Solidarity or Propaganda? / Fernando Damaso

I wish I could be happy about the quick response by the Cuban government to the request for assistance from the World Health Organization and the UN general secretary in their efforts to combat the Ebola epidemic, but I cannot.

I am all too aware of the deteriorating state of our hospitals, the lack of hygiene, the poor medical care — provided mainly by students rather than doctors — the poor nutrition provided to patients, the shortage of drugs and many other problems.

I am referring, of course, to the medical centers which serve the average Cuban, which are the majority, not to the specialized centers catering to foreigners, VIPs or people who can pay for their services in hard currency.

A similarly rapid response should be applied to the serious problems that have afflicted our health care system for years. We make the mistake of trying to solve the world’s problems without due regard for our own. This seems to have paid off in that at least it generates a lot of free propaganda.

However, no one who speaks or writes about the magnificent Cuban health system has had to have their illnesses or those of their loved ones treated here. Furthermore, many Cuban bigwigs prefer to seek treatment in other countries, even that of the enemy. There must be some reason for this.

At a press conference in Geneva, Cuba’s minister of public health took the opportunity to propagandize about the country’s achievements and to emphasize yet again how many medical personnel have provided and are now providing care in other countries.

He also talked about the thousands of overseas volunteer workers, though without mentioning how much Cuba charges in dollars for this service — currently one of the country’s main sources of foreign exchange — or how doctors, nurses and other specialists are not being properly paid.

At one point during the press conference the minister stated that the Revolution did not wait for its health services to be developed before beginning to provide assistance to other peoples.

He neglected to mention that Cuba’s health services were already well-developed before 1959 and were among the best not only in the Caribbean but in all of Latin America. One need only look to official statistics from international organizations of the time to confirm this.

Given these questions, I am concerned that what we are dealing with here has more to do with propaganda than with solidarity.

September 2014

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Absurdities of the Week / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Rebeca

Cuba is like an exaggerated version of the fictional village Macondo,* as is clear to anyone with half a brain. For evidence of this, one need only spend a few minutes reading the country’s state-controlled press.

On Monday new customs regulations went into effect. On Tuesday there were articles by two of our seasoned journalists, who reported how successful these measures were, so much so that they had both travelers and customs officials applauding in unison. It is striking how effective these regulations turned out to be, and in such a short period of time, especially if we consider that it took a full year and a trial run in three provinces to lower the price of natural gas and distribute it for free.

The International Freedom for the Five Day — there are now only three of them — has occupied the front pages of the two main state-run newspapers. This year it will run until October 6, with vigils, marches, exhibitions, book sales, an international symposium, and demonstrations at universities, community centers and workplaces. This will include an event dubbed Kids Paint for Peace in which “all the nation’s children,” which can be interpreted to mean “all children without exception,” will paint asphalt and and fly kites in support of the Five.

It seems that all is going well considering that this campaign will represent the loss of vast amounts of time – including that of private citizens — and a waste of resources in pursuit of a new national pastime. If the state-run media is to be believed, this issue is of concern not only to Cubans on the island but to Cubans throughout the world. Please, let’s not get carried away! Remember that overstatement usually ends up being counterproductive.

As though that were not enough, it seems we must now celebrate the 69th anniversary of Fidel Castro’s college admission, the tenth anniversary of his historic speech at the Aula Magna and the fifth anniversary of his address to university students warning them of the threat of extinction to the human race. Remembrance has its place, but I do not remember any remembrance of the day on which Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, Ignacio Agramonte or José Martí — to mention three examples — began their university studies, much less a remembrance of many of their truly historic speeches.

It seems that a large segment of today’s Cuban youth — at least the ones who appear in the official media — find time to commemorate almost any event. Many years ago the cult of personality as practiced in other countries of the former Soviet bloc was severely criticized here. In light of all the damage it caused, people swore this would never happen in Cuba. Has this been forgotten? It might be a good idea to remind our young student leaders of this.

It is noteworthy that this summer, which was certainly quite a hot one, there were no new measures taken to stimulate the economy, unless you count the new customs regulations. We hope that September brings some new changes, though they are unlikely to meet the expectations of most Cubans. Nevertheless, something is better than nothing, even if it comes in dribs and drabs.

*Translator’s note: The setting of Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel One Hundred Years of Solitude.

6 September 2014

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Unprotected / Fernando Damaso

In Cuba, animals, for the most part, are unprotected. There are no laws or regulations that define how they should be treated, nor sanctions for those who abuse them. Flora and Fauna, for the most part, deals with problems relating to the extinction of species, but doesn’t interest itself in domestic animals, much less pets and other affectionate animals. They depend totally on their owners, consistent with their feelings and financial capabilities.

There is no governmental agency or organization that answers for them. There are some regulations prohibiting their presence, even with their owners, in certain public places, like beaches, recreations centers and others, and fines are imposed if they are violated.

