From 1962-1970 the suicide rate on the island ranged between 10.5 and 12.6 per 100,000 inhabitants. Back in the 80s, the rate of self-destruction among Cubans exceeded 21 suicides per 100,000 inhabitants. According to the PanAmerican Health Organization, Cuba has the highest suicide rate in the hemisphere, with 18.1 per 100,000 population, followed by Uruguay (15.9).
Figures from the Ministry of Public Health tell us that for every 2000 patients seen in GPs’ offices, at least one commits suicide during the first two years of being seen, 10 attempt suicide each year and about 50 are suicidal.
It is rare that in a neighborhood for its residents not to know dramatic anecdotes of suicide. From an old man hanging himself naked in his home or a young woman who burns herself up, to politicians loyal to the regime who committed suicide by shooting themselves, as did Eddy Sunol, Osvaldo Dorticós and Haydee Santamaria.
In 1964, after Fidel Castro dismissed him as Minister of Labor and accused him of corruption, the commander Augusto Martinez Sanchez, then at 41, attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest. He never returned to public life. In 2010 they allowed him to visit his eldest son in Miami. He died in Havana on February 2, 2013, at age 90.
In June, the independent attorney Veizant Boloy wrote in Cubanet that “suicide was the cause of death of at least 5 people between April and May 2013 in the municipality of Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba.” The most common methods were hanging, jumping into space from a high place, catching fire, poisoning with drugs and gun shots, “mainly young men who are forced, against their will, to do their military service.”
Several interviewees told Boloy that the situation the eastern provinces found themselves in after Hurricane Sandy in October 2012, which left more than 100,000 houses partially or totally destroyed, has been one of the causes of the increase in non-natural deaths in Palma Soriano.
Also in June 2013, but in Havana, independent journalist Carlos Ríos reported the suicide of the former police captain Romerico Berenguer, 69, who hanged himself at his home in Santos Suarez. The motive would have been that after four decades of service in the Interior Ministry, they retired him with 211 pesos per month ($9). Later they increased his pension to 300 pesos ($12), but it still wasn’t enough to live on. Ríos finished his Cubanet note clarifying that in less than a year, in that same block, there had been three more suicides, all men over 60.
In Mujeres (Women), a revolutionary rag, in a report published in October in Worldcrunch, Felina, one of the interviewees, told the journalist, “Last week a friend of mine burned herself up. She was a whore, like me. Her daughter said that she was watching television and suddenly her mother kissed her and went to the bathroom. She came out running, burning like a live torch. I think about suicide every day. But I don’t like to suffer. If I do it, I’m going to jump off the balcony.
After these terrifying tales, one question comes to mind: if the official media assures us that Cuba is perceived as the greatest paradise for workers, why is the suicide rate so high?
A medical specialist consulted said that the causes of suicide are varied. “From the persistent economic crisis and the lack of prospects, to mental breakdown. Many young people don’t see any prospects for their lives. They don’t persevere when they face their professional future. Personal problems overwhelm them. The same thing happens with adults and the elderly when there has been a family, political or social breakdown. There have been months when I’ve seen up to 20 cases of potential suicides.”
Suicide is a global phenomenon. It is the second cause of death after traffic accidents. Not even the experts agree on the causes that push an apparently sane person to self-destruct. In his book Anatomy of Melancholia, Robert Burton (1577-1640) defined suicide as an expression of a severe depressive state. Pierre de Boismont, in 1856, tried to be more exact: “The suicide is wretchedly unhappy or crazy.”
This concept was later refined by Sigmund Freud from the point of view of psychoanalysis, defining it as a manifestation of the soul induced by the context or of the individual. The French sociologist Emile Durkheim in his work The Suicide (1897) notes that suicides are individual phenomena essentially responding to social causes. If we give credence to these arguments, suicide is a social fact.
It’s clear that economic, personal, romantic, family or health crises often become the trigger that sets off a suicide. The Cuban government, which is proud of its achievements in social, educational or health matters, finds it difficult to digest how the frustration of a segment of the population leads them to want to end their existence.
