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Another Transportation Crisis in Havana

January 28, 2012 1 comment

Transportation in Havana is again in a decline. It’s experiencing another crisis. Traveling inside the city limits by public bus can take two hours. If you’re lucky.

Seeing people sweating buckets under a blazing sun and trying to crowd into a small doorway of a house is really something.

It takes 40 minutes for the P-8 to come by, one of those articulated buses belonging to Metrobus, the company in charge of moving large concentrations of people in its fleet of 469 articulated buses.

The P-8 has a route that goes from the Reparto Eléctrico, in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality, up to the Pan American Village, located in the municipality of Habana del Este.

In its journey of one hour and 20 minutes it goes through the municipalities of Arroyo Naranjo, Diez de Octubre, Cerro, Centro Habana, Habana Vieja and Habana del Este.

When in late 2007 the Cuban government opened its wallet and bought 469 articulated buses in Russia, China and Belarus, the city bus service improved dramatically.

Metrobus, the company located in Nuevo Vedado, a stone’s throw from the Zoo on 26th, designed a route that covered all the important and busy roads of Havana.

There were 17 lines. And their frequency varied from 5 to 10 minutes in peak hours. Until mid-2010, with some interruptions, the system worked well.

By the last three months of the past year, bus service began to falter. At the Mulgoba terminal, where the  P-12, P-13 and P-16 buses are kept, for a route between Santiago de Las Vegas, Central Havana and Vedado, 37 out of a fleet of 70 buses were out of service, for lack of spare parts, tires and batteries.

At a session of parliament held in December 2010, the Cuban economic czar, Marino Murillo, recognized the problem and pointed out that there were no financial resources for large purchases of spare parts.

According to Murillo, the bureaucrats were to blame for the collapse of the transport service, because of their erratic calculations and poor management. He didn’t promise anything. He just affirmed that it’s possible the State might stop the tourist buses to keep the peoples’ buses rolling.

But in 2011 the service continues to be in a tailspin. This summer, when thousands of people go to the eastern beaches and the playgrounds or carnivals in Havana, the malfunction of public transport will make travel by bus crowded, and it will take people several hours to reach their destination.

In the Diez de Octubre municipality, the most populous in Havana, at any time of day the bus-stops are full of angry citizens, and between the heat and the bus delays, violence can surface.

Any stray touch on the “guagua” — as buses are called in Cuba — an accidental kick or crazy comment, can unleash verbal or physical aggression among those who are daily forced to board, as if they were expert ninjas, the Metrobus company buses.

What’s worse is that there are hardly any alternatives. In Havana there is another state company, Metropolitan Omnibus, with several hundreds of Yutong buses, manufactured in China. They have been designed to fulfill a supporting role in the scheme of urban transportation.

Their frequency should be between 25 and 40 minutes. But they normally take an hour. Or more. Therefore, the major burden of responsibility for passengers belongs to Metrobus.

When people like Sara, who’s retired, have to arrive on time, they often leave home three hours in advance. And try to maintain an Asiatic calm. Sometimes the buses don’t stop at the bus-stop. And she, with her 60 years and several extra pounds, must run 100 yards, like a Jamaican sprinter, to board the bus through the back door.

Sara sees the bright side. “It gives me some exercise. And if I get on at the back door, I don’t pay.” Bus fare costs 40 cents.

But banks and service centers don’t usually have enough change. Therefore, people pay with one peso (five cents in CUCs). Those who pay. Alejo spends 60 pesos per month to move around the city ($2.50 in CUCS).

It may seem small, but it means a third of his salary as a school custodian. A trip inside one of these buses is infuriating. Their routes are extensive. From the starting point to the end, the trip usually takes between one hour, the fastest, to an hour and a half if it crosses 10 municipalities by going around the city.

If we believe sources inside Metrobus, currently there are 227 bus-stops. And problems because of a lack of spare parts or damages after an accident. To minimize the crisis, the Havana government is taking some measures, such as using workplace vehicles in peak hours and on important routes, in an attempt to alleviate the urban transport deficit.

Since Castro came to power in January 1959, transport in Havana has been a headache.

Not even in better times, when the Communist countries of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union existed and gave us petroleum and plumbing supplies, has Cuba had a decent transport service in its capital.

It was thought a metro would be built with the help of North Korea. But everything remained in the planning stages. Getting around the city this summer will be an ordeal. Between the heat and the bad service.

Only those who have money, thanks to remittances, working for themselves, getting good tips, having illegal businesses or stealing from their jobs, can afford the luxury of taking private taxis that for 10 or 20 pesos take you quickly to any place in the city.

About 10,000 private cars have become the best fleet of taxis in Havana. Most were made in the United States and have over 60 years of use. Their owners have had to “invent” to keep rolling. But they work. And well. In Cuba there are things that nobody can explain.

Translated by Regina Anavy

October 15 2011

Spaniards’ Cuban Grandchildren Three Years After

January 25, 2012 Leave a comment

Armando wants to be an immigrant with swing. “God willing, in December I am traveling to Valencia, where I have relatives. I’m immersing myself in slang. I’ve seen tons of shows. And I use words like flipado, mola, mogollón, qué fuerte, tío, or vale” he says in a Spanish imitating that of the Spanish Consulate in Havana.

