Archive for the ‘Translator: Raul G.’ Category

“We are Frustrated by the Stress of the Constant Repression”, declared the dissident Sonia Garro / Iván García

May 22, 2011 1 comment

Photo: Laritza Diversent. Sonia Garro and her husband on January 2010

From a public pay phone and despite the fact that she was being watched by police agents in civilian clothes, the woman for which one man decided to climb up on his roof and yell anti-governmental slogans (as can be seen in this video,), Sonia Garro Alfonso told El Mundo that she and her husband, Ramon Alejandro Munoz Gonzalez, feel overwhelmed by the “stress of the constant repression” which the Cuban regime has maintained over them for quite some time.

She did not know that they would have recorded the video and uploaded it onto YouTube.  The final straw which led Munoz Gonzalez to protest in that way was the desperation he felt when, on May 9th, his wife Sonia, and three other women (Niurka Luque, Niola Camila Araujo, and Leydis Coca- all of which are Ladies of Support to the Ladies in White) were violently suppressed and beaten by fifty agents of the “rapid response brigades” (the name given to paramilitaries used to oppress dissidents in Cuba) at 51st Avenue and 100 Street.

Her crime?  Having taken to the streets with a white blanket on which she had written in black letters “No more police repression” and “Sentence the murders of Juan Wilfredo Soto Garcia”, the dissident who died in Santa Clara on May 8th as a consequence of a beating.

After they were beaten, the four were arrested and taken to different police units in accordance with where they live.  When Munoz found out about what happened, and after he investigated in his corresponding unit, Sonia’s husband headed to Section 21 of the Department of State Security where they did not tell him where she was being held.

It was the final straw.  He decided to do what he did, and continues doing: protesting on his own.  He says that as long as the violent repression continues against them or the dissidence on the island, then he is even willing to chain himself to a tree in the middle of a central avenue of Marianao.  Munoz Gonzalez goes out to the street with the chains he has thrown on himself, and not with his machete, which he only wields when he is on the roof of his house.

Sonia has not only been beaten and detained on various occasions, but she has also had to withstand scornful and humiliating treatment for being black. In this last arrest they told her: “Nigger, we are going to send you straight to Manto Negro (the female prison) because you have us tired out already.”  In the case of Sonia, as occurs with all dissidents who are black or mulattoes, the State Security agents always shove this sentence in their faces: “I can’t believe that you are black and a counter-revolutionary.”

Sonia Garro Alfonso has spent years suffering because of her skin color.  Because of her very dark skin color, on the day she graduated as a Clinical Laboratory Technician, functionaries from the Public Health Ministry chose a white student to go up and receive her diploma from the hands of the minister.  This was a humiliation she has never been able to forget. In 2006, when she refused to give up her activities in favor of afro-descendants or her independent cultural project which she runs with children of poor neighborhoods, she was expelled from her work place.

Nor has life been easy for her husband, Ramon Alejandro Munoz Gonzalez.  He is a mulatto professor of folkloric dance who was also expelled from his work due to his social activism.  That was the pretext which the police found in order to apply the “social dangerousness” law to him and send him to prison for a year.

The scene of the unusual protest is a blue house located on 47th Avenue, No. 11638, between 116th and 118th in Marianao.  It’s just a few steps away from Los Zamora, Los Pocitos, and Palo Cagao, three of the most marginal and conflicting neighborhoods in Havana, filled with prostitutes, pimps, and delinquents.  But also filled with professionals and dissidents like Sonia Garro and Ramon Munoz.  Even if today they are on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

See also: Desperate Cuban demands freedom; Sonia Garro or the cruelty of a regime and Accords from the first afro-descendant assembly.

Translated by Raul G.

May 22 2011

Shoes in Cuba Have More Lives Than a Cat

April 16, 2011 1 comment

Photo: Used Shoe sale.

Buying a new pair of shoes is a real headache for everyday Cubans.  There are two ways to get your hands on footwear in Cuba: buying them off of a private craftsman or paying for them in hard currency at whichever state store.  There’s no other way.

Lately, there is a swarm of stores in Havana where they sell used shoes or shoes created by craftsmen.  One of the most popular spots is located in Monte street, not very far from the National Capitol.  It’s a two-floor bazaar which is always packed and where people bump into each other and breathe polluted air.  They don’t only sell handmade shoes.  They also have shoes of poor textile and of dubious origin.

Amid the constraint and chronic scarcity of the shoes, numerous craftsmen have spent years making money in the business of tailoring leather shoes.  Like Osmany, for example.  He’s a guy with bulging eyes who came from Yateras, Guantanamo, which is a thousand kilometers away from the capital, to escape his misery and lack of money and future.

