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Cuba: The Bitterness of its Sugar

September 23, 2013 1 comment
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Carrying sacks of sugar – Taken from the Repeating Islands Blog

In 23 years, Cuba has gone from being one of the world’s sugar refining nations to exporting the sweet grass for the consumption of the tourist sector.  If in 1990, in the dawning of that silent war that was the “Special Period,” 8.2 million tons of sugar were produced, in 2013 a little less than one million was produced.

This year the sugar harvest was 11% less than predicted in the state plan.  Only with that fabulous capacity that the official media have to cushion failures, did they adorn the disaster with tinges of optimism.

A peripatetic television reader said that, in spite of a deficit in the production of 133 thousand tons, “the sugar harvest of 2012-2013 was the best in the last nine years.”  According to the official version, the poor results indicated “difficulties in efficiency due to technological obsolescence in the agricultural industry and machinery, poor organization and indiscipline.”

The sugar harvest fiasco is a hard economic blow.  A ton of sugar on the world market is valued at 400 dollars.  Therefore, the rickety state finances lost an income of 53.2 million dollars.

President Raul Castro has tried to revitalize the formerly premier national industry by making butcher cuts.  In 2012 he closed the enormous bureaucratic apparatus of the Ministry of Sugar and, with a third of the employees, created a state enterprise called Azcuba.

The entity announced that it aspired to an increase of 20% in the sugar production with respect to the prior harvest of 1.4 tons.  The possibility was studied of managing a center in the province of Cienfuegos with the Brazilian firm Odebrecht.

The preparation of the harvest was thoroughly planned: petroleum to be consumed by means of transport, inputs for cane cutters, pieces of spare machine parts for the mills and output that should be obtained per 33-acre tract sowed with cane.

The forecast was a resounding failure.  I asked a sugar industry expert why, for a long time, the sugar production has not exceeded the barrier of 2 million tons. Currently he is retired, but for several years he worked in the Ministry of Sugar, in days gone by a powerful institution, with a millionare budget and a structure surpassed only by the Armed Forces and the Ministry of the Interior.

In that time, the official traveled half the world, buying equipment and machinery. “If you want to know what has stopped working in the current sugar campaigns, you have to do a little history.  After 1911 in the Cuban republic, sugar production fluctuated between 5 and 7 million tons.  They were harvests that rarely took three months.  The productivity per hectare was among the best on the planet.  At the level of Hawaii or any sugar power of that time.  The Cuban industry was a jewel, with a world class efficiency.  With the arrival of Fidel Castro into power in 1959, there began the slow decline of our premier industry.”

The specialist continues his story. “Blunders and volunteerism succeeded each other in abundance. The lack of spare parts for the machinery of the mills and the insufficient training of technical personnel in the mills, who occupied important posts thanks to their political loyalty, were undermining the sugar industry.  Castro involved himself in the sector on an authoritarian basis.  His plans and fantasies caused a lot of damage. By pure whim, he substituted the cane variety that was planted in the fields, very resistant to plagues and with high sucrose volume. The ’Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest’ in 1969-1970, was the coup de grace.  Those consequences are still taking their toll on the production of sugar.”

According to the expert, Castro was like a devastating hurricane, a noxious plague. “He not only planned the cold campaign in a wrong way, the subproducts that the cane generates were also wasted.  Sugar powers like Brazil take advantage of it all. The cane is not only sugar or alcohol.  It serves to produce furniture, medicine and animal protein, among other features.”

In the Cold War years, when Cuba allied with the communist countries of Eastern Europe, the island sold its sugar production at a preferential price.  Inputs, fertilizers and machines were not lacking.  In the Holguin province, some 800 kilometers east of Havana, with Russian technology, a factory was built that produced cane cuttings.

By the end of the 20th century, all the sugar machinery was being dismantled.  In 2002, the government put into place a plan of plant conversion.  Of the 156 existing plants, 71 produced sugar; 14, sugar and molasses for livestock feed; and of the 71 others, 5 would be converted into museums, 5 would be kept in reserve, and the other 61 would be dismantled.  But in 2005 government sources reported that between 40 and 50 of the still active plants would be closed.

In October 2002, Fidel Castrol designed a reordering of the sugar industry and named it Alvaro Reinoso’s Task (he was a considered a founding father of the scientific agriculture in the island in the 19th century).  In a public speech he said that in the coming weeks schools would be opened for no fewer than 90 thousand industry workers.  In an undercover manner, thousands of sugarcane workers were forced out of work.