Since 2007, when the socialist government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero passed the Historical Memory, and within the so-called Law of Grandchildren, tens of thousands of Cubans all along the green alligator have embraced it.

Since it was put into force on December 29, 2008, the grandchildren of Spaniards may opt for dual citizenship. That day, the Consulate ran out of the 80,000 forms available.

Three years later the tide hasn’t receded. The deadline was extended until December 27, 2011. More than 165,000 applications were initially made, but the figure was reduced to over 140,000, of which some 60,000 Cubans, on meeting the requirements, have obtained Spanish citizenship.

Let’s visit the Consulate. Located on the corner Zulueta Street Jail, Old Havana, on the side of the bay. From early in the morning, groups of people are queuing up to be among the first when it opens.

Some come from afar. Antonio lives in Buey Arriba, in Granma province, 750 kilometers from the capital. He arrived 14 hours ago. With his backpack and a plastic bottle of tap water, soccer and baseball chat, with those who sleep in the line of the grandchildren of Spanish nationals residing in Cuba.

“My grandparents were from Zaragoza. I have cousins there. It has taken me some time to have the papers ready. My goal is to visit Spain, get a temporary job and return to Cuba. I do not want to emigrate, permanently,” said Antonio.

Let’s visit the Consulate. Located on the corner Zulueta Street Jail, Old Havana, on the side of the bay. From early in the morning, groups of people are queuing up to be among the first when it opens.

Some come from afar. Antonio lives in Buey Arriba, in Granma province, 750 kilometers from the capital. He arrived 14 hours ago. With his backpack and a plastic bottle of tap water, soccer and baseball chat, with those who sleep in the line of the grandchildren of Spanish nationals residing in Cuba.

“My grandparents were from Zaragoza. I have cousins there. It has taken me some time to have the papers ready. My goal is to visit Spain, get a temporary job and return to Cuba. I do not want to emigrate, permanently,” said Antonio.

The hours pass quickly for three young people sitting on a park bench opposite the former Presidential Palace, now the Museum of the Revolution. Ileana,  Lorenzo and Julian, chat about music and celebrity while passing a bottle of rum. They have become friends after seeing each other’s faces in several lines of foreign consulates.

Lorenzo and Julian met outside the Canadian Embassy. Two years ago, Lorenzo was looking for work. He heard a rumor that Canada needed strong young guys to cut down gigantic trees in inhospitable areas.

“I was the man. I looked for a long time for a way out of Cuba without having to throw myself into the sea. But in the end, or everything is a lie, or they ask for a number of documents you don’t possess. I met Julian there who was in the same. We were often at the U.S. consulate, as we have third-degree blood relatives in America. We got the bat (our visas denied). It was there that we became close with Ileana, who was also trying,” says Lorenzo.

Ileana is an authentic Galician granddaughter. “I would rather travel to the U.S., where I have family, because things aren’t so great in Spain. The crisis and unemployment, you know.”

To qualify for the visa you must demonstrate convincingly that you are the grandchild of a Spaniard. Those who do not, leaving consulate fuming.

Raudel is one of them. “My mother did not believe that this black girl had a Spanish grandfather. My story is incredible, but true. It turns out that my grandfather made my mother with a black woman in an extramarital affair, typical of certain ’Galicians’ settled in Cuba. Then my mother, a mulatto, married a black man. A stuck up consulate official can not understand the intricacies and love stories of many Spanish residents in Cuba.”

Orlando is white, but also leaves angry. “How ungrateful are these Spanish. We opened the door to their emigration in the last century when the situation in Spain was critical. Now they have an economic crisis and they want to commit suicide. What would they say if they lived in a country in perpetual crisis like Cuba. However, they shut the door in our face. “

If you want to hear stories about grandchildren or relatives of Spanish descent, pass along Zulueta Street. There’s everything there. From people like Armando who speaks like a Spaniard. Up to black Raudel, who swears he is the grandson of a Galician.

There are also the desperate. Those to whom all legal exit doors are closed. And they do crazy things. They are then a snack for sharks in the Florida Straits. Or die of hypothermia in the landing gear of an airplane. Like Adonis.

September 7 2011

Cuba: Trading Card Villains

January 24, 2012 Leave a comment

Everyone has a list of types that arouse our worst instincts. No matter if you are a longtime Democrat, ultraliberal or convinced Marxist.

No matter what you go to church on Sundays, or count to ten to calm yourself down when their names appear in the media.

To love and despise is a uniquely human quality. And like any Earthling I have my trading cards of contemptible beings. They are present. Contrary to popular belief, none of the Castro brothers exacerbates my manias or my sets off a string of curses in my mind.

Yes, Fidel Castro has been a lousy manager of the nation. A bomb proof caudillo and an annoying autocrat annoying. General Raul Castro, the current president, is another political dinosaur who governs from the loyal clan.

Anyone who thinks differently is a sworn enemy. Everyone knows that is the only rule for Castro supporters. But I am still able to read through a ‘reflection’ of the old commander or sit through a speech by Castro II, who fortunately does not talk much.