This lack of regulated State attention, as happens in most civilized countries in the world, seems not to be on our authorities’ list of priorities.

If during the years of the Republic there was a magnificent Veterinary School, situated on Carlos III, where these friends of human beings were looked after for free, today the school is deplorable, and only works thanks to the dedication of its personnel, most of the time without the veterinary resources needed or the drugs to treat them, because we’ve come to the absurdity of prohibiting veterinarians from writing prescriptions, knowing as we know, that many of the drugs used to fight disease in people also work in animals. This requires finding a friendly doctor who will issue them.

There are also private clinics, where they offer to shelter and care for pets when their owners go on vacation. Today the attention, apart from vaccination campaigns or government sterilizations, rests mainly on private vets, who make house calls, or see pets in their own homes.

Public Health, with its Department of Zoonosis (the transmission of infectious diseases between species) is only in charge of picking them up in the street and killing them, without any system of treatment or preparing them to be offered for adoption, without recourse to measures that are too extreme or anti-human.

In addition, the procedures they use to pick them up are wild and violent, causing injury to the poor animals, and when you criticize them they say they lack adequate methods.

The Almiquí y Animalia stores exist principally as means to collect hard currency, but their prices in CUCs are prohibitive for most people, not to mention that pet food and other animal supplies are unavailable for most of the year.

Prohibitions continue to what the authorities know best how to so. We urgently need the development, adoption, and putting into effect a Code of Protection for this friends of human beings, which also establish the duties and rights of their owners, and that sanction acts of cruelty and mistreatement.

Until this happens, the streets of our towns and cities will continue to be filled with dogs, cats and other pets wandering, vulnerable, sick, hungry, scared and looking for food and affection.

30 August 2014

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Different Times / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Rebeca

In my far-off childhood, extracurricular organizations — whether public or private — were concerned principally with sponsoring weekend trips to interesting natural locations, cultural institutions or factories.

The goal was to encourage our love of nature, expand our general knowledge, provide opportunities to attend age-appropriate entertainment events, enhance participation in sports, arrange excursions to the beach, and other such activities.

We were also involved in social service activities such as participating in public health campaigns, collecting donations for the blind, cancer treatment, park improvements and other causes. We were interested in all of them. They motivated us and taught us civic and social responsibility. We were never used as tools for political or ideological ends.

I noticed that the Pioneers of Cuba* have recently announced changes for the upcoming season of activities. It will be interesting to see if these changes are intended to depoliticize the organization by prohibiting children from participating in acts of repudiation to a reggaeton beat, public protests against the “eternal enemy” with speeches written by their teachers, gatherings in support of the “eternal commander,” and similar activities which have been routine for years. I believe these changes are intended “to test the maturity, initiative and sense of responsibility of the pioneers, and their ability to discern, decide and act.”

The organization’s designated president — an official from the Young Communist Pioneers well past the age of her members — has also decreed that beginning September 1, the season’s start date, children and adolescents will be required to condemn subversive actions by U.S. government against Cuba, and participate in actions in solidarity with the Cuban Five, the children of Palestine and other peoples. Very appropriate childhood activities, I am sure.

Why not let children be children and allow them to experience their childhoods without imposing adult hatreds? From the moment you are born, you are allotted a pioneeer neckerchief in your ration book, even if neither you nor your parents want it. Most people just go along because, if they refuse, “the road to hell” awaits them. Ironically, most of those who have emigrated or are in the process of emigrating were once pioneers.

In reality there should be other changes, such as dropping the requirement that children join the Pioneers. As things stand now, the change that has been announced simply amounts to more of the same.

*Translator’s note: A communist youth organization with activities similar to those of the Boy Scouts but with an additional focus on communist ideology. Children enter into the organization in elementary school and continue until adolescence, at which point they often join the Young Communist League. In Cuba members’ uniforms include a characteristic red or blue neckerchief.

23 August 2014

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The Bad Seed / Fernando Damaso

 Photo by Rebeca

Getting two Cubans to agree is more difficult than getting an Israeli and a Palestinian to agree. When it gets complicated is when you have to get several to agree. Historically, this has been one of our great defects. The Ten Years War failed to achieve its objectives, not only because of the push by Spanish troops, but mainly because of the divisions within the insurrection.

The same thing happened with the War of Independence, and if the Americans hadn’t intervened we would still be a Spanish colony. There were divisions within the Council of Government, within the Army and between the Council of Government and the Army. Although we don’t like to admit it, given our cheap nationalism, it’s the truth.

During the Republic, many important political projects failed because of existing divisions. Divisions ended the so-called Revolution of 1933, making it into a farce and, in more recent times, divisions destroyed the Orthodox Party, after the death of Eduardo Chibas, leading to the coup d’etat of March 1952.

What’s more, during the Batista dictatorship, divisions liquidated any possible of a peaceful solution within democratic canons, and led the country to violence.