Now he lives in a well furnished room in “El Calvario”, a neighborhood at the South end of the city.  He has a workshop at his house in which he fabricates shoes for children, women, and men.  “I always try to be aware of the latest trends in the shoe-world.  I daily produce 10 to 15 pairs.  I’m usually able to sell each pair for 130 pesos to a middleman who later re-sells it for double, or more, of the amount.  I have a license, I pay taxes and three people who work for me”, Osmany tells me.

The models which shoemakers fabricate are eye-catching, but generally their quality is poor.  If you want to prove it, just ask Ramon, who works at a steel factory ten hours a day to make 800 pesos a month (35 dollars).  He has three kids and his wife is a housewife.

His problems begin when he tries to get shoes for his family.  Handmade shoes cost between 12 to 40 dollars.  These are some of the least expensive in Cuba.  In stores which operate with foreign currency, they cost more.  For many, this is outrageous.

Ramon’s children often go to the Havana boutiques and remain awe-struck upon seeing the variety of models and brands.  But they can only stare.  The prices are not within reach of their father’s pocket.

“The remaining option is to get them at arts and crafts festivals, and those end up being very bad quality.  Just give them three months and their soles begin to tear off.  Whenever they get wet by rain, the leather shrinks and its color fades.  But we don’t throw them away.  None of that.  We fix them time and time again with the cobblers”, says Ramon.

In the island, the shoe-making guild was always popular, as well as furriers and shoe-shiners.  Today, fixing shoes is one of the most widespread jobs.  True magicians, like Luis who assures that Cuban shoes have more lives than a cat.

“I’ve fixed shoes which their owners thought were lost cases.  Poor people, which is the majority, try to have their shoes last, at minimum, 8 or more years.  A living hell for many families is when their kids outgrow their shoes.  I have yet to figure out a way to make them bigger”, the jocular Luis says.

And it’s true: whenever parents have to buy shoes for their kids, they wish they could just disappear.  In school, the kids destroy their sneakers in a matter of months, while on the other hand their feet grow by day.  When it comes time to buy a new pair, there are families that actually pull out a calculator and discuss where they can get enough money from to buy a shoe that would last them the longest time possible.

Perhaps that’s why the main requests from prostitutes and hustlers to tourists are for shoes.  Those who have family on the other side of the water escape this process.  Their relatives send them shoes with “mules” (the term for those people who make a living out of taking goods from Cubans outside to their relatives inside) or with the dollars that they are sent they go out and buy them at some store.

The prices are shocking.  Listen to this: a pair of Adidas that aren’t the latest model cost more than 120 dollars.  Nikes are around the same price.  Converse and New Balance range from 80 to 90.  Leather, Italian, or Brazilian shoes can cost anywhere from 50 to 130 dollars.  Remember that in Cuba, in the best of instances, a worker makes the equivalent of 20 dollars per month.

The cheapest option is to purchase hard and ugly shoes sold for 6 to 12 dollars in any store throughout the country.  And there are those people, like the retired Ernesto, that wear flip-flops most of the time in order to try to conserve his shoes as much as possible.

Raul Castro has said that food is a National Security issue.  But he forgot to mention shoes.  This is an industry that had a long history before 1959, with an ample production of shoes, purses, and leather belts (and even crocodile skin belts).

Whenever a gang of bandits robs anyone on the street, besides taking their money, they also snatch their shoes.  There are no statistics of all those young people who have been mutilated, and even killed, by the stabs of a knife just because their robbers want their Nikes or Adidas.  It’s the way those living in the margins of society replace their broken shoes.

Translated by Raul G.

April 16 2011

The World is Upside Down

April 13, 2011 1 comment

Democracy is stammering.  Let’s take a look.

I think it’s a good thing that bloodstained dictators, who savagely violate the essential freedoms of their citizens, be forced to face the bench of an international court that actually works.  Not the current one which is stuck on intentions only.

Justice should be fair for everyone.  Anything contrary is simply not justice.  First World leaders who break the law should also be sentenced.  Or, they should at least pay attention and respond to the accusations submitted by groups and social movements.

Silvio Berlusconi, ludicrous Italian president, should be forced to comply with the laws regarding the corruption of minors.  And if it is proven that he committed the crime, he should go to jail.  Like anyone else.

No one should be above the law.  If young gang members are sentenced to several years behind the bars for robbing a gas station, the same should apply to bankers, managers, financiers, or even presidents of countries if they engage in corruption.

