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Past and Present of Cuban Christmas

December 21, 2012 1 comment

jardiland-poinsettiaUntil 1998 Christmas celebrations in Cuban were not looked on kindly by the top leadership in olive green. Starting in 1979 Fidel Castro slashed the tradition, claiming that the sugar cane harvest and work were more important than celebrating Christmas Eve and having a holiday on December 25.

The essence of the regime is that your life belongs to the State. Only the government is charged with rewarding or punishing its citizens. God, Santa Claus, Father Christmas and the Three Kings can’t be more important than a bearded one born in a far-off farm in eastern Cuba.

We had to celebrate — and we still celebrate — the triumph of the Revolution. The playing of salsa, timba or reggaeton, orchestras and groups, usually happens on December 31st and January 1st in every city in the country. At midnight on the 31st while people celebrate and wish each other the best for the coming year, the TV channels join together to show a “Revolutionary ad,” where to the beat of patriotic songs they show images of Fidel Castro surrounded by children.

It was from the visit to Cuba of Pope John Paul II in January of 1998, when out of deference, the tropical autocracy again allowed a national holiday on December 25. Despite living in an economy on the edge, with rationing, combative marches, and preparing ourselves for a supposed war against the Yankees, many families maintain the tradition and spirit of Christmas.

The little trees are put in places in the house away from the windows, so their shiny garlands won’t betray them to the intransigent ideological Talibans of the neighborhood. But the smell of roast pork alerts the people on block watch to write reports and snitch on their neighbors.

At that stage, the only people allowed to celebrate Christmas were the ’sacrificed leaders’. At that time, Fidel Castro gave his relatives baskets with candies, nuts, hazelnuts, wine and cider.

In 2012, the purchases will reflect the financial differences between Cubans. On the tables of those with bulging wallets, beside the usual white rice, black beans, salad and yuca con mojo, there will be trays with pork, turkey and shrimp. For dessert, sweet Spanish nougat. You will be served drinks at your pleasure. And their trees are big and filled with ornaments and lights.

Most, those who spend the whole year squeezing their pesos to make it to the end of the month, can barely buy a piece of port and a few pounds of beans and roots in the farmers market. Beer is only for women, one or two each. The men drink cheap rum, at 60 Cuban pesos a bottle at a State store. And if they have a little tree, it’s the cheapest one sold at the mall.

There are families who think the future is a dirty word and whose children just want to leave their homeland. Just don’t lose the illusion: perhaps next year something good will happen. Hope, as the saying goes, is the last thing you lose.

To all readers of the blog Desde La Habana I want to wish you happy holidays with your family and friends. And may 2012 be a better year, for you and for your countries.

Photo: In the last five decades many things have changed in Cuba, but if something has stayed the same it is the time of the year when the poinsettia blooms, considered the Christmas star in many countries.

December 20 2012

Defrauding the Consumer: An Epidemic in Cuba

December 16, 2012 1 comment

Fooling Nivaldo, 71, is not an easy task. When the old man goes shopping, in his inseparable shopping bag he carries a portable scale. As he rummages through the meat, fruit and vegetables covered with dirt on the metallic trays at the farmers market, the problems arise.

At the checkout, the traders try to scam him, charging more for the products than they weigh. Demanding his rights has given the old man a reputation for stinginess and unfriendliness.

“Yesterday I got twelve pounds of pork oat 23 pesos a pound, when I checked the weight it was 2-1/2 pounds under.  It’s common. At every market there are State scales to check they’re selling you the exact weight, but they often rig them. It’s a national epidemic. Fucking people over is like a sport,” says Nivaldo, while rushing to get home before the clouds burst.

Scamming and adulteration food and other items is an old story. In many hard currency shops and snack bars, the principal mission of the staff is to “fine” (i.e. cheat) the customer. There are new methods. Others are clumsy bungles.

In the Island of Cuba Mall, a stone’s throw from the National Capitol building, Luisa, 46, reached into the meat fridges and pulled out two packages of chicken thighs, where it showed the price according to weight.

