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Havana, Between Filth and Social Indiscipline

May 29, 2013 2 comments

My beautiful pictureAlthough a sputtering Russian-made truck and its crew passed through the Sevillano neighborhood picking up trash and garbage in the streets the night before, debris had once again accumulated on the street corners by morning.

“It never ends. At dawn every morning we go through areas of Diez de Octubre picking up trash. We take tons of waste to the dump, but a little later the street corners are overflowing with junk again,” says Orlando, a 35-year-old sanitation worker.

Directly facing the Plaza Roja in the heart of the Havana neighborhood of La Víbora, there is an unoccupied building where neighbors dump significant quantities of trash. Every so often large dump trucks and a bulldozer carry off the piles of debris. A few days later the building is once again filled with refuse and discarded objects.

The garbage trucks cannot always make their rounds. The drivers do what they can with the aging fleet. Many of the vehicles remain idle due to a lack of spare parts. Widespread indifference leads some people to steal the wheels off the trash containers to make pushcarts. Or for fun, gangs of youths turn trashcans over into the streets.

Public health and epidemiological officials launch media campaigns in an effort to stem the illegal dumping, but they have little effect.

“Havana as a city is extremely vulnerable to diseases associated with a lack of cleanliness. Unhealthy conditions as well as rats, mice, mosquitoes as well as poor water treatment can lead to skin infections, cholera and dengue fever,” says a specialist.

In spite of some outbreaks of dengue fever and cholera, Havana has not seen large-scale epidemics — at least not yet — even though dengue fever has reached almost epidemic proportions.

Because potable water is not available 24 hours a day, a large segment of the population is forced to store water in containers, and not always in the most hygienic or careful way. As a result mosquito larvae carrying hemorrhagic dengue fever can be difficult to eliminate.

“Ending the cycle of the dengue epidemic has so far proved to be impossible. As long as current living conditions in Cuba persist, trying to eradicate dengue is like tilting at windmills,” says the head of a brigade which fumigates houses in an attempt to prevent the illness.

A shortage of trash bins means pedestrians often throw peanut wrappers, beer cans and other pieces of trash into the street. Because there are fewer public restrooms — especially in bars, cafes and nightclubs — at night many people urinate or defecate in public thoroughfares, on street corners or in building stairways.

Public apathy and societal discontent among certain segments of the population manifest themselves in acts of petty vandalism towards public telephones, automatic teller machines and city buses.

The filth and stench have turned the capital into the dirtiest city on the island. A shortage of trashcans and public idleness have caused the streets to overflow with refuse and debris.

“If the accumulation of dirt and poor water treatment continue, an epidemic of huge proportions could be unleashed in Havana in the near future,” warns an epidemiologist. We have been lucky so far.

Iván García

18 May 2013

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Cuba: Sex, Taking All Comers / Ivan Garcia

May 19, 2013 1 comment

There is still the ration book. Potatoes are scarce, the price of fruit is going through the roof, and drinking a natural orange juice is a luxury. Sanitary pads are only distributed every two months — a package of ten to menstruating women. And connecting to the Internet is still a science fiction story for a large part of the population.

However, sex is liberated. A national sport. According to some, the infidelity between couples is a gene human beings carry. If those verse in it give a tour of Cuba, we can confirm their strange theories.

And they confirm that teenagers of 12 and 13 are “experts” in the field. Unaware that Australian is a continent, or that Henry Lee was in independence fighter in the American Revolution and not the creator of Lee jeans. But when it comes to sex, they have countless stories to tell. For many boys, their fathers teach them from the time they’re small, that the more women they have the more macho they are.

It’s the ABCs of a Cuban father to his son; life is dick. Men don’t cry. And the boss of the house is the one with balls. If in the 19th and 20th century fathers paid prostitutes to de-flower their sons, today it’s not necessary.

Most children are more up-to-date and more promiscuous than their parents. Having a “honey” or a lover is synonymous with masculinity. An athlete of sex. A son of a bitch of the street.

The more lovers, the more drinks friends pay for. In the bars they offer “wise” council about how to get into an impossible female. For hours, they tell sex anecdotes without ceasing to drink like Cossacks, beer and cheap rum.

Sex in Cuba is messy, but it has its hierarchies. Not like the neighborhood pimp that manages a five-star hotel. A capital that’s a general. A boring and monotonous deputy to parliament that’s a mandarin.

The “honeys” of the superiors respect them. Secretly they look at their breasts or butt, but desist from the rude compliment or indecent proposal.  A boss can fire you or make your life impossible if he finds you prowling around his woman.

Meanwhile, the more stars on your epaulette or if your photo appears among the members of the Central Committee, the more chances you have to give major luxuries to your lovers. You can even choose: blondes brunettes, mulatto or black. Or have a collection with one of each. As all are stunning, with pride and discretion we see you on the weekend in exclusive recreational villas for senior officers, or at parties their wives don’t attend.

