October 2012

There is not much that is new in the new immigration law. Nonetheless, it has raised expectations among a wide swath of the population: retirees, homemakers, students who have not gotten past the ninth grade, the unemployed and the elderly, to cite a few.

In one paragraph, the much-publicized law mentions that medical technicians are also subject to the burden of having to wait three years from the date of a passport request or the extension of an existing passport without regard for the time they have been out of the workforce. This measure not only discourages the prospects for travel, but — and to me this is the greater danger — it also discourages the desire of people to continue with their studies. Once they have completed the ninth grade, many abandon the classroom for good.

This has been going on for many years with respect to university careers. Many quit before graduating, or simply never begin their studies in the hope of being able to travel someday. The same thing is happening is less specialized fields of study. This is leading and will continue to lead to an even greater lowering of the country’s educational and technical standards, which have already been significantly eroded.

Logically speaking, it remains to be seen whether or not those fortunate enough to be granted a long-awaited passport will be approved for a visa by the countries they hope to visit. In this way the Cuban government, like Pontius Pilate, can wash its hands of the matter, placing the blame on others as usual.

Ladies and gentlemen, make no mistake. This new emigration law seems more like a new, more-sophisticated Mariel, but one that is organized and controlled by the state.

 Translated by BW and Unstated

October 25 2012

Unfortunately, almost daily, I hear gruesome accounts of personal experiences from family members who attend to and care for the crypts and tombs of their ancestors in the Colon Cemetery. Long ago this burial ground was maintained by ecclesiastical authorities and it must be pointed out that all their attention and organization was evident a thousand times over. After 1959, however, they were summarily relieved of this duty by the new government. That is when things started to deteriorate.

For many years prior to this intervention, its archives were kept in wonderful working order thanks to a gentleman of very advanced age with many years of experience on the job. He assisted all those who went there in search of information with great politeness and efficiency, regardless of how far back the records went. Some years ago I went to request a document on my father, who passed away in 1949, but this gentleman was no longer there. Someone with a very bad attitude waited on me instead and had the nerve to tell me that record books and ledgers were not kept at that time and, therefore, because it had never been registered, she could not look it up. No matter how much I insisted and explained to her that all deaths going back to colonial times had been recorded, she refused to help me.

On another occasion, five years ago on one Mother’s Day, I went to the family crypt to leave flowers and almost fainted when I realized that the large bronze crucifix that had adorned the crypt was gone. Apparently, it had been stolen by force with a hammer and chisel, as a part of it remained imbedded in the granite. I reported the robbery and submitted before-and-after photos to the administrator at the time, who became irate and told me very brusquely that, during his time in that position, there had been no robberies. I assured him that the theft had taken place at some time that same week. I have yet to receive any news from the supposed investigation.

Recently, a friend, who is a well-known writer and journalist, expressed to me her consternation at having to go to perform an exhumation of her family’s crypt only to find out that the skeletons of three of her family members were missing their heads. When she went to make a complaint, they had the audacity to tell her that perhaps they had become pulverized over time. Something similar happened to a neighbor of mine, a woman of very advanced age, who told my husband while waiting in line that, when she went to an exhumation to transfer the remains of some family members to an ossuary, she discovered that parts of parts of their skeletons had been stolen. This had caused her to lose sleep.

Another lady also told me about a family member, recently deceased, who a couple of years previously had carried out an exhumation to transfer remains to an ossuary. She had planned on keeping the crypt empty since all of her remaining family in Cuba were quite elderly. You can imagine the shock and confusion she felt when she opened the tomb to find some recently buried remains, none of whom had any relationship to her family.

All this clearly indicates the there is some kind of dark, macabre business going on, with skeletal remains as well as with the crypts. This includes tomb raids to steal clothing and jewelry from those buried during the time of the Republic, and robberies of stone sculptures and bronze ornaments like the large plaque under the relief of Adolfo Luque in the ball players’ crypt. All this has been going on for years, seemingly without the authorities having done anything effective to remedy it.

I personally believe that all these thefts, including large objects such as sculptures, could not have taken place without someone working there having witnessed them, especially since you must present proof of ownership for a tomb or crypt just to remove a simple jardinière in order to send it out for repairs.