But the law is too far out of balance.  Why are figures from the financial world, which are the main culprits of the current international economic crisis, not in jail?

In the United States, the country at the epicenter of the financial disaster, only Bernard L. Madoff, the investor who provoked the worst embezzlement in history when he magically made millions and millions of dollars disappear, has gone to jail.

I doubt that Madoff is the only one guilty of a global crisis which has affected each and every inhabitant of this planet.  I read with much horror that, instead of punishing the responsible bankers, they are instead rewarded.

The financiers sent home for doing a bad job left with shocking bonuses, as if to keep them from worrying.  And those who replaced them are making more money than their predecessors.

Talk about some binge.  They spend the money of savers and pensioners in speculative moves which result in pure illusions, and later, when the panic spreads and they are left with no cash, they run to beg the State for money.

Those who caused the current international economic disaster should pay for their errors.  The bill should not fall on the citizens of Portugal, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, among other nations, which have only worked a lot and very hard throughout their entire lives.

Wherever it is they live, autocrats should not feel very safe either.  Before pulling the trigger or sending people to humid and gloomy prisons just for thinking differently, they should know that there is a world-wide organism which is making sure that governments comply with the norms and rights inherent in man.

Real democracy should involve everyone.  Large nations and small nations.  Rich and poor.  But to this day, some powerful people are evading the laws.  It’s not just.

Translated by Raul G.

April 13 2011

“The Internet is the brainchild of the CIA,” the Cuban government tells us

April 10, 2011 Leave a comment

When I started working at the independent press agency, Cuba Press, in December of 1995, internet sounded like a science fiction concept.  Very few of us knew anything about it.  In that highway of information we just saw a complicated trick of interconnections destined only for computer specialists.  And according to what the government would tell us, it was a monster of the CIA.

In 1995, the island was still not connected to the internet.  In Cuba Press, we were only about 20 correspondents, some of who had experience in State journalism.  We couldn’t even dream of having a PC or a laptop.  We would look at that kind of equipment as if it were strange creatures.  The tough guys from State Security were searching to see if we had computers to try to demonstrate that we were an active nucleus from the United States special services.

We would type up the texts with typewriters, some older than others.  Meanwhile, some of us would conserve the Robotrons, that old fossil made in Eastern Germany.  Those machines had such hard keys that they would sometimes produce strong pains in the tips of our fingers.  One day, a foreign journalist passed by Havana and left us his laptop, and we actually traded it in for a portable Olivetti Lettera 25 typewriter.

My dream was to write with an electric machine with a soft keyboard, with sufficient blank sheets at hand, as well as carbon paper and black tapes.  Nearly everyone prefered not having a computer.  Using one seemed far too complicated.  It required a lot of attention and they could easily accuse you of being a “spy”.

In June of 1997, three State Security agents searched my house for a computer.  My mother told them that we did not have any, but that if we did have one we would have gotten rid of it a long time ago because a neighbor of ours had told us that State Security asked the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) to keep a watch on us to see if they could catch us with our hands on… a computer!

Despite our technological backwardness, ever since Cuba Press was created on September 23, 1995, all the chronicles and articles — dictated by phone — would get published on the internet, thanks to the collaboration of Cubans living in Miami.

We would write for websites we had never seen and we couldn’t even imagine how they looked.  Every once in a while they would send us printed copies of our works.  The only way we were used to reading: touching and smelling the paper.

Granma International was the first government publication which used the internet, in 1996.  They officially initiated this move during the Pope’s visit to Cuba in 1998.  But the top leaders of the Communist Party continued to suspiciously observe the new tool.  They carefully analyzed the pros and the cons.  It wasn’t until the year 2000 that the ideological talibans understood that the internet could be used as an effective weapon in favor of them as well.  In matters of new technology, Fidel Castro has always tagged along.

In that silent battle between official clerks and alternative reporters, the regime was the one that lost.  And it wasn’t because we independent journalists were geniuses (we really weren’t), but simply because we were — and still are — free beings at the end of the day.

During the Black Spring of 2003, Castro was out of his wits with the opposition and the dissident press.  He hated it so much that he took 75 opposition members to prison, out of which 27 of them were independent journalists.

The Cuban regime has always considered the internet to be a dangerous enemy.  To confront it, it has created a special regiment within counter-intelligence and the University of Information Science, located in a former electronic espionage base which was used by Russia some time ago.  There, amid sex and relaxation, 8 thousand young communists prepare themselves to sabotage blogs and web pages of those who think differently.