The Biran duet that has ruled Cuba for the past 53 years, I have them as political opponents. But their perorations, locutions or writings always set me off to write a note refuting them.

There are other characters in the media map of my country, even across the border, the first reaction to whom causes me to run out to join a Nazi party.

The list is short. In the foreground stands Aleida Guevara, Che’s daughter. Her statements irritate me greatly, her twisted foreign forays, despite having been born and lived all her life in Cuba, and her face is hard.

She wants to sell us the image of a monolithic Bolshevik, but hides behind a corporate soul who claims and receives every dollar of marketing with the image of her father.

Armando Hart is next. What a mess the former Minister of Culture provokes in me. I’ve never been able to read his texts in full. He’s a real drag. How cumbersome and intelligible I find his articles, with that lethal combination he concocts from the ideals of Martí, Marxist manuals, and iconic worship of Fidel Castro.

I always turn the page when I see your signature. I feel sorry for the editors who have to include his abominable tripe. Hart awakes in me the censor that many of us conceal.

In any society that respects itself, this old man would be out of a job. Except in Cuba. The mini-collection of trading card villains is completed by Mariela Castro.

Daughter of the soldier’s who governs us, she’s led me to change my opinion. Earlier, I had a certain appreciation for her tolerance toward homosexuals and her trying to open a space closed and barred by her uncle and father.

But then, suddenly, I realized she is a liar of the worst sort. A puppet which purports to show a liberal face nonexistent in Cuba. Her statements in the Amsterdam Red Light District made me pull out my hair.

She should be archived to serve as an example of what a politician or public figure should never say. If she went mute she might pass unnoticed. But she talks, and about what things.

In addition, Mariela wants to form a fifth column with gays, transvestites and prostitutes. The only premise is to support the political ideology of the family clan. Everything else goes.

When the rulers  don’t give a damn, or are in their decline, they usually ally themselves with any scoundrel, with God, even with the devil, in hopes of legitimizing their ludicrous policies.

On another level, but equally repellent, are the presenters Randy Alonso, of the Round Table (especially when he laughs), and Rafael Serrano, the mustachioed histrionic of the dull news. When they start to act up I turn off the TV. What heavies they are.

My other damned character is the irrational Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. But the guy from Barinas deserves a separate chronicle.

Photo: Aleida Guevara, dressed in the Cuban flag, paraded on a float in a tank dedicated to the ‘Cuban Revolution’. It happened in the carnival of Florianópolis, capital of the Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, in March 2011.

November 17 2011

Palestinians in Havana

January 22, 2012 Leave a comment

For the ‘Palestinians’, as people from Havana call those born in the eastern provinces, to live in Havana is almost a mission impossible. By Decree 217, passed in 1997, the law sanctions and fines people born outside the capital who wish to settle there without official permission.

It’s like a border without a border. There is no wall that prevents thousands of easterners from moving to Havana. But thousands of regulations, inspectors, police and members of the CDR (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), are directed at the newcomers who settle in neighborhoods of the capital.

Not all hate people from Havana hate the ‘Palestinians’. But there are many who have a grudge against people from Santiago, Guantanamo, Las Tunas, Holguin and Granma, among others who arrive on the early morning trains with antiquated suitcases and the desire to conquer the world.

Easterners who come to the city have the same aspirations as an exile when he leaves his homeland. To make money and help their family. To flee their provinces shocked by the poverty and lack of opportunities.

In general, they are good people. Do everything. Care for a garden, collect aluminum cans for 13 hours under a fearful sun, pedal the pedicabs in the vicinity of the Capitol and Havana’s Central Park.

There are also the sleazy types. Violent fringe. Pimps. Thieves. Crooks and cheats in the game of fools, who in a blink of an eye pluck the money.

For the police it is easy to identify an easterner. Because almost all of them are also easterners. They recognize them by how they look and the “singing” sound when they talk, along with swallowing their the S’s. Any given night, a truck packed with policemen make their raids.

They ask for the identity card, and if they have the right papers, they make them talk. Those “sing” when they talk are handcuffed to the truck. The removal process is expedited.

The next night they put them on the train, back to their villages. Deportees. Prohibit them from visiting Havana for 3 years. They are excommunicated in their own country. Of course, this procedure is unconstitutional.

Havana is the capital of all Cubans. The easterners are not a different ethnicity. They are of the same nationality. But in practice, the authorities treat them as if they were authentic Palestinians from the West Bank or Gaza.

Still, they manage to return and settle in the ‘plate’, as they call Havana. On the outskirts of the city settlements have grown up. Concuní is one of them.

State inspectors have threatened to bring bulldozers and destroy the trail of huts and aluminum shacks. But the easterners are planted as if they were mambises. Machetes and sticks in hand, trying to defend their right to live better. Women and children armed with stones. Given this mess, the authorities turn away.

These settlements are true slums. There in the towns of Regla, Guanabacoa, Cotorro, Lisa, San Miguel de Padron and Marianao. The living conditions of their people are subhuman.