Being the “honey” of a major character in Cuba, is synonymous with social status. As if rocket-propelled, you climb the ladder at work. All over Havana everyone is talking about the meteoric rise of a famous television report, who is both beautiful and talented. According to the rumors, the lucky guy who sleeps with her is the “boss of the bosses.”

It’s still remembered that in the 90s, when Carlos Aldana was the third strong man on the island, in charge of the ideological sector of the Communist Party, came to have three “darling” journalists, the three well-known.

Even Fidel Castro, between sips of Jack’s Daniel, liked to talk in private about his sexual exploits, like the affair he had with the German Marita Lorenz and she told about it in a book. In a macho-Fidelista Revolution like the Cuban one, having amorous adventures in bulk sets you apart from the pack. A rogue, a pimp. A hallmark of virility that makes the difference.

In a note from Juan Juan Almeida published in Marti News, told about the debauchery of Cuban officials in Angola. He gave a figure, taking from the Ministry of the Armed Forces: 40% of the woman who were on the mission in Angola were harassed or raped. That figure has never appeared in the newspaper Granma. For me, Almeida Jr. is a highly credible source. He lived among the creme de la creme of the Cuban hierarchy. His father, a great person in the opinion of his relatives, took to his bed every woman who stirred his pleasure.

And I pardon their children and wives. The great difference between being the “honey” of a leader and dying of hunger, are luxuries and comforts. The guy with few resources invites you to a movie and buys you popcorn or peanuts. The “bigwig” puts a roof over your head. And if you really satisfy him he buys you a car. And in addition, you climb the ladder in your profession.

There are women who live off their lovers, like the pimps off their prostitutes. And sometimes they have more than one “girlfriend,” they compete to see who gets more and remains preferred. Recently I heard an argument between two hookers. One said to the other, “Yeah, I’m a monster, I bought my boyfriend a motorcycle and three gold chains. The others just give him shirts and sneakers.”

You can live in tile house in Carraguao, or a residence in Miramar. But if you were raised to it, you have to have a “honey.” In a conversation between “tough men,” if you don’t talk about the “girlfriends,” “honeys” or lovers you have, they might label you Catholic or retarded. A bore who doesn’t know how to use the penis God gave you. That is, taking care not to mention or even look at the boss’s lover.

Ivan Garcia

16 May 2013

Fidel Castro, Mentor to Chavez / Ivan Garcia

May 12, 2013 1 comment

The French General Charles de Gaulle used to say that when two people or two countries associated with each other, one always tries to have the upper hand. Cuba, which because of its geographical situation is considered the Key of America, after 54 years of the exclusive mandate of the Castro brothers still has pretensions of being a lighthouse of redemption.

As the first Communist country on the continent it has forged the natural right to be an ideological mentor of the rebellious, seditious, or outdated Latin America anarchists.

The Havana government has outlined interventionist policies. When in the time of the “proletariat internationalism” the Soviet titty connected a tube of rubles, funds and oil, Fidel Castro offered guerrilla apprenticeship courses in Cuba.

Terrorists, such as the Venezuelan Carlos “The Jackal,” currently in prison in France, learned to use C-4 explosives from his Cuban comrades. On behalf of the dictatorship of the proletariat, an enraged poor island sent troops to civil conflicts in Africa.

After the years of the Castro hurricane are left behind, the amount of money and resources squandered in overseas battles will be known. When Soviet Communism said goodbye, the island entered a stage called the “Special Period”: a punishment of waste and economic unproductivity. The regime was jumping through hoops.

The State coffers were nearly empty. Lack of oil paralyzed the development plans. Closed industries. The blackouts lasted 12 hours a day. It was like a war, but without aerial bombardments.

In Venezuela, in 1992, a lieutenant colonel in the paratroopers attempted a military coup to install himself in Miraflores. Meanwhile, in his office, Fidel Castro circled in red pencil the news from the event. He awarded the highest priority to young Hugo Chavez. And when he was released in 1994, he was the guest of honor. It was in Havana where the future alliance was born.

The olive-green autocracy bet everything on a winning horse. Screaming, the homeland of Bolivar demanded changes. The corruption and inflexibility of traditional politicians, rampant poverty and urban crime, had gestated an explosive panorama.

Hugo was Fidel’s man in Caracas. He came to power skillfully managing the discourse of poverty and social change. No talk of socialism to be controlled much of Venezuelan institutions. He didn’t talk about socialism until he had the better part of the Venezuelan institutions under control.

Venezuela is a democracy in appearances. There is free press and political game. Even elections. But the strong man of Barinas designed a strategy that will enable staying in power for decades, using authoritarian methods subtly supported by the Constitution.