Although they existed before, it wasn’t until 2007 that island bloggers became popular outside of Cuba.  But it’s only fair to point out that 12 years before, when internet was a rare word and having a laptop was a luxury, a group of journalists living at the margins of state control, who were technologically daring and novice, were already using the internet to publish their articles.

Postscript by Tania Quintero

In an interview with Rosa Miriam Elizalde, published in Cubadebate, one journalist spokesperson for the Castro regime affirms at the end that, “Cuba has taken a very hopeful step for the future of Cuban internet: the submarine cable which connects us with Venezuela.  We know that the cable is not the magic solution for our connectivity issues, but we do know that it will improve our communications, and upon benefiting many people, it will also strengthen our internet values.  And I sincerely believe that 11 million cyber-activists with values of the Cuban Revolution generate more panic for the United States government than the ghost of Julian Assange multiplied many times”.

The challenge is in motion.  When Cubans finally have free internet access from their homes, and not only “intranet” with the possibility of logging on to international e-mail providers like Yahoo or Gmail, then we will see if it’s true that “the revolution” will have “11 million cyberactivists”.  In today’s impoverished Cuba, maybe 1 % of the population have computers in their homes or possess laptops or “tablets” which allow them to communicate freely without having to turn to email offices, computer clubs, or state-run cybercafes where both users and their connections are controlled. 

It would be wonderful if 10% (or more) of Cubans on the island had the opportunity to buy computers and be able to pay, in foreign currency, for their home connections.  Perhaps half of those 10% are fervent defenders of the Castro brothers and their revolution.  But I doubt it. 

In fact, in 1998 when Rosa Miriam Elizalde was studying in the final year of her journalism career in the University of Havana, in order for her to train in television technologies they put her and Grisell Perez, a fellow student, in the editing office where I worked for Cuban TV.  We made a point of view show titled “Ruling women, get in your place”.  It was finished in Sancti Spiritus, the native city of Rosa Miriam.  One night she took us to met her uncles — the ones who raised her after her mother died.

On Sunday, February 21st of 1999, page 5 of “Juventud Rebelde” (“Rebel Youth”), Elizalde wrote (or signed) an attack against independent journalism titled “Mercenaries in a Rush”.  I responded with “Without Hypocrisy”, which was published in Cubafreepress on March 1, 1999, the same day I was arrested by State Security in Marianao while I was heading to the trial against four members of the Internal Dissidence Work Group.  I was locked away in a dungeon in the police unit situated on 7ma and 62 in Miramar for 29 hours. 

As a matter of fact, Rosa Miriam Elizalde and myself are the only two Cuban journalists mentioned by the Catalonian writer Manuel Vazquez Montalban in his book “And God Entered Havana”, published in 1998 (TQ).

Translated by Raul G.

April 10 2011

Cuban Mother Searches for News of her Son, Missing for 8 years in Spain

April 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Sixty-four year old Lilia Castaner, a calm-voiced woman who for 8 years has lost her smile, lives in an old multi-family house in the Vedado neighborhood, just steps from Havana’s Malecon.

The last time she heard any news on her only son, Omar Rivera Castaner, was on March 29, 2003.  The harrowing drama which Lilia lives is full of absurdities, careless bureaucracy on behalf of Spanish authorities, and the suspicion of macabre events.

Here’s her story.  Omar Rivera was born on July 16th, 1970.  He was a track and field athlete.  He became licensed in sports and he led a calm and routine-driven life.

“He didn’t drink alcohol and he never engaged in drug use.  His hobby was to listen to music and to watch TV with his girlfriend.  He was a calm kid.  In 1994, in the midst of the rafter crisis, my son became drawn to the idea of leaving Cuba,” says his mother while she goes through a photo album which contains pictures of Omar.

During the end of the 90’s, Rivera Castaner worked as a cook at a 5-star Havana hotel.  In 2000, he enlisted as the equipment manager of a band which was supposed to go on tour for 6 months in Spain.  He abandoned the musical group and began living his life as an undocumented immigrant.  He was the typical Third World citizen which arrives to Spain with the idea of working hard to help out his family with money.  He was one more.

After going from city to city throughout Iberia, he stops in Alicante.  There, in that Valencia Community, a fellow Cuban, Jose Luis Gonzalez Sonora became his first contact.  Sonora puts him in contact with Juan Angel Sirvent Segui, a Spanish co-owner of CELULIMP, a perfume manufacturing company.