Behind the statistics of suicides on the island are hidden stories of people who for one reason or another, consider sacrificing themselves to evade the uncertain future, broken families or a life of weakly applauding the cheats.
The regime handles the suicide statistics with tweezers. They have become a state secret.
20 October 2013
An autocracy’s efficiency can be measured by, among other things, its immutable capacity for controlling information. Everything passes through an ideological filter. Some guys sitting in an air-conditioned office minutely evaluating it to determine what people can see, hear or read.
Books, records, news, novels, films and television programs must be approved by the Cuban Communist Party’s censor. Anything the regime has not approved can be considered illegal.
Granma, Juventud Rebelde, Trabajadores and all the other party organs must play the same tune. Everything is planned. Very little is left to chance.
Once the order from on high goes out, docile reporters must write about the economic crisis in Europe, the lack of social discipline on the island or the private middle men who are blamed for the high price of agricultural products.
Fidel Castro has always said that the Cuban press serves as one of the weapons of the revolution, one it does not hesitate to use. And while you can find examples of good reporting and sharp social commentary, it is never of a heatedly controversial or political nature.
The most talented official journalists play in the minor leagues. They are not highly visible. Obedience takes precedence. The local press — a synonym for mediocrity — is designed to misinform. The color of its style manual is olive green.
Fidel Castro used to stride through a secret passageway that connected his office in the Palace of the Revolution to that of the director of the newspaper Granma a few yards away. It allowed him to review news stories or change a layout.
It is said that he personally wrote its most inflammatory editorials. Unless an official journalist has been accredited by the communist party, a government minister might not respond to his phone call or might even hang up on him. Officials and institutions — if you can call them that — bury information and statistics. Raúl Castro would like to turn the this situation around.
Awhile back, some provincial media outlets, local broadcasters and TV talk shows initiated a discreet and very cautious form of tropical glasnost. One can now read crime reports, sports writers criticizing the policies of INDER,* and one daring reporter accusing a state agency of bureaucratic foot-dragging.
While it is good thing that the national press is beginning to reflect the opinions of the average Cuban, it’s a bit too little, too late. By our count a handful of men and women began to write in the mid-1990s about the side of Cuba that the regime was trying to hide.
Almost all of us were empirical journalists, educated by daily life. Twenty or so — I was one of them — had the good fortune to attend workshops led by the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero. We were reasonably well-educated and had an enormous desire to learn and get ahead.
Journalism for us meant going out and looking for news in the neighborhood and in the ranks of the dissidents. It meant reporting daily using old typewriters and, because there were no computers, filing our stories by phone.
As in every aspect of life, there are independent journalists who are good, average and poor. And people who think clearly but write badly. Whether good or bad, they go on reporting on areas of national life that the official media ignores.
The credibility of independent journalists has grown since 1995. Their points of view and social critiques have influenced opinions outside the island. The regime knows this, which is why it is begun trying to compete without mentioning its competitor.
It is independent journalism that has caused official journalism to rethink its role and forced its reporters to go out into the street.
It is not a battle for information. Completely independent journalists are swimming against the current; their reports will never be published in state-run newspapers. Their colleagues — independent journalist licensed by the state — are monitored, harassed or accused of alleged crimes.
This is because there is a gag law which allows a reporter working outside the control of the state to be sentenced to more than twenty years in prison. The official press operates on an uneven playing field. Nevertheless, it is losing to the competition.
Photo: Cover of the first issue of a magazine that has remained a symbol of alternative journalism and that in the mid-1990s gave independent journalists their start. The regime allowed only two issues to be circulated. It blamed their publication on Raúl Rivero y Ricardo González Alfonso, who were later convicted and sentenced to jail. From “Remembering the Revista de Cuba.”
*Translator’s note: Acronym for The National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation.
17 October 2013
For Cuban residents living in Florida, it is probably cheaper to travel to Europe than to visit their relatives. The Castro regime has a secret weapon against the embargo that the United States imposed on the island in 1962.
