missions.

More than 1500 doctors are in Venezuela or sort of, the Cuba’s government sometimes brings the amount sometimes is quietly discrete, for obvious reasons. Meanwhile, our hospitals are lacking doctors, nurses and professionals to help our own inhabitants. Nobody knows how many family doctor’s offices are empties or waiting from its doctor working out there, anywhere, because it is not only in Venezuela.

This is not the first time Castro had used them to bring down political walls. Could anybody remember the earthquake in Peru in the 70’s? At that moment Cuba didn’t have any formal relation with that country. But Cuban doctors were packaged and send there: they were the revolutionary offensive to open the diplomatic doors to Castro. The same Castro who received years later children from Chernobyl, when the Soviet Union was through Perestroika and its openings. They were components in a political game in which Castro had been a shrewd and crafty genius, I would say.

But don’t forget, this is the same Castro who send weapons and supplies to every single guerrilla in America. The same Castro who traveled through every single country who had supported terrorism against the western democracies. The same Castro who had been playing with the role of the generous parent to any extremist group worldwide, and received and gave protection to any American on the loose of US justice. The same Castro who claimed to the Soviet Union during the missile crisis to shut nuclear weapons over US territory. The same Castro who send troops to Angola and kept them there for more than 10 years to leave that country in the hands of one of the most corrupted politicians in Africa.

And this is the guy who financed any single crazy adventure at the cost of break in pieces any single brick of our economy and our infrastructure. It doesn’t matter if our Hospitals are crowded with people and a few doctors are working insane long journeys with a wretched salary. It doesn’t matter that our sugar cane industry is destroyed and dismantled if those same factories could be installed in Venezuela. It doesn’t matter the human and financial cost of anything when it comes to give praise to his name and his political reckoning.

In every sector of our economy you can see the trace of destruction of his rumble over it. That’s why it is not rare to find in any lost corner of this world people who knows first who is Fidel Castro before they know exactly where Cuba is located.

I am not saying we cannot help anybody, what I am saying is any help need a well structured plan without affect the daily rhythm of our country. You can’t give away the only pair of shoes you have to play the game. You can’t bring down your house to build your neighbour’s. You can’t sell your bed to sleep over the floor. And that is what Fidel Castro had been doing over the last 51 years.

On top of that, we have to observe with sadness how all those political manoeuvres had been done with hypocrisy, immorality and deceit. Today in Haiti, the regime is playing its last card in this business. It is not shy when someone forgets to mention the Cuban presence in the slammed country and start to claim words of praise here and there.

If the action was done sincere and honestly, you are not expecting any praise or honour of it. It is coming from your heart, not from your shrewder mind. But it is that what you have to expect in regimes like the one installed in Havana.

Meanwhile Castro is throwing the last pair of shoes in that game, we wake up a few days ago with the bitter and astonishing news that 26 patients died by hypothermia and hunger in one of our most famous mental institutions in Havana.

Where was the helping hand there? Where were the doctors, nurses and paramedics? Where was the solidarity with our own citizens?

All of them went behind an old pair of shoes...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Living and dying in the land of the lost dreams.

Mazorra was a name how Cubans knew always Havana Psychiatric Hospital, today is holding the more lavished name of Havana Psychiatric Hospital Dr Bernabe Ordaz after its late director who died in 2006. Ordaz took over Mazorra at the beginning of 1959, as soon Castro took power in Cuba. The images of Mazorra daunted all Cubans at the beginning of the Revolution, and became a question of honour to change its face and fate by the newborn Revolution. Living and dying in the land of the lost dreams

Castro itself named Ordaz as its director and since then to his very end the renowned Dr Ordaz had his named stamped in every stone lifted in its premises. As the new owners of Cuba, Ordaz became a trademark and his influence was extended, not only within the Hospital premises, but rather went through the entire municipality of Boyeros where the Hospital is located. Ordaz became another Feudal Lord as his Commander in the Presidential Palace. He died in 2006, many people said since then Mazorra changed forever and started to fall as every single Health Care institution in Cuba. Although, in life of Dr Ordaz there were accusations against him and his institution by taking part in torturing and repressing some dissidents in its premises.