Today, dozens of sugar mills and its warehouses are considered scrap.  Along with the “company towns” around them, where people subsist eating little and badly and consuming alcohol in alarming quantities.

Via the rationing book people get five pounds of sugar per person. In the black market the prices of this commodity is almost prohibitive in a country where the  average monthly salary is $20 dollars.  The cost of a pound of white or refined sugar is $8 Cuban pesos (40¢ US), and $6 Cuban pesos (30¢ US) for raw or dark sugar.  Due to its awful quality, there have been more than a few occasions where the tourism industry has had to import refined sugar from the Dominican Republic and Brazil.

When the history is retold about the leading and monumental failures of Fidel Castro’s revolution, the sugar industry will be in first place.  From a great exporter in the past to an importer in the present. That’s a bitter reality.

By Ivan Garcia

Translated by mlk

22 September 2013

Cuban Sport Fades Away / Ivan Garcia

September 23, 2013 1 comment

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The defection of Cuban athletes is no longer news. And gone are the front-page headlines announcing epic victories and world championships.

The state coffers are empty. The sports schools no longer turn out strings of champions like sausages. In the last Olympic Games in London 2012, we finished in 16th place.

Underline that result. It is likely that from now on the performance will get worse. The problem is not that the population has become sedentary or obese. Or that Cubans have given up their love of sports.

No. What has happened is a quiet revolution within the sports movement in Cuba. Athletes have become tired of being handled like puppets for the regime’s propaganda.

They also want to earn lavish salaries like their peers in the world, to be free to sign with any major team, and to manage their earnings without state interference.

So they leave Cuba. And will continue leaving: baseball players, boxers, volleyballers, track and field athletes, and competitors from other disciplines.

The government of General Raúl Castro does not want to open the gate. From now on, it is the State that designates who will compete in a foreign league, and how much money they should be paid.

The olive green mandarins have again miscalculated. They are trying to design a structure similar to that of Cuban contractors abroad — to manage contracts and pocket the lion’s share. Like doctors and civilian advisers, athletes will be a commodity. A way to bring dollars into the government’s deflated accounts.

They have forgotten Fidel Castro’s once fierce speech against professionalism. Rent-an-athlete is now welcome, as long as the athlete is as meek as a sheep.

But times are different. Olympic champion Dayron Robles has gotten tired of being manipulated by remote control. Robles has charted a new course: that of the independent athlete. He has the intransigent national sports directors against the ropes.

Taking advantage of loopholes in the January 13 immigration reform, Dayron intends to compete freely in the Diamond League, without having to defect from his homeland or give up competing in future international tournaments under the Cuban flag.

The Cuban authorities are unwilling to accept his decision or negotiate a way out. Dayron Robles will mark a turning point in the Cuban sports movement.

The authorities are at a crossroads. If they yield to him, they could set a bad precedent, and in the short-term lose control of the salaries of athletes allowed to compete in foreign leagues.

That’s the key. The regime knows that it can bring in several hundred million dollars annually by hiring out athletes. The ideal would be to levy a reasonable tax on wages for athletes competing on foreign clubs. And allow athletes to manage as they see fit the money they earn with their sweat and talent.

It would be good for both sides. No one would be forced to leave Cuba. But in an autocracy, reasonableness is a bad word. The government’s intransigent position led to this quagmire.

Due to wrong policies, about a thousand athletes have been forced to defect. Athletes on the island are not unaware of the success of Yasser Puig, Yoennis Céspedes and Osmany Juantorena, among many others.

They also want to compete with the best and earn wages commensurate with their athletic caliber. In their country they earn the salaries of laborers. Few can start a restaurant when they retire, like Mireya Luis, Raúl Diago, or Javier Sotomayor.

They only have two choices: become coaches or political commissioners in the style of the sinister Alberto Juantorena. The downward spiral of Cuban sport is attributable to the stubbornness of the regime, which seeks to control sports contracts from a desk and only with its consent.

Already in the last Olympics Cuba was not represented in team sports. The performance of the men’s volleyball team in the World League, with one win and seven defeats, is the price paid for this intolerance.

Every year sports stars leave. The fans cheer. But there are other avenues to explore. The country does not belong to the Castros. It is everyone’s. Each of us born on this island must reclaim what we consider our inalienable rights.