There is no drinking water. People do their business in bushes or on rudimentary latrines where the excrement drains into the vicinity. Almost none of the eastern residents in these favelas have ration books.

They eat what they can get during the day. Or do not eat. Paul, from Santiago who lives in one of these settlements, says he has gone up to three days without eating. “The food I find or that friends give me is for my children.”

In a cardboard and wood shack without electricity, TV or fridge, he lives with his wife and three children. Paul wants to get a job and support his offspring.

It will be difficult. Managers of companies and state institutions can not accept ‘illegals’. Therefore, they are forced to work “on the left” — under the table.

Many of the illegal easterners no longer have homes in their home provinces. They burned the bridges. They sold everything to try their luck in Havana.

Despite the odds, they are optimistic. From the time the sun rises, they go out to try to get some pesos. Returning late at night. Sometimes with food and money. At times with empty pockets.

Their worst enemies are the police, mostly civilians. Above all, they have to endure taunts and sneers of some habaneros, who call them ‘Palestinians’ to humiliate them.

Between Havana and the East a wall of police harassment and abuse has built up. With the consent of the authorities.

September 4 2011

Emigration is Good Business for the Cuban Government

January 20, 2012 1 comment

It’s daylight robbery.  Every time a Cuban residing abroad decides to visit their home country, the must pay a crude ‘revolutionary tax’ to the Castro brothers government.

Let’s get out the calculator.  In 2012 nearly 400,000 Cuban emigrants visited the island.  Before unpacking the plasma TVs, computers, video games and smartphones for their relatives, all of them had to pay, in cash at the Castro’s Consulates abroad, 240 dollars for a ‘carta de invitacion‘ and 80 dollars for a months stay in the land where they were born.

Nostalgia and the desire to meet the grandchildren, or simply to drink a glass of run with no shirt on at their mother’s house with old friends, has a price to those who have emigrated.

No one understands that a Cuban can be a foreigner in their own country.  There is a huge legal aberration in the Constitution of the Republic:  one cannot have dual citizenship.  However, when visiting their country, emigrants must do it with a Cuban passport.  These absurd immigration laws don’t stop there.  If they are unfortunate enough to be arrested and sent to one of the hard prisons, they must pay for their legal representation in hard cash.  They find themselves in a no man’s land.

For the Cubans who’ve decided to leave, the abusive and excessive costs are better to have done with.  Let’s go over our expenses.  55 pesos (CUC) for a passport, 400 for a basic medical.  200 to validate a bachelor’s degree.  150 for an exit permit.  Apart from these 805 CUC or ‘small change’ – equivalent to three years of an engineer’s salary – the government is getting other sources of pocket money from the provision of airport services and commission on plane tickets.

The industry of milking immigrants and potential emigrants doesn’t stop there.  If you choose a 3 month ‘carta de invitacion‘ or an exterior work permit you must also go past the till.

Let’s put some numbers in.  Due to a lack of government figures on the numbers of Cubans travelling abroad, let us suppose that 100,000 Cubans leave the island temporarily every year.  If we multiply that by 805, we can see that the regime pockets 80 million pesos just from these journeys.

To the grand business that immigration turns into for the creole mandarins, add to it the billions coming from family remittances, and the hundreds or thousands of millions that they obtain through the concept of travel agencies and shippers rooted in Florida.

To put the cherry on top, the succulent ‘hustling’ adds to the hundreds of millions which Cuban emigrants spend on ‘shoppings’, buying food, electrical appliances and other bits and bobs for their relatives.

This industry, plonked on top of immigration, is one of the few profitable Castro brother enterprises.  Now, with the alleged migration reform it remains to be seen is whether the prices for those who decide to leave permanently or travel abroad temporarily will fall.

It’s already known that for “basic security measures” they don’t allow Yoani Sánchez to leave. And the journalists Carlos Alberto Montaner and Raúl Rivero will have to keep on hoping that God will take them to foreign lands.

While this persists, no migratory reform will be achieved. You can’t applaud shameful concessions that are basic rights.

Cuba belongs to all Cubans, not just those of an olive green caste.

Iván García

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January 18 2012

The Time for Racial Integration in Cuba

January 16, 2012 1 comment

Leonardo Calvo, 84 years of age, historian and political scientist and Juan Antonio Madrazo, 42, specialist in management and food services, are now two of the most lucid and coherent voices on the map of Cuban opposition.

They are dissidents for two reasons.  On the one hand, Calvo for 20 years and Madrazo for six, have desired strongly that the Castro brothers’ government enter the ring of democracy.

And on the other, they have struck up an all out battle for racial integration for the those of African origin in all social strata in Cuba.  This monumental task is being carried out as if they were missionaries, educating, if possible, person by person.

‘Everything makes its way into society by education.  Tackling racism in its historical context.  This is our job in the Citizen’s Committee for Racial Integration (CIR).  Not racism the other way around.  We shouldn’t wait for the state to confront this thorny issue.  If up until now they haven’t acted, in fact they’ve done the opposite, they won’t do anything in the future.  This government has no answers on the topic of racism.  Not politically nor culturally’, assures Leonardo Calvo.