Today, the hospital is far away from its days of splendour and from the days Dr Ordaz was strolling around as its Feudal Lord. In a book published by the Cuban Book Institute in Havana in 1971, Ordaz left written:

“The patients, herded up in insalubrious ward, naked and hungry, lacking hygiene and the necessary food.”

Ironically, its dear doctor would be horrified to discover that those words, written to paint in vivid colors the fate of that hospital before 1959, could be perfectly written to describe what happened in January 11th in 2009 there.

26 patients died by hypothermia and hunger in an institution praised by the Lords of the Revolution as the advanced front in psychiatry and mental treatment. For neighbours and former workers, what happened there is beyond the worst they ever know about the fated hospital. Patients almost naked and barefoot, without any blanket to protect them from the coldest temperatures registered during those days, January 10 and 11th. With hunger and lacking any sort of protection, the authorities found them grouped together to fight the low temperatures and the hunger. News sparkled throughout the municipality tell that the authorities had to use their whole power to separate them from each other: they were frightened.

What it could be news brought out from a history book, it was a daunted reality well-known for every single institutional official in Havana. For years the hospital had been abandoned and without maintenance, the windows broken, the blankets and supplies to the patients stolen to be sold in the black market by the current workers and authorities. Food, medical supplies, even furniture were ransacked.

It is not only in that Hospital where you can find those problems, and the National Health Care authorities know that. It is not rare to find any hospital in Havana with those problems: light bulbs, blankets, medicines, any sort of supplies and food are sweeping away every day in every single institution in Cuba.

Where was the Health Care Minister when the facts bring out to light? Where is his authority to establish order and protect the victims?

What happened in Mazorra was know abroad not because the official journalists reported in Cuba newspapers. It was the labour of the hated and blamed independent journalists and the non-official Commission of Human Rights who reported and brought to light. Rumours and the courage of those people brought the macabre picture of Mazorra.

Where was Cuba’s media? Where were Granma and its fellows? Where were the well-known “trollers” who in daily bases are blaming the civil society, bloggers, dissidents and independent journalists? Where was the well-known journalists and MP’s who on daily basis are blaming and discrediting dissidents and opponents to Castro on TV?

Now the authorities are alleging respiratory deceases and “other circumstances”. We will see later how all the Castro’s propaganda machinery will be thundering about this and that, searching for the smallest culprits and hiding the big names. Let’s remember them: near Mazorra there is a nursery home administered by nuns and none of their patients died and suffered in the same dayss when 26 mental patients died defenceless under the low temperatures and hunger.

What it is behind all this is a systemic crisis that we all know but anybody of the regime wants to acknowledge. Meanwhile, the machinery is talking about Haiti and the poor misery of that slammed country had suffered. We all need to help Haiti because it is the only way others could help us tomorrow. We need each other, this world is interconnected and nobody is alone, even when Cuba regime wants to rotate in its own orbit.

Meanwhile, it is a question of principle to ask the totalitarian regime to acknowledge the fact that its system is in a total crisis and ask them for the resignation of its Minister of Heath Care, Mr Balaguer, who also share level of guilt in this business.

In a democratic country others had been forced to resign for facts less serious and less despicable. What happened in Mazorra will happen tomorrow in any other hospital nationwide. In fact, it happened in the past in mental hospital located in Santa Clara and Placetas, in different proportions and were covered up because their remoteness.

We cannot allow ourselves to witness more irresponsibility. Those acts have to be punished with criminal charges, from top to bottom without any exclusion. There are more patients living and dying in the land of the lost dreams in Havana, and in the countryside of our suffered Cuba.