It is a hard choice. The scribes of the official press defame those athletes who freely decide to separate from the Cuban sports movement. The IOC and the international federations can and should mediate the dispute.

Athletes like Robles are entitled not to be slaves. Congratulations to Dayron.

Iván García

Photo: Taken from Últimas Noticias, Venezuela.

Translated by Tomás A.

12 September 2013

Cuban Fast Food / Ivan Garcia

September 23, 2013 Leave a comment

Churros-a-secret-history-1-400x330As there is no McDonald’s or Burger King, Cuban fast food is flour fritters and home-made pizza.

Bread with croquettes of uncertain origin are also popular, and donuts filled with guayaba, condensed milk or chocolate. A vast number of families on the island only prepare one hot meal a day, at night.

They have strong black coffee with sugar for breakfast. And some plain bread, or with oil and garlic. Lunch is whatever appears, depending on what money is available. It could equally be a snack in a private cafe or a disgusting bread and pork in a state eatery.

The star “fast foods” in the Havana streets are the croquettes and fritters.  A perfect “wild card”.  Since they are cheap, they have become the “peoples’ food”.  You can serve it for breakfast or lunch and for dinner for the poorest folk.

Noelvis has become and expert fritter-maker. He works 12 hours a day. “I sell up to 900 fritters a day. My profits are around $400 or $500 pesos. I also sell loose croquettes for a peso or bread with two croquettes for five.  A fritter costs a peso. I prepare some dough with white flour and add well-chopped chives, garlic and some off-the-shelf seasoning.  The secret is that I don’t use yeast to make the pastry rise.  I fry them in boiling oil and when I spoon them into a pot, I try to make sure they aren’t very big. I let them fry long enough so that when they cool they don’t go sticky and caramelized. After some hours they are crispy.

A packet of ten croquettes sells for 5 pesos in the state-owned fish shops. The fritter sellers buys them for resale. “I get a profit, half and half.” says Noelvis. Their ingredients are unknown. The nylon bags where they come in don’t tell the ingredients. Cubans call them “croquettes to be deciphered”.

Ricardo works in a factory where they make croquettes and gives an assurance that they are chicken based. “They use all of it, from the skin to the bones. They grind it well and make a dough. The hygiene measures are good. The people who prepare food wear rubber gloves.”

Their flavor varies. Sometimes they have a distant aftertaste of chicken, other times fish. Or they taste of nothing. They seem like plastic, artificial croquettes. But if they are eaten fully fried they don’t taste bad.

Before she leaves her house, Diana drinks a coffee and when she walks to her pre-university institute she religiously breakfasts on two flour fritters and a croquette. “To keep my figure I eat just one croquette without bread. Although with so much saturated fat it’s a little difficult. My parents give me six pesos a day, and with this money I can only buy croquettes and fritters. The lifesaver for many people.”

Another staple of “fast food” are the churros.  They were always sold thin, long and powered in sugar.  Yamila, who owns a churro station in the Luyano town, says that they are made of wheat flour and if you add a “yucca mixture they taste better. But right now the trend is to prepare them in a fatter mold and two fingers in width.  After, they are filled with a thick marmalade, condensed milk or chocolate syrup.  The profits increase significantly due to the flavors”.

Filled churros are the latest trend in Havana.  Their prices are expensive for the middle class pocket.  A churro filled with guava, mango, coconut or chocolate is approximately $5 pesos and $10 for the ones filled with condensed mild or tuna fish.

“Children are the best customers, although adults also buy often.  If you want good sales you have to get a place in a central avenue or close to a children’s park as is my case”, says Eusebio.  The market competition is aggressive.  In his zone, there are three churro posts; so they have to become creative.  “I have family in the United States and they have told me that at McDonald’s they don’t only sell hamburgers, they also do promotions.  They offer children’s menus and they give toys or balloons so that gave me an idea.  In my post, I will install a TV and the clerks will be dressed as clowns.  If you buy three churros, you’ll get another one free”.

Perhaps you can’t compare the “fast typical Cuban food” with a Big Mac or a Pollo Tropical meal in Miami, but we can also sell ours in bulk.

Ivan Garcia

Picture – Filled churros which are now in trend in Cuba, they also like them in.  countries like Spain, Mexico, Peru, USA and England.  These were taken from “Los Churros: A Secret History”.