The answer has been to milk Cuban exiles scattered across half the world, particularly those living on the other shore. Without fanfare, the Castro regime has created a formidable industry out of the sweat and sacrifice of emigres.
At the end of the 1970s, the inefficient Cuban economy squandered billions of rubles, fuel and material resources from the former USSR. A good part of this flow of money was set aside for Fidel Castro’s favorite project: destabilizing governments on the American continent and Africa through subversion.
His hidden agenda was to create an alliance of third-world countries that would stand up to “Yankee imperialism.” This strategy cost a lot of money.
In the beginning, hard currency was obtained through raids on banks and sequestration of million-dollar companies on the part of pro-Castro groups in America. And it was kept in accounts managed by the Cuban government.
Another form of getting Gringo dollars was turning to the world market to sell part of the petroleum that the USSR had sent to Cuba. But it wasn’t enough. Subversion is pricey.
It was then that leaders in Havana gave a sidelong glance to the north. In southern Florida lay an opulent treasure. Hard-working Cubans had triumphed thanks to democracy, economic freedom and personal creativity.
A new strategy was devised. The dollars of those formerly classified as “worms” by the regime now were needed to open accounts in hard-currency personally managed by the sole commander. Evoking “family reunification” in 1978 they established flights so that the Cuban community in the United States could visit their poor relatives on the island.
Castro didn’t care much about family. It was a matter of business. Years before, writing a card to a parent or sibling residing in the “empire” was almost a crime and more than a few lost their jobs. At the time, it was also a crime to be Catholic, to listen to the Beatles or to wear jeans.
The ideological pirouette of the regime in cozying up to Cubans living in Florida was not a strategy born out of good will or remorse. Not at all. It was delicate handiwork to establish a channel for dollars to flow into the island.
Fidel Castro always had a peculiar philosophy. He considered the United States embargo illegal. Therefore, any way to make a mockery of it was a good option.
When Cuban emigres visited their country in the early 1980s, dollars were exchanged in the airport at one-to-one for pesos. A visitor had to spend money to stay at least three nights in a hotel, even though his family could put him up. A network of exclusive stores was created using dollars and tourist attractions which sold clothes, personal hygiene products and household appliances for the price of gold.
As an alternative, the government simultaneously opened up commercial outlets which exchanged gold and silver jewelry, fine china and paintings by renowned artists for stereo equipment, color televisions and Russian automobiles. When Soviet communism said “adiós,” the Caribbean autocrats strengthened their policies of bridge-building to attract remittances from Cuban exiles.
By 1993 Cubans were allowed to hold dollars legally. At the same time the dual-currency system began operating. There was the CUC or convertible peso, which had considerable buying power, and the Cuban peso, which was significantly devalued.
In the meantime a huge industry was set up in the midst of Florida’s exile community. Agents of the Castro government swarmed through Miami and Tampa picking up cheap merchandise, video games, electronics, computers and cell phone rechargers to sell on the island.
Extortionate-rate commissions were charged. Certainly, Cuban immigrants enjoyed a unique privilege: when they arrived on United States’ soil, they were automatically granted legal residency.
But at the same time they are the only immigrants in the world who have to pay outlandish fees to send money and packages home, to make long-distance phone calls and to reunite with their families.
A Cuban pays on average at least $1,000 to hug his relatives at the Havana airport. The Cuban Interest Section in Washington–the Cuban government’s quasi-embassy in DC–charges $375 for a passport. To renew it six years later costs another $375.
An airline ticket from Florida goes for a little over $440. When the plane lands in Cuba, the visitor had better be ready to open his wallet. The Cuban Customs Service has a long list of duties on a wide variety of items — from $10 for a fan to $400 for a computer.
And he has to pay $5 for every pound of luggage over the proscribed limit. In general this fee is collected by the airlines, not at the airport. Cuban exiles are among the few peoples of the world who have to have a passport to visit their own country. And in the event they are vocal opponents of the regime, they lose their right to even enter the country.
Much has been said about the US embargo. Every year UN delegates vote overwhelmingly to abolish it.
