November 2015


Rebeca Monzo, 26 November 2015 — Some days from now it will be the first anniversary of the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, but the great expectations awoken by the desired event seem to have fallen into uncertainty and stagnation.

The vast majority of Cubans believed they saw on this event the potential for great improvements in every sense, but disappointment soon invaded all of us on seeing that the island’s government had not taken a single measure to indicate good faith and the desire to realize the changes so greatly longed for.

The fact that they authorized travel for all Cubans and have streamlined the paperwork is nothing new, nor is the authorization to buy and sell homes and cars. These are not government handouts, but simply a restoring of citizens’ rights usurped 56 years ago by the regime itself.

Government immobility has led to a new stampede of Cubans abroad, using every kind of means to escape from a regime in which nobody believes or has any confidence.

Moreover, while thousands of compatriots abandon the country that is totally bankrupt, selling all their property and belongings in order to finance the path to a new dream, the influx of tourists to the island grows as never before, surprising given that the country does not have adequate infrastructure to receive them.

Shortages in the markets and hard currency stores, the sporadic disappearance of basic goods like mineral water, soft drinks and beer, the bad state of the streets and highways, the unhealthy atmosphere in a city where garbage collection is inadequate, the outbreaks of dengue fever and cholera in the capital and other provinces, make me question what motivates this great arrival of foreigners, among whom we find stars of the screen, the stage and music.

Could it be they want to visit this great Caribbean Jurassic Park before the oldest and sickest of its dinosaurs, still breathing, cease to exist? Only time will have the last word.

Rebeca Monzo, 13 November 2015 — As I see it, it would be incorrect to claim there is a Cuban style. During the last fifty years Cuban men and women on the island have been dressing any way they can with whatever was sent to them by overseas relatives, by repurposing old clothes or, in recent years, with contributions by those who had the opportunity to travel and brought back clothing of low-quality for resale. Until now, the only major points of reference on which Cubans could rely for their so-called fashion sense have been popular video clips and TV soap operas, most of them Brazilian.

It is very difficult to be a fashion leader if you do not have a strong economy and great designers, or a textile industry and light manufacturing to provide everything necessary for its creation. That is why fashion has always been dictated from the great capitals of the world, Paris being the prime example. It is the public itself that ultimately determines what fashion is by adapting it, using it and broadening its appeal. Everything else is determined by fashion trends, adaptations to climate, social status and the infrastructure of individual countries. It should be noted that there are iconic pieces, such as the Cuban guayabera, the Panama hat and the Mexican shawl, to name a few, but by themselves they do not constitute fashion.

A very interesting and commendable recent development in this country has been the first Artisan Fashion Week, which serves a prelude and kick-off to the famous annual FIART fair. It has become essential to set a benchmark on what constitutes proper dress. With the disappearance of fashion magazines as well as related institutions decades ago, there has been a lack of information, and the mass media has not provided good examples to follow.

The only hint that there might be such as thing as Cuban fashion came when La Maison created some fabulous and very tasteful pieces inspired by the guayabera and Creole buttons. Another key moment was the appearance of those famous Telarte fabrics, created by some of our country’s best designers. Their life was, however, as fleeting as that of a butterfly. At the time there were some hard currency stores that carried these creations but the population of Cuba was denied access to them, along with the use of that particular type of currency.

Historically speaking, we should note that the most important changes in women’s fashion internationally coincided with big, earth-shattering events. During World War I, women found themselves taking on jobs formerly held by men, who were at the front. One of the big changes in women’s lives was a new wardrobe more appropriate to their new social role. This meant abandoning uncomfortable undergarments such as corsets, which limited their movements, and adopting shorter skirts and looser hip-length blouses. Later came boyish haircuts and the use of cigarettes holders for smoking, which women felt they had gained the right to do in public. With these changes came economic independence and self-determination.

As a result, certain iconic items altered the landscape of fashion: extended waists, long strings of pearls, reed-like cigarette holders and short shirts that exposed legs covered by sheer flesh-colored silk stockings. These were the hallmarks of an elegant woman of the 1920s.

Two styles of dress conquered the fashion world, took root and remain popular today: the tailored suit and casual wear. The first — made from a myriad of materials, including thin, soft wools for daytime and beautiful lamé fabrics for night — was one of the major contributions by Coco Chanel. Casual wear resulted mainly from the great boom in sports and thrilling sporting events, which women attended both as spectators and to show off.