She added it up. One package cost 2.60 and the other 2.40. In total, 5 convertible pesos. The math doesn’t fail. But in Cuba numbers are magic. Quietly, the cashier sealed the two packages and put the in a nylon bag and said they were 5.30.

Luisa explained that there must have been a mistake. She opened the sealed packages and showed them. The cashier admitted it and replied that “it was the fault of the cash register.”

If you don’t look after yourself, the vendors will blatantly cheat you. Marco, who works in a hard currency supermarket, offers a justification. “We earn very little. The way we get money is to “fine” the customer. Those who work in this sector invest hundreds of dollars to get a place. The thing is hot and we have to go home with money. We also have families.”

The question Marco preferred not to answer was: if the customers are not at fault for their low salaries, why don’t they complain to the union and mount a loud protest in the Plaza of the Revolution.

Ah, no, this they would never do. They could go to jail. Given the lack of legal mechanisms that allow service workers to demand better salaries, the solution is to discharge their repressed anger in the pockets of the consumers.

In the hotels, discos and restaurants where the tourists usually go, the “fines” increase. Many managers of tourist restaurants have a doctorate in the subject. Looking at the credit cards and details like expensive watches or an Apple laptop, they calculate how much money they can skim off.

A few days ago three habaneros living in Miami arrived with several friends at a hard currency snack bar to drink beer in style. On the fly, the employee caught they were “Cubans from the other side.” Every so often, while collecting the empty beer cans, he talked about the Major Leagues. He established empathy with them. After 11 at night, inebriated, happy to share with attentive staff, singing boleros and taking photos, they paid 130 CUC. An excessive amount.

Right now, the Cuban-Americans are the best clients. They leave good tips. And if the guy gets drunk, the “fine” is even more.

To deceive the customer is latent in all sectors of the national life. If you walk down any street in Havana, you will see a multitude of plastic tables of the State food service offering pork sandwiches for 5 pesos, servings of fried rise at 15 pesos and fried chicken at 1.60 an ounce.

I have always been amazed by the capacity of the tropical bureaucracy for absurd formalisms. Every little table has a weight and a sign that indicates the grams of each product a consumer should have.

A dapper “chef” picks a greasy pork leg, skin with strips of meat and dried fruit. He weighs it and puts the hash in a round pan. Does each consumer have to walk around with a portable scale to verify the exact grams? The old Nivaldo does. But the vast majority don’t worry about weighing what they buy.

We Cubans are not used to being scammed. An “extra payment” we accept with discipline, like everything in Cuba. From listening to a speech promising a bright future that never comes, to buying our 80 grams of bread every day that almost always weighs about half that.

In street slang, duping customers is called “fighting/” It’s a vicious circle. You fuck me over from behind the bar, and late I overcharge you 20 CUC for a medical checkup.

It’s a kind of pact. We fuck each other over. Few have the courage to point out those guilty of transforming our lives into a competition to see who can hurt others the most.

The loss of values has been one of the greatest damages caused by the Castro’s in their 54 year reign. To recover them will be very expensive.

Photo: Sale of pig’s liver at a Havana farmer’s market, taken from Worldisround.

December 5 2012

Primary School in Cuba: Crisis or Regression in Quality?

December 13, 2012 2 comments

I have a nine-year old daughter, and due to the laxity in primary education, her mother and I have seen ourselves obliged to invest more time and money than we would like in order to strengthen her knowledge.

When she was in first grade, her teacher, 18-years-old with poor teacher training, used corporal punishment against the students every time she lost her patience.  The mistreatment happened often.  The girl was vulgar and angry.  Besides, she scarcely had any culture and little or no teaching vocation.

Repeated complaints to the director of the school and letters sent to the Minister of Education by some parents provoked a transfer of the teacher to another school.  The logical thing would have been to expel her from teaching.  But the lack of primary teachers in Cuba caused the educational authorities not to take drastic measures.

My daughter came home fearful because of the screams, blows and insults of her teacher.  She began to reject school.  She barely progressed in reading and math.  After her school day, her mother and I reviewed with her for two hours daily.

For 10 convertible pesos, half the salary of a professional in Cuba, we hired an experienced, retired primary school teacher for the purpose of elevating the quality of her instruction.  Also, we paid 3 convertible pesos monthly to an English teacher.

