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I Don’t Even Have a Television and for the Police I am A Subject With A High Standard of Living

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

A couple of days ago I was walking with a friend to my daughter’s house and a cop car stopped us and asked for our IDs. Dog-faced like the usual Cuban police. They frisked us on the public street like common thieves. They wanted me to open an envelope with some magazines a Brazilian friend had sent me.

Accustomed to this, one sees it as something normal. If you are young, have a backpack, or are black, you have all the characteristics the cops look for to ask for your ID.

They check us out and call us into the central computer to see if we have records. We come back clean. But in my case I hear one of them say, “The subject has a high and worrying standard of living.”

The officer looked be over carefully, on good and dressed in cheap and sensible clothes. Maybe he thought he’d made a mistake. When he handed me back my documents I asked him what that term meant.

“It signifies people who live well but don’t work.” And is that a crime, I asked. “It’s against the rules of this society,” said the official sitting in the latest model Lada.

Before leaving I wanted to know: And what if the person receives money from abroad? What it they follow the same absurd laws despite the government’s call for self-employment and a million people who are going to become unemployed?

Now his face showed contempt. “And why do you want to know so much? Maybe because you are a lawyer and a journalist?” He put the car in gear without waiting for my answer.

In their control of the citizens, the agents of authority blatantly violate the rights established in existing laws. It so happens that neither the police or the ordinary people know what they are.

Ignorance with respect to Cuban laws is proverbial. It disturbs me that the police open a file on someone because they are able to maintain an acceptable standard of living without stealing or violating the laws.

According to the island’s owners, anyone who doesn’t work for the State and who eats lunch every day and who, on the weekend, spends time with their family, calls attention to themselves and needs to be watched and investigated.

The rigid police bureaucracy keeps their accounts. Those who work receive some 20 euros a month and with this salary they cannot afford these “luxuries.” According to the authorities, someone who works 8 hours cannot drink name brand beer, eat at good restaurants, fix their house or buy a plasma TV.

If you receive money from abroad, even if it is justified, but you’re not working for the State, you’re always on a knife’s edge. The suspicions of the police and some of the informants of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) fall on these people, whom they think of as possible suspects, for supposedly having a higher than average purchasing power.

Nobody on the island may have a high standard of living if it is not authorized by the regime. This causes many people to live surrounded by paranoia and phobias.

I know a friend, a ministry consultant, who advised me throw trash in bags of nylon that are not so transparent, so that neighborhood informants do not know if I use products purchased in foreign currency. He gave me a camouflage manual. Participate in activities of the CDR. Give soap to the snitches on your block. And never drink beer or eat at places near your home.

I refuse to live with that guilt complex. I’m a journalist and I make money with my work. My family lives in Switzerland and sacrifices sends me money.

Only in a closed and sick society like Cuba’s could it be dangerous to eat twice a day, take private taxis for ten pesos, and try to make sure your daughter lacks nothing.

So I’m living all wrong. The Russian TV I have in the living room broke years ago. If I have not thrown it out it’s because I use it as a place to put the books I’m reading. In the photo you can see that. Next to it, the old fan.

I aspire to live better. But above all I consider myself a free man. And that is where a person can be dangerous in Cuba. Precisely that question.

Iván García

CLARIFICATION

Since October 2009 Ivan has received money for his contributions to the on-line edition of El Mundo/América, most of which goes to the apartment where he has lived since 1979, which is in very bad repair. He need to fix it so that his wife and daughter can come to live with him (currently they both live in her mother’s house). He needs to fix the wiring and kitchen, and purchase materials to fix the bathroom. A lengthy and costly process, delayed now for several years, because in addition to the kitchen and the bathroom, the apartment has a living/dining room, three bedrooms, a hall and a terrace. After it’s all fixed and painted he will need to buy furniture, little-by-little, as poor people in Cuba do these things. The rest of what he earns goes to support his 7-year-old daughter; so that his mother-in-law, a cook, can buy food; for internet cards (every two hours costs 15 CUC and he needs an average of three to four a month because, as you can see, he is an independent journalist who writes from Havana), and to change 20 CUC for pesos to pay the rent, light, telephone, gas and water, and to be able to take a private taxi costs ten pesos. When I can I send money from Switzerland (I receive the minimum pension of a retiree and political refugee), which goes to help my granddaughters and my 90-year-old uncle. (Tania Quintero)

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Cerro Stadium, the Worst It’s Been in Its 64 Years

October 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Anyone who claims to be from Havana has visited, at least once in their life, the old baseball stadium in the majority-black marginal neighborhood of Carraguao, in Cerro.