It is time to say: it is enough!!!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Castro’s Network of Fears

When temperatures are dropping to historic records in Cuba, it looks our government is pouring with more bad news to fall even more the levels of information to our society. According to one of the Cuban newspapers in Havana, Cuba had created its own Operating System to substitute the nationwide Microsoft Windows which had dominated the extensive network of computers in the island.Castro's Network of Fears

Named “NOVA”, the software had been created using the open software LINUX and it had been designed to satisfy the levels of “security and protection” addressed by Raul Castro’s government. This idea was discussed almost one year ago, at the end of 2008, in a meeting between Ramiro Valdes and many of the most important institutions supporting those windows networks in Havana.

We can hint without any guessing that this is the personal labour of one of the strongest hardliners in the Cuban Revolution history: Ramiro Valdes. It is also unquestionable that his rise in the Council of Estate is showing that Cuba is stepping up the walls against internet, at least, against the non-convenient internet.

According to Alain Guerrero, Dean of the University of Informatics Sciences:

“We don’t have any other form to protect ourselves unless through this software, which allow us to be independent”.

What this senior member of the University didn’t say was that that software would allow to control strictly any access to internet, I mean the internet that is not Cuba friendly. It is obvious that what the regime is doing if lifting the walls at the highest levels possible to isolate Cuba from the outside world. As I said in any other post, everything is looking more like we are living more in an extraterrestrial orbit rather in planet Earth.

What is the fear behind? Further than make Cuba more accessible and independent, what it is and it had been for a long time, is make Cuba more enclosed in iron curtains, in order to silence and sweep away any rebellious voice. This is a government working against information rather than spread out the vital information.

The ultimate consequence and objective of this lift of all the walls is, putting it in a metaphoric way, the lunatic obsession to persecute daisies nationwide. Isolating Cuba, filtering all the inconvenient information through its systems, cutting all the ways possible to bring out the real Cuba by our incipient civil society, all those components create the perfect conditions to destroy them, one by one.

That iron curtain won’t allow mirroring back what our dissidents and bloggers is telling to the world, but at the same time would allow the government to take measures at large against them, as it did in 2003 with independent journalists, intellectuals and political opponents. It is a story so well-known and well trained in Castro’s hands.

NOVA pretends to be an inner network inside Cuba, and could be the first step to make accessible internet to the public, just the access to that local filtered network and we will be watching in the future, when all this snow ball begins to roll, how our well-known internet “trollers” (as we call the well-known internet advocates of Castro in any blog and website) begin to unwrap the enchanted chorus on “free internet access in Cuba”.

In Cuba today we are unveiling a second China, with wall and emperors dominating in power and in voice to all of us, and isolating the country forever. We have to run the voice, we have to expect more hard times for our voices of dissention.

Today, Castro is deploying all his forces against the few bloggers within Cuba, but he knows that this is a matter of time, and in the future there will be more than a few and this is the first step in a ladder of no return. What he is mounting all over Cuba is a network of fears, and his squire in charge is Ramiro Valdes. We are watching Castro, but this is just a matter of time... against you.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Where is my “Piruli”?

Mercedes, “la china” (the Chinese) as everybody knows her, was a school teacher for more than 35 years, the kind of old school teacher who loved children and enjoyed being surrounded by children. And for all those 35 years she was, in body and soul, a dedicated teacher in a primary school in downtown Havana. Day after day, she made up from her house near Neptuno to the school and life was passing through her age, seeing her own and foster children leaving Cuba with no return.Where is my Piruli

Her older son lost his life in a rafter after a disastrous attempt from Mariel, on the western side of the capital city. Mercedes was heartbroken. Her last and younger son set off for Spain two years later. At the age of 61, Mercedes found herself alone with her husband in a big empty house and without news of her only child. It was 1991, and Cuba’s economy started to feel the premonitions of its collapse. Mercedes requested her retire.

She couldn’t face anymore the school, children running and playing innocents games and some not too much innocent games. She was tired to deal with ignorance in the school system, with teachers without any aptitude and with shortage of everything from a pencil to the most essential book. One late afternoon of that year, she picked up the few items she kept at school and walked out forever. Nobody told her goodbye.