Chavez’s ideology was amorphous. Catholic, a little Marxism along the way, and a first class passion for the XXI Century Socialism devised by the German political scientist, Heinz Dieterich.

Death came to collect him and saved him from disaster. If Venezuela remains committed to the path of political absurdity, it will end in massive street protests, citizen discontent and social unrest. The economic figures are unsettling. Crime is frightening. Inflation soars.

Although the barrel of oil is around $100, the money collected evaporates. Oil production decreases. Part of this production is to pay their debt to China. Another part is delivered at a subsidized price, if paid for at all, to Cuba and other Caribbean nations.

Socialism sounds nice in theory. Helping the homeless, prosperity, health and free education. That is good. But social policies should be designed without violating individual liberties or leaping over democratic laws. A State can’t plan a whole economy from toothpicks to the exact amount of slushy ice.

President Nicolas Maduro could turn things around for good. But he’s carrying the burden of his friends’ cadaver on his back. The advice that blows down from Havana should not be a pattern to follow.

The project is to polarize society. To continue delivering oil to the string of friendly countries. And consolidate the continental hegemony against the United States. During his visit to Cuba he met with Fidel Castro for five hours, presumed mastermind of today’s Venezuelan landscape.

If Maduro is an honest man, he will notice that his alliance with the Cuban government could lead to political ruin. The ideal would be to break that heavy burden, which annoys even many supporters of Chavez.

And the model to follow, opting for a modern and moderate leftist style like Lula’s of Dilma’s in Brazil. Otherwise, its days are numbered.

Iván García

Photo: Gregory Bull / AP, taken by Los Angeles Times. Fidel Castro receives Hugo Chavez at the airport in Havana on November 15, 1999.

11 May 2013

Private 3D Movies, the Latest Fashion in Havana / Ivan Garcia

May 11, 2013 Leave a comment

Some are advertised online. And they pay taxes to the state. Other work by the left. Either way flowers grow like Havana.

All are located in private homes. Prices vary between one and three CUC with the right to a bag of popcorn and a soda. They also sell ice cream and beer, rum, vodka and whiskey for adults.

There are runs for children, adolescents and youth. And sessions just for adults with horror movies or violence. These private 3D cinemas have a wide collection of films in three dimensions.

Avatar or Tintin, are now all the rage among children. In the neighborhood of La Vibora there are now several 3D cinemas. One of them is located in a house on the side of the former primary school, Pedro Maria, today a dilapidated shell.

So many children, youth and adults attend, making reservations days in advance with Roinel, the owner. The house has air conditioning and a small wood and metal bar. About twenty yellow and white plastic chairs, four large sofas and three high-legged stools.

In one of the showings last Saturday, the makeshift 3D theater was packed. Each session lasts two hours. “It’s tremendous, the reception given the 3D. It is a unique experience and people are loving it. In one day I have to 5 showings with a full house,” says Roinel.

He has 40 polarized glasses. A formidable 60 inch flat screen and a special projector for films in three dimensions. When Roinel is asked about the profits he responds with a smile. “I’m making good money,” he said without giving figures. The olive-green state, owns 90% of the companies in Cuba, and keeps an eagle eye on the new 3D cinema private businesses.

The first public exhibition hosted by the Cuban Film Institute (ICAIC) was held in the province of Camagüey, a little more than 300 miles east of Havana, at an event for film criticism, last March. “It was more symbolic than anything else, because we only had 20 glasses, but for historical purposes it must be as the first exhibition in a public space by the State,” he told the film critic Juan Antonio García from the Spanish agency EFE.

According to ICAIC officials, the agency is considering adapting a small room at its headquarters at 23rd and 12th in Vedado, for three-dimensional projections. As always, the State lags behind the creativity shown by the self-employed.

The equipment in these particular 3D cinema comes to the island thanks to relatives residing in South Florida or Cubans married to foreigners.

Although 3D cinema is now causing excitement, this type of experience is not novel in Cuba. “In the 50s, in various rooms of Havana they showed films with the anaglyph 3D technique, blue and cyan. The new thing now is the polarized glasses,” says a capital cinephile.

According to official data, Cuba has just over 300 cinemas, with 16 and 35 mm format. Most were built before the Revolution. Today, operating theaters have severe damage and do not have the technological equipment to make the jump to 3D. Others have disappeared or turned into juggling schools, theater companies and stores selling schlock.

A movie ticket is very cheap on the island. Two pesos (ten cents). But talking about comfort is another thing. You can count on the fingers of one hand the air-conditioned rooms, ushers with flashlights and clean bathrooms.

The days of the old children’s matinees in the local cinemas where the children saw Chaplin and for the first time and the comedies of Laurel and Hardy, gone.

That magic of a dark room and a large screen has begun to be replaced by new private cinemas in 3D that proliferate in Havana. The difference is that the experience can cost a family two week’s wage.

Iván García

7 May 2013