My daughter’s situation is not an exception in Cuba today.  I would say it is the norm.  Many families surely have a history of complaints to tell about faculty mismanagement.

According to the official press, there is a deficit of 14 thousand teachers in primary and secondary teaching.  Fernando Ravsberg, reporter for BBC on the island, says on his blog that it takes great ability to write an article of 1,400 words about the scarcity of teachers and not once mention the low salaries that they earn.

The regression in the quality of education is intimately tied to the ridiculous salaries.  A teacher does not earn more than 500 pesos.  He receives no extra money in currency.  And his social recognition has fallen precipitously.  When a young person chooses the teaching career, it is almost always because he has failed in his effort to pass entrance exams in other degrees considered more “prestigious.”

To be a teacher is the last card from the deck.  Many men opt to study in lightening teaching courses as a way of escaping military service.  It is not rare to see a former primary school teacher washing dishes in a luxury hotel or preparing homemade pizzas in a private business.

A good teacher is one of the most valuable contributions to the country that the GDP does not usually pick up.  Who does not remember superb classes in history or literature by a virtuoso teacher?  The good teachers are never forgotten and they are not only thanked for what we learned, but also for the way in which they taught us.  Behind great professional and honest men, there is always the hand of a great teacher.

At this point we are going backwards.  Right now, in the homeland of Felix Varela, Jose de la Luz y Caballero and Maria Luisa Dolz, among other outstanding educators, being a teacher is somewhat trivial.  An office of last resort to not swell the unemployment statistics.

If in Finland, a European nation in the vanguard of education in the world, they assign the highest level teachers to primary teaching, in Cuba the opposite happens.  The statistics reflect that on the island there are more than a million university graduates.  Thousands of technicians.  Zero illiterates.

It is laudable.  An achievement of Fidel Castro. With his stains: teaching is highly ideological.  And on the higher level, if you openly demonstrate your political discrepancies, they might throw you into the street.

In his timid and incomplete economic reforms, Raul Castro must have contemplated an important improvement in the salaries of primary and secondary teachers.  An official from the Ministry of the Interior or the Revolutionary Armed Forces earns a thousand pesos a month. They have a mobile telephone paid by the state.

They can get goods at cost in exclusive stores for officials.  And every year they go on vacation at military villas where they pay for their services with very little money.  The generals’ club enjoys greater prerogatives.  On the other hand, Cuban teachers earn miserable salaries, and their work is not recognized by the government.

Low quality education is now reaping its fruits.  Mediocre professionals, with spelling mistakes and incorrect use of language.  Youngsters without morals or civics whom school does not motivate.  The refrain, you can never know too much, fell into disuse.

The qualitative regression could be stopped if the State dignifies the teaching profession and its role in society.  To the contrary, the educational crisis will continue to become more acute.  We are going down that path.

Photo:  Year 1950-51. Third grade students in Public School No. 126 Ramon Rosainz, located at Monte and Pila, Havana.  They appear with their teacher, Miss Ines.  At that time, teachers were very valued and respected by society.  Before 1959, in public and private schools in Cuba, individual photographers made portraits similar to this one, which were sold to parents for 50 cents or a peso.  The first on foot on the second row, to the left, is Tania Quintero, my mother, then 8 years of age.

Translated by mlk

December 12 2012

Havana, A Unique Metropolis

December 9, 2012 Leave a comment

In spite of the decay and the grime, it is still a vain city. A varied architecture, rows of archways and tall columns topped with plaster figures. Neighborhoods with their own flavor. Atarés, El Pilar, Carraguao, La Víbora, Lawton, Sevillano, Mantilla, Párraga, Buena Vista, Pogolotti, San Leopoldo, Colón, Cayo Hueso, El Vedado o Miramar. Each with its own contrasts.

For a true Habanero there is no better baseball team than the Industriales. Nor a seaside drive more spectacular. Nor a view more beautiful than from the other side of the bay. The neglect and indolence have not prevented Havana from being a unique metropolis.

