September 2012


Once again they are celebrating another boring anniversary of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) on my planet. As time goes on, fewer and fewer people lend their efforts to this farce.

As I was visiting a friend yesterday afternoon in Vedado, I was able to observe in the formal garden of her building – which still retains the architectural beauty it had in days past – four neighbors gathered around a filthy and dented cauldron, poking the logs of a fire that the wind was determined to put out. They were speaking in loud voices, telling jokes in bad taste, clad only in shorts and exposing their bare torsos. It was an image that might well have been found in an engraving from an old history book about primitive civilizations.

These men were accompanied by three cute little dogs, one of whom had a woman’s name. I made a comment about this to a lady in the elevator with me. Incensed, she told me it was not just a dog’s name, but a bad joke that showed a lack of disrespect for a neighbor in the building, who had the same name. To me this was yet another indication of the class of people to be found making the traditional caldosa* for this event. During my entire trip home to Nuevo Vedado it was the only preparation of this sort I was able to observe. It must have been because it was still early.

Something else I noticed was that the smells coming from the cauldron were neither pleasant nor unpleasant in spite of the fact that something was obviously boiling in it. I then realized that almost no one from the CDR – at least not on my block – went door-to-door requesting food donations for the celebration’s communal pot any more as they often did some years ago. Certainly, food is not only scarce but the prices are excessively high and almost no one is in a position to give it away. Besides, there are ever fewer people attending these events since in their own homes many have to confront on a daily basis what could be described as – to paraphrase the title from an old film – the silence of the cauldrons.

Translator’s note: Caldosa is traditionally a thick broth or stew. After the Cuban revolution cooking it became a communal event in which neighbors brought whatever ingredients they had at hand. Some say this came about because of food scarcity; others believe that the change had more to do with the collective emphasis of socialism. (Source: cubaentuscon.blogspot.com)

September 28 2012

Photo taken in the neighborhood of Vedado

 

I’m not referring to the beautiful song by David Kern, that is now an American classic, but to the terrible smoke of the fumigation that irritate the eyes and penetrate the nasal cavities, making it difficult to breathe; becoming in turn, the cause of so many diseases of the breathing passages that afflict many our citizens nowadays.

Every Tuesday they fumigate in my neighborhood. This makes the majority of the neighbors uncomfortable, but almost nobody refuses to let them pass by, still knowing full well that this doesn’t take care of the mosquito problem. I think that this attitude of the majority of people is induced by fear or laziness, because it doesn’t make sense to do this, and complain later, between those same neighbors, and not in front of the responsible authorities.

If this practice solved the epidemic disease, after so much time, it would have already been resolved. But it isn’t like that, every year we confront the same problem, except that it keeps increasing. This fumigation is already becoming the story of The Good Pipe*: endless!  It is about filling your house with an unbearable smoke, a product of burning petroleum. It only serves to kill a few cockroaches and to leave the floors saturated with a slippery substance that becomes the cause of not just a few falls and broken bones by older people.

As long they don’t collect the garbage every day, clean the containers on the same schedule, periodically cut the grass in the yards and vacant lots, sweep and wash the streets, fix the potholes where the sewage water accumulates from the innumerable public and private leaks, and above all, eliminate the major causes: state farms located in major streets and avenues which causes these to always be covered with red soil, urban and suburban agriculture, which in itself attracts flies, mosquitoes and rodents, as well as the waste open to the weather, which these inadequate facilities generate. Until this is not eliminated, no progress can be achieved in combating dengue. The number of years they have been spraying without any positive result is overwhelming evidence of this.

Yet, the private fields are clean and so is the merchandise they offer, too. This possibly is due to the fact that it is the private sector where they demand and apply all the norms, penalties and fines. Why not to the State sector, who should be setting the example?

In terms of household fumigation, the process is too negative and annoying, to the point of threatening those who cannot let the bad mannered fumigators — who interrupt whenever they want and make rude demands — into their homes for medical reasons.

*Translator’s note: “The Good Pipe” is what in English is often known as a “shaggy dog story” — a joke that goes on and on and on and on…

Translated in part by: Derek Gonzalez, Jose Mas, and Oscar Sanz

September 26 2012

The other afternoon at home, talking with a friend, she was telling me, dying with laughter, that when she went to Central Park, a well-dressed man holding a little boy by the hand came almost alongside her. With us, she told me, a policeman was walking along, and when the little boy saw him, he said, “Policeman, are you my friend?

The father reacted angrily and loudly told the little boy, “I’ve already told you a thousand times that the police are not your friends.”

My friend said she heard him clearly, so the policeman must have as well, but he continued walking without taking any notice. Then the young father approached her and said, “Excuse me ma’am, but it’s at the nursery school and on the TV that they teach these things, and I’m tired of explaining it to him. Imagine, I manage a bakery, and every now and then I end up scapegoat for the nonsense of my employees, because a baker doesn’t earn 200 Cuban pesos* a month.

