June 2010

Yesterday, a doctor friend of mine told me that in the hospital where she works they were called together on Saturday for an emergency meeting, where they informed the doctors that from now on, they had to sharpen their senses and use their hands and eyes to diagnose. “We do not have the material means to be sending out for all these tests and analyses right and left, as we have been doing up to now.”

This would be fine, if during the last, say, forty-odd years, we had trained our doctors in this very ancient and current practice, which, without explaining why, we rejected. Currently, the doctors on my planet barely look at you nor do they spend a lot of the time on the consultation, as the questionnaires and forms they have to fill our are so endless, that if they aspired to touch you, it’s already too much.

Of course it is right that doctors are trained that through touching they might discover some anomalies, along with looking at the color of the nails, tongue, eyes, etc. This practice has almost disappeared, partly because of the great pressure from all the cases each doctor must consult with, due to the absence of those who are on medical missions abroad, while those who have stayed on land must replace them.

Now the responsibility of health personnel, and propensity for mistakes, increases in exact proportion to the helplessness of the patient, who again becomes a sort of guinea pig.

I recall with nostalgia our once beautiful, neat and well-stocked pharmacies and as well as the finely crafted and magnificent pharmaceuticals, a worthy support for any physician, able to guide us responsibly toward any medication or treatment. I’m talking about the popular drug stores and pharmacists who were the pride of our country for over fifty years.

Today, on my planet, the so-called pharmacies and pharmacists bear no resemblance to those of the past. The devolutionary process has taken them almost to the Middle Ages. I am convinced that any witch doctor of any tribe of old was more attentive and had their concoctions better organized. As an example of what I am saying here, take the pharmacy located at 26th Avenue and 39th Street in Nuevo Vedado. Just looking, it is already clear the state of deterioration and abandonment of its planting areas, and its main access doors, without windows or with the windows broken. We are received with a beautiful mural decorated with old newspaper clippings and some slogans, also old, and a badly written sign which reads: the line starts here. It is good to note that there is always a line, despite the five employees, since only one is regularly serving the public. The others are engaged as follows: one to review papers at an old desk, another to order the few medicines on the half-empty and dilapidated shelves, another on the phone and taking payments (if they’re not too busy talking with a friend or family, which is very important), the rest remaining in the back room or warehouse.

After getting bored waiting, when my turn finally comes, it is simply to hear that the medication is not available, or the prescription is expired, or it is missing a stamp from the clinic, and so on. This is not the heritage of this pharmacy, but that is repeated in most of them. The exceptions are the few in hard currency (CUC).

Having looked at the case and done some fact-finding, I come to the conclusion that this situation has nothing to do with the much-vaunted embargo, but rather with the apathy that has become the chronic condition of the country. Once again, the slogan Health for Everyone is a farce.

Gentlemen, excuse me, but right now I have just been advised that my friend Juan Juan, who has been on a hunger strike for more than a week, has gone to Plaza with a sign asking to leave the country. Please join him in his just request. Thank you.

How sad is the country where its children must reject food as a form of protest.

Even sadder when in that country the struggle for food has become the main emblem of the citizens thanks to the prolonged absence of the majority of products.

In these very moments Fariñas has been on hunger strike for more than one hundred days and all he is asking for is freedom for his compatriots who have been unjustly jailed for many years now only for disagreeing with the regime and having the courage to express it publicly.

Yamil has spent numerous months asking for a response to his demand for a just trial for he has been in prison for more than two years and still does not know the reason for his captivity.

Now, Juan Juan Almeida, the son of one of the most charismatic commanders of the revolution who recently died, started a hunger strike a few days ago.

The only thing Juan Juan is demanding is permission to leave his country to be able to receive medical help in Belgium for his rare disease.  He has been asking the Red Cross (which has no office here), and is trying to reunite with his family which he has been separated from for two years.

Those of you who are governing, until when are you going to sustain these absurd and inhumane situations which, as shown by these three cases, simply ask for freedom of thought and action which are supported by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Cuba is a signatory.

I hope that everyone who reads this post will echo this situation and advocate for an end to it.

Translated by Raul G.

Following in the footsteps of my grandpa, I had no other option but to visit the National Archives.

Photo of the rear entrance where the public enters.

Upon arriving there at 5:00 in the morning and while it was still dark, I was able to make out some shapes that slept in the sidewalks of San Isidro right in front of the National Archives.

Two hours later, the line had grown but I was one of the first ones (or so I thought).

The hour of truth arrived.  There were more people here than in Noah’s Ark, but I still was confident that I would be able to get in.  There were supposed to be 25 appointments and I was supposed to be more or less the tenth one.  Imagine, if I hadn’t paid that driver 5 CUCs to drop me off, I would have never been able to get in.  Once all of us fortunate ones got inside they closed the door with a huge lock.