A small pension covering no more than a week, and the currency loosing solid ground made her life a misery. She had to find out a way to survive in the new jungle. One day, wandering on her way home from her daily routine she almost step over a mother with a little girl looking desperate through a store window: the little girl was demanding a candy with the despair and sorrow any child claims when is impossible. For Mercedes the child’s tears were a ray of light in the darkness. She decided to sell candies, what we call in Cuba “Piruli” which is a kind of lollipop in the shape of a cone with a little flavour of lemon or a hint of vanilla when the occasion was extraordinary.

And here you are, from school teacher to a Piruli’s seller. From Heaven to Hell but surviving as she said. The hard thing was to find sugar, but her husband who was at his beginnings a field worker and later worked in the railway sector knew where to go to fetch sugar: Guanabacoa, where many train convoys were delivering sugar from and to Havana. Every 2 or 3 days, Francisco or Pancho as people knew him, headed to Guanabacoa and returned a bit later at night, the business had to be done late at night and carefully.

Life wasn’t easy all times. There were moments were Pancho came back home empty handed: the police was patrolling the railway. But mostly was fine and Mercedes was fairly well with her little business, but always with the shivering sensation on her skin when she saw any policeman around the corner.

In 2001, Pancho died in his way home from Guanabacoa. Mercedes was desperate and complete alone this time and she was a little bit intimidated because his death revealed the other side of her: the side that life and poverty brought to a lovely school teacher with a tiny pension. To live in Cuba is to resolve, to cheat the government the other way around: it doesn’t pay your value in life, anyway.

With the help of a kind-hearted nephew, Mercedes went on with her little factory of candies to her neighbourhood. There was a school nearby, and many parents in their way home stopped in Mercedes’ door and for only 1 peso they got the priceless candy to their children. It wasn’t Heaven, but it wasn’t Hell either.

Poor Mercedes, in 2008 Raul Castro’s government decided to install cameras around Havana, one of them was installed in the very corner of Mercedes block, a few metres from her front door. According to the official language of the system, cameras were installed to fight crime, illegalities and bring more protection. But in Mercedes case, there wasn’t any other important premise around her corner rather than the church where Mercedes spent her Sunday mornings. It looked by Cuba’s standards that a catholic church is a place with high criminal activity, or illegal transaction or at least something that you have to protect from somebody, rather than a place where you find the voice of God and His protection.

Mercedes suspended her little “business” frightening with the perspective of any deal with the police in which she never stepped one day in her entire life. At the beginnings, the usual “customers” flowed requesting her “Piruli”, but Mercedes was terrified, people had been saying that the cameras were installed to catch any illegality and with the new government instalment this time won’t be any salvation possible: neither dissidents nor illegalities.

Twice Mercedes was astonished. The first time, a policeman knocked her door and asked her for a candy. She thought the man was trying to catch her in trouble, but he was trying to buy something to her daughter, after all a policeman is also a father with the same necessities. But the second time she got a fine, and for the first time in her life she dealt with the law: just she paid the fine. It was easy.

Life is a path: you travel along and grow; you learn and get use to the challenges you find in life; you fear and defy; you live. Mercedes learned that to live in Cuba is to live in an eternal illegality. It was written by her own leaders from the beginnings: no government elected, no institutionalism established, no president in charge. Just one man seated in the palace’s chair acclaimed by the hordes of followers.

So, life is to survive with audacity and she did. She is selling “Pirulis”. Now and then, the authorities give her a fine, a warning and even a few hours in a Police station expropriating her belongings: sugar, moulds to make the candies and something they find “illegal” in her fridge; mostly some beef steaks which in Cuba is a capital crime. But being a 78 year old has some advantages: the authorities let her go but retain the merchandise. Nobody knows to where it goes when Mercedes left the Police station.