CIR’s main headquarters is based in the house of Juan Antonio Madrazo, in the heart of central Havana, a tall black man with the voice of a radio presenter, is the national coordinator of a movement which groups together in 50s and without racial distinction activists avoiding any political preferences.

They take on the subject of racial discrimination on the island in an academic way.  It’s not a problem created by Fidel Castro.  No.  But Castro has taken no notice of it.  And today it has become a precarious Pandora’s Box.

The unfair treatment of blacks, nor their rise up the social ladder, was not abolished in 1886 when the Spanish Crown decreed that an end would be put to slavery.

Perhaps it was that very moment when fear of blacks began.  Fifty-eight years of republic and fifty-three of ‘olive green’ authoritarian revolution have failed to meet the expectations of blacks and mixed race people in Cuba.

They are by no means few in number.  If we go off the information of the last National Census of Population and Housing, carried out in 2002, blacks make up 10.08% of the population and those of mixed race 23.84%, we get a total of 33.92%, a figure which contrasts with the 65.05% of whites (1.02% are Asian).  But many doubts about the accuracy of these statistics exist.  In a hasty fashion, those of mixed race with fairer skin who shy away from their race are shown as whites in official paperwork.

It could be that blacks and mixed race make up half of the Cuban population.  And it could be still more. However, in the current state of affairs, no one takes notice of them in the circles of power, nor in the high offices of economics or academia.

It is known the positions that dark-skinned Cubans hold on the island: sport, pop music, Santeria or prison.  In the prisons they are the majority.  Eighty-eight percent of the prison population on the island is black or mixed race.

They’re also those who live the worst.  The lowest salaries and the hardest jobs.  The historian Leonardo Calvo doesn’t understand why it had to be this way.

‘Since the war of independence, blacks and mixed race have fought head to head with the white population to have our independence.  And the stripes have been won by a daring stroke.  Whilst whites seeking independence, through their merits and knowledge, began the fight against the military, blacks had to earn their stripes battle by battle’ says Calvo.

To wield the machete in the depth of the swamp or the AK-47 in the burning African jungle the blacks have been counted on.  Now is the time to share out the privileges and ministerial posts which have been kept from them.

Juan Antonia Madrazo has had personal experience of the ‘socialist racism’ practised in Cuba.  There are white friends of the party who will drink a litre of rum in the early hours of the morning and treat you as a friend, but if you have a relationship with his sister racist passions are unleashed.  But Juan carries on regardless.

After graduating in Food Management with high marks, Madrazo went on to run several shops.  He went openly into a racist, mafia-run enclave.  Where clans and corruption have come together to arm a formidable cartel which steals and buys favours to its hearts content.

‘In the working aspect I felt contempt because of my skin colour.  Imagine, I’d be in charge of eight white managers and I tried to apply transparent rules.  They didn’t accept my authority in any way. They did everything possible to get rid of me.  Until they succeeded.’

In 2005 it was already clear to Madrazo.  Fighting for respect and so that desegregation laws would be put into place was not enough, other methods had to be used.  On this date he met Leonardo Calvo and Manuel Cuesta Morua (Calule) and they started to cook up the present desegregation movement which counts on the support of mixed race compatriots and blacks in exile such as Juan Benemelis and Carlos Moore.

The renowned Colombian investigator Juan de Dios Mosquera, leader of the  Movimiento Cimarrón (Runaway Movement) put forward a proposal at a meeting made by the CIR on the 23rd, 24th and 25th of November, an event which developed under the difficult sieges by State Security, which detained a dozen activists and guests.

It was an act of stupidity rather than an abuse of power, think Calvo and Madrazo.  ‘What should have been a calm forum of debate, at a home address, turned into a news story.  Before the eyes of the foreign press, as there were some Brazilian journalists from ‘La Globo’ present in my house, the repression of the political police took place in front of them and they were astonished’, added Madrazo.

The CIR’s activists, let us say Madrazo, Calvo or Calule, are of an academic bent.  Their podium is not the street nor are they inclined to cries of ‘Freedom’ or ‘Down with the Castros’.  They venture calm, sensible discussion on the theme of racism.

And they’re not going to get themselves arrested on any account.  ‘We don’t break the law, but we don’t shy away from it’, states Calvo. Next year will be a busy one for the CIR.

The year 2012 is the 100th anniversary of the uprising of the Independent Party of Color led by Evaristo Estenoz and Peter Ivonet, which provoked a violent response from the government of José Miguel Gómez, in whose high command was the son of José Martí Bazán. Three thousand blacks were lynched.

That dark spot is something to try to forget. The study of it in the history books of Cuban universities is so fleeting. And accuses those who paid with their lives for the audacity to claim a place in the political pie, of annexationism or racism.

With their writings, meetings and forums, Leonardo Calvo and Juan Antonio Madrazo replicate the thesis that since the Republican period until the Castro autocracy, the monumental crime sustained was a ‘simple stumble’ without major consequences in the history of Cuba.

So what it’s about, according to Calvo and Madrazo, is that if anything unites — above all ideology — the government of the Castro brothers and an important sector of modern Western society, it is the intellectual and biological racism toward black people.