Most of the population as well as a majority of dissidents are also overwhelmingly in favor of lifting the economic and trade embargo. They believe the Castro brothers use it as a pretext for maintaining the political status quo.
The embargo, however, is riddled with holes. When the authorities or their relatives so desire, they can obtain a Hummer, a bottle of Jack Daniels or the latest generation of antibiotics from a third country or even from the United States itself. In Cuban hard-currency stores you can buy anything from a Coca Cola to an HP printer.
But our compatriots in exile must deal with an “embargo” that is not discussed either at the United Nations or by the world’s press. They often must pay too much for any service or any aid they send to their relatives in Cuba. The only crime they committed was that one day they decided to leave the Communist madhouse.
Photo: Cuban and American flags for sale. From www.cipamericas.org
15 October 2013
The regime alleges that most women postpone motherhood until they have passed 30 years of age, the same as in the First World, for the sake of their professional careers. Opponents and dissident journalists point in another direction.
They assert that it is a problem more of an economic nature than professional pretensions. After Fidel Castro took power in January 1959, the doors of the working world opened to many women who lived maintained by their husbands, raising children, completing domestic chores and listening to radio soap operas.
But in spite of women having a more relevant role in all spheres of public life — except in politics, where they are a distinct minority — since 30 years ago, they have on average less than one child by the conclusion of their reproductive years.
I consulted 18 childless women aged between 19 and 43. Also six mothers with young children about the difficulties and shortages in raising a baby.
The figures are disturbing. The Cuban people are aging. And decreasing. More people die than are born. Other bad news is that less than one girl is born for each woman capable of bearing children.
Let’s review some numbers. The average age in Cuba is 38 years. In 2025 it will rise to 44. By then more than 26% will be more than 60 years old.
In 2030, 3.3 million people will exceed that age. Currently the group of Cubans older than 60 is 17.8%. Greater than the segment of children under 14 years which is 17.3%.
The gap, according to analysts, has to grow. Emigration is one of the factors that hampers maternity in Cuba. More than 30 thousand people leave each year for the United States or somewhere else on the planet in order to improve their precarious living conditions. The majority of those emigrants are young women and men with good academic training. It is a tragedy.
Yudelis, a 21-year-old university student, is clear. “One of the causes of women not wanting to have children is the economic situation, which is burning. I myself live in a house with three different generations. My parents, my grandparents and I. My boyfriend has the same situation in his home. If we were to marry and try to have children, where would we live?”
Yudelis finds only one answer: “To emigrate, nothing else occurs to me if I want to start a family. If I wait for things to improve economically in Cuba, I would never have children. It’s been bad since I was born. I do not believe things will improve in some five years.”
Eighty-five percent of the 18 women surveyed who do not have children think that the economic factor is key to not starting a family. Eleven of them live in homes with numerous family members and without the best conditions (62% of dwellings on the island are in fair or poor condition).
Elsa Lidia, 41-years-old, still has no child. She watches the calendar with worry. “I don’t have much time. But I live on a tenement, in a little room with a barbeque. Five of us live in 30 square meters. My parents’ room is separated by a plasterboard partition. My sister and I sleep on the bed. My brother sleeps on a cot in the living room. I have a had a formal relationship for years. My partner wants to have children. But how? With my salary of 450 pesos (20 dollars) as a mid-level technician I will never be able to aspire to buy myself an apartment with a price of 10 to 20 thousand dollars.”
The future for Elsa Lidia is a bad word. “I have no family abroad. My life project is day to day. When I think what is going to become of me in five years I panic.”
Some of the women surveyed who still are not mothers live in good houses, are high caliber professionals, and receive dollars from relatives living abroad.
“But I do not want to raise my child surrounded by uncertainty. With the anguish of whether I will be able to feed him well, buy him clothes, shoes, toys… With my salary I cannot guarantee a good level of life. It is very difficult to have a family in Cuba in the current economic conditions,” says Sulia, an architect.