It is true that it is a city of first-world prices and a fourth-world infrastructure. Poverty-level salaries. Devastated sites. Streets filled with potholes whose broken pipes spew water in torrents. Houses that scream out for extensive repairs. Neighborhood movie houses where we first saw Charlie Chaplin now converted into state-run grocery stores, bicycle storage areas or places where couples go to have sex among the debris.

Everyday in underground Havana a new jargon, incomprehensible to the rest of the world’s Spanish speakers, is invented. And on the black market you can get a pound of beef for 2.50 CUC. Shrimp for 60 pesos. Apparently, the real Havana is not what we see in newscasts or in the headlines of the official media.

The real Havana is the one with people who live off profit and invention. Where objects never die. Like the old cars made in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. Thanks to Havana ingenuity they are still running. A Chevrolet with a Hyundai engine from South Korea, a gearbox from Germany and brake pads from Italy.

In the rooms of countless homes furniture from the mid-twentieth century that belonged to our parents and grandparents is still used. Cribs, playpens and highchairs are passed down from one generation to the next.

Nothing is impossible in Havana. Not even snow or dinosaurs. Everything can be gotten under the table. Colombian cocaine, pure or adulterated. Marijuana grown in Guantanamo. Bottles of Santiago and Caney rum that leave through the back door of the old Bacardi factory and are sold at half price. Mobile phones like iPhone and Samsung Galaxy. Apple laptops and tablets. High-definition Sony TVs. Xbox video games. Converse, Nike and New Balance shoes. Guess jeans and denim jackets from Levi’s.

In spite of a strict embargo, there are hard-currency stores selling products stamped “Made in USA” that range from California apples to Coca Cola. All this and more makes its way from Gringoland and is for sale in houses whose residents have set up sumptuous illegal stores.

In Jesús María’s tenement flat you can also get powdered milk imported from Brazil for 40 pesos a pound. Hams stolen from Suchel. Homemade ham. Viagra. Vitamin C from a pharmacy in Hialeah and two Hershey bars.

On the weekends, when night falls, other things become available. Discotheques with a 10 CUC cover and a trendy reggaeton musician. Discotheques with a 2 CUC cover where, amid the Cristal beer and bolero music, middle-aged men and women pass the time. The park on G Street, a hangout for emos, mikis, repas and roqueros,* is free.

The all-night discos are in the poor neighborhoods. Outside, with their exotic hairstyles, young men hide their arsenal in the vegetation. It includes hundred-year-old Colt revolvers, pistols, knives, razors and pick axes. Not infrequently, the parties end with people mutilated and someone dead.

If you have enough money and want a busy night, there are girls for all tastes and price ranges. Stunning lesbians for 25 convertible pesos the pair. Mulatas to take your breath away for 20. Blondes for 10. Adolescents recently arrived by train from Bayamo for 5.

On a stretch of the Malecón you can hook up with a homosexual. On a corner of La Víbora a lineup of transvestites prostitute themselves for hard currency.

Havana does not have skyscrapers like New York. Nor an Eiffel Tower like Paris. But it does have the Fountain of the Indian in Brotherhood Park near the National Capitol, a meeting point for Cubans and foreigners. Unlike Juárez or Caracas you can walk all night through Havana’s streets. Your life will not be in danger if you cross paths with a thief.

In twenty years perhaps the capital of Cuba will be much better. If the winds of democracy blow through these hearths and an intelligent vision revives it, we will have the Havana we all desire. Until then, we must wait.

Photo from Cuban Screen. The Hotel Saratoga with the Fountain of the Indian (or Fountain of Noble Havana) in the foreground. It was created in the neo-classical style in 1837 by Italian sculptor Giuseppe Gaggiani. Originally located at the end of Paseo del Prado, it was moved in 1863 to Isabel II Park, now Central Park. In 1875 it was moved to its current site, looking east. With the inauguration of Brotherhood Park in 1928, it was left in the same location, but turned to face north. Historians claim it was the first image of Havana to be photographed, the photo taken by a Frenchman, Antonio Rezzonico, in the 19th century.