Meanwhile, with a few intervals when people wonder where the beloved “Pirulis” are, Mercedes is still selling her candies after return patiently and with a smile in her lips from the Police Station.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A feathered Quill full of Freedom

Tell the truthA feathered quill full of freedom

Tell, at least, your truth 

And after,

Let whatever may, happen:

That they break your beloved page,

That they knock down your door with stone throws,

That the people pile up in front of your body

As if you were

A sage or a corpse.

Heberto Padilla

This poem from Padilla’s Out of Game is just the perfect picture of what had happened to Cuba’s Culture in the last half a Century. Since 1961, with his Words to the Intellectuals Fidel Castro delineated with pristine clarity what would be the cultural policy of the newborn Revolution: “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing.”

Since then, they have been breaking our beloved pages, knocking every artist door with stone throws, literally, and let people pile up on them. Do I have to remember a few days ago the repression against bloggers and relatives of political prisoners?

The double ambiguity of those words was worrying, especially in a newborn revolution, when there is no a clear cultural policy defined and when the different political tendencies are adapting to the new times. Those words had been interpreted many times by scribes in charge to accommodate poets, intellectuals and artists unsuitable when they were alive and reluctant to be added to the revolutionary machine.

Castro’s words were the anthology to the death of the first cultural instrument in Castro’s times: Monday of Revolution, a magazine with a pluralist approach to our intellectuality. The death of the magazine was the first symptom of the times to come. Since then, many artists had suffered isolation, alienation and repression. Heberto Padilla’s case is the paradigm in that direction, but many others had suffered the same scourge.

From their beginnings, Lezama Lima and Virgilio Piñeria were targeted by Castro’s censorship. Irreverent, uncompromised and completely independent, Lezama and Virgilio were pile up with mockery, scorn and despise. None of them could reach to see their writings in people’s hands. On top of that, the homosexuality condition of them made an easy target by the intolerant regime installed in Havana. They were chosen as the perfect symbols of the enemy within Cuban culture.

Ironically, decades later their books are sold more than any other authors whose feathered quills had been sold to Castro. Today, the same government who isolated, condemned and erased their names from Cuba is grossing funds on their behalf. Virgilio could laugh loudly: they got the last word, they won. Castro is a looser.

Almost 50 years after those words, Cuba is still frozen in time. The same censorship is floating in our cultural policy, the same frightening ambiguity is cutting wings in Cuban intellectuals. For so long our nation had suffered a continuous bleeding of artists and intellectuals, many of them had fled to other places looking for freedom and tolerance, many of them suffered prison and persecution like the poet Maria Elena Cruz Varela and Reinaldo Arenas. Some of them, like Virgilio who chose to stay in Cuba, died in poor conditions on the edge of extreme poverty. It is the cost of their freedom.

Others, whose quills were rented by Cuba’s dictator, had rotten their talent with their compromise. Lisandro Otero is the supreme example of the feathered quills full of poison and deceit. Great author of the sixties and great deceiver in the seventies and eighties, Today Lisandro’s writings exemplify the decline of what a poisonous quill could achieve when is sold to a tyrant.

Art, literature and culture never compromise their freedom. Those are the oxygen who keeps their lungs working healthy. The lack of freedom and independence are chains tighten hands and souls, cutting wings and thoughts, silencing voices and dissidences. Art is to dissent. Literature is to contrast. Culture is to question.

The message Lezama, Virgilio and many others passed on to us was and is that we can’t compromise our personal freedom to dissent, contrast and question with any social, political and cultural ideology, religion and party. What they passed on to us is their feathered quills full of freedom to write our page and pass on to our offspring’s. That is our job.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The cunning edge of the eraser.