They feel that their place is to publicly discuss these discriminatory attitudes. They want to lose the fear of black people. Time for racial integration. The real thing. Not the official discourse.

December 15 2011

Spain: Zapatero Reinvents the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE)

January 12, 2012 1 comment

If the democratic left in the world wants to take lessons of what not to do in state policy, please look to Spain. History tends to fickle twists. And perfect anonymous types, after death, joined the army of sacred cows. Also the inverse. Distinguished in life, when God took them, they were despised.

But however it is analyzed, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero passed into Spanish political history as a pariah. He fled through the kitchen door on the night of November 20 when the numbers confirmed the victory, announced months in advance, of the People’s Party (PP) leader Mariano Rajoy.

He didn’t even show his face. He passed the dynamite with the fuse lit to that political suicide named Alfredo Rubalcaba. Who, perhaps because he’s a dreamer or to enforce party discipline, agreed to become a puppet shooting blanks at his own electorate, who defected from the disillusioned Socialist ranks.

Rubalcaba had to throw in the towel. For political ethics or decorum. If he really wanted to redeem the PSOE he would have had to take the knife of criticism in his hands and make dust out of the bad management of Zapatero’s government.

It was more than a punishment vote for the PSOE. It has also been a valuable message that their imperishable record for modern politicians is recorded in ink. The government lie to buy time in the presidential chair is paid for by the political death.

Zapatero in his last term was irresponsible. And a coward. He put his ambition for power first, before telling the truth about the Spanish economic crisis and implement the harsh cuts in haste.

He played the game as if his people were a puppet in the hands of a giant. The final story of the Spanish executive reminds me of the battle of Waterloo. Historians tell us that an indecisive and obedient general obedience was incapable, despite the reality of the terrain clearly showing otherwise, of contradicting Napoleon. He complied with his orders and thus was defeated.

Have done the opposite and moved his troops and the history of the battle, of  Napoleon, and, why not, France and Europe could have been written in other terms. Therefore, political shamelessness is attributable not only to Zapatero. And also his whole team.

I don’t know if it’s accurate to say that the PP won the race on its own merits or that PSOE lost because of gross political errors. Looking at the numbers, the number of PP voters increased a few thousand.

The disaster is among those who always supported and believed in the socialist Iberians. 4.5 million voters failed to vote for the PSOE. If Zapatero had been a high-caliber leader and faced the vagaries of the whole crisis, perhaps the story would have been different.

We have an example in the CiU. The Catalan party understood a series of hard cuts, necessary and unpopular. However, this 20-N came out of the polls with it head held high.

The new Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, has a real timebomb in his hands. The Galician and his team will have to split hairs to overcome the harsh crisis that goes beyond the economy and attacks the poor performance of political institutions, democracy and European sovereignty.

As for Cuba, it’s bad news. In the political and military sectors of the island bilateral relations with Spain are going to be tense.

In any international forum where there is a representative of the new Spanish government, Cuban officials will have to keep their heads down as they listen to repeated discourse about respect for democracy and human rights.

Latin America is waiting. For many radical left-wing governments in the region. Cuba is part of their agenda. Spain already left behind the days when it was the second largest investor in the continent. China passed them at supersonic speed while sticking out its tongue. And Brazil is on track.

If Rajoy goes ahead and finds a solution to the crisis and tempers his foreign policy objective without hysteria he will be a giant. Jose Luis Rodriguez, for his part returns to his lair. Zapatero, back to the drawing board.

Photo: EFE. Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero during the ceremony held in July 2010 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his election as general secretary of the PSOE.

November 25 2011

Cuban Harakiri

January 10, 2012 Leave a comment

He died as he had planned. It may have been a fit of improvisation. We will never know.

But the suicide of Alfredo, better known as ‘Package’ in the La Vibora neighborhood, is still discussed among neighbors and friends of this marginal mestizo whose 40 and a few years were spent somewhere between prisons and brief oases of freedom.

I knew him. He was a short, slow talking, lost looking and gloomy. When the neighborhood got to discussing who was the best hitter in Cuba, Rey Vicente Anglada or Alfonso Urquiola, holding forth in the doorway of Matilda, the only neighbor who would allow these late night gatherings, drinking alcohol with water that cost us 5 pesos a bottle from the home of the negress Giralda, ‘Package’ already had his history in the neighborhood.

One Saturday night at the home of a friend from high school, to the rhythm of Roberto Carlos, Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple, Alfredo arrived with his head down, casually smoking a marijuana cigarette.

We were all silent when he approached the group and asked, “If you want to try it, this herb is called Black Bird.” We stayed together and each in his way gave an excuse not to try the marijuana that briefly threatened to burn his fingers.

At that age, we felt a genuine respect, almost fear, for ‘Package’, a guy who had pulled nearly 12 years in prison. In the ‘bag’ (prison) he cut the face of another character of the neighborhood, ‘The Salted Soap’, the same specimen.

With that nickname, the best option to avoid him was to cross the street when ‘Salted’ passed, a bully after two liters of rum. ‘The Soap’ would die from a beating with sticks inflicted by the police, close to the then Tenth Police Unit at Avenue de Acosta.

