Translator: mlk

The little box or the hospital?

A friend, whose name I withhold in order not to harm him, tells me of a neighbor “partner” of his who works in the Ministry of the Interior and who became, what we call here a “super salary,” who confessed to having raised the following complaint at his work center:

“I earn 690 CUP (Cuban pesos), which here is considered a good salary. Recently they passed by my office taking note of colleagues who were interested in buying the decoding boxes for digital television; this equipment, according to what they explained to us, has the purpose of converting the digital signal into analog for those people who, like me (the majority), cannot immediately replace the less modern televisions that we own.

To my understanding, they are of two prices: they cost 30 and 38 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos), depending on their functions. I, of course, would opt for the more economical which, multiplying its price by 25 CUP, as they do in the stores, becomes 750 CUP and I earn 690 monthly, therefore I would have to take 250 CUP from my salary for three months until matching the price of said box, and make do however I can during those 90 days, which means that during this period of time I will not be able to buy milk, pork meat or vegetables and will even have to neglect my grooming a little, besides which with the remaining 440 CUP I will have to pay each month for gas, electricity, water, phone and some other essential grooming article like soap, which would be impossible because that would far surpass my meager budget.

“What to do then?  Get used to not watching television when I arrive home, tired after a long work day, because of not acquiring the little box, or failing that, go after acquiring it, directly to a hospital?”

Translated by mlk.

30 September 2014


My aunt is one of the many thousands of Cubans who never tires of thanking that nation that welcomed her and permitted her to safeguard the security of her adolescent son, giving her the opportunity to work and forge a better and more secure future.

Even so, since her prolonged exile, which began in 1961, she does not let a single day go by without thinking of that marvelous land where she was born, studied and had a beautiful family and which she never intended to abandon until she found herself forced to do it.

Within days she will turn 99 years old and still she keeps dreaming of returning to a free Cuba, although she is now aware that those who will enjoy that forthcoming moment are going to be her grandchildren.

Happy July 4th to the nation and people of the United States of America.

Translated by mlk.

4 July 2014

She is a beautiful woman, petite, friendly, very intelligent, with a great sense of humor and even a certain naivete that makes her appear still younger than she is.  Also, bachelors and masters in science, with many accumulated scientific achievements in her long career.

She lives in the heart of El Vedado, in a building from which in another epoch was observed a beautiful view of what was once one of the most architecturally important and lovely sports parks of our city, with a blue, almost always calm sea as a backdrop.

This park, like all the city, including, it is clear, the building where she resides, has been deteriorating with the passage of time and government apathy, to the point of becoming ghosts from a shining era now passed.  In any case, the same was remodeled and completed in 1960 to form five zones:  park, stadium, gymnasium, pool, children’s playground and volleyball and basketball court, with stands for 1,020 spectators, where the architect Octavio Buigas was showcased with the solution of the spectacular tiers that seated 3,150 people, covered by a light structure of concrete “domed shells” 125 meters long “kindred” to the famous Zarzuela Hippodrome in Madrid.

Her balcony is just across from this pitiful panorama today.  She lives alone and works in a hospital, so that for more than eight hours a day she is required to abandon her home, fearing the delinquents who take refuge in said tiers.  She, when she is home, usually peeks out to the balcony costumed on different occasions, sometimes as a firefighter, others with cap and sport suit and with hat and glasses, thinking in this way to mislead that element she so fears, with the objective that they believe that several people live in her apartment and so that it will not occur to them to plan anything twisted against her.

As she explains to me, there, under the tiers that are falling to pieces, live “homeless,” drug addicts, and all kinds of “characters” who even carry out clandestine dog fights, without the police trying to impede these criminal activities, given that, from what she and the neighbors have been able to observe, they are not only complicit, but also participants.  While in our country the Media “extols” discipline, order and socialist integrity, this only shows the other side of the coin.

Translated by mlk.

4 June 2014

University students of the ’30’s.

Much is said and published through the media in our country about the “achievements” obtained for the Cuban woman after the Revolution. But never is a word said about the social, political, and economic advantages achieved by our feminine population before the year 1959 in the last century.

For that we are going to refer to some very revealing information from the “1953 Population and Electoral Census,” the last one carried out during the Republic, published and edited by P. Fernández y Cía.  These censuses were carried out approximately every ten years.