Translated by GH

21 September 2013

The Kindness of the Cuban Aristocracy? / Ivan Garcia

September 20, 2013 1 comment

omnibus-urbanos-620x330While in Sao Paulo and other cities in Brazil the outraged people flooded the streets to protest the increase in transportation prices, rampant corruption and the millions in public expenditures for the World Cup and the Olympic Games, in Cuba the men garbed in olive-green govern at their pleasure, supported by a hard autocratic staff and a Constitution that prohibits strikes and anti-government marches.

Because of a twenty cents increase in public transportation, the Brazilian people took the streets. The Castros’ ability to perform ideological somersaults is indisputable. And they are masters in selling a discourse of effort, honest and sacrifice, while living like millionaire capitalists.

The power of the autocracy cannot be quantified. Or can it? A magnate like Bill Gates could be a ruthless monopolist and evade taxes, but he does not control the strings of foreign policy making or with just a simple phone call send a dissident to jail.

The Cuban autocrats do have real power.  They control the State in an absolute manner thanks to a network of special services, informers, neighborhood organizations that with a simple order can start an act of repudiation or provoke the beating of any opponent.

Even in former communist countries like East Germany, Czechoslovakia or Hungary, there were workers striking and mass demonstrations, crushed by the treads of Russian tanks and bursts from Kalashnikovs. In 54 years of the Cuban regime there has never been a general strike in the island.

One of the few exceptions was the rebellion of August 5, 1994 in the largely poor and majority black neighborhoods of Cayo Hueso and San Leopoldo in Central Havana.  The detonator for the protest — known as “el Maleconazo” — was the desire of people to leave the country.  They weren’t asking for political changes, better wages nor demanding that the government hold free elections.

Due to the scientific repression, many Cubans are devious pretenders.  If the gate of an embassy opens, as with the Peruvian embassy in April 1980, those same people would leave their red Party card at the door.

Or they would play the game of mirrors learned over decades.  They take cover behind political speeches, revolutionary jingles, raise their hands in unanimous consent at a union meeting or respond to a call from the intelligence services and shout vulgarities at the Ladies in White.

The majority of the Cuban population is peaceful. Too much so.  Some prefer to take a rubber raft and risk their life crossing the dangerous Florida Straits rather than to become affiliated with a dissident group.  With harsh words they criticize the government in public buses or private taxis or maybe while drinking the cheapest rum with their friends or in living rooms in their homes; but that’s it.

If we compare ourselves with Brazil, Cuban could have seen several strikes and lots of massive protests of the outrages. The minimum salary in Brazil is $678 reales or $326 dollars.  In Cuba it is $20 dollars.

If you need to buy a home appliance, you have to have access to convertible currency or CUC, a currency in which workers or retired people do not get paid.  The products sold in stores for that currency and are taxed between 240% and 300%.

A jar of mayonnaise, made in Cuba, is one-third of the median salary.  A bag of frozen potatoes is pretty much the same.  From 2003 to date many items sold in hard currency have increased between 40% to 90%.

One hundred dollars in 2003 represents forty-five dollars in 2013, due to the 13% tax levied on the US dollar, decreed by Fidel Castro in 2005, along with the silent price increases for staple products.

In contrast, wages have barely grown in the last twenty years. The sending of remittances by family members from the “other side of the pond” is what supports the basic needs of their family in the island.

It is predicted that in 2013 the regime will receive more than $2.6 million dollars from these remittances.  At the same time, the registers at the stores are happily chirping and the subsidies from the State are decreasing.  The message from the rulers is loud and clear. Make ends meet however you can, establish a small place to refill lighters or fix old shoes.

The bus fare in Cuba, the genesis of the riots in Brazil, have risen from five cents in 1989 to forty cents in 2013.  However, due to the tremendous scarcity of twenty-cent coins, people are paying one peso. To travel in an overflowing bus and with a horrific service.

Nobody has taken the streets to protest.  The mute revenge of Cuban workers is to work little and poorly and to steak what they can from the jobs. Fidel Castro never liked democracies.  The strikes, protests and free elections give him allergies.

One afternoon during the 1990’s, it is said that someone whispered in the Nicaraguan politician Daniel Ortega’s ear, after his loss in the referendum: you don’t hold elections to lose.  Ortega and the compatriots of the PSUV in Venezuela took note.

Cuba, which economically speaking is a failure, has shown that only an autocracy can keep popular discontent in the dark.

If anyone wants some advice as to how to run a country without disturbances, please come by Havana.

