Rebeca Monzo


Celia Cruz

Celia Cruz

Rebeca Monzo, 27 March 2015 — For the last few years I have been tuning-in to a program broadcast on Sundays, from 6 to 9am, on the Cuban Radio station Radio Rebelde, ironically titled, “Memories.”

Because I love good Cuban music of all eras, I am a faithful listener of this program, and I also take the opportunity to dance a little, as a means of morning exercise. I must, I confess, bite the bullet to ignore the tedious sermons (“….had to travel thousands of kilometers to buy the molds….when the island was blockaded….”) and which year after year they play on the air lest, as they say, we forget.

What this program keeps quiet about is that it has been the Revolutionary government itself which has subjected its people to a criminal cultural blockade, depriving more than three generations of our best musicians and singers, for the sole fact of their having emigrated after 1959 — or who being on tour outside the country, never returned, as in the case of our great musician and composer Ernesto Lecuona, whose name was forbidden from being mentioned on the radio until 1989 or 1990.

Also silenced (and still so today) were a good number of musicians and singers, such as Celia Cruz — and Olga Guillot, who, for the first time, the program hosts dared to mention last month and to play one of her renditions.

They also seem to forget that The Beatles not only were prohibited, but that their records were hunted down, and those of us who owned any had to carry them inside other sleeves to keep them from being confiscated — and that now not only is there a sculpture of John Lennon in a centrally-located Havana park, but the old Atelier nightclub has been re-christened El Submarino Amarillo [“The Yellow Submarine”]. My generation cannot forget that if we wanted to listen to their music, we had to do so at low volume and under lock and key inside the house.

I believe that the moment has come, if we are to be current with these times (and with the timid attempts by the government to reestablish negotiations with the country that has always depicted us as Public Enemy Number One) to change that old aggressive and pejorative language, and address those great Cuban artists who opted for full individual liberty and left the country in search of broad cultural horizons.

I suggest to the program director, the whole team, and especially to the scriptwriter, that they break once and for all with those atavisms and finally broadcast those voices, silenced throughout so many years, as well as provide information about their interpreters, so as to stop damaging our musical culture.

Note: This article was published in the digital daily 14ymedio.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

Patchwork by Rebeca

Rebeca Monzo, 8 March 2015 — The year 1931 was the first time that the International Day of the Woman was celebrated.

By 1942, all women teachers in our country were certified, not counting the growing number of women professionals, increasing every year, occupying positions in universities and diverse organizations. By then, also, many women were prominent in the arts, sciences and letters.

But it is not until 1959 that we see Cuban women maximizing their creativity. Forthwith, some of the great achievements of the Cuban woman in these past five decades:

Manage to convert that old dress into a cute blouse; cover her grey hair with the powder from old radio batteries; cover her one pair of shoes multiple times to match her outfits; obtain, after three days of waiting in line and sleeping on a porch, a Soviet-made record player; wearing down her index finger dialing the phone to obtain a reservation at a restaurant; suffer along with her child on Three Kings Day at the toy store where she is assigned, and try to console him, because the toy he wanted was already sold out; figure out how to look “put together,” using shoe polish for mascara; manage, after an hour of waiting at the bus stop, to climb on and get down from the bus in one piece; find a way for her child to grow and flourish without ever having tasted fruit, compote or cereal; create some kind of meal every day for the family table; manage to have survived through all the difficulties, and still give to others with a smile.

I take this opportunity to congratulate those women who emigrated, risking all and dodging innumerable difficulties, and who attained success in a foreign land, where they did not even speak the language.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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After seeing “The English Patient,” a magnificent film directed by Anthony Minghella and played brilliantly by actor Ralph Fiennes in the principal role, I felt as though I had been to its locations on those days when I have had to visit and remain for hours around América Arias hospital — so-called in honor of she who was once First Lady and a great patroness of the arts, the wife of President José Miguel Gómez of the Republican era.

Anyone with a relative or friend who is a patient at this hospital, better known as “Maternidad de Línea” (“Línea Street Maternity”), if he has seen the same film, will do as I did: mentally recreating the movie’s locations as he moves among the trash and underpinnings of the facility.

This maternity hospital, built in 1930, is another great example of the Art Deco style, as was the once-magnificent, now-extinct (as a result of governmental apathy and neglect) Pedro Borrás hospital — today gone to ruin by “the work and dis-grace*” of the Revolution. Both of these structures had been designed by the famed Cuban architectural firm of Govantes and Cabarrocas.