There were also divisions among those who carried out the insurrection, although now they try not to speak or write about them. Perhaps that is why, once they assumed power, the new authorities imposed a single point of view to which everyone had to submit, without discussion of any kind and, in addition, with unconditional and unanimous support.

This has continued for fifty-six years and constitutes the false unity celebrated by the government.

Now, on the eve of the physical disappearance of its principal authors, dooming the country to an urgent and necessary change, the divisions return and begin to manifest themselves, even in the new generation of political actors. What a shame!

The only time we’ve been capable of civilized discussion, in a democratic atmosphere and leading to wise conclusions, was during the Constituent Assembly for the drafting of the 1940 Constitution. This happy event has never been repeated.

It seems that we Cubans can’t put aside our divisions. It’s our way of living in society. We don’t learn from the mistakes of the past. The present and immediate future, with this deadweight, are complicated and place the Nation in a very dangerous situation where anything could happen, for good or evil. As my elderly neighbor says: “May God take us confessed!”*

*Translator’s note: An expression referring to a sacrament of the Catholic Church, it expresses a hope to die in a state of forgiveness having just confessed one’s sins and been granted absolution.

16 August 2014

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Between the Keffiyeh and the Kippah / Fernando Damaso

In recent weeks the Palestinian issue, and specifically what is happening in the Gaza Strip, has captured the attention of the media. Over here the image shown is that of poor peaceful Palestinians attacked and brutally slaughtered by the bellicose Israelis.

Violence is good for no one and should be avoided, because it only causes pain, suffering, destruction and death, wherever it comes from. The solution of settling differences and contradictions through peaceful means has always been more intelligent, although it is much more complex. Unfortunately, in the Middle East historically, that has been very difficult if not impossible. This land has been prodigious in expulsions, returns and new expulsions. The blame is equal on all sides.

As long as it is not accepted that two nations with  different customs, cultures and religions can live in the same territory, peacefully and with mutual respect, there will be no solution and the victims of both sides will continue to increase, because the impact of a Palestinian rocket on Israel is lethal, as is an Israeli bomb dropped on Palestine. Both kill and both kill adults, old people and children of both sexes equally and without discrimination.

The reality is that during the many years that the Israelis have been working tenaciously to live in a civilized way on the arid ground beneath their feet, the Palestinians have been engaged in war not only in this region but in other regions of the world. The examples of their combatants enrolled in foreign wars are well-known, although they try to hide it.

Today the Palestinian economy doesn’t exist because it has never been created and the majority of its resources come from Israel, where thousands of Palestinians flock each day to work in the companies and factories, or to provide various services. Israelis need peace to continue to develop and so as not to have to spend so many resources on armaments, but the Palestinians also need peace if they want to survive as a people and a nation.

To achieve this it is essential to stop fanatically following so many fundamentalist messianic leaders whose only objective is to maintain themselves in power on the pedestal of martyrs.

The images of Palestinian children confronting Israeli tanks with stones has been spread far and wide and has been cleverly used as propaganda, while hiding the image of the Palestinian rockets falling on Tel Aviv and other cities along with the bombings in malls, discotheques and public transit, as well as the kidnappings and assassinations

The cause of a helpless victim confronting a powerful aggressor, despite the years, still generates sympathy, but the terrible thing is that there is much that is false and confusing in that image.

11 August 2014

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A Repetitive Hack / Fernando Damaso

Photo by Rebeca

With regards to the Cuban hack living in Miami, I’ve decided not to write any more, but it seems that drinks were passed around (in a letter he declared his love for them) and in one of his last writings he dismisses representative democracy.

He complains that in the United States you can’t but a business wherever you want, it has to be in a commercial area. That you are subject to inspections, forced to follow regulations and ordinances. You have to pay taxes. You can’t paint your house whatever color you want or put up fences without authorization. You have to have a permit for a rally or protests, and journalists can only publish what newspaper owners approve.

The hack seems to want to practice anarchism in an organized society. From his arrogance he asserts: Cubans don’t understand anything about this, they haven’t the least idea about the implacable et cetera.

It seems that this gentleman, when he travels to Cuba to deal with his work and have a little fun, hasn’t realized that here, after some time and overcoming the anarchy stage of years back, there are also all the regulations he criticizes and much more, and they are enforced through big fines, demolitions and even seizures without it being a democracy, much less a representative one.

On the subject of protests and demonstrations it’s more radical; they are forbidden and, if you hold one, you will be severely reprimanded by the authorities.

In the case of the press it’s simple: all the media are state-owned and the only articles approved by the authorities appear in them.

I think the hack knows this well, since he writes for one.

I don’t know how much they pay him for his weekly diatribes on the same topic: how bad it is living in Miami. Nor do I know if he is paid in dollars or Cuban Convertible Pesos, but it would be nice if he would be a little more serious, and stop thinking that we Cubans over here are stupid enough to believe what he writes.

28 July 2014

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