“I tell them, they have to accomplish the work, produce the amount of bread required by the plan, and that’s what concerns us. The other day, one of my employees left with a bag with about five pounds of flour, to resolve [that is, to sell on the black market], and a police officer saw him and took him to the station, despite my going out to defend him.

“So I went there to try to get him out. They ignored me but after insisting for a little while, the desk agent took me aside and whispered in my ear. ’If you give me five cuquitos* (CUCs), you can take him now.’ So that’s how I got him out.

My friend told him, “Don’t worry, I know what it’s like, my friend has a car from the ’50s and took out a license as a taxi. I wish you could see how the police stop him for anything, and they always hit him up for some money or a snack. Now my husband knows and always goes out prepared. He said the other day he saw how one of them take a swig of rum that another taxi driver offered him, and this is the police on duty on a motorcycle!”

*Translator’s note: 200 Cuban pesos is about $8.00 U.S. Five CUCs — Cuban convertible pesos — is a little more than $5.00.

September 22 2012

Again the topic of health in the former medical power occupies me.  Of course, you only know of these incidents through close friendships or relatives who have gone through these critical moments.

About twenty days ago, my cousin urgently had to go to the hospital closest to her house.  She accidentally fell in her patio at home and fractured her hip. When she arrived at the National Hospital, by fortunate coincidence she ran into a doctor who is a very close friend, almost like family.  While she waited on the stretcher talking with her physician friend for entertainment, a family member, who came with her in the ambulance, went home to pick up bedding, a bucket, an electric blanket, jars of water, a pillow and fan, among other things, that one is required bring in order to be admitted, and if you want minimal sanitary conditions.

He told her that for several days he had barely left the hospital because his sister had recently had surgery and was in a delicate state of health. He confessed that the first operation to which she submitted, about 20 days earlier, was to remove a malignant tumor. Two or three days after that intervention, she still had a lot of serious pain, so they took her to the operating room again for another surgery because they had left gauze inside her, causing an infection and unending pain. Again, two days later she returned with the same pain and fever.  A third intervention was necessary and this time he accompanied the surgeon, a friend of his through others, and saw when he himself extracted some forceps that had been left inside.  As a colleague and friend, he did not want to complicate matters and he swept it under the rug in order not to create problems.

Regrettably, there are many cases of medical negligence like this one that happen, but we only find out when someone close to us is involved in some way. It is not surprising, either, that doctors make mistakes. When it comes to compromising the life or health of a human being, these are unforgivable. Seemingly the great majority of Cubans are victims of the syndrome of forgetfulness due to the accumulation of personal problems that overwhelm us. It is not in our power to solve all these problems, which forcefully assault us daily, making us commit all kinds of mistakes in any activity. In terms of the medical sector, the majority of such mistakes are irreversible. But if they kill you, they don’t have pay you.

September 17 2012

Yesterday afternoon, quite by accident, I bumped into one of the activists with the CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution) on my block. I have known her for many years, since 1971, when I moved to this apartment where I currently live. Although we have never been friends, since we have nothing in common, at one point, when her children were little and she was facing a major crisis, I helped her in any way I could. That was our first and most significant interaction.

I mention this to make it clear that we have never been friendly or intimate enough for her to agree to be the bearer of a stern message from a mutual friend, whom I love and respect because of her kind heart and in spite her extremely uninhibited and even crude language and our diametrically opposed political views. The two of us manage to overlook this, but what I cannot accept is for her to send me threatening messages insisting I attend a meeting being held later today to choose candidates for the well-known People’s Power elections, which we all know are of no consequence.

After she gave me the message, I told the messenger to tell her that she already talked to me yesterday, and I am very sorry, but I will not attend, and she knows quite well that I have not done so for many years.That I only went to the initial meetings, thinking something would get done, but as that was not the case, I decided not to waste my time.

That I do not believe in my country’s elections and, since attendance is voluntary and voting is a right and not a duty, I am abiding by my choice and my right.

That when a delegate is elected with enough power and resources to see to it that trash gets picked up daily, that mass transit improves, that streets are swept and cleaned, the potholes and leaks are fixed, street lighting is adequate, and who represents us and defends our rights, then I will not only attend, I will be the first in line. But as long as we still have this Power that has no power, she can count me out.

September 14 2012

Since the arrests which grew out of a tragic event — the premature deaths of Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero — it has increased. Especially the stalking near the house of Antonio Rodiles, headquarters of State of SATS.* This time they were not content to hinder access to the residence. They also arrested people who, affirming their rights as citizens, insisted on being allowed to go there. After being prohibited by authorities from continuing on, two of the more impetuous young men decided to go along the coast. Rodiles’ house sits by the sea and only a big chain link fence, rusted by time, separates it from the ocean.