I was investigating with mothers who have children 5 years and under. After the flower bouquet and the unmatched emotion of childbirth, four of six consulted suffer deprivations in raising them.
And it is not a medical problem. During pregnancy the State guarantees a daily dose of iron and vitamin complex called Pre-natal. In the neighborhood offices or clinics they keep track. They advise them about adequate weight and they receive free advice about how and for how much time to breastfeed the future baby.
Even through the lean ration book they offer them an extra quota of three pounds a month of beef and fish. And some extra kilos of root vegetables. Maybe those attentions, rare in a poor Third World country, have provoked the Save the Children organization, with headquarters in London, for the second consecutive year to consider Cuba as “the best country in America to be a mother.”
Probably the British NGO ignores the problems that begin after birth.
I spoke with Yadira, a young computer science graduate. “I have had three abortions. I took contraceptive pills. But even so I got pregnant and it was dangerous for me to undergo another D and C. I cannot stand another. We fixed the room as we could. The family gave me a crib. Through the ration booklet, the State offers you 10 meters of antiseptic cloth and gauze to make diapers, baby cologne, a pair of shoes, a cream for the baby, three soaps and a baby bottle, among other things. It costs 85 pesos. But it is not enough. If the child gets sick, as mine is, problems increase.”
The pediatrician recommended that Yadira buy in one of the foreign currency stores the formula NAM by Nestle; each can costs more than 4 CUC. “The baby was consuming two or three cans a month. We had to sell personal articles to be able to buy them for him.”
According to the consulted mothers, some with more solvency than others, the advisable thing is to save no less than 600 dollars and to be able to guarantee a proper layette. The prices of strollers, playpens and walkers are sky-high.
One rocking cradle between 110 and 130 CUC. A playpen between 80 and 140 CUC. The stroller between 60 and 180. A crib mattress exceeds 50 CUC (the average salary in Cuba is 20 dollars a month, and one CUC, with exchange fees and taxes, is a little less than one dollar).
“Add to all that, as he grows, food, clothes, shoes toys, walks and birthdays. Even having the money, there are articles that are scarce and cost a lot I work to get them. One does not regret having a child, but in Cuba it is very hard,” says Yadira while her two-year old son sleeps rocking in an iron chair.
Photo: Hospital Materno Ramon Gonzalez Coro de Havana. Taken from The Hard Test of Maternity.
Translated by mlk
5 October 2013
The plot was different. Technocrats and political mandarins put the finishing touches on a project that would allow better wages for athletes. The new rules will apply starting November 3rd, when the winter baseball season begins.
It was imperative to change the concepts governing sports in Cuba. After Fidel Castro abolished professional sports in 1961, a pyramid of schools and training centers was created to fashion high-performance athletes.
Funded by a deposit of rubles, material resources, and coaches from the now-vanished USSR and other Eastern European nations, the sports movement in Cuba experienced a spectacular increase in quality.
The island was always a pool of talent in baseball and boxing. But after 1959, sports that were exotic to Cuban fans, such as water polo, handball, Greco-Roman wrestling, or judo – thanks to coaches who arrived from the cold or from the thug state of North Korea – made it possible for Cuba to win Olympic, PanAmerican, and World medals in those disciplines.
Others like basketball or volleyball, greatly accepted in the university and school setting, took off dramatically. Like the litter of communist countries with the USSR at the head, Cuba used sport as a showcase trying to prove the superiority of the Marxist-Leninist system over modern Western capitalism.
There were plenty of champions. They came in series, like sausages, from the sports schools. Beef was missing and misery was socialized, but the average Cuban was proud of their achievements in sports.
They labeled the entire feat with the term “amateurs.” Something that was false. By amateurs only they had a salary. They played, trained, and competed throughout the year just as their professional counterparts.
But they earned workers’ wages. With the arrival in 1990 of the “special period,” a static economic crisis lasting 23 years, sports took a nose dive. The propaganda bubble burst, in which Fidel Castro saw the athletes as warriors and the competitions as battlefields.
Low wages – an athlete earned a salary according to his or her profession – was the key to nearly a thousand athletes leaving their homeland, from 1991 to now.