According to legend, when Spaniards arrived at the port of Havana in 1519, they saw an Indian woman seated on an enormous rock, looking on in silence. She later cautiously approached them and spoke the word jabana. It is said that one of the sailors drew an outline of the Indian on the rock and called her “La Habana.”

Sculpted from white Carrara marble, it is three meters high and it sits on a square pedestal with four dolphins, one at each corner, whose mouths spout water onto enormous shells which forms its base. Named Guara, the woman is the wife of  the Indian chief, Habaguanex. She wears a crown of feathers on her head and a quiver of hunting arrows over her shoulder. In her left hand she holds a horn of plenty filled with Cuban fruits and in her right the coat of arms of the city of Havana. (TQ, with internet sources.)

Translator’s note: Followers of current styles of rock music.

December 8 2012

Cuba: An Economy Does Not Rise Selling Croquettes

December 6, 2012 1 comment

Some years ago, when the Politburo headed by General Raul Castro was studying alternative ways to apply reforms capable of reactivating the moribund island economy, Marino Murillo, fattened ex-colonel converted to the “czar of transformations” said that Cuba was gambling by using unproven methods in its transformations. It is not bad to think for yourself.

The only thing that the proposal from the same group pompously in power for five decades has demonstrated is the failure of its management.  I do not call into question the capability of Cuban economists and technocrats.  Although their pioneering theories have never resulted or drawn attention in western academies or on a jury for the Nobel Prize, audacity and experimentation are preferable to the habitual inertia in closed and totalitarian systems.

Something had to be done.  The economy had fallen by some 35% of GDP, if we compare it with 1989.  After crossing a desert, where the mission was to survive, with thousands of people desiring to emigrate, sparse and very bad food, 12-hour power outages and factories turned into museums of idle machinery, Fidel Castro applied some of the advice that Carlos Solchaga — sent urgently by the Spanish president Felipe Gonzalez in order to advise tepid reforms on the island — whispered in his ear.

The patches permitted opening some individual work initiatives and pockets of mixed economy.  It was a stream of oxygen.  Always with a lone scowling commander watching the car’s advance.  When in Caracas there appeared a loquacious anti-Yankee skydiver, declaimer of poems and singer of Venezuelan dance tunes, Fidel Castro understood that the era of facing those insolent gringos was back.

With high taxes, he locked and blocked the work on his own account.  He no longer needed that legion of “hucksters.”  People who demonstrated that they could live better without the shelter of the State.  While the licenses of the self-employed expired, Castro I resumed the discourse of Father State, he unsheathed the saber and anti-imperialist oratory.  Thanks to the Venezuelan Santa Claus there was light.

The bearded one was thinking big.  Economic alliances with Latin American insurgents that only worked in theory, energetic plans for revolution and discussions about the properties of chocolate bars and baby cereal.  Suddenly he got sick.  Cuba is like a family farm: after me, my brother.  Decided beforehand, it fell to Raul Castro to administer.  So it was.

Castro II has his rules.  He knows that in order to govern a long time or to cede the dynasty to a son, relative or other trusted person, he needed to ignite the economic plan.  He had to make changes.

When one decides to make economic reforms, one must make them.  For one overwhelming reason:  if the parallel utopia keeps living on news loaded with optimism, inflated macro-economic figures and cheap nationalism, the citizenry might lose fear and furiously explode on the streets.

The General’s theory resumes the popular refrain of “full belly, content heart.”  For the official technocrats, the Cuban is happy with rum, women, reggaeton and hot food in the pot, as if we were modern slaves.

With enough food and options for making money, the crowd would ignore that “foolishness about human rights” and not demand democracy or a multi-party system.  That is why the sacred premise of Raul Castro is “beans are more important than cannons.”

The native reforms suffer from authentic reformers.  It’s the same breed.  Another weak point is the incompleteness of those reforms.  Except for the authorization to buy or sell a home, where an owner has the right to do what he wants with his property, the other hyped liberalizations have flaws.  It is like a house over a swamp.

When Castro II gave the green light for Cubans to have mobile telephones, he wanted to demonstrate that the regime was “democratic.”  And he did away with “tourism apartheid” when he permitted citizens to lodge in hotels.  On eliminating the two prohibitions, it was discovered that under the command of Fidel Castro we had been third class citizens.