Ivan Garcia

Picture from Primavera Digital

Translated by: LYD

18 September 2013

The Hotel International in Varadero will be Demolished / Ivan Garcia

September 20, 2013 Leave a comment

00-620_HInter-620x330In the 1950’s there were two hotels out of their league: the Hotel National in Havana and the Hotel International in Varadero.  The first one is still standing in the heart of Vedado, the second one will be demolished.

This was just confirmed by Jorge Alvarez, Director of Center of Inspection and Environmental Control.  This institution is in charge of controlling, supervising and regulating the protection of the environment and the rational use of natural resources.  The cause?  The alarming coastal erosion discovered by the scientists and specialists who were given the task to visit and analyze almost six thousand kilometers of Cuban coast.

Although the authorities have chosen prudence and remaining silent, the conclusions are alarming. “The government realized that the protection of the coasts for an island like Cuba, long and narrow is a matter of national security”, said Alvarez recently.

The study showed that the rising ocean level could damage or wipe off the map around 122 small coastal towns, many beaches would be under water, drinking water sources would be lost and cultivated parcels unutilized.  It is possible that by the year 2050 the sea level will rise around 27 centimeters and some 85 centimeters by 2100.  It sounds small, but experts explain that this represents a penetration of salt water of up to two kilometers around low laying areas.

In October 2010, they were already talking about the probable demolition of the Hotel International.  A wave of rumors and conflicts were set off, inside and outside of the island.  Luanys Morales, spokesperson for Gran Caribe, the administrative group of the hotel said: “Is a shame that a rumor can influence the decision of many tourists who have called, alarmed by the news.  The Hotel will not be demolished and it is all part of a fallacy invented to grab headlines by people who don’t want what’s good for our island and their time spewing venom in their informal blogs.”

One month later this was corrected, supposedly officially, by a statement made by the Cuban Section of the International Council on Monuments and Sites, signed by their president, the architect Jose E. Fornes, corroborating the rumors about the intentions to demolish the Hotel International in Varadero and the Cabins of the Sun (Cabañas del Sol), both places considered “part of the Cuban and Caribbean modern patrimony,” which marked a milestone in Cuban architecture, due to their advanced design and visual integration between the landscape and the sea.

In an internet forum, Armando Fernandez said “Yes, they will demolish it. And not only the International which is an emblematic hotel of Varadero, but the cabins as well, which in their time represented a national prize of architecture. They made the decision without consulting anyone. I agree that there are important investments that must be made, but not at the expense of a symbol of national identity.”

Around the same time, Teresa, retired, confessed, “I felt a mixture of sadness and indignation when I heard that they were going to demolish the International.  I was born in Matanzas and before the revolution, when summer came, my parents would rent a house in Varadero. They loved going to the hotel cabaret and the kids would eat ice cream in the cafeteria.  Back then a working family like mine could do those luxury things.”

International Hotel in Varadero was inaugurated on December 24, 1950 in the city of Cardenas, Matanzas.  Because of its architectural style it was considered the “brother” of the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, opened in 1954.  Until the mid-80’s, when Fidel Castro decided to develop tourism as one of the most important sources of hard currency, the International Hotel was the tourists’ favorite.

Designed by the Cuban architect Ricardo Galbis, 300 workers took part in its construction.  Ninety percent of the materials used were imported from the United States.  Its cost was over three and half million pesos, which at that time was valued the same as the dollar.  It consisted of 163 rooms and a penthouse.  In the lobby, there was mural with an ocean theme, a work by the Spanish painter Hipolito Hidalgo de Caviedes, who in 1937 exiled himself to Cuba.  Hidaldo returned to Spain in 1961 and passed away in 1994 in Madrid, the same city where he was born in 1902.

When the Hotel International was inaugurated Varadero already had 17 hotels,  among them the Kawama, Miramar, Torres, Playa Azul and Varadero, the oldest of all dating back to 1915.  But the hotel boom really started around 1990 with the construction of Melia Varadero, Sol Club Las Sirenas, Sol Palmeras, Brisas del Caribe and Meliá Las Américas.

In 1887, the year of the official founding of Varadero, if a Havana native wanted to swim in its blue and translucent waters he had to have time, patience and energy.  To travel to Varadero, he would have to take a train to Cardenas and then from cross to the beach on foot, in a horse-drawn carriage or “carreton” or in a schooner.