Total population of the country: 5,829,029 (2,985,156 males and 2,843,874 females).

School attendance between ages 5 and 24:  (428,334 males and 411,861 females).

Last grade passed: Baccalaureate (High School) 88,562 (54,121 males and 34,441 females). University 53,464 (35,967 males and 17,497 females). There was an average of 3.8 universities per 1,000 residents.  Cuba occupied first place in Latin America along with Argentina, Mexico and Uruguay.

As interesting information we can say that in the year 1940 everyone who involved in the teaching profession was certified, a unique condition among all the countries of Latin America.

Our country then had one of the lowest levels of illiteracy in our continent:  23.6% (41.7% rural and 11.8% urban).

In addition, we can point out that Cuba in 1918 became the first country in Latin America to recognize the right of couples in conflict to divorce.  We must also add that in the Constitution of 1940 is recognized, for the first time in Latin America, a woman’s right to vote, equality of the sexes, the right of a woman to work, the right to open a bank account, and to get a passport, besides granting her authority over her children.

Of the economically active population in 1953, 22% were female, in addition to a work force in professional fields where 16% were women and 3% men.

As can clearly be seen in these statistics, women’s participation was increasingly present.

For this it is good to note that in the same way that the participation of the “weaker sex” was becoming more active in the life of the country, they were implementing home courier services such as the delivery of milk, bread, mineral water, food, pharmaceutical products, dry cleaning, laundry, etc., which relieved the woman extraordinarily in her domestic work, enabling her to dedicate more time to the attention of the home and the education of her children.

I believe, without fear of equivocation, that we can assure that already the Cuban woman had become liberated in the Republican era, and her equality of civil, social, political and employment rights was on the rise.

Translated by mlk.

27 May 2014

In 2005, the then president and prime minister of our planet appeared before TV cameras in order to explain to the population the benefits of the hitherto despised home appliances, which from that moment would be distributed in all the country by household through the infamous Ration Booklet.

Refrigerators, air conditioners, “Queen” pots, rice cookers, personal water heaters, energy saving light bulbs, electric burners, in sum, a series of home appliances manufactured and imported from the People’s Republic of China.

I remember that, when in the 1970’s I moved to Nuevo Vedado, I had an electric stove with three burners and an oven, acquired in Paris in my diplomatic years, and each time I went to buy products with the Ration Booklet in the market that I was assigned to, they talked to me about consuming too much electricity.

Three decades later, the same people who reprimanded me came to offer to exchange my old but magnificent 1949 Admiral refrigerator for a Chinese one, which according to them would consume less. Of course I refused, because you had to give up the perfectly functional one you possessed, without getting a cent of its value, as if it were scrap, and pay an exaggerated price for the new one.

Fortunately, I maintained said negative response on repeated occasions, until they got tired and insisted no more. All those people who fell in the trap of the new appliances are regretful, because they broke after a while and there are no parts with which to fix them, but they still have to continue paying for them.

The same thing has happened with all the low quality Chinese equipment: mountains of aluminum and twisted cables fill the shelves and warehouses of the famous consolidated workshops without them being able to be repaired for lack of replacement parts.

It is shameful that some commission from the National Assembly has to spend so much time and saliva talking about “Queen” pots and broken appliances, in  a country where there are so many urgent problems, like the bad state of schools and hospitals, the almost non-existent sugar production, the lack of basic necessities in the stores, problems with milk production, potatoes, in sum, with everything that is vital for the population.  Gentlemen, certainly it shames the National Assembly that you have to air issues as ridiculous as the broken electric pots, already obsolete.

I believe that the decision I made three decades ago, not to be dazzled by the “electric re-involution” and not to go into debt buying those Chinese products, was most wise.  My old Admiral refrigerator, decorated by me, continues cooling like a charm, and I do not owe a cent to the State.

Translated by mlk.

20 December 2013

When February began, the mass media (radio, television, print) began to promote the parties of King Momo.  The whole city was infected by the expectations of such a grand celebration.  Old and young used to enjoy these festivities so much that they were always celebrated in this month, for four weekends, leading up to Lent.

Days before the chosen start date, already utility poles on the city streets exhibited, by way of ornamentation, contest-winning posters, as well as photos of the Queen and her Ladies in the windows of the major stores, which had been chosen by a prestigious jury.