Sirvent Segui gives him a contract through “the right”, as we say in black-talk.  He then starts working as a warehouse truck driver.  He would talk to his mother once a month on the phone and he wished to initiate the processes necessary to legalize his stay in Spain.

And that is when the story of Omar Rivera Castaner begins takes a turn, almost as if it were a soap opera.  After March 29, 2003, Lilia has not spoken to her son.  She also has had no factual news about where he might be.

After a few months of having not heard from Omar, his mother contacted some relatives of Jose Luis, the Cuban who extended a helping hand in Alicante.  “This Jose Luis, an intimate friend of Sirvent Segui, supposedly was a brick-layer in a business owned by Sirvent which sold home supplies.  He would travel to Cuba each year.  After my son disappeared, the life of Jose Luis has greatly changed.  He was able to get his family out of Cuba and even bought his brother a house in Alicante for 90 thousand Euros.  In addition, he has paid 6 thousand Euros to a Spanish citizen so that she could marry his brother”.

In her small kitchen, Lilia makes some coffee.  While she drinks it, she continues chatting with her calm voice and sad stare.  “In his trips to Cuba, Jose Luis began to avoid me.  Whenever he spoke to me, he never stared into my eyes.  He gave me a couple of versions of the story.  In one of those versions he assured me that my son was at a drug addiction center in the neighborhood of Los Angeles in Alicante.  In another version, he told me how he had personally taken him to the house of a friend, later telling me that Omar had left that house and that the last time he saw him was at a beach in Benidorm.  Many incongruities.  I always asked him why my son didn’t call me or didn’t send me a letter through the mail.  After I insisted over and over again, Jose Luis violently reacted.  He attacked me and kicked me out of his mother’s house in Havana”.

As for the Spaniard Juan Angel Sirvent Segui, it was just more of the same.  Sirvent, who was married until recently with a Cuban named Zuzel (with whom he had a son) also avoided the incisive questions of Lilia Castaner.

“In an attempt to calm me down, Sirvent sent me a letter telling me that he had submitted a complaint to the civil guard station.  Through my investigations I discovered that Sirvent had told relatives of Zuzel, his wife, that he had caught my son in bed with her.  I also found out that Zuzel had a romantic relationship with Jose Luis.  I’ve tried just about everything to obtain any news on Omar.  I have gone to the Spanish Consulate in Havana dozens of times and they have never given me an answer.  In 2008 in the offices of the Cuban Ministry of Exterior Relations a lawyer assured me that my son did not appear to be at any drug addiction center in Spain”, Lilia recounts with a lost stare.

Without an adequate judicial consultation, and with minimal attention on behalf of the Spanish consulate functionaries, Lilia has contacted various Spanish non-governmental organizations which dedicate themselves to search for missing people.

“Always the same response: nothing.  At the beginning of the year I sent a fax with a complaint to the Alicante civil guard located at District 95.  Emilio Garcia, the superintendent, promised to investigate the case.  But everything has been very slow, or hasn’t been at all.  My motherly instinct tells me that they killed my son.  Because of a woman.  Or for organ trafficking.  I feel that Jose Luis Gonzalez Sonora and Juan Angel Sirvent Segui are hiding many things.  I do not understand why the Spanish authorities cannot give me a concrete answer.  Spain is not North Korea.  I am desperate.  I am only a mother who wants to know what has happened to her son.  The pain consumes me”, Lilia says while she cries in silence.

Translated by Raul G.

April 4 2011

The Taciturn Ghosts of La Cabaña

February 10, 2011 Leave a comment

It’s a very personal feeling.  Each time I visit the La Cabaña Fort of San Carlos during the International Book Fair (this event is annually held at that location) all the dead of that old military fort walk by my side like intangible ghosts.

Ever since that era when we were still a colony of Spain, that massive stone structure which, due to its privileged position, served as a protective shield for the villa of San Cristobal in Havana, has been the location of physical torture, pain, and deaths.

First, it was the black slaves. It is estimated that hundreds of them died during the 11 years of the fort’s construction (1763-1774). When Fidel Castro took power on January 1st, 1959, he appointed Che Guevara as head of La Cabaña.

During the first three months after the triumph of the Revolution, Guevara quickly pulled the trigger. The statistics of the number of executions vary. Some sources list around a thousand, while others have recorded more than ten thousand.

What is confirmed is that Guevara himself acknowledged it in a speech at the United Nations in New York on December 11th, 1964: “We have to say something here that is a known truth, and we have always expressed it to the world.  Executions, yes, we have performed executions.  We execute by firing squad and we will continue executing as long as it is necessary.”