Today, the trip of 130 kilometers between Havana and the famous beach resort is along a wide highway which by car or bus takes a little more than an hour.  Varadero is still the most popular tourist destination of sun and beach in Cuba.  It currently receives more than a million tourist visitors annually and it contributes around 30% of the tourist sector earnings.

Three years ago it was speculated that behind the Hotel International demolition was perhaps the discovery of oil reserves in the area or the construction of new golf resorts.  However, the grave damage done to the environment was the reason.  I hope there is time to save the eroded Cuban coasts.

Ivan Garcia

Picture Taken from Cubazul.

Translated by LYD

About the Screening of a North Korean Movie in Havana / Ivan Garcia

September 20, 2013 Leave a comment

cine-norcoreano-620x330Autocrats and Commanders like the cinema. Fidel Castro tried to convince the US director Roger Donaldson to act his part in the film 13 Days, about the 1962 missile crisis.

According to Castro’s security people who deserted to Florida, on his property of more than 40 houses, known as Zone 0, to the west of Havana, the only Comandante also had acres of land where they tried out new varieties of beans and vegetables, he had an ice cream factory, another for cheese and a private cinema.

Although he didn’t take matters as far as his North Korean opposite number Kim Jong-il, who, in 1978, gave an order to capture the South Korean movie director Shin Sang-ok to try and establish a movie industry which would reflect an artistic vision of the communist madhouse and the Juche ideology.

The dictator of Pyongyang treasured an archive of more than five thousand films. And he appears as the executive director in the credits of seven of them. We know that in the “command and control” countries art is the property of the state.

This means that the supreme leader can censor a work, approve the budget of a production which praises the regime, or send a dissident intellectual to the slammer.

When many cinema enthusiasts in Cuba assumed the grey chapter of socialist realism was closed, when movie posters only announced Soviet and East European films, these days in Havana they are showing North Korean films.

For the last two decades, 80% of the movies seen on television and in the cinemas have come from the States. That’s the positive part of the gringo embargo. Both the ICAIC and ICRT openly pirate American serials, films and documentaries without paying a cent for the author’s rights.

For the new generation of Cubans, the films they shoot in Pyongyang are a mystery. From 10th to 13th of September, the children’s cinema in Central Havana was the centre of an exhibition of North Korean movies. Not the first in the island. In the 60’s and 70’s they also presented crap there from the Asian country.

The first day, I couldn’t get in. It was invitation only. But I did notice a mob of functionaries and diplomats, dressed in grey tones with small pins of Kim Il-sung on their shirt lapels, looking after the invitees.

Who were not many. Fifty official journalists and ideologues from the Communist Party who, for reasons of protocol attended the premiere of a film in a bellicose style with little artistic merit.

The next day, entrance was open to everyone. It rained at intervals in Havana. At 5:00 in the afternoon they announced the showing of a movie about martial arts. At 8:00, another, about war, the favorite theme of North Korean cinema.

In spite of the fact that entry was 3 pesos (15 cents), people weren’t too enthusiastic. They looked sideways at the poster and asked which Korea the movie was from. When they realized it was from the north, they walked on.

At the entrance, a group of bored pensioners waited for  the start of the performance. Two passing peanut and popcorn vendors moved on somewhere else as a result of poor sales.

The woman selling the tickets looked me up and down when I bought two. I told her I was thinking of watching both films showing that day. “I don’t think you have the stomach to watch all the way through both of them”, she predicted.

I have watched dozens of soporific movies from the former Soviet Union and the old East European countries, but the North Korean one topped the list: it was an artistic genocide.

At my side sat a scrawny North Korean diplomat who had forgotten to use deodorant. It seemed that his role was to assess the level of acceptance of the exhibition on the part of the people of Havana.

The man look shocked when people walked out in the middle. Me with them.

by Iván García

Photo: Scene on Wolmi Island, a war movie projected at the premiere of the exhibition of North Korean cinema in Havana. Shot in 1982, lasting 92 minutes and, in North Korea it is forbidden for kids of under 16. It is based on what took place on the Island of Wolmi in September 1950. In order to respond to the general counter-attack of the Korean popular army, the US army tries to land on Inchon Beach in the Yellow Sea. The Wolmi Island soldiers resist for 3 days in the face of 50 thousand soldiers and 500 ships led by Gen. MacArthur. It  also shows the role played by the Korean women in the war. It is the star movie of the Pyongyang regime and, in spite of having been shot 31 years ago, it features in the North Korean film weeks in other countries, like in 2010 in London. Taken from the website Movie Firearms Database.

