Archive | January, 2012

The Paths of the General

9 Jan

This article was written by Luis Felipe Rojas for ‘Diario de Cuba‘.  It has been re-posted on this blog:

In regards to the year which has just begun, it is evident that the directions of the Cuban government are like forked transit lines.  With more desires to give orders to its members than to implement any sort of political economy, on January 28th they will hold the First National Conference of the Communist Party (PCC).

Towards the end of March the General-President will receive the Vatican authorities, rosary and timbrel at hand.  And during the middle of the year he will once again be in the limelight, with our without the fulfillment of promises.  Cuba will once again see how dreams and demands dissipate.

On a tour which was expected to come sooner or later, the Castro leadership has gone up against itself.  Against the inflated staffs, administrative corruption, and economic inefficiency.  The three whips of Cuban society have been exposed in numerous public meetings: the communist congress and the ordinary session of the National Assembly.

We would have to see if the Cuban technocrats are willing to change their mentality and cast away their furies against the same projects as always.  While the historic direction holds tight to the old art of snapping orders and marching, thousands of Cubans try to improve their lives selling what they themselves cultivate, carrying out service jobs or applying their talents to new technologies.

However, enthusiasms aside, the penalization of difference still weighs heavy over the heads of the majority of Cubans, as well as the rake against free association and the establishment of unions, and laws like Social Dangerousness which seem to belong in the Middle Ages.

Without being able to defend their most basic rights, the Cuban citizenry, since the beginning of the millennium, has been trapped in the delicacies of capitalism and civilization which has been placed before them.  They produce foreign currency, which they cannot freely enjoy.  They substitute imports with medical services which they can rarely enjoy and, on top of that, they carry the weight of errors committed by the senile leadership.

The more moderate forces among the rulers (which are not always visible) opt for a change of tactics and for a reasonable strategy which would favor the betterment of the citizen.  A consensus of the majority of workers has demonstrated the weariness produced by slogans and inefficiency of promises.

The criticisms of Raul Castro and the dissidents of the government are going to crash against the accommodated tendency of the bureaucrats.  Attempting to impregnate from stamps of eternal solidarity with Cubans, the maximum leadership deprives them of health services which are obliged to serve their third-world contemporaries.

At this point, many are asking themselves about the relationship between the statistic offered by Cuba of 4.9 children who have died per each thousand born alive, and the fact of not publishing the statistics of the budget cuts in the public health sector.  Will this statistic be upheld despite the cuts?  As for the popular sophism of ‘tossing the house out through the window’, there is also the fact that there are many necessities, due to a weakened system of primary attention.

Upon being asked if he was a militant (of the Communist Party, of course), a well known professor for the University of Oriente responded, “No, I am the culprit”.  The joke has transcended university property and illustrates the disillusion of that ‘minority’ (in the words of Rafael Rojas) which, in regards to political strength, has transmuted to another social ill.

Who Will Kill the Commander?

5 Jan

The socialist labyrinth consists of so much injustice that even the functionaries joke about being trapped in it.  The beauracratic skeins of the tropical Cuban creature have been designed to hinder citizens, to make their daily lives harder, but it is not always possible to demarcate the frontier between the most common of passer-bys and bureaucrats, as infallible as they’d like to make themselves seem.

A group of workers from the TransNet Base, dedicated to cultivating sugar cane, have been suffering for months because they have not been paid their salary stimulus which the sugar company owes them for the 2010-2011 pay period.  Today, as the new period is beginning, the correspondent organisms are not complying with the salary they owe.  In the sugar production plant of the municipality of San German, Holguin, the mentioned workers (as fed up as those who protest on streets of the United States) lashed out and deposited their confidence in a social valve: writing to national newspapers.  Only one of them publicly responded- Juventud Rebelde (‘Rebel Youth‘).

For some time now, Cubans tend to their pains by writing to the Open-Letter section of the mentioned newspaper.  There, the colleague Jose Alejandro Rodriguez, whom one can clearly see really wants to break away and carry out a free form of journalism without chains, dedicates himself to dissect the anatomy of home-grown bureaucracy.