As I know from personal experience, if you enter with photographic equipment, a custodian immediately stops you to ask if you are a tourist and if you going to be doing any photography. If so, you are then told you have to pay a fee in CUC. When this happened to me, I insisted that I was going there to take some photos of the family crypt. He finally let me pass, but with a warning that I could only take photos of my family’s property.

If they are so alert that they can spot tourists and charge them an entry fee, then I believe that, when they see someone suspicious opening tombs and carrying off marble statues — all of which must be done with specialized tools and vehicles — this has to be happening with the complicity of “someone on the inside.”

I will never forget the burial of an old friend, whose wake and funeral cortege was postponed far beyond what had been planned because someone from the cemetery directed the funeral home to delay the departure because the covering for the crypt was torn and the administrator, who was the only one who could authorize its replacement, had not yet arrived. Our group waited for more than three hours at the cemetery gate, where this sad affair was becoming extremely unpleasant and chaotic. Finally, my husband — tired of going from the entry gates to the exit, where supposedly some new coverings were located — had to take a worker aside and offer him 20 CUC* to solve the problem. All of a sudden the covering appeared and the burial of our friend went ahead.

All these accounts, which seem to have been taken from a horror or mystery novel, are real. It would be fitting if the authorities responsible for the Colon Cemetery addressed this issue in order to assure eternal rest for our ancestors and to preserve the richness of this sacred ground, which in its 126 years of existence has acquired an abundance of sacred works of art and architecture, spread over 500,000 square meters, and which is considered one of the finest of its kind in the world, and which and has been a designated national monument since 1987.

*Translator’s note: Convertible pesos, pegged to the US dollar. The amount here represents roughly one month’s salary for the average Cuban.

Spanish post
October 7 2012

About a month ago, my friend, Mariana, her husband and her mom decided to go on a trip to Trinity through a tourist bus company called Astro. They were very excited about the trip and expected it to go very well since they had paid 132.00 CUP (Cuban pesos) for each person both going and returning. They were anticipating a very comfortable ride with amenities such as air conditioning.

The first stop was at the Mulles de la Coubre. At this stop, which was not part of the schedule, five people got on the bus and paid the bus driver directly. However, all the seats in the bus were already full so the extra passengers were forced to accommodate themselves in the aisle of the bus. The luxurious image that they had envisioned had already been disrupted. They were not sitting in comfort, but were cramped in the bus unable to recline their chairs.

My friends also noted that the bus driver would stop to pick up anyone on the side of the road who offered him money, because of this the bus began to fill up little by little. In front of Mariana there was a woman who was holding a huge bag against her body and she had nowhere to move. As they were arriving at Aguada de Pasajeros, the bus driver recognized someone he knows. He starts yelling and signaling for the acquaintance to notice him almost throwing himself out of the window. All of the sudden, he hits the breaks, parks, and gets out of the car. He was there for about half an hour conversing with his friend, while the passengers waited patiently inside the bus. Then the bus driver returned and the journey continued until they stopped at a Terminal, where they were serving pork sandwiches without any attention to hygiene; there were flies and abandoned dogs peeing on the table where the merchandise was kept.  All the passengers who desired this meal got down to satisfy their appetites. Trucks pulled by horses and  trucks from the 1950s waited for possible clients.

Exhausted and tired and after traveling for five hours they finally arrived in Trinand. The three of them swore not to return through Astro and for that matter never again. After enjoying themselves for a couple of days in this colonial city, they had to negotiate their return trip to Havana through a taxi driver who had driven some people to Trinidad. They were able to bargain for a fair price under the table. Their ride back was much more enjoyable and peaceful.

Translated by: BC CASA

October 11 2012

My grandmother would often turn to a common saying to reinforce an argument. I also had a philosophy professor — a very good one, to be sure — who used to say that all wisdom had been summed up in a popular book of Spanish proverbs, and would begin his classes by “tossing into the air” one of the sayings that had a lot to do with the subject of development.

But this is not about that since, every day now, more and more people are no longer resigned to all the calamities heaped upon them because, as the saying goes, they are no one’s fools. On this occasion a friend, Mariza, came to see me and brought some evidence of what had happened to her for me to write about on my blog.