Translated by GH

19 September 2013

Cuba: Verbal and Physical Violence Increases / Ivan Garcia

September 18, 2013 Leave a comment

cuba-broncaAny place, public transportation, school, workplace or even in a family environment is prone to rudeness.  Many times start with insults and finishes like a boxing ring.

People with short fuses are abundant in Cuba.  Guys who use body language and verbal speech as guns.  Jose Carlos, 41 years old, thinks that the smallest thing can trigger a battlefield.

“If you are going to the store you have to be careful with your words and have patience.  The store clerks are always in a bad mood. They look like jail keepers.  The most scary ones are the receptionists. If they are not painting their nails, they are gossiping on the phone; they tell you to come back the next day because is lunch time. We are living in an epidemic of bad manners. Bad manners have nothing to do with the economic crisis or poverty, I think they are a consequence of the revolution; and now flourish like a bad weed,” says Jose Carlos.

Verbal and physical abuse usually start as young as the day care centers and progresses from elementary through high school; at least that is what Hilda, a 72-year-old retired school teacher thinks.

“In the four decades that I worked as a teacher, I realized that the verbal and physical abuse at the schools had increased during the last twenty years.  Upon the beginning of the “Special Period” around the early 90’s the loss of values, bullying among students, the usage of dirty words and vulgarities is present in ages as early as 5 to 6 years old.  I saw children whose parents had to transfer them from the schools because of the bullying and the violence from other children.  Usually kids duplicate the attitudes that they see at home and on occasions parents can behave worse than the kids.  They can act as irrational human beings.  If their kid got punished an earthquake could be unleashed; that coupled with low salaries are two of the reasons why young people elect not to be teachers.  Nobody wants to work in a place where aside from making little money it can bring you other issues”, says the experienced teacher.

The smallest touch in a public transportation vehicle can trigger an exchange of loud insults; and in the heat of the moment a physical altercation can occur.  Some managers, Arnaldo comments, behave with their subordinates as feudals bosses.  “I work in an food preparation plant for the tourism business. The superiors treat us as if we are dogs.  When we try to defend our rights they show you the front door.  It is the majority of them who behave as if they are God’s chosen or belong to a different social casts.”

A sociologist from Havana made it very clear, “The increase of verbal and physical abuse is part of a rude language filled with testosterone which Fidel Castro’s government started implementing.  Vulgarity became the watchword.  From insults used at public political speeches up to the jingles massively created around 1962 after the October Crisis.  For example:  “Nikita, faggot, what you give you can’t take back,” or “Ae, Ae, Ae the lollipop, Nixon doesn’t have a mother because a monkey gave birth to him.”  Another example was the unethical note published in  Granma the day that Ronald Reagan past away, it said “Today died one who should have never have been born.”  This antisocial and aggressive conduct from the Cuban social leadership, who often have converted the landscape of diplomacy into a cock fight ring, has been reproduced among the people for the last 54 years.  You can not expect good manners when the ones in charge do not have them,” said the sociologist.

In some families, eating an egg or a piece of bread that does not belong to the person can start a small war.  In Cuba is not unusual to find three generations living together.  In a home, is not unusual to find family members that do not talk to each other or cook and maintain their domestic life separately.  The children have as common occurrence the fights and verbal insults among family members.

Reggaeton music is another source of dirty language and incitement to violence.  A musician from Havana is convinced of that.  “The lyrics of that music style and the bands who play them are “chabacanas” which means low class and in poor taste.  Young people attempt to copy the way those artists dress; they attempt to copy their “macho” message which usually propagates violence, frivolity and drugs.”

After musical gatherings, either reggaeton or other types of music and regardless of the police presence, it has become the norm for those activities to end with fights using knives.  At the Red Plaza at La Vibora, in Diez de Octubre town, at certain Revolutionary marked dates, they often offer dances and parties.

They erect portable bathrooms made of wood in each corner and until 2 in the morning the music is blasting with those dirty lyrics that do not let the neighbors sleep.

At the end of the concerts is when the party really begins.  The fights among the marginal individuals, the stairs and halls are converted into public bathrooms or people smoking marijuana.  Sex is practiced in any small and dark space; all a spectacle of violence and disrespect.

Ivan Garcia

Picture – Taken from Cubanet

 Translated by LYD

Spanish post
15 September 2013