The interior and exterior appearance (of the América Arias facility) gives the impression of an abandoned hospital — and really, it is — except for an operating chamber and two emergency waiting rooms that are kept up. In the midst of this great deterioration, a valiant medical team does the impossible, with practically no resources, to save lives. Anxious relatives pace from one end to the other while they await news from the operating room, with no place to sit.

A friend remarked to me that, upon spotting at one of the patios only two construction workers shoveling a bit of cement mix, she drew closer and asked them why, in such a big hospital needing repairs, there were so few workers. They both responded that this was because of a lack of allocated construction materials.

How is it possible that in our country there are hotels constantly being planned, remodeled and built, while the population can hardly count on halfway-decent and clean hospitals to go for treatment? The common citizen — the one who suffers from these shortages and the absence of hygienic conditions — takes as a bad joke and a sign of disrespect the healthcare propaganda that is so replicated throughout the Cuban media.
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*Translator’s note: A pun on the phrase, “By the work and grace of the Holy Spirit”

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

2 March 2015

In recent years there have been a number of small properties which have been converted into TRD (hard currency) shops, as well as into small Caracol, Panamericana and CIMEX “container” stores and kiosks, all under the same ownership: the State. Given that there are buildings that remain underutilized, one might ask, What’s behind all this? In those old 1950s supermarkets — now badly deteriorated due to lack of maintenance and repair — there are only four or five products currently available through the antiquated and sadly all-too-famous ration book.

Each of these stores has on its payroll a minimum staff of directors, economists, managers, cashiers and janitors even though the selection of merchandise, which is almost identical all these stores, is very limited. When supplies such as toilet paper, cooking oil or detergent — to name just a few — run out in one of them, there is an equally short supply in the others mainly because imported items such as these are sold in the container stores. Only the supplies of electrical appliances for sale at these stores are relatively stable due to their high prices.

Many citizens complain and wonder aloud why the old supermarkets are not being modernized to consolidate all the timbiriches (small container stores) that have been proliferating in their neighborhoods, especially given their lack of basic requirements. This leaves only one small establishment in any given neighborhood to carry the few products still available through the ration book.

Converting architecturally magnificent houses into tiny shops is also an unfortunate practice. The dramatic reuse and inadequate care to which these buildings are subjected leads to deterioration and subsequent damage. One such example is a building located on 47th Street between Conill and Santa Ana in Nuevo Vedado. Designed by the architect Carlos Ferrer Nadal and built in 1956, it is one of the jewels of modern Cuban architecture.

In my very personal opinion, this is a way of disguising unemployment in a country that produces almost nothing. By underemploying the staff of these small stores, where three employees would essentially be enough to provide a decent level of service, the size of the workforce can be increased.

6 March 2015

Rebeca Monzo,11 February 2015 — After nearly three months of going to a clinic to set a date for a surgical intervention (outpatient and minimal), good news! Finally I got a date for a month later. I felt happy, because in all the hospitals here it’s normal to have little availability of operating rooms, for many reasons, such as contamination, leaks, damage to ceilings, walls, etc.

And now with everything planned and in order for the moment, yesterday I went to an appointment with the anesthesiologist which was scheduled for 8:00 in the morning. I went to the information desk to find out where the appointment would be. They sent me to the fourth floor, Room G.

Once there, I realized that the room was empty. I checked out the entire fourth floor, from one end to the other, asking every person in a white coat who crossed my path; no one knew where to send me.

Some suggested I go down to the third floor and ask. It was all useless, I went up and down the stairs a couple of times, because there was a line at the only elevator of six that was working.

Back on the fourth floor, I decided to wait for the surgeon who would operate in the morning, to explain what happened. When I saw him coming, I stepped forward to intercept him, as there were several patients waiting for him. It was then that he explained to me, not to keep looking for the  anesthesiologist, because he wouldn’t be operating due to an accident in the operating room, and to return to the clinic in 15 days to see what could be done.

I left the hospital surprised and disappointed, because I had already been preparing physically and mentally for the moment. I even had to postpone an exposition abroad and delay the longed-for visit of my granddaughter to Cuba, two things very important to me. In addition, why when I filled out the form for the operation did they ask me for a telephone number where they could find me?

On arriving at the hospital parking lot, where fortunately a car was waiting for me I learned from the parking attendant himself, who had worked there for a few years, that the operating room in question had caught fire a few days before and that’s why it was closed, and also there was only one anesthesiologist for the whole hospital because, normally, the person who come for pre-operative consultations sometimes don’t get done until 3:00 in the afternoon because he is the only one for the room and the consultations.