Last weekend she had managed to get her hands on a few convertible pesos. For the pleasure of having some garbanzo beans to share with her family, she went to the Caracol store on 26th Avenue in Nuevo Vedado to buy a box that contained a couple of sausages, a piece of ham and a package of garbanzos to make a nice cocido. According to the instructions on the label, all you had to do with this product was add it to the pot, heat and serve. Since the product was Cuban, from the Oro Rojo brand (a division of the Union of Meat, Oil and Edible Fats), she was wary and proceeded to choose the garbanzos that came separately, but in a clear plastic bag inside an outer package.

Imagine her surprise when she began seeing peas mixed in with the garbanzos, many of them rotten, which she discarded. Not to mention the tiny bits of sticks that were included in the contents. She brought all this evidence to me, carefully collected, in the same package that appears in the above photo.

She also handed me the box — now open and empty, of course — and the bag with all the discarded items she had separated out. On one part of the box it read, “Best consumed before (no date). Manufactured by the Tauro Meat Company. Packaged October 10, no. 852, Havana. Ten servings, 100g per serving.”

The contents barely provided six very modest servings and cost almost 8 CUC, the equivalent of some monthly salaries. The price varies depending on where you buy it — a few cents more here, a few less there.

Now tell me. . . Wouldn’t it have almost been cheaper to go to a privately-owned restaurant to have a good garbanzada without so much aggravation? I can assure you that this misery, which afflicts many people, will be loved by certain company. This is not the case with my friend, who is no one’s fool, nor with a large number of Cubans who have to put up with it, or so it sometimes seems to us.

*Translator’s note: an equivalent translation of the Spanish proverb mal de muchos consuelo de tontos, or more literally “the misfortune of others is a comfort to fools.”

October 20 2012

This summer has been marked not only by a disquieting heat, which has extended uncharacteristically into these first days of October, but also by shortages in the market in general, and grocery and other stores in particular.

At the same time instability has been gradually increasing, fed by the prolonged silence on the health of the country’s former leader and the excessive caution and slow implementation of the well-publicized reforms announced by the current president.

Ever increasing desertions of professionals are occurring in health care missions in some ALBA countries.* The same is happening among athletes who compete overseas. The endless lines — made up of people of all ages, most of whom are young — to be found at the embassy gates of Spain, Mexico and the United States, to name but a few countries, are an eloquent testimony to the current situation in the country.

All of a sudden we awoke today to the news that, after January 13, 2013, a new emigration law will take effect that will do away with the required letter of invitation and the well-known exit visa (known as the “white card”). Aside from the fact that the law will require not even three months to take effect, it is significant that this has already been announced by the newspaper Granma.

Will this end up being a smokescreen, created to serve as a distraction from all the previously mentioned issues, or is it perhaps intended relieve a little of the pressure building up in the political kettle, which seems to be near the bursting point?

Based on how it is moving forward, this crippled emigration measure will not be the same for all citizens. There will be exceptions. In fact it already presents some problems. Even so, it has raised hopes and expectations in the entire population, including those who have no dreams of being able to travel someday.

It is like a poor hen, who has been plucked in the middle of winter, being offered a few feathers by the very people who plucked her.

Translator’s note: ALBA is the Spanish acronym for Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, an international organization made up of socialist and social democratic countries of Latin America including Antigua and BarbudaBoliviaCubaDominicaEcuadorNicaraguaSaint Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname and Venezuela

October 16 2012

There is a new wave of public health workers whose job is to visit homes looking for infestations of the aedes aegypti mosquito. Almost all of them are older and retired. In many cases they have backgrounds in the communist party or armed forces, and seem to have taken their task very seriously. These people can show up at any time from morning to evening, and get especially upset if someone cannot or will not let them in for any particular reason. They then ring the doorbell obsessively, pound on the door frenetically, and even make threats in a loud voice so that everyone else hears them and takes note.