Already ensconced in those gorgeous gardens under the full sun, as if I were in a movie from Alain Delon, I waited until 12:00 noon  to finally be attended to.  And I was the 14th, with the number I purchased and all!

The rates for the prices were:

Search for a family member (maximum three years):  15 Cuban pesos.

If the search has a positive outcome: 100 pesos plus a seal, upon picking up the certificate, which costs 5 pesos.

If the search is negative: 60 pesos plus a 5 peso seal.

Length of the process:  60 working days.

Does this inspire you to search for your grandpa?  If you decide to go make sure you arm yourself with lots of patience to be able to survive the long wait and the bad attitude of the employees who, according to the kid who is in charge of locking and unlocking the door, have been eating flour for three days straight.

Translated by Raul G.

When political, economic and social systems stop generating new ideas, it causes stagnation and, trying to survive, they grab onto obsolete formulas, and those who defend them are also obsolete, resulting in dejá vu. This currently happens on my planet. If we call on all our patience and read the daily newspaper Granma, which every day appears more and more like a showcase for ancient history, we find far-fetched writings and articles from twenty, thirty, forty and even fifty years ago, which apply verbatim, to the periods and commas, to today’s situation.

The same thing happens with certain personages pulled out of the realms of memory, and newly installed in important positions, more for their unconditional support than for their demonstrated capacities. The sad thing abotu this revolving-door is that before, when they were young, they didn’t solve the problems, what makes them think that with the passage of time they’re going to be able to solve them now?

In my planet, carelessness has, both constantly and gently, done away with entertainment, whether it be due to lack of maintenance, production, or importation.  Leadership has once again taken up the old past time of making pieces of the island.  Just like the Gray Cat:  change everything so everything stays the same.

Here, I offer all of you, an anonymous analysis which was sent to me.

It’s about the new political-administrative divisions.

The City of Havana will now just be called Havana, just like it has always been called.  It is speculated that there will be municipalities within Havana that will be joined with others.  I suppose that el Cerro will join with Vedado, so that no one will continue saying that el Cerro holds the key* because the key is, and always has been, in the Plaza of the Revolution, and you can’t even mess around with that.  San Miguel will join Cotorro, which in sum is the same crap- it looks like the countryside and it’s a mission to get there.  La Lisa will join Marianao, since they live the same social fiasco throughout some of their neighborhoods and in the end no one knows where it starts and where it ends.  It’s probable, though, that they will remove La Tropical and Buena Vista and relocate it to the municipality of PlayaCentral Havana and Old Havana will intertwine because both are similarly falling apart- the threat of collapse makes them sister cities.  Also, Regla will join Guanabacoa, because both are where you go to engage in acts of witchcraft.

The new province of Mayabeque will consist of all the current municipalities of Northern Santa Cruz, Jaruco, Madruga, San Nicolas, Nueva Paz, Batabano, Guines, Southern Melena, Quivican, and Bejucal.  The new capital will be San Jose de las Lajas, ignoring the fact that the largest town is Guines.  Those from San Jose have presented their candidacy for the spot while those from Guines have not even finished building three parks and 7 banks, along with their signs of “We are Happy Here” which they display in order to promote the urban tourism of the area.

Artemisa, the new province, will embrace the territories of San Antonio de los Banos, Mariel, Caimito, Bauta, Guanajay, Alquizar, Quivican, along with the municipalities of Pinar del Rio- Candelaria, San Cristobal, and Bahia Honda.  The inhabitants of these places will no longer be able to be referred to as “Pinar natives”, which is a title that carries much social prestige.  Artemisa will be their new capital, even though it’s falling apart, at least they still have the Martyr Museum of Artemisa and the ruins of the Angerona coffee plantation- sites that no one remembers, but that are still there.

Food is already guaranteed with these new divisions.  Mainly because now people will take 5 years longer to find the location of the corresponding Oficoda — the central rationing office.  This will drastically minimize the number of claims.  Besides, school maps will need to be substituted with new maps purchased from Venezuela (the former RDA no longer sells maps) and if you are mistaken and forget to draw the border between Artemisa and Pinar del Rio you will still pass Geography class because it will also take 5 years to get used to these changes.  But be sure that the proliferation of rented machines, which once enriched a privileged class, will be eliminated.  Now, they will have to waste much more gas and will not be able to charge for a ride to Bahia Honda as if they were going to Pinar del Rio, because it’s clear now:  It’s no longer Pinar del Rio!

Is everything clear?

Translator’s Note:  “The Cerro Holds the Key” (El Cerro Tiene la Llave) is a popular phrase which refers to that neighborhood’s location- an aqueduct brought water through this area.  The phrase has also been popularized throughout Cuban music, starting with Arsenio Rodriguez and his song which has that same name.

Translated by Raul G.