To this was added the stupid policies that prohibited athletes from playing on professional teams and managing their finances without official authorization. The six-figure salaries that some Cuban ball players earn in the Major Leagues was and remains an incentive for young talents who want to try their luck in the best baseball in the world.
The bleeding had to be stopped. The new regulations can certainly reduce the desertions in sports like volleyball and others, where the main circuits are in Europe and are not affected by the laws of the U.S. embargo, and the athletes don’t have to defect from Cuba in order to compete.
But it remains to be seen whether the signing of athletes will be handled by a representative designated by the player or by the state enterprise Cubadeportes, charging very high fees.
Either way, it is a leap forward. A first step. A positive one, if we see that 70% of elite athletes live in poverty.
It is good that a player earns a salary in line with the cost of living in Cuba. They contribute to the major national entertainment for five months of the year. Doctors, teachers, and other professionals, should be similarly compensated, but that’s another story.
The new regulations do not say how training conditions will be improved, stadiums will be repaired, or athletes will be provided with a balanced diet.
Neither do they explain how the whole new salary framework of the National Series will be funded. Will they create companies that see the sport as a business or will the state continue to subsidize the sport?
It is already a fact that the regime of General Raul Castro has buried a hundred meters underground the “amateur sports” falsehood. It was logical. It constituted a burden on the impoverished local economy.
These new measures also send a message to the magnates of the Major Leagues in the United States: Cuba wants to participate in the Big Show. They have now opened the gate.
Photo: Taken from Martí Noticias
Translated by Tomás A.
1 October 2013
“A week before the news was published in the newspaper Granma, a fellow classmate and me, we thought about purchasing the math final exam for $12 CUC. It was an open secret that the exam was already circulating around Havana. The tests and grades is normal”, says the student from Havana.
On June 27, the Granma newspaper, Communist Party organ, acknowledged the existence of a massive fraud. A person who works at the printer where the 11th grade exams were reproduced, along with two teachers from the Arroyo Naranjo town, were accused of “removing an exam with lucrative intent”.
According to some students, the tests were being sold for between $10 and $15 CUC. Although the news was highlighted in the official newspaper, school fraud in Cuba is symptomatic. It’s a national epidemic.
Let’s examine the cause of school fraud and its variants. Between 1970-1990, fraud was never a lucrative business. It was a procedure to consolidate and showcase the image that Fidel Castro liked to sell of the Cuban Revolution.
For Castro, success was a question of statistics and numbers. At the beginning of his political discourses, without pause and from memory, he would recite a long list of numbers, attempting to demonstrate that the Revolution was superior to any other government that existed prior to 1959. From the low infant death rate, to the thousands of doctors graduated annually, to the millions of professionals formed “thanks to the Revolution”.
Education was one of the jewels in Castro’s crown. With the objective of maintaining the enchantment of the statistics which were going up, education at all levels lost many integers. The teachers were not judged by the quality of their classes. They were “measured” — a jargon used in those years to indicate the number of students who moved up to the next grade.
It was when the education fell into “passing”. Every year, 100% of the students, perhaps some with serious limitations would move up to the next level. It was then, that the fraud was almost consensual.It was disguised in many ways.
Money was not the reason. The teacher who would police the classroom while the students took the exam would leave them alone for fifteen minutes. Enough time for the students to check their answers with the rest of their classmates.
Sometimes fraud was brazen. A teacher would calmly copy with white chalk the answers on the blackboard. Another way: the day before the exam, a review, the teacher would expose the whole exam to the students.
It was a time in which we were useful numbers to keep Castro’s propaganda afloat. These waters have now been muddied. Cyclically, the official press has denounced notorious cases of fraud, which freely occur in middle and high schools.
With the advent of the “Special Period”, the country got hit with a stagnation economic crisis that has now lasted 22 years. Salaries are now jokes in bad taste. With the loss of value of the Cuban peso, the quality of teaching has fallen even lower. Thousands of teacher left for exile or deserted to better paid trades.