The Lease Law of the land has suffered several amendments in four years.  At the beginning land was rented for only ten years and the peasant had no right to construct his home on the parcel.  Later it was corrected.  I ask myself if it would not have been more viable to start from the beginning with the option of renting the land for 99 years and license to raise a house.

So it happens with the sale of cars.  One can buy an old American car 40 or 50 years of age or a ramshackle car from the Soviet era.  Now in order to get one at an agency requires permission from the State.  It would be simpler if anyone, money in hand, could buy a new car.  It would end price speculation and the framework of corruption that has been created around the sale of cars.

Immigration reform also has deficiencies.  To have to pay for a passport in foreign currency is an anomaly.  And an absurd law that the regime grants itself, by maintaining a blacklist of professionals, athletes and dissidents.

Another big problem, not approached by the General’s reforms, is the double currency.  It has been talked about and debated, but the first thing that should have been done is to implement a single currency.  Cuban workers pay the equivalent of 52 pesos for a liter of oil, 235 pesos for a kilo of Gouda cheese and from 360 to 1,200 pesos for a pair of jeans.  And they may only earn an average salary of 450 pesos.  The honorable worker, who does not steal on the job, lives the worst.

The government says that in order to raise salaries productivity must increase.  But the workers think that for so little money, it is not worth the effort to labor with quality and efficacy.  A vicious cycle that the regime has not learned or wanted to cut.  In four years of reforms and six of Raul Castro’s government, ostensible improvements in the country are unseen.  Cafes and trinkets have increased.  More than 380 thousand people work on their own account and do not depend on the State to raise their quality of life.  That is something good.

But an integrated economy is not built selling bread and cakes.  In great measure, the government is to blame for the high prices of many products, by not creating a wholesale market intended for private work and maintaining quotas of 80% of agricultural production that a farmer must sell at laughable prices to the State.

In 2006, when Castro II was designated President, a pizza cost 7 pesos, now the cheapest costs 12.  A haircut was worth 10 pesos, now it is worth 20.  The list is long.  In this rainy fall of 2012, the price of each article and service is higher.  Salaries have stayed the same for six years.

There is a crunch in the pockets.  The segment of the population that receives hard currency can keep paying for food and products of a certain quality.  But their money continues to lose value.  100 dollars in 2004 are worth 60 currently.  Due to the 13% state tax on the dollar and the rising prices, currency in the hands of those who receive remittances has devalued.

Nor do people have much confidence in the reform managers.  They are the same ones who in one way or another brought the country to the edge of the precipice.  Cuba needs reforms.  Serious, urgent and profound reforms.  According to Mart Laar, who was prime minister of Estonia and was at the head of structural reforms in the ’90’s, the simpler the reforms, the more successful they will be.  Laar points out that in politics there is only one sure thing: sooner or later you will be out of power.  If fear of reforming deeply is too great, you will leave sooner.  And most importantly, you will be out without have done anything.

These are not hollow words.  Estonia is one of the nations that took a giant leap, from a communist economy adrift to a functional national project.  Another case is Taiwan, where their own citizens initiated changes knowing that they would lose power.  Now they have returned it to the government with a fresh start.

It is good think for yourself.  But also you should learn from those nations that have triumphed in their reform processes.  It is worth it to take account of experience.  And logic.

Translated by mlk

December 1 2012

Cuba: The Time to Fill the Jails Came Again

December 4, 2012 1 comment

Trying to analyze the strategy of the Castro brothers is an exercise in pure abstraction.  Their way of moving tokens on the political board tends to go against logic.  The incarceration of 75 dissidents ordered by Fidel Castro in the spring of 2003 was a miscalculation.  Foreign pressure led General Raul Castro to correct the error.

In February 2010, the death of peaceful opponent Orlando Zapata Tamayo after a prolonged hunger strike was the trigger for the government to initiate tripartite negotiations with the national church and the Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.