Afterwards, the Fort was turned into a prison where over four thousand common and political prisoners were crammed into humid galleys. On its back lawns, right before the intense blue sea, dozens of “counter-revolutionaries” were slaughtered by gunfire, according to statistics gathered by survivors of Cuban political imprisonment.

Calling on their memories, ex-prisoners have said that each night, in unison with the 9 o’clock cannon-shot*, one could hear the execution fusillades and the terrifying screams of the victims.

With the passing of time, the excessive spilling of blood began to calm down.  But La Cabaña, in addition to being a military base, continued to be a horrid jail, as witnessed by the prisoners themselves. And also an indisputable merit: Having the best view of the capital from the other side of the bay.

Then came the fall of the Berlin Wall, while the USSR was blown away by the winds of history.  Castro, old and sick, handed over his power.  And that was when La Cabaña joined the dollar dance.

They dressed her up and re-opened her as a historic military park.  It was turned into a place where tourists — oblivious Canadians, Scandinavians and Italians — dine in seafood restaurants, watch the cannon-shot ceremony, and move their hips in a ridiculous way in clubs now set up in former galleys.  And then, these tourists, among the reefs, a smell of saltpeter, and the dazzling night view of Havana, make love to prostitutes.

Ever since 1992, La Cabaña hosts the International Book Fair.  Each year, the festival is dedicated to a specific country and a national personality.  The twentieth annual festival, celebrated from February 10 to 20, is dedicated to the countries of ALBA — an alliance designed by Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, and made up of 9 nations of the continent.  Also, the festival is paying homage to the Cuban intelectuals, Jaime Sarusky (Havana 1931), and Fernando Martinez (Yaguajay 1939).

The 2011 edition will also celebrate the Bicentenial of the first independence movement of Latin America.  Just like previous years, millions of books will be sold and half a million visitors (most of them from Havana) will take part.  More than 200 personalities from the areas of Culture and Literature, from over 40 countries, are expected to be present as well.

The distinguished guests are oblivious to the bloody past of La Cabaña Fort of San Carlos.  Or, if they are aware of it, perhaps they are part of that odd leftist sector of the world, made up of people who are convinced that the deaths of their fellow travelers can always be justified.

Photo: Taken from "La Nueva Cuba". Ditches such as these were where executions took place La Cabaña.

*Translator’s note: 9 o’clock cannon-shot. In Cuba, it has always been a historic tradition to fire a cannon shot nightly at 9 o’clock.

Translated by Raul G.

February 10 2011

Year 52 of Fidel Castro’s Revolution

December 31, 2010 Leave a comment

The Cuban revolution is a historic event.  One cannot deny this fact.  Its roots hail from this very country.  It did not arrive as an import from the Kremlin.  However, after perpetrating itself, in certain periods, it imitated the style found in Moscow.

The July 26th movement, headed by a young lawyer called Fidel Castro Ruz, the son of a Spanish soldier who fought in Cuba to stifle the independence movements of 1895, was not created in the disciplined ranks of the local communist party.

At first, he was a follower of Eduardo Chibas, a politician in the Orthodox Party, honorable, and honest.  Castro was not a military or political genius.  He was a Cuban who was, like many others, offended by the coup of Fulgencio Batista — a former shorthand sergeant who in the ’30’s was involved in the island’s politics and later in the ’40’s was president.

Fulgencio was from the same area as Fidel. Both were born in the province that is now known as Holguin, 800 kilometers from Havana.  One was from Banes, and the other from Biran.  After the hostility of 1952, Batista became the second dictator, after Gerardo Machado, to plague Cuba during the first 50 years of independence and republicanism.

What happened next we already know.  A nearly suicidal assault on a military barracks in Santiago de Cuba (strongly criticized by the hierarchy of the national communist party, as they dubbed it a mini-bourgeois “putsch”); the guerrilla in the mountains, and the triumphant entrance of Castro and his rebel army to the Eastern city on January 1st, 1959.

At the moment, nothing indicated that Fidel Castro was a communist.  You could tell Raul was, however.  As well as his friend, the Argentine doctor Che Guevara.  According to the guerrilla leader, his intention was to create a democratic government that would benefit all Cubans.

While in power, the revolution started radicalizing itself.  Sometimes, in response to aggressive politics from Washington, and other times to consolidate its leadership.  After two years of them declaring that it would be a “revolution greener than the palm trees”, we found out that it was more of an ideological red.