It’s common to see a former teacher selling ice cream or cleaning floors in a five-star hotel. Poverty — with too many teachers without vocation or knowledge — into which public education has now sunk, has caused teachers to use tests in lucrative ways.
This happens from elementary to high school. “For 100 Cuban pesos weekly, the deputy director of a school, reviewed material with the kids before the final exams. On that exam, was all the material she reviewed”, said the father of a student.
But if you want to see fraud in a larger scale, visit the night schools or trade schools. “At the school where I go to get my high school degree, for 5 CUC they sell the final exams. It’s barefaced. If you don’t have money, they accept gifts like a perfume or a Lebron James shirt”, said a young man.
About the gaps in grammar or simple arithmetic of the students who start college, a college professor said: “They come with notable deficiencies. They do not have the basic mathematics knowledge and show major orthographic blunders. Geography or History, before taking the exams, they learn the lessons punctually”.
Those blunders in school education, are one of the signs of thousands of mediocre teachers and professionals. 90% of Cuban doctors that attempt to revalidate their degrees outside the island fail. The same happens with civil or telecommunications engineers.
Cuba is a nation of high educational indices; to talk about quality that’s another thing.
It’s rare for a student born after the Castro Revolution not to have engaged in fraud. If you never did it, raise your hand.
Picture – Taken from Marti News
Translated by – LYD
28 September 2013
In spite of the absence of giants from track and field like the Kenyan David Rudisha, the Jamaican Yohan Blake, the Cuban Dayron Robles and the Croat Blanka Vlasic, the Track and Field World Championships which took place August 10 to 18, was not a disaster.
Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Veronica Campbell-Brown were banned from competition for having used controlled substances. Although they weren’t world-class athletes, the times and scores were significant.
And when headline names compete like Usain Bolt, Mo Farah, LaShawn Merritt or athletes in the style of Yelena Isinbayeva, Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce or the runners from the depths of Kenya and Ethiopia, there is a guaranteed show.
It’s a pity that the Muscovites weren’t enthused by this distinguished group of giants. Or they’re not interested in track and field, the tickets were sold at astronomical prices, or they preferred to stay in their dachas during these hot August days.
Of the 14 editions of the Track and Field World Championships, it was the least attended by the public. The International Federation of Track and Field should take note. And set aside shady deals lacking in transparency when it’s time to designate a host site.
Super sized athletes like to compete with full stands. And the notable empty spaces in the gigantic Luzhniki stadium demonstrated that not everything is done with voluminous wallets, juicy commissions and extra-curricular lobbying.
Russia, which hopes to recuperate its lost greatness, bet on launching an offensive on all fronts. From their platform in the Security Commission of the United Nations, to throwing the house out the window and grabbing first class sports events. The new type of dictatorship invented by Vladimir Putin, with repression of dissidents and homosexuals through laws or simply busting them with sticks, he initiated a media offensive to wash its totalitarian face.
They will be a host site for the Winter Olympic Games (Sochi, 2014) and the next World Swimming Championships (Kazan, 2015). And they are discussing a place for the Summer Olympics of 2020. Only the myopia or corruption that envelops the maximum agencies for global sports, gets around the fact that a country that doesn’t respect democratic play should never be host to world events.
But back to the point. Despite the frigidity of the spectators, on the sports side, Moscow 2013 was a success. In nearly all the competition events better times and season records were achieved.
In the case of those who competed from our island, this is a pending subject. For years now Cuban athletes, with exception of Pedro Pablo Pichardo, Yipsi Moreno y Omar Cisneros, haven’t gotten the best results in their most important events. We have to check the methods, something is wrong with the technique and strategies. The best marks are obtained in the first few months of the year.