For more than 40 years, thanks to the work of someone who wanted to save, at the expense of the user (euphemism which is substituted for the concept of a client), paper and plastic bags have disappeared from my planet.  All in all, they did not offer any other alternative option. Starting from that moment, the problem of trying to transport foods and other products was now solely the responsibility of the citizen. Popular ingenuity led to the creation of huge bags made of pants, pieces of shirts, and the remainders of dress jewelry. Lots of things, or very little things, could fit in such bags. Since then, men and women have taken them with them as if it was part of their body.

With the liberation of the dollar and the rise of the so called “shoppings”, plastic bags emerged once more like the Phoenix. This time they went by the name of “Cubalse Print,” for it was this company that was the first to open stores in which money was able to be converted. Now, people referred to the bag as a “cubalse” throughout the island.

These bags have, time and time again, served for every need and have indirectly solved the decanting of products after they have been used for anything that is purchased.  Upon arriving to its final destination at our homes, the bags are cleaned and put out to catch some air in order to dry.  Later, we store them somewhere so we could use them again, time and time again, until they break.  It is common to pass by any house or apartment and see the bags waving back and forth on a clothes-line as if they were white flags asking for peace.

However, no one in my planet has fixatives, for months now these products have been conspicuous by their absence in the majority of the hard currency stores.  The user must transport their products at their own risk.  When I ask the employees why we don’t have any of these products in the stores they do not have any response to offer.  They simply place blank stares upon their eyes and shrug their shoulders.  Since recycling has become such a trend, it’s possible that some smart person may be using this method in order to conserve.

At the rate at which we are going it’s quite possible that when a journalist asks a professor many parts the human body is divided into, we might get this as a serious response: head, body, extremities, and bag.

Translated by Raul G.

In my planet we spend our lives pointing out the faults of others, especially if they are our Northern Neighbors.  On TV they talk a lot about the violence in Los Angeles, New York, etc.  Never do they mention anything nasty that occurs in our territory, they only praise the achievements which, I have said repeatedly, are only appreciated by the press and the television.

I have a very young friend whom I love like a daughter.  She left her house about three nights ago in search of cigarettes.  On her way back home she was sending a message through her cell phone (she has no fixed phone) while she noticed a group of young kids, apparently 14 or 15 years of age, on the sidewalk across from her.  She didn’t pay much attention to them.  Suddenly, they were behind her.  She was thrown onto the pavement, her mouth was covered to prevent her from screaming, they checked her, hit her, kicked her, and she overheard one of them say “stick her!”  She was wounded by punches and stabbed, and the bandits left running with her glasses, her cell phone, and her empty wallet, which was all that she was carrying.

All of this occurred out of nowhere, not giving her a chance to react.  This happened almost right in front of her door.  Supposedly, no one heard anything, no one came out to help her.  Luckily, she relies on friends which she contacted and which immediately got the scene to help her.

My friend has a young son who was on his way back from Vedado to his house when he was robbed by three big guys.  They took everything he had on except for his underwear.  He continued walking and found a police car and told them what had happened to him.  He asked them to take him to Nuevo Vedado for his condition was obvious.  The cops responded by telling him that they were sorry but they were not taxi drivers.  He kept walking until he reached his destination with worn out feet.  It was then when his small home seemed like paradise.

My neighbor has two adolescent daughters.  They had just gotten out of the Acapulco theater when one of them pulled out her cell phone to tell their mom that they were going over to a friend’s house.  A group of young men that were following them stopped them in their tracks on 39th street, which, like the majority of streets in my planet, is very dark.  They pointed a gun at their chests and forced them to give them their rings, chains, and cell phones, along with any other of their belongings that had any value.  Luckily, the robbers were novices and upon carrying out the loot they left running and disappeared.

People, remember that this is paradise.

Translated by Raul G.

Once again, as my ear is stuck to the short wave radio, I am horrified upon hearing that, on my planet, there are over 70 million tons of foods that are decomposing in different containers belonging to government entities.

How is it possible that Mr. President of that country (you all know which one) is going after the owners of the Polar company, which as far as I know is the main provider of foods in Venezuela and the second most powerful and competent industry in the country, while not being informed of what was occurring at the same time in his own backyard.  Besides, according to the media, the employees of that long-established company are defending it to the end, for they benefit from innumerable labor and social advantages for being workers from that huge industrial complex.

People, please show some sense, for we are already smelling some of the stench in Miraflores, possibly becoming, as this post’s title reads, the last stink.

Translated by Raul G.

This photo speaks for itself.

Porch of the former engineering school.  Today it is a Social Spanish Club restaurant;  also one of the entrances of La Manzana de Gomez in Old Havana.

Former mansion in Vedado, 17th Street and 6th.  Today it is a restaurant that belongs to the French Alliance of Cuba.

Porches in Infanta street in Vedado.

Soon I will share more.

Translated by Raul G.

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