When you review the last 50 years in Cuba’s history through its political leaders at any level, a very cunning and atonishing picture could be revealed. You see, for 50 years a long list of names had followed every level of the social and political organizations and institutions in our country and a mere few names had remained immovable. You guess, add to the brothers Castro a few and you got the final list.The cunning edge of the eraser

Big names, little names with no trace in history or guerrillas and stars in our revolutionary firmament had passed away in the blurred pages of revolutionary Cuba. From Camilo Cienfuegos whose destiny is still a mystery to Haydee Santamaria whose suicide is one of the rarest cases in nervous breakdown in our country.

In Camilo Cienfuegos’ case we could almost find some of the key components of those mysterious disappearances in recent Cuba history. How could a plane disappear without any trace and stay unsolved for decades without any clue? There are friends of the popular Commander like Hubert Matos who had said he was killed because Camilo didn’t want to act as witness in his trial, and because he had expressed publicly his distaste with the communist elements surrounding Castro. People who said they saw Camilo in Havana after being reported vanished and even witnesses who had died in suspicious circumstances.

I am not trying to tackle all the theories and events surrounding Camilo’s death. That is not the purpose of this post, could be in another moment. My question is: how many public servants have been removed from the public eye in questionable circumstances in Cuba, astonishing erased from public services and institutions without any reasonable explanation? Moreover, when a group of close officials to a president, prime minister or any political leader are involved in corruption or fraud, mismanagement or even abuse of confidentiality, is not the government involve as a whole?

For less than the General Arnaldo Ochoa was incarcerated, prosecuted and executed many others governments had been imploded and disappeared in western democracies. Besides, how could you swallow that the commander in chief of the western provinces’ army in Cuba was involved in drugs, mismanagement and corruption and anybody knew included his closest friend Raul Castro?

If you put this together with the fact that our republic is a military totalitarian regime in the hands of our brothers Castro you could find the bottom line: it was just a settling of scores. As many in our 50 years of Castro’s land, we have too many names and too many black holes in our constellation.

Typically, many small leaders had been erased without any public explanation, which is very usual in our premises. But there are three big names whose suicides are just the tropical parallel with the Stalin’s 1937: Haydee Santamaria, Osvaldo Dorticos and Nilsa Espin Guillois (Vilma Espin’ sister and Raul Castro’ sister in law). The last one was found dead in Raul Castro’s office.

About Haydee and Osvaldo, Cuba’s newspaper published a note claiming nervous breakdown. In those cases, the reasons published listed long term mental instabilities as result of old sorrows and pains. Please, after 20 years in service in important government positions nervous breakdown? In the case of Nilsa, nothing was said, nothing was published and the case is an estate secret.

But it is not rare in Cuba’s history as it is not rare how public figures vanished from day to night, many of them accused of corruption or mismanagement like Luis Orlando Dominguez, Roberto Robaina or Carlos Aldana. Big names which in their times were victimizers of too many people. Aldana was the ideological chastity priest of the Communist Party for important years. Other names fled Cuba through rafters to find refugee in Miami like Alcibiades Perez Hidalgo, and we have been watching their endless sorrows for their years inside the crushing machines as opportunistic operators, simple tools or facilitators. Give me a break!

The first victim of Castro was Manuel Urrutia Lleo, the first President of Cuba after 1959 and he was removed as result of his remarks against Castro and his approach to the communist elements, communists who were opposed to the guerrilla against Batista: what an irony!

Since then, the brothers Castro had been using their chameleonic coverage to erase names after names in Cuba’s institutions. Sometimes scrapping old names and installing newcomers, sometimes bringing old names erased in the past but brought into our present for utilitarian interests as well, like the late Ramiro Valdes, our first Ministry of Interior after 1959 and scrapped when his ultraconservative figure was shadowing too much in Cuba’s landscape.

Ups and downs are the tides in Cuba’s recent history. The laws governing those tides are in many occasions unknown and sometimes temporarily transparent, when the Castro’s duet is in the mood to send a signal. But definitively, you can teach the history of the last 50 years through names and faces, many of them trapped inside Cuba, some buried in silence and shame.

But the eternal rulers are there, holding their erasers and ready to remove the next name in line.