I remember when I was a girl, my family used to rent a box at the carnival in order to enjoy more comfort while we watched the endless legion of beautifully festooned floats pass by, with young girls on board, sometimes very dressed up and other times scantily clad (confronting the cold February temperatures), according to the theme the sponsors wished the rolling stages to represent.  Then came the convertibles cars and trucks, beautifully decorated.  Of all this, what without a doubt raised expectations most was the float of the Queen and her Ladies-in-Waiting.

The climax was the passing of the troupes with their colorful costumes, some of them carrying enormous lanterns, following the rhythm of their original and well-studied choreographies.  Among the most acclaimed always were the Guaracheros de Regla and the Alacran, this one the oldest of all.  Another spectacle that captured most attention was the risky acrobatics of the Acrobatic Police Motor Squad, with their red jackets and their snug black pants, highlighted by tall boots and varnished leggings, driving their impressive Harley-Davidson motorcycles.  The ride always opened with a profusion of fireworks.

Once the parade ended, we children, defying family prohibitions, threw ourselves into the street to gather the streamers strewn along the way and made big spheres with them to roll down the street.  The one who made the biggest felt, without anyone saying so, like a kind of champion.

The parade had a long route, coming out from the premises of the old Sports Palace, following the whole Malecon until taking the Paseo del Prado, turning at the Fuente de la India and traveling back again to the Prado, resuming the Malecon until the point of departure, where the floats were parked.  Many people during the parade used to cross from one sidewalk to the opposite one to again see the floats on their return trip.

1959 arrived, and these happy celebrations were losing their splendor.  Slowly at first and later sharply, when all businesses were nationalized and their sponsorship was lost in the absence of advertising.  It is noteworthy that the Havana carnivals before this year were considered among the world’s most famous.

I managed to reach a little of the brightness that they still had when I was elected Morning Star in 1963.  By then, the terminology had already changed from Queen to Star and from Lady to Morning Star because the former were considered expression of the petty bourgeoisie.  It was no longer enough to be pretty and cultured and have good manners; now an important element as well was being an “integrated” person (working or studying or participating in political events).  Also the gifts offered to the winners stopped being relevant.  They still kept the tradition of displaying big photos of them in the store windows.

I remember by then I worked in the Foreign Trade Ministry in one of its enterprises. One afternoon, the syndicate secretary passed in a great hurry, touring all the offices, to announce to us, all the girls who worked there, that at the end of the workday we would not leave because an assembly would be held to elect the permanent cane cutters for the sugar harvest, and also the star who would represent the enterprise in those festivities.

To my surprise, I was the favored one.  The next selection would be among the more than 12 enterprises that composed the ministry, and this would determine who would be its representative.  I was elected again. Later competition was held among all the agencies that belonged to the Public Administration sector, to choose the Star herself, who would then compete on a national level.

So it was that one night I found myself in the Sports Center, competing with all the stars from all the syndicates.  Then I was elected first Morning Star of the Havana Carnival of 1963.  I never again went to those celebrations in spite of the fact that during the next nine s received invitations to the Presidential Box.  Now the carnivals that I enjoyed so much in my childhood had disappeared, and all that was left of them was a sad caricature.  In spite of the celebration of all these festivities, including this one, they were transferred “by decree” to the month of July, just when the heat is unbearable.

This weekend there will be a sad caricature of the carnivals on a reduced route along the Malecon where alcoholic beverages and repeated gastronomic offerings will abound.  Vulgarity and marginality, as is now customary, will reign at these celebrations.

Translated by mlk

27 July 2013

“We have painfully perceived, for more than 20 years of the Special Period, the increasing deterioration of moral and civic values like honesty, decency, shame, decorum, honor and sensitivity to the problems of others.”

So reads one of the paragraphs of Raul Castro’s discourse before the Cuban parliament, published today, Tuesday, July 9 in the daily Rebel Youth.

I ask myself, why did he have to wait more than 20 years to put the brakes on a situation that was already noticeable and perceived to be worsening?

At this point the social indiscipline and human deterioration is almost uncontrollable. There are many factors that have influenced it and they were known by all. The fragmentation of the Cuban family, product of the political confrontations and political estrangement among their members, many times imposed by the regime itself, is perhaps the crux of all the subsequent social misfortune. The family was always considered and in fact is the fundamental social nucleus of a nation.