Over the years, Alfredo inspired more pity than fear. He had shrunk and was chronically malnourished. And he was off in the head. I remember seeing him talking to himself in the early mornings or hatching outlandish plans in a seedy cafe at the corner of Calzada de 10 de Octobre and Patrocino.

He wasn’t a bad guy. He barely spoke and wasn’t a habitual drinker. He returned to prison for some petty crime. A few months after finishing his sentence he, landed in a mental hospital.

A few days ago ‘Package” killed himself. According to the neighbors his father was working in the yard when his son said, “Old man, take ten.” He took the machete, leaned against a wall and plunged it into the center of his chest as if it were a Japanese Samurai sword. Right in the heart.

He died instantly. Many neighbors are still wondering why Alfredo killed himself hara-kiri style “a la cubana.”

According to statistics, suicide is the leading cause of violent death in the world. Greater numbers kill themselves than die in war, and even traffic accidents, and the gang wars in Mexico.

In Spain, from 9 to 10 people immolate themselves up every day. It’s an epidemic. Cuba’s suicide rate is among the highest in the world. The regime does not like to mention that statistic. Nor report the stories of this red chronicle.

It’s a bad image for “a happy people, hospitable, who love to rumba,” according to the little sign in the official media. So Alfred, alias ‘Package’ was not news.

December 3 2011

The Castros and the Kims: Historic Parallels

January 6, 2012 Leave a comment


Autocrats are clones of the same litter. They’re not separated by ideologies, what joins them is an unhealthy ambition for power. Each and every one of modern dictators consider themselves enlightened. Types essential on the national map. Founding Fathers. Irreplaceable. They could not be more narcissistic. Egos more than enough. The nation is their private estate.

They arise in periods of bad governance, economic crises, wars of decolonization and political instability. They usually have a foolproof formula under their arm to catapult the country forward. When in the embryonic state they are very popular. Humans need icons. Heroes. Heavy-handed leaders.

Then the despots come through the back door. In this 21st century, with Internet, social networking and digitization, and there are few left. You can count them on your fingers. In Equatorial Guinea, an unpresentable man named Teodoro Obiang has all the makings of a dictator.

The monarchies of the Middle East and Morocco are another variation of dictatorships. Natural dynasties. By blood, the throne belongs to a family. And there is nothing, or little, you can do about it. Already in the 18th century in Europe there were monarchies, but after the French Revolution republican forms arose and the kings and princes were mere decorative objects. Dedicated to works of charity or creating foundations. Certainly one of them, the son of King Juan Carlos, Iñaki Urdangarin, is embroiled in a corruption scandal.

There are people who consider themselves superior intellectually to lead the destiny of a nation. It may be a gene to be discovered.

The guy with ways of a dictator knows the league. He does not like to be out of power. Neither stands. They make up laws, such as Hugo Chavez and Daniel Ortega, for indefinite re-election. The reckless one of Barina went to the executive for votes. Those same votes would put him back in the house.

Fidel Castro and Kim Il Sung took over the throne by bullets. Castro overthrew the illegal and tyrannical government of Fulgencio Batista. Sung was boosted by Moscow. Military preparations in the USSR. A golden age for Stalin after World War II where the map began to change colors and the Red Army imposed Marxist socialism by force of their T-34 tanks.

It has always intrigued me whether these two Third World autocrats had among their purposes to remain in power. Perhaps they move, for a time, fair ideals to build a decent way of life for its citizens. But betting on the wrong horse.

The communism of Marx has been inefficient everywhere in the world where it has been established. Never mind that the country has wealth or not. Within a few years, the economy and the nation go adrift. It is, no doubt, an unnatural system. That goes against the human soul. A slapstick.

An autocrat never acknowledges he’s wrong. Right there is where their pathological cases are slated to be part of medical studies. Castro, for example, is never wrong. Others are wrong.

Kim Il Sung was the only God allowed in North Korea. He turned the nation into a cult. His ego was so overwhelmed that he invented a new philosophy, Juche.

Yes, because some dictators want to go down in history as thinkers and righteous men. Gaddafi, the jackal of Tripoli, between cocaine and sexual abuse of the young, gave birth to a pamphlet called The Green Book.

Fidel Castro wasn’t given to outline a new social philosophy. But he dipped his oar into all fields. He is the most knowledgeable about cattle, sugarcane, bananas, dams, cyclones … And baseball: the preparation of the Cuban team to play against the Baltimore Orioles in 1999 was designed by the commander. He was master of everything and the student of nothing.

Kim Il Sung idiot of the unhappy Koreans with a cult of personality more potent than a narcotic. Statues everywhere and him dressed in grey with the stamp of a leader on the lapel. After these autocrats a change doesn’t necessarily come.

In North Korea Kim Jong Il, the son of Sung. Another madman. North Korean media said, in two years he wrote 6 operas and read 180,000 books. He used to play 11 holes of golf on one drive. His writings were released daily by the state radio. It is said that such was his passion for film, he kept 20,000 films under lock and key, and later, maybe in his cups, he ordered the kidnap of a couple of directors of South Korea to make a personal film.