I have a friend who lives alone and is recuperating from an accident. Her apartment is on an upper floor of a beautiful building from the 1950s in Vedado. For two weeks one of these infestation inspectors, as they call themselves, have been visiting her, insisting that she open the door and let her in to inspect the apartment. My friend has told her through the door that she cannot open it because she is alone and has problems with mobility. This woman nonetheless becomes enraged and has threatened her with fines. She even had the nerve to come back on more than one occasion, either alone or with a member from the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), to try to get her to open it. Since she has not been successful in these attempts, she has filed complaints with the CDR branch of the building in question. My friend has remained firm in her decision and, on the advice of people who respect her, has  gone to file a complaint with the medical authorities at the neighborhood clinic to which she belongs, asking them to respond to these inspectors.
While I was at home today — I don’t open the door for anyone I don’t know when I am alone either — someone was aggressively ringing the doorbell. Thinking it must be a very close friend, I came out of the bathroom covered only with a towel and looked across the balcony without being seen. It turned out it was one of those inspectors, now so common in the area, who was insistently pressing the doorbell with, let’s just say, a certain fury. He could not see me, but I could see him, so I went back to finish my interrupted bath while the man in question kept pressing the doorbell as if he were attached to it.

These scenes are repeatedly continually in any given neighborhood. Besides being useless exercises, they amount to an unacceptable form of persecution. The authorities do not realize that illnesses such as dengue, which used not to exist in our country but which have now been uncontrollable for three decades, are a result of an unhealthy environment, urban decay, the accumulation of trash and debris everywhere, and inadequate or almost non-existent garbage collection, especially in neighborhoods where there are no trash cans and people hang their bags of waste from the trees or simply toss them into corners. Furthermore, since the situation is impacted by the lack of products to combat epidemics, the inadequate and almost non-existent control of stray animals, the clogging of sewers and drains, the lack of cleanliness on city buses and in parks, cafes, farmers markets, and which steadily worsens all the time.

The state should set an example before being allowed to make demands on the population. Before persecuting and threatening people with fines, it should create conditions which promote good hygiene and insure the health of all the citizenry. Rather than sanctioning and harassing, it should educate by example and provide the necessary products and means at reasonable prices commensurate with people’s salaries. Only in this way will we be freed from this relentless persecution.

October 15 2012

As I was reading “an extensive special report” by a journalist for Juventude Rebelde, Nyliam Vázquez García – published on September 23 of this year and dedicated to Adriana, the wife of Gerardo, one of the Cuban spies sentenced to prison in the United States – I could not avoid thinking of those purple prose novellas that were often printed in magazines in the 1940s and 1950s. They were melodramatic in the extreme and were intended to elicit easy tears from the eyes of their young readers.

It is well-known and has been proven that these “five heroes,” as they are referred to on my planet, entered United States territory with false identities and joined the “Wasp network,” which was carrying out espionage activities for the Cuban government.

If Adriana, the wife of Gerardo, is back here, it is because she was expelled from the United States after it was shown she was part of this network, something that would surely prevent her from going back there. This would be a reason that country would not grant her an entry visa, though she remains silent on this subject. And the journalist, who surely knows this, avoids asking questions about it.

Adriana complains about the lack of communication with her spouse, and immediately recounts how she and Gerardo have only 300 minutes of phone time per month, which they are required to parcel out in 10 minute increments each day.

It seems she is ignoring the majority of Cuban wives and mothers with sons imprisoned for political reasons who cannot speak with them by phone for even ten minutes per month. Nor do they have access to the computers or the internet to play chess with their children here as Gerardo and other members of his network have done on more than one occasion.

In regards to the distance separating them, I would remind this woman that Cuban mothers are also separated by great distances from their imprisoned children, even when they are in this same country. The majority of us have also seen ourselves separated from our children for decades for reasons that are well-known to everyone. And we do not have the pleasure of periodically speaking to them by phone due to the very high cost of such calls in our country.

I think it is great that the wife of this man has found ways, which she relates to this journalist, to keep “the call of love and hope” alive. She is always buying presents for Gerardo on her numerous trips overseas, including a shirt he expressly asked for, as well as those used by President Correa of Ecaudor. In all sincerity, however, I would advice her to carefully store them between layers of blue silk and moth balls so that they are in good condition when her nephews and grandsons inherit them.

October 1 2012