The misconduct of the marginalized, like screaming loudly in the middle of the street, the use of obscene words and the vulgarity of speech, have been present in our daily lives. Television, one of the most influential of the mass media, also has contributed to exposing all kinds of vulgarities and mediocrities, in terms of image and vocabulary.

Throwing trash in public roadways, as well as indulging physiological needs in streets and parks, is something now of daily routine and are acts that are carried out before the indolence and apathy of observers, maybe for fear of being verbally or physically assaulted by the actor himself if attention is called.  Walk in the morning through the old Asturian Center, now a museum, and you will be horrified to have to move away from the doorways by the strong odor of urine that these emanate.

With respect to the increased consumption of alcoholic beverages by the populace, their indiscriminate sale in almost all the state establishments from early hours is noteworthy, being that the only one responsible is the State itself.  It is a shame to see in any state business, very neglected and rundown, a little table dragged to the middle of the sidewalk for the sale of rum, so that the pedestrian does not have to bother entering the place in question to drink.

As far as the abuse of the school uniform, generally the teachers themselves have given the bad example, dressing inadequately to stand in front of a student body and make themselves respected teaching a class.  All of this of course has been a product of the bad training of many teachers, the prolonged shortage of clothes for sale, the low salaries and the transportation difficulties, which has brought about having to use a kind of clothing that does not impede climbing into a truck or hanging from the platform of a bus.

Nevertheless, barely hours after publishing the discourse in question, a friend of ours was an eyewitness to an event in the farmer’s market at 17th and K streets, in Vedado, when a young man came running and tripped and almost fell on an elderly woman, who sells plastic bags at the exit of said establishment.

She, feeling battered, uttered one of the most gross curses, “now so in fashion,” which begins with “P.”  Then out of nowhere came another man, also young, dressed in plainclothes, who immediately asked for the woman’s identity card, in order to impose a fine of 200 pesos, not for selling bags (which is considered a crime), but for the “curse.”

The woman began to cry living tears, explaining that she was retired and hypertensive, that she had no money, etc.  When the young man in plainclothes saw that those present began to encircle them, he told the vendor that “this time he was going to pardon the fine,” but instead he was going to “draw up” a warning.  This made the woman burst into tears again, before the astonished gaze of all those present, who daily often utter these curse words and others even stronger, before the indifference of everyone.

Translated by mlk

9 July 2013

Workshop of Rebeca

From girlhood, the happiest time of year for me was Christmas.  Maybe because the general atmosphere that surrounded that date was happiness and relaxation.  All the adults became friendlier, maybe because they received their “bonuses,” which generally equaled another month’s salary, making them more tolerant of the smallest and youngest of the family and of the neighborhood, who back then were like an extension of this.

I always observed with curiosity, but also with the naiveté of a girl, that my aunts and my mother, days before the key dates — Christmas and the day of the Three Kings — would restore old toys and dolls, cleaning them and making them new clothes, so that everything was shiny.  I remember that one of my aunts made tin soldiers, which my grandfather later took charge of painting suitably.  All this process of pouring the melted tin in the molds fascinated me, and I watched with delight.  I never associated this busy workshop with anything but another chore, in a home where everyone was very hard-working.  It was not until my cousin Ignacito, the most mischievous of us, approached me in secret and told me:  “Cousin, the parents are the Kings.  If you want to prove it, the night before stay awake like me to see my father dressed as a King, placing the toys around the Christmas tree.”

After he made this confession to me, I realized that these restored dolls and toys had become the property of other children in the neighborhood from families with fewer resources than ours.

I adored my cousin, he was my hero, and tried to follow him in all his antics.  I joined him the night before the anticipated day.  Trying to fight sleep, finally Morpheus overcame me before I could see my fantasy shattered.  But now things would not be the same, and in later years, I did not feel like leaving water and straw for the camels.  Nevertheless, I do not know for what hidden reason, I continued believing and feeding that illusion for several more years.

I grew, and with my adolescence came the year fifty-nine. The first thing that I saw vanish was that pretty family that I had always so much enjoyed: my aunts and uncles and with them my cousins.  That was a strange pain that I had never before felt, as if something was broken inside of me.  Later my friends left.  No more walks to window shop, no more scent of fresh pine in the doorways of the stores, no more garlands or toys.  All that disappeared.  I never again heard those Christmas carols and songs, not in the streets or on the radio, much less on television: they were replaced by marches or anthems.