He started molding a Marxist country, designed similar to the vassal systems of Eastern Europe.  Scholars of this subject nearly go mad and have written tons of articles trying to find out if Castro was always an all out communist or if he just used Marxism to rise to unlimited power.

I’m one of those who think the latter.  Castro became an ally of Russia in order to keep himself at the head of the government.  Fidel is Fidel.  People with egos like his don’t follow a single ideology.  They consider themselves to be above all those insignificances of thought.

He is an outstanding student of Machiavelli.  His heroes are conquerors of the likes of Alexander the Great, Julius Cesar, and Napoleon.  I’m one of those who believe that deep inside, Castro thinks that Cuba was too small for him.  He wanted more.  He would have wanted to be the leader of a world power.  For the best, or for the worst, Fidel Castro was an important statesman of the XX century.

He was at the verge of provoking a nuclear massacre, and in addition, he had the carelessness to ask Khrushchev to fire the first atomic missile.  Afterwards, he supported guerrilla movements throughout the entire planet.

One day, in the history books of the world, it will be written that a small, poor, and backwards country carried out military adventures in Angola and Ethiopia, nearly 10 thousand kilometers from its own coasts, moving over 300 thousand soldiers during 15 years of interventions in African civil wars.

Castro always loved conducting the theatre of military operations. In the decade of the ’80’s, from a mansion in the neighborhood of Nuevo Vedado, he frequently moved soldiers and tanks on a gigantic scale.  He barked orders to his generals who sat in comfortable chairs in Havana.

He knew, inside out, the exact quantity of candies, chocolates, ice cream, and cans of sweets that the troops consumed.  The One and Only Commander was never happier!

The old guerrilla fighter feels nostalgia over his command in La Plata and his marches through the Pico Turquino, in the Sierra Maestra mountains.  Now, in the 21st century, while he waits for God to take him, his delirium has not ceased in the least bit.


All of his reflections have to do with international themes.  What he’d give to be Obama, Ahmadinejad, Mahmud Abbas, Ehud Olmert, or Kim Jong II.  He sees himself provoking and winning wars.

Only bureaucrats and functionaries can lead an economy or a state budget in an orderly way. The laws and the respect of norms of a party or institution are put in place so that common managers can fulfill them. Not for Fidel Castro.

Those banalities are handed over to his brother, Raul. The general is a practical guy.  His dream is simple. That people be guaranteed their beans. And that the Cuban revolution last 100 years. It only lacks the second half.

Photo: Grey Villet

Translated by Raul G.

December 31 2010

The Media That Says Nothing

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

The spectacular and moving rescue of 33 Chilean miners, carried out from 632 meters below the dirt after 70 days, was just another piece of news in the Cuban press.

In the online version of Granma – the main newspaper of the island – in the October 14th edition, this news was in 16th place in “relevance.”  The front page was reserved for the fourth set of Reflections of Fidel titled The Empire Within, and a report of all the floral offerings sent by the Castro brothers to the ex-Salvadoran guerrilla fighter, Shafik Handal.

Even more prominent than the news of the miners from Camp Hope, was the news of the increase of inflation in Spain, the visit of the Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez to Russia, and a national report, which was interesting and exotic, about how cows which are taken to the slaughterhouse should never be underweight.

Among the 2,000 journalists from over 300 media stations that covered the events of Chile, none of them came from our official press, despite the fact that we actually do have Cuban reporters in Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia, all of which are relatively close to Chile.

The opaque coverage of these events cannot be attributed to the Bureau chief editors who work in the regime’s media outlets.  In Cuba, the ones in charge of choosing what is important and what is not are the chiefs from the fierce Ideological Department of the Party (DOR), who commonly receive personal tips and orders from Fidel Castro, the real editor of the mediocre national press.

There are many layers which news must first go through on this island.  The first one is that of political affinity.  If the report is about a country which is considered our “friend,” then such news will have priority.

We must remember that when we were a satellite state of the Soviets, the Cuban media never dared to denounce their military interventions in Prague in 1968 and in Afghanistan in 1979.

Cuba also never provided coverage about the events which occurred in 1989 in Tienanmen Square, China.  Just as there have been zero criticisms of the anti-Semitic discourses delivered by Ahmadineyad in Lebanon.  For Castro, the enemy of his enemy is his friend.

The entire arsenal of analysis, criticism, and front page news in the Cuban media is strictly reserved for the axis of all evil – with the United States in first place, and then the European Union.  Any government that decides to criticize the situation in Cuba is targeted by the regime’s censors.