Some people were already inside, either because they arrived before the operation had begun, or because they passed unnoticed through the police cordon. They were suddenly startled by the sight of these two men — completely dressed but soaked — who climbed over the fence, trying to enter the premises. At first everyone thought the operation was being carried out by sea, but they immediately recognized the two young men and let them in. The host loaned them some of his clothes so they could dry off, change and join the meeting.

With this and recent events very much on everyone’s mind, we were afraid we would be confronting a similar situation on Friday, September 7. We were to meet at the house of Yoani Sánchez for the release of the sixteenth issue of the digital magazine Voces, which is dedicated exclusively to the memory of Payá, who, along with Cepero, lost his life in a very controversial automobile accident.**

Many of us were mentally prepared for a “political stalking.” But when we arrived, everything nearby seemed normal. Even those “shady types,” the sight of whom has become routine for us, did not seem to be around. I am sure they were there, but were keeping a low profile.

When my husband and I arrived, there was already a group of people in the apartment. The living/dining room had been converted into a makeshift cinema. They were about to show a short film of the eulogy and internment of Payá, as well as images of masses said in his memory at the church in his neighborhood, where he was much loved and admired. Before the film began, Reynaldo Escobar read a brief but emotional message from the wife of the deceased, apologizing for not being able to attend. Later, the journalist and blogger Orlando Luís Pardo, as is customary, presented the latest issue of Voces. Finally, some sample copies, courtesy of a collaboration among friends, were handed out to those in attendance. The children who were present provided a happy note that helped dispel the sense of nostalgia that was the prevailing mood of this gathering. Everything was very pleasant, but in an instant this cozy atmosphere was interrupted by an unexpected and unpleasant visit.

* Translator’s note: According to its website, State of SATS “hopes to create a plural space for participation and debate, where open and frank debate is exchanged. The project sponsors panel discussions, forums and other events that are filmed and broadcasted on the Internet.”

**On July 22, prominent Cuban pro-democracy leader Oswaldo Paya and activist Harold Cepero were killed in a car accident while on a trip to the east of Cuba. Many Cuban dissidents suspect foul play may have been involved. Paya’s daughter has declared in an audio clip that a second car provoked the crash.

Spanish post
September 8 2012

Lately I have been making travel arrangements, representing the son of a friend who lives abroad, for whom she’s given me legal power of attorney because he is still a minor of 17, though he has been serving his military service since he was 16. Doing this, I’ve been able to learn two very important things which are not general knowledge, and so perhaps it is my duty to divulge them:

While standing in line for the paperwork and inquiries with the relevant authorities, I’ve realized that men of military age don’t need to finish their service to be able to travel to the United States, due to the existence of an immigration agreement in which that country awards 20,000 visas a year to Cuba and Cuba, in reciprocity, exempts from military service those young people who want to travel to that country. This is not relevant to the case I’m working on, as it involves a question of traveling to Europe for family reunification.

I’ve also been able to learn from several people involved, that it’s not necessary to get international law firms to attest to degrees or certificates of study to present them in the U.S. Getting this paperwork, when you can even do it, is very expensive and must be paid for in hard currency. In this case you don’t have to do it because the agreement exists and the United States accepts the stamps and signatures from the universities and study centers that issued them.

As this information could be of great interest to many people, I’ve decided to publish it on my blog. However, it’s a good idea for everyone in the process of traveling to the United States to confirm it by directly asking the appropriate authorities. To my knowledge, this hasn’t been adequately disclosed and there are many people who, as well as sweating under the extreme heat, and standing for long hours in the lines, have left in tears, faced with the frustration and loss of time, for not having clarified these issues. I hope this information will be helpful to some people and they can avoid unnecessarily wasting their time and wearing themselves out.

September 4 2012

The Society of Cuban Musical Artists (ACDAM) is failing to fulfill its primary reason for being, which is to pay artists who belong to the organization in a timely and appropriate manner.

Over the course of a year, as I have been told by one of those affected, they have only been paid for the first trimester. Payment is made in the so-called “national currency”— those pesos that make up salaries and pensions and that cover only very few expenses. The other currency is commonly known as the chavito or CUC (and formally, the Cuban Convertible Peso). While both are national currencies, the latter is more difficult to acquire and the only one that can be used to buy essential goods in state-run hard currency stores — the only places to find certain everyday consumer items, which are sold at highly inflated prices.

As justification for this failure the ACDAM alleges that ARTEX (Artistic and Literary Promotions Management) has not yet settled accounts with them. In other words, the old “run-around.” This money, however, has now been in state coffers for a while and not in the pockets of the people who are supposed to be paid for their work. A swift solution to this problem is imperative since in many cases the payments are the only means of support for these Cuban artists’ families. It is not acceptable to keep “playing with funny money.” This situation, and others like it, suggest the country is dealing with a serious lack of liquidity.

September 1 2012

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