In the Open-Letter section of December 18th, the journalist explained the indignation of these workers.  He also mentioned the letter sent by Eliecer Palma Pupo, who was thrown around however they wanted from the transportation base, the municipal union, the organ of Social Security and Work, and all the way to the Provincial Direction of the Sugarcane Industry.  Immediately, the workers were called to testify.  “Who wrote the letter?”.  They said it would be fixed, ‘damn it’, that was all…

What the Juventud Rebelde Newspaper did not know was that Palma Pupo is a worker, who has worked as a driver for 27 years, and is branded as a counter-revolutionary for speaking the truth.  He has also been locked up in the dungeons of State Security on the 22nd of October 2011 so that he would not hinder the visit of Jose Ramon Machado Ventura to the mentioned factory.

He suffered from fatigue for three days, product of a hunger and thirst strike he carried out from his cell.  But when he was released, he went straight back to his work post to load up a truck for the sugar production process, and his coworkers asked him to denounce the absence of payment for 20 CUC which the plant owed each of them.

Before exposing the case to the independent press and the international press, they opted to send the message right back to the aggressor.  The letter has been read by thousands of Cubans, among them hundreds of functionaries, who although they have not responded have been contested by their own propaganda system which is kept afloat by screams, lies, and acts of mob repudiation.  I have spoken to some of them, with Palma Pupo himself, and although they have not been paid they still feel the sweet taste of vengeance.

Palma told me that they have returned to the Union Direction Center (against them) and even against some workers, who are alarmed by his rebellious condition and fear they will lose more than just the steering wheels of his old sugar-cane loading trucks.

From afar and from outside, one runs the risk of seeing this as something pointless, but these men told me this as if they had been victorious, as if they had discovered that “all as one” they could tear the rags off of the old Fuenteovejuna* commander.


*Fuenteovejuna- A play by Spanish playwright Lope de Vega.  The work of art is about a peasant uprising in a medieval Spanish town.  

Builder in Chief

3 Jan

I did not want to start the New Year like this but Fidel Castro is still present in our lives. That’s just how screwed we are and I fear that will be the case for a long time, even after his demise.

It was nearly the end of 2011 when the Ministry of Construction (MICON) — surely at the suggestion of Machado Ventura — decided to give out a special award dedicated to the “lifetime achievement” of the former basketball player from the College of Belen (Fidel Castro).

They handed him a diploma which was luxuriously laminated  and wrapped in anti-reflection plastic, a floral arrangement, and a message confirming that all Cubans appreciate what he has achieved for us.  Ha!  A bit of cockiness which is permitted to the head honcho from time to time.

With this new prize to Fidel Castro, I ask myself where do we put the information of the disturbed minister of construction — Homero Crab — about the disastrous situation of nearly 70% of the bridges in the country.  The old central highway inaugurated during the first half of the past century only receives patches and quick repairs.  Many rural schools, which consist of coarse Giron-style construction and which were once the pride of Cuban style socialism are being remodeled as semi-open penitentiaries.

Each week, the provincial newspapers publish poor photo reports of the bad state of the roads in the so-called “interior of the country.  As for Cuban television, they barely have any destination options left to present on the screen as tourist post cards.  Architecturally speaking, the island is falling to pieces.

But since the prize was awarded because of lifetime achievement, it would be a good idea to refresh our memories.  The so-called Pastorita neighborhoods, in an allusion to Pastorita Nunez, their national proponent, are now just hodge-podges of steel and rubble which have not fallen down on their users thanks to a miracle.  Examples are found in Santiago de Cuba and in Guantanamo.  I have lived in them, on more than one occasion.

The inheritance which we received from European and North-American architecture was destroyed by the blow of a wrecking ball, under the orders of the Builder-in-Chief.  If not him, then who is to blame for the exile of the graduates of the best school of architecture of the University of Havana?  To whom do we owe the national exchange for the modest American cabins for the monster of the low-cost self-built houses?  Before handing out apartments like bird cages during the 70’s, was there another way to build a home if not by one’s own effort?

In just two decades, we have gone from the solid masonry and steel houses to the suffocating plastic habitat, built from the residues of Venezuelan oil.  Unless the award aims to make a joke of the former Cuban president, there is no other option but to see him as a monument, in the same flattering way a slave sees his slave master.