From that very moment, all the dark stains of that country start to be reported throughout the Cuban media: violence, unemployment, organized crime, corruption…

The flow of information is controlled personally by Fidel Castro. His power stems from this. In the case of the Chilean miners, a seemingly innocent bit of news, which consisted of tons of stories to tell, it was reduced to an insignificant event because, perhaps, president Sebastian Pinera has openly and publicly criticized Castro.

It also wouldn’t be healthy to demonstrate on national news how a capitalist society also relies on human solidarity, something which the Cuban government considers to be unique to Marxist systems.

In Cuba, any bit of important news first needs the approval of high ranking party officials or that of Fidel Castro.  They are the owners.

Photo: stereosimo, Flickr

Translated by Raul G.

A Very “Special” Cigar Factory Reader

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

It is a tradition hailing from the old Cuban cigar factories.  One person reads the news or a novel by Corin Tellado, while men and women assemble the celebrated Havana cigars.

In that same fashion, Jose Antonio, 35, found out that a ballet from the United States was going to stop by Cuba.  Or that the trumpet player, Wynton Marsalis, performed in Havana.

The first thing which the reader of the famous Partagas cigar factory, right on the side of the National Capitol, does is to read the Reflection of Fidel Castro.  Then he reads the latest news.

Cuban cigar-makers have a solid culture of prologue.  Now, while imitating the readers of the cigar factories, Castro has taken a liking to summarizing books published throughout the world which have captured his attention.  Then, he has decided to spoon feed it to the people, as if it was puree.

It’s not a bad thing to know about the Bilderberg Club, the theories of writer Daniel Estulin, the biography of Colin Powell or Alan Greenspan, about the writings of Barack Obama, Bob Woodward, or Ignacio Ramonet.  It’s actually pretty healthy that Castro wishes to expand the political knowledge of the population.

But, damn it, it’s much better to publish and sell those books, diaries, and magazines, than to have “companion Fidel” telling us about them, assuming that we all would be interested.

I propose to the Cuban government that they talk to Pedro J. Ramirez, to see if they would allow him to sell the printed version of El Mundo magazine in national currency.  Perhaps also El Clarin from Argentina, or El Mercurio of Chile.

I long for the day when I will be able to purchase something else than the boring newspapers of Granma and Juventud Rebelde.  I wish that Newsweek, Time magazine, and Veja from Brazil would all be sold alongside Bohemia.

Since the famous submarine cable connected with Venezuela still does not function, and continues to impede our connection to the internet with access for everyone, the regime could easily just opt to sell the world press in newstands throughout the island.

I have my passions.  I like to read a whole book, or any other sort of text.  I don’t like versions which come out of the mouths of others.  Not even if his name is Fidel Castro, who is lately trying to become a cigar factory reader.

Translated by Raul G.

Havana Jargon

August 29, 2010 Leave a comment

The other crisis that exists in Cuba, besides the political and economic one, is stationary and comes from our language.  We already know that money is scarce and that food is scarce.  We live in upset, because we live under a government that controls our lives as if they were our parents. A huge share of Cubans dream of futures in Miami, Rome, or Madrid.

Very well, I understand all of that.  But I can’t wrap my head around why we daily speak an incomplete and fast-paced dialect, which only we nationals comprehend.  An example of this current “language” spoken on the island is the following dialogue.

Any random morning.  Two friends meet up at any park in Central Havana.

– What’s goin’ on, homey?

– Everythin’ and nothin’, my friend.

– I’m looking for a fool to throw in his face the couple of imported pedals my dad sent me, I don’t have a dime. I’m going to sell them for 30 dollars so I can hook up with that bitch from the neighborhood, she’s driving me crazy.

The homey, with his pants hanging well below his waist and showing off his Nike underwear, replies:

That bitch pretends to be shy. If I don’t show her the money she won’t even move her ass, once I put my dick in her mouth and afterwards I was wasted and broke and she just left me, every time I think about it, I feel like breaking her in half like a pencil.

A policeman with an evil face and a German Shepherd comes near.  The two friends decide to leave.

– I’m outta here, see ya later.

He gives his friend a kiss on the face and reminds him:

– Please do not pretend to be the “sugar daddy” (the one who pays) with that girl, that it is not good, rumors say that she’s no good in bed after all.

– Got it, responds the homey.

Even for me, who is bent on trying to understand the ins and outs of the Havana underground world, it sometimes gets confusing and I don’t understand such language.

For Cubans who have been living outside of the island for years, it will be a challenge to try to translate this conversation.

The hell with Spanish.  It’s barely spoken in Havana.  We speak gibberish.

Translated by Raul G. and Jose O.