The difficult years of World War II saw widespread rationing. Fabric, an essential commodity, was one of the hardest hit. Skirts ended just below the knees to save on fabric.

The widespread use of the uniform for women in critical jobs, both in the army and in factories, affected the way they dress. Nevertheless, the great couturiers never stopped responding to new requirements by offering new solutions. In 1947 there was a radical and dramatic change in appearance of a woman’s waistline. It became more refined as skirts became a little longer, giving them a beautiful fullness, which had been missing for many years. One of the most prominent designers of this period was undoubtedly Christian Dior, until then virtually ignored.

Until the 1950s, Cuba served as a model of female beauty and elegance. So renowned were Cuban women for these qualities that, when they travelled overseas or moved to foreign countries, women such as the Countess of Merlin dazzled the royal courts of Europe with their refinement. This was due in large measure to the number of designers and fashion houses in the Cuban capital. One of the most internationally renowned and recognized of these designers was Cuba’s Ismael Bernabeau, to whom this article pays homage.

Rebeca Monzo, 20 November 2015  — One year after initiating conversations to reestablish relations with the U.S., the Cuban Government continues its immobile posture, without taking a step forward.

The raised expectations, with which the immense majority of the Cuban population gave itself illusions, have stagnated, and the stampede of Cubans, most of them young, continues making news in all the foreign newspapers.

A new Mariel Boatlift, but this time by land, is happening. So far this year, the alarming number of national emigrants by different routes and countries, with Miami the final destination, has risen to 43,169, surpassing the massive emigration of 1994.

The loss of faith in the Cuban Government and the lack of those so-awaited changes have caused a large part of the Cuban people to opt for escape, in search of a better future for them and their families, in other latitudes. Even people who have the privilege of working in successful private establishments, like some private restaurants, realized that the options of expanding and becoming independent, and offering a better education to their children, were each time more unreachable.

Others, still clinging to what they call “change,” for lack of knowledge — for example, being able to travel, buy a car or an apartment, or sell their house —  ignore that these so-called changes are nothing more than the return of some rights usurped by their own government, for which they don’t need to be so grateful.

While a real opening isn’t happening and the Government continues clinging and demanding nothing intelligent, and continues paying wages of poverty to professionals and preventing them from having their own business, everything will continue the same.

This makes me think that really they don’t want change that would make their ancient governmental structure totter, or the irremediable loss of power, which would cause the failure of their politics to be discovered.

As long as the higher-ups don’t have the courage to renounce and admit their own errors, and continue to entrench themselves behind demands and absurd accusations directed at our neighbor to the north, the migratory stampede will be unstoppable.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Rebeca Monzo, 9 November 2015 — While preparing for my departure from Miami, a friend suggested I ship part of my luggage by sea to lighten my load and the custom duties. To do this, we turned to an agency advertised on local TV.

The staff at the company, Tu Envío a Cuba (Your Shipment to Cuba) was very attentive and professional, which made us feel this was a reliable alternative. They assured us the packages would arrive in Cuba within twenty-three days or less, which further encouraged me to choose this option. What was never mentioned was how the process would play out once the shipment arrived in the country.

Sometime after the estimated time of arrival, I decided to call the offices here in Havana. After countless attempts over several days, I managed to get in touch with the information department, which provided me with the long-awaited answer. I was told my package had in fact arrived on October 18 at 2:30 pm (on the scheduled date no less), and I was even provided with a confirmation number. But when I insisted on details about the delivery date, they responded categorically that the shipping container in which my package arrived was at the port of Mariel and that I would have to wait three months due to shortages of trucks and manpower.

I decided to look into the matter further and discovered that one company, Almacenes Universal (Universal Warehouses), controls transportation and distribution of all merchandise, both state and private sector, throughout the island. Though the company has a fleet of vehicles at its disposal, they have never been fully operational. Many of its trucks are broken or in repair shops, hence all the delays now being experienced in delivering what are in many cases essential supplies to commercial and manufacturing enterprises.

Therefore, as one might expect, those of us who decide to ship some of our luggage by sea have to sit and wait patiently since we are not among the government’s priorities.

What is even worse is that the company to which we as travelers entrust our personal possessions does not warn us of these problems before taking our orders and collecting our money, as logic would dictate.

In my particular case, I can afford to wait, though this is neither the best nor the desired outcome. Unfortunately, however, this situation also impacts supplies of pharmaceuticals, soft drinks, mineral water and many other essential products, leading to regular shortages at pharmacies that affect the entire population.