On October 26 it will be 64 years since the Cerro Stadium opened. One Sunday in 1946 it opened with a game between the Almendares and Cienfuegos clubs. At that time the stadium had a capacity of 30,000 fans.

Built at a cost of 2 million pesos, and headed up by the shareholder Bobby Maduro, the brand new headquarters for winter ball in Cuba started with four teams: Almendares, Havana, Marianao and Cienfuegos. Through the gates of the old place have passed the great stars of the national past-time.

From the immortal Martin Dihigo, the first Cuban to enter the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, to Orestes Minoso, Roberto Ortiz — who hit the first home run in the new stadium — Camilo Pascual, Luis Tiant, Pedro Fomental Agapito Mayor, Hector Rodriguez and the spectacular shortstop Willy Miranda, among many others.

Many players from the United States and the Caribbean, which were then stars in the Major Leagues, also played in the sacred precinct of Cuban baseball. The formidable American black pitcher Leroy “Satchel” Paige, and the man who was later a famous manager in the majors, Tommy Lasorda, drew applause in the stadium of the capital before 1959. Gringo sluggers Barry Bonds and Frank Thomas also stepped on this lawn when they were amateur players.

But not only baseball has been played in the big stadium. In the 1940s club matches were held for Spanish soccer league, such as Atletico Madrid and Celta Vigo, in the early 1960’s, the Brazilian Botafogo. Joe Louis, the “Detroit Bomber” and professional heavyweight champion of the world, fought there against the Cuban Omelio Agramonte.

The Mexicans Armillita Perez and Silverio staged a bullfight there. And an unprecedented event was when Sonja Heine, a famous Norwegian figure skater, performed her show on the ground turned into ice.

In 1957 the stadium hosted the  Festival of 50 Years of Cuban Music, with the participation of Cuban artists living in other countries — Antonio Machin was one of them — and foreign guests such as the Puerto Rican Tito Puente and the Chilean Lucho Gatica.

In 1960, Fidel Castro changed its name to the Latin American Stadium. Then, in 1971, following the celebration in Havana of a world championship of amateur baseball, it expanded its capacity to 55 thousand spectators.

The terrain is natural grass,  and it is 325 feet (99 meters) down the sides, 380 (106 meters) at the corners and 400 feet (121 meters) across at the center. It is the home of the Industriales, current national champions.

The best players from the island over the past 50 years have played on the grass at Cerro. Players who have hit home runs there include Luis Giraldo Casanova from Pinar del Rio and his compatriot Omar Linares, the most prominent baseball player since the revolution. Also making it theirs were the Santiagan Orestes Kindelan, who hit the longest national home run; Antonio Pacheco and on the mound Braudilio Vinent. Two superb players like  as Pedro Antonio Muñoz and José Rodríguez, from the province formerly Las Villas, staged colossal duels with first class pitchers from the Industriales, the ninth Creole baseball logo.

More than 300 Cuban players who have defected played in the “Latino.” Some shone brightly: Kendry Morales, Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Jose Contreras. Others shook their legs to leave the ring. The All-Star lefty Aroldis Pichert Chapman, who now earns millions with the Cincinnati Reds, batted freely on the capital grounds.

In its 64 birthday, the old stadium in Cerro is worse than ever. The terrain is pretty bad. Its ability to drain after a heavy rain has deteriorated. And the roof is in a deplorable state.

The artificial lighting is terrible. Several towers are rusted and useless, presenting a danger of collapse. In the last year, the Industriales team has not been able to play at night. This prevents many fans, who have to work in the day, from coming to see the best club of the last half-century Cuba.

Photo: judithsweet, Flickr