He liked to eat lobster with silver chopsticks while his people starved and fell like flies on the streets of Pyongyang. A rotten collection.

He ordered the kidnapping of Japanese citizens. Downed planes in flight. And to prove he was a tough guy when he came to the throne in 1993 he ordered a terrorist act in Rangoon that cost the lives of 17 South Koreans.

Not content with his mischief, he produced half a dozen nuclear bombs. He made North Korea a rogue state. After his death on December 17, he’d hand-picked its favorite son Kim Jong Un to continue the communist dynasty. The child knows little: 28 years, fat, and fan of the NBA.

The parallels between Castro and Kim are remarkable at the time of passing power to his family. In Cuba, now, General Raul Castro (another hobby of autocrats is to get many stars on the epaulet), rides to the rescue and attempts to repair the damage to the economy.

But Castro II, 80, is as old as his brother, 85. On the island, the average age of life for men is 76 years. Both are past it. The question is whether in these parts after the two die, their offspring and hand-picked relatives will touch the presidential chair.

We must wait. Meanwhile, Cuba was among the few countries that declared three days of national mourning for the death “of Comrade Kim Jong Il.” Autocrats are part of a club. They play in another league.

Video: 1986. Fidel Castro visits the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. At the foot of the stairs of the plane he is received by Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il’s father and the grandfather of Kim Jong Un.

January 5 2012

Certain Lawsuits Are Pending In The Hague

January 2, 2012 2 comments

Certain lawsuits are pending in the International Criminal Court in The Hague. A number of criminals from different countries, autocrats who cavalierly disregard human rights and rogue or nationalist terrorist rogue continue evading justice.

It is good that the former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and his gang of thugs and Ratko Mladic have been, or are, being judged in the world’s supreme court located in the Netherlands.

I applaud that taxpayer money is paid to prosecutors and judges investigating war crimes and State murders or exterminations. It is unfortunate that the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi did not have to sit in the dock for his extensive list of destructive acts and incitements to hatred and killing.

Gaddafi, as is known, would not only have wipes out every human vestige in Benghazi. He also killed opponents and unarmed civilians outside its territory with Kalashnikov shrapnel.

This was a cruel tyrant who, among others, was responsible for horrific massacres in the 90′s in Sierra Leona, during the civil war which killed nearly one million people.

In addition,he blew up a Pan Am aircraft in mid-flight over Scotland in December 1988, killing 270 people. In the name of world revolution, Gaddafi seeded Libyan soil with soldiers, almost children, who took part in the conflict in Sierra Leone.

He also taught the use of explosives to his fans such as the Venezuelan Ilich Ramirez, alias Carlos the Jackal, who was tried in Paris, and imprisoned for life for his terrorist attacks in France. The lynching in cold blood of the author of “The Green Book” by the insurgents of the National Transitional Council, saved him from being tried in the global court for his atrocities.

But the list of those who should sit on the dock in The Hague is more extensive.

Right now, the legendary Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, is facing trial in the United States after being caught in a trap set up by the U.S. special services when the Russian was supposed to be selling weapons to the FARC in Colombia.

The figure of this ‘warlord’, was the inspiration for the script of the film Lord of War (2005) where he was played by Nicolas Cage. Bout should go to jail for many years, but his arms sales to the different sides in the wars that plague the African continent should not be overlooked.

Behind these Gaddafi-style characters or arms dealers, is the conspiracy of convenience of the centers of world power. If we want any real justice the shady dealings of nations who beat their chests for democracy — like the United States, Britain, Spain or France — should also be brought to light.

It is also true that there is a double standard to evaluate rogues, terrorists and dictators. Fidel Castro is an autocrat who for five decades has violated the political and individual rights of its people, and some day ought to be judged.

But like Cuba, North Korea, China, Viet Nam, Russia and Saudi Arabia are far from exercising their democratic governments. Quite the contrary.

In Medvedev’s Russia a famous television reporter has been left paralyzed in a wheelchair for the ‘crime’ of investigating and condemning the tangled dealings associated with the construction of a road adjacent to Moscow that harmed the environment. By way of consolation, the Russian government itself offers him a prize, with money attached.

It happens that the centers of world power, for economic or geopolitical interests, act as they see fit. China is the factory of the world and the largest potential market, therefore, the U.S. Congress gives it the treatment of ‘favored nation’, ignoring labor exploitation, harassment of opposition and environmental destruction.

World powers also engage in their own wars of convenience. The Iraq war was one of them. Bush’s son pulled the trigger on the pretext that the dictator Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons.

Today, no one has found such weapons. Of course, totalitarian regimes such as Iran cannot be allowed possession of nuclear weapons. It is known that they would use them irresponsibly.

But every war has its consequences. And the innocent are always the main victims. War ought to be the last option. Not the first. So, whomever misuses the right of war should also sit in the dock in The Hague.

I’m talking about George W. Bush, Tony Blair and José María Aznar, the triumvirate that triggered the war in Iraq in 2003. Peace yes, but with justice for all. Not just for some.

December 18 2011

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