Committed to tepid economic reforms, the Castro II regime needed international recognition and to attract foreign investment.  The liberation and subsequent exile of almost a hundred political prisoners permitted the olive green autocracy to ease pressure, buying time and a little political oxygen.

Not much.  Enough to tiptoe across the world stage and mitigate the criticism by western governments for the repeated violations of human and political rights.

Political prisoners constitute a formidable weapon in the Castro regime.  They are exchange currency.  A valuable piece in any negotiation.  It has always been so.  After the Bay of Pigs victory in April 1961, Fidel Castro swapped enemy soldiers for stewed fruits and powdered mashed potatoes.

It was common, passing through the Palace of the Revolution, that foreign dignitaries would bring in their pockets lists of prisoners to free in exchange for credit, economic help or support for the regime.  A frowning comandante denied or authorized the liberation of an opponent.  Not everyone has the same value for local leaders: it depends on the media interest that they have outside of the island.

They are like hunting targets. Armando Valladares, Huber Matos, Eloy Gutierrez Menoyo or the poet Raul Rivero were valued prisoners. Their liberty was measured in greater concessions by European governments and favorable votes in international tribunes.  Facts and figures are not known about the quantity of money or long term loans that the release of a dissident has meant in these 54 years.

With a view to negotiate with a favorable wind, the Cuban jails have always been full of dissidents.  In the ’70’s there were thousands.  Hundreds in the 21st century.  These days there is a problem.  The jails are empty.  Harassment, repression, arbitrary detention of peaceful democrats by special services continue.  But behind bars there are no heavyweight dissidents that serve to establish an advantageous deal.

The old and sick gringo Alan Gross is thought to be the one they can get the most for.  Obama and Hillary Clinton demand his freedom without conceding anything in exchange.  Then they decided to incarcerate an “A-list” dissident.  There had to be others on the waiting list from whom the regime thinks it could get better yields.  It is here that Antonio Rodiles comes into play.

Miriam Celaya, journalist and alternative blogger, considers that the probable prosecution of Rodiles as a resistance figure encompasses several possible readings.  And it could be a trial balloon to measure the international brouhaha.

Also, Celaya thinks, after the presidential election victories by Hugo Chavez and Barack Obama, guaranteed petroleum for six years and the remittance greenbacks from the United States thanks to the measures towards family reunification approved by President Obama, the military mandarins feel strong.

The reporter also analyzes the trajectory reached by Rodiles in his free debates about national issues or his Demand for another Cuba that has put the Havana government on the defensive.

Antonio Rodiles is a liberal dissident, open and modern.  Nephew of General Samuel Rodiles Plana, at the front of a legion of combat veterans usually convened to verbally lynch and hand out blows to the Ladies in White and peaceful opponents.

The legal charge brought against Rodiles is a mockery of human intelligence.  In what way can a man resist a violent detention surrounded by dozens of guys trained in personal defense techniques?  The only manner of resistance that the Cuban opposition has is to scream quite loudly its disagreements and to condemn the abuses.  The ration of beatings always comes from the opposite sidewalk.

The presumed conviction of Antonio Rodiles creates a new and bad precedent on the national map.  It is a message of coming and going by opponents, independent journalists and bloggers.  No one is safe.  The regime offers two exits:  you either shut up or you buy a one-way airline ticket.  Whoever does not accept the rules of the game can go behind bars for some years.

The era of fear returns.  The screech of cars with tinted windows outside of the house.  The loud knock on the door.  The uncertainty of your personal and family life.  It is the nature of the regime.  Crushing and censuring you with the use of force.  The essence of the doctrine based on prison for those who think differently.  It was always so.

The time to fill the jails has arrived.  Bad times have returned.

Photo:  EFE, taken by the Bolivian daily, El Dia.  According to information published in the newspaper Granma May 22, 2012, the penal population of Cuba exceeds 57,337 prisoners, of which 31,494 are under closed detention and 25,843 in open installations.  From December 2011 to May 2012, through different benefits, some 10,129 inmates have left jail, among them 2,900 pardoned.

Translator’s note: Antonio Rodiles has now been released with a small fine and the charge of resisting arrest dropped.

Translated by mlk

December 1 2012

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