For more than fifty years I longed to again hear a Christmas carol or song.  This never happened.  Nevertheless, this year, with the new boom in the small businesses and the ingenuity of the self-employed, we have spent the whole summer, until today, listening to the improvised ice cream carts, announcing themselves with music of carols, which evidently (because everyone has the same) have been incorporated, possibly with the music that comes with the garlands, which are sold at the currency raising shops — as we call the hard currency stores.

This has become something like that “you did not want soup, but you drink three bowls.”  Nothing, that for more than half a century was a shortage, now has become an overdose.  The only signs that it’s Christmas are those little carts and the paladares, the private restaurants.

Translated by mlk

December 8 2012

Old view of the city from El Morro.

We have spent more than fifty years hearing talk of “the enemy.”  All the blame for our deficiencies is charged to this, just like all the evils and misfortunes, product of carelessness, inattention and neglect, also go to his credit.

With that idea they have tried to hypnotize and “idiotize” the population of “our beloved planet,” and regrettably, in many cases they have achieved it.  But in spite of all that, when someone thinks about emigrating, it is always to the country of the “enemy” (USA).  Also on occasion to others, which they use as a bridge, in order to achieve the same end.

Many of us have resisted letting ourselves be influenced by such fallacy, but even so, due to all the notoriety that precedes the matter and to the prejudices sown around it, we take care not to fall in the ideological trap, and to pander to the representatives of power.

Just a few days ago I received an e-mail from a very dear American friend, where she announced to me the visit of a friend of hers of the same nationality who wished to get to know me, and in turn he was the bearer of a gift that she was sending me.  I was very satisfied to meet him and to report that the friend of my best friend, was a charming “enemy.”  Empathy soon arose between us and it remains for us to meet next time.

Last Friday afternoon, this one invited us to go to see the traditional ceremony of “the cannon shot,” a custom that exists since the epoch of the brief English occupation, when at exactly nine at night, they closed the doors of the walls that protected the city, and that they now recreate with a pretty representation in the Cabana Morro Tourist Complex.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well restored and preserved is this emblematic place, thanks to the work of the Office of City History, the only state entity, that without fear of being mistaken, we can say has been busy rescuing and conserving some of our traditions.

We had a great time in the company of him and his parents.  It was what could be called a beautiful night of “walking with the enemy.”

Translated by mlk

November 25 2012

Patchwork by R. Monzo

Much is publicized, even by the United Nations, about Cuba being one of the countries where less violence exists.  It is true that we do not have wars or drug trafficking.  But what is undeniable, in spite of the fact that the national press does not speak of it, is the domestic violence, like other kinds of violence carried out, due to many reasons.

Recently there occurred a lamentably bloody event, among members of a sector that is supposed to be cultured and refined. The media have not reported anything about it, but now it is popular knowledge, the crime perpetrated by one of the most outstanding musicians of the Philharmonic Orchestra, a young cellist, ranked among the best in the country.

Rumor has it that she had been a victim, like so many other musicians of the despotism with which the Director General of the Amadeo Roldan Complex, Mr. Chorens used to treat them.  It seems that the straw that broke the camel’s back was the denial of a trip abroad, highly anticipated by this virtuoso of strings.  Expressing her indignation on learning of the refusal, she made public among his companions, the vengeance that he was going to perpetrate:  I am going to hurt him where it hurts most, she said.

She went to the house of the Director, knowing that the director’s mother would be there alone, and finished her off with a blade, repeatedly stabbing her until she died.

This is only one example of the many acts of violence that are practiced daily in our country, and about which the media never report.

There is a lot of contained hatred and frustration, any incident can be the trigger to make them explode with the same fury as a volcano expelling the lava contained in its interior.  No one talks about it.  The worst is that like everything kept hidden, no one is careful, especially not foreigners, who are sold the line about the safest tourist destination.

As long as the press is not free and transparent, we are going to be believe that we are living in a true paradise.  I do not like the “police blotter,” but I also do not agree with hiding the news, that one way or another affects us all.  Nor am I going to become a spokesman for the same, but this event has upset the artistic sector and still nothing has been published about it.

Translated by mlk

June 10 2012

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