I left the hospital thinking that, sadly, I myself had experienced a joke that I often used on my friends: if you get sick here, then get a ticket and go to Haiti or Venezuela because there you’ll find a good Cuban specialist to see you with all the necessary equipment, because public health in Cuba is “A candle in the street, darkness in the house.”*

*Translator’s note: A common saying that means you “show off your good works” away from home, bt don’t help your own family. Rebeca is referring to Cuba’s healthcare “missions” abroad; the export of doctors is a major source of hard currency for the country.

Rebeca Monzo, 8 February 2015 — After reading an article from the January 31, 2015 issue of the newspaper Granma  about Cuba and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) entitled “Cooperation Leads the Way,” a ton of questions came to mind about the subject at hand.

It has been forty years since a UNDP office was established in our country with the objective to collaborate with the island’s government on the promotion of social development and public well-being.

From my meager understanding, the only party to have benefited from this has been the government itself, especially in terms of the favorable publicity it has received. They make up a negligible part of the population but the Cubans who work for this and other UN organizations are paid in CUC (Cuban convertible peso), which surpass by leaps and bounds the highest salaries of the most qualified professionals in our society, who are paid in CUP (Cuban pesos).

According to the aforementioned article, Granma “chatted” with Mrs. Jessica Faieta, Director of the UNDP Regional Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean as well as the Assistant Secretary-General of the UN, who discussed the improvement of the quality of life of our citizens. She recognized the efforts of the Cuban government in regards to food security and the strengthening of the agricultural and non-agricultural cooperatives, pointing out, in addition, that the Cuban healthcare system has been strengthened.

With all due respect, it strikes me that this official had only a limited view of the situation, as is the case with everyone who visits us. Guests are taken only to those organizations that have been prepared in advance by the government and which serve as “display windows” for foreigners.

Perhaps if she had to depend on the ration book for a while or to seek medical help at one of our clinics — those  used by the average citizen — it is quite possible she might think differently. I do not understand how UNDP, based in our country for four decades, has not been given the task of investigating on their own — in closer contact with the population — to verify the “wonderful statistics” provided by the government, which does not at all reflect our reality.

One need only take a stroll through Central Havana, Old Havana (provided one ventures beyond the historic center), Cerro, Tenth of October Arroyo Naranjo, San Miguel del Padron and even Vedadao and other neighborhhoods to see the poor sanitation conditions and overcrowding in which the Cuban people must live. and the lack of specialists in our health centers, for being these missions abroad, being replaced mostly by students, many of them foreigners. There is also the issue of a shortage of specialists in our health system due to the large number of them serving abroad in medical missions. They are being replaced mainly by medical students, many of them foreigners.

In terms of our society’s standard of living, it should be pointed out that the disappearance of the middle class — the very mark of a country’s wealth — has led to the emergence of an impoverished class (with equality for all) with salaries that do not cover even the most basic necessities. The contrast is made even more striking by the emergence of a leadership class with an affluent lifestyle which only accentuates the differences.

However, Mrs. Faieta and I are in full agreement when it comes to the positive steps taken towards normalization of diplomatic relations between the governments of the United States of America and Cuba. Once there is a successful outcome — one hopes sooner rather than later — it will be to the benefit of all Cubans. I believe that it is time to end once and for all the blindness that until now has led the way.


Rebeca Monzo, 23 February 2015 — In the Plaza de San Francisco in the historic center of Old Havana there is a traveling art installation, United Buddy Bear, made up of huge bears that surround the square. Each of them represents a country in the western hemisphere and they are decorated by an artist from each nation. Representing Cuba is the work of painter Nancy Torres.

The exhibition is like a cry, like a hymn to tolerance, which has captured the attention of both the Cuban public and tourists alike. Sometimes people even line up to be photographed in front of their favorite bears, especially those of Cuba and the United States, perhaps due to the historic moment in which we now find ourselves.

Besides these beautiful multi-colored artworks, a lovely bronze sculpture recently appeared in the square at the entrance to the Lonja del Comercio building. The sculptor, Vittorio Perotta, has given it a very evocative title: The Conversation.

Something that also caught my attention is the restoration work being done in this area and along the waterfront. It is being carried out by the Office of the City Historian and includes large potted plants, outdoor lighting and date palms, all of which give the place a touch of freshness and elegance. Upon seeing this, there was one thought I could not get out of my head: “When this whole of fifty-six-year nightmare of destruction is over, the only government official whose name will not be on the blacklist will be Eusebio Leal (Havana City Historian).”

23 January 2015

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