Of course, to sweep the house you have to switch the furniture. The work of the Cuban Federation of Track and Field is awfully bad. This was confirmed by a source that would rather stay anonymous:
“You can’t obtain big results when the attention to the athletes is shameful. You could make an extensive list of the athletes that have left the country or simply have stopped competing due to lack of support from the authorities. It is an authentic cartel of the immoral. Corrupt to no end. Look at the Panamerican Stadium where the stars of track and field train; it is a shame. The gymnasium is disgusting. The boards are not working; the food and the working conditions are deplorable. Yargelis Savigne, Aliecer Urrutia and others have decreased their performance due to the lack of support and training. The best Cuban trainer, Santiago Antunez, had to retire. The Commissioner Jorge Luis Sanchez is a straw-man. It is the despotic Alberto Juantorena is who pulls the strings of track and field in Cuba. If they aren’t charged with corruption or fired, in a few years we won’t have any great athletes. The material and talent are there, but there is lack of direction in accord with the new times that shine.”
Three years ago, the pole vaulter Lazaro Borges, in second place at Daegu 2011, and Yarisley Silva who won bronze in Moscow 2013, didn’t even have a pole vault to train or compete. If they hadn’t had high-caliber results, today they would be completely unknown athletes. The mentality of the Cuban government has always been “put the cart before the horse.”
If athletes don’t show results, there is no guarantee of physical or monetary resources. This sewer of bandits that the island track and field federation has become is the genesis of the poor showing at the world competition in Moscow.
Is the second worse result since 1987. Now we are in 23rd place with two bronze medals and one silver. This is not a matter of medals. I repeat, the majority of the athletes didn’t achieve their best marks of the year or their personal bests in the tournaments.
The complacency of the official press and the mendacity of the leaders will attempt to cover the sun with one finger. But something must be done if we want to come back to first places; and that something can’t be done the way that the unpopular Alberto Juantorena is doing with jewels of the track like Dayron Robles.
The sports authorities of the island need to “really” look at their calendars. We are living in the 21st century. If they don’t change strategies, with their absurd rules and silly speeches they will bury what little is left of Cuban sport.
Changing topics; Jamaica stole the speed show. They took six gold medals. What happened to Usain was to be expected. He is unrivaled; he comes from a different galaxy. Seriously, they should take into consideration to retire him with honors and keep the videos of his performances for future generations of runners.
It can’t be fun to compete against yourself; that’s why I saw, a very serious Bolt. If new rivals don’t emerge the guy will get bored. He won, but he lacked the Caribbean and reggae spark. With the gold of the 4×100 relay, Bolt will surpass athletes like “Pato” Johnson and Carl Lewis in their number of medals. Until proved differently, he is the greatest runner in history.
From his same country Shelly Ann Fraser-Pryce is not too far behind. She started better than anyone else and surpassed the three American runners. In speed, Jamaicans have a dynasty; ones leave and new ones show up. In the short runs Jamaica runs against Jamaica.
Another one that imprinted his name in Gothic letters was Mo Farah. Running is his natural state. He did double in 5 and 10 thousand meters. He has a final sprint that any 400 meter runner would envy. He’s not only a pride to the world but for Cuba too. His trainer, Alberto Salazar is Cuban.
Watching experts like Salazar or Ivan Pedroso, who train the world champion in the triple jump, the French Teddy Tamgho — who marked 18.04 on the August 18th Moscow afternoon, the best in the last 15 years — we can see what can be done when you have the drive and resources to display the athletes’ qualities.
Russia showed its condition of host and took the first place among countries. Isinbayeva showed her grandiosity despite certain statements made to the press.
The Cuban delegation showed a display of new blood like Pedro Pablo Pichardo, Omas Cisneros and Yarisley Silva. One must be careful with some of the ages of the cadets and youths that competed in Moscow. This wasn’t their world championship but it served its purpose.
The sickness at the heart of track and field in Cuba is the same as the regime, it is systemic. Is not due to lack of talent; but rather due to the rules of the game.
Photo: With his silver medal, Pedro Pablo Pichardo (born Santiago de Cuba, 1993) gave Latin America its sixth medal in Moscow 2013. Pichardo was beaten by Frenchman Teddy Tamgho, who since 2011 has been coached by the Cuban Ivan Pedroso, quadruple world long jump champion and Olympic gold in Sydney 2000.
19 August 2013