About the Downed Plane / Fernando Damaso

The case of the Malaysian plane downed over Ukraine is lamentable and condemnable because it involves innocent people–now called collateral victims–divorced from the conflict. Surely appropriate investigations will be undertaken to identify those responsible for this barbaric act. However, it is striking how, in the first moments of this tragedy, certain characters, who appear to have a crystal ball, have come forward to hand out accusations without any evidence, their preferred target being the Ukraine authorities, exempting the Russians and pro-Russian separatist from any responsibility.

The problems of the Ukrainians with the Russians, exacerbated now with the separation of Kiev from Moscow, are long-standing and existed in the Soviet era, only then they were brutally repressed to maintain the former Soviet Union at all cost, and to present it as a joining of united brothers. This is well-known and the evidence for it is overwhelming.

The aspirations of the Russian president to restore his lost Empire are also well-known. The annexation of Crimea, in reality of Tatar origin, is a good example. Thus, there is a geopolitical confrontation between Russia and Ukraine: the Ukrainians are trying to maintain the integrity of their country, and the Russians are trying to dismember it, taking advantage of the ethnic Russian population who colonized areas of this country, a method also used with other republics during the Soviet era. Examples: Estonia Lithuania and Latvia.

The question to ask is, who benefits from the downing of the plane? The Ukrainian authorities did not benefit; confirming their responsibility would put them on the spot in the public eye. Does it serve the Russians and the pro-Russian separatists in their campaign against the government of Kiev? The answer is in the wind.

19 July 2014

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Streetlamp / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Rebeca

The concern Cuban authorities show for the protection of the global environment is striking. Declarations and denunciations fill the pages and airwaves of government’s media outlets, assuring participation in any UN event dedicated to this topic.

It is a shame that the same concern is not directed at solving the serious environmental problems in this country. The city of Havana has become a showcase for assorted ruins, decrepit streets and sidewalks, comatose buildings on the verge of collapse, widespread filth, effluent spewing from open sewer lines, watermain leaks, abandoned, sick and malnourished animals, rats and vermin, and mountains of unsanitary conditions. The same situation is replicated in other cities and towns.

One could continue to blame the embargo, as is routinely done, for the lack of resources. But after fifty-six years of repeating the same line, it is now time to own up to the obvious inability to solve problems of one’s own making, problems which did not previously exist.

Neither Havana nor other cities and towns in Cuba used to be dirty, unsanitary, dilapidated, with decrepit streets and sidewalks and ruptured sewer lines. On the contrary, they served as examples for many countries of the world.

When mayors and councilmen, who in general used to be longtime residents of their districts, had some control over the fates of their municipalities as well as a significant portion of the funds they generated, such problems got resolved. If they did not, then these officials were voted out of office.

All subsequent governmental reorganizations — from the commissioners to the presidents of the municipal and provincial People’s Power administrations — have failed. This is simply because none of the people running these communities are natural leaders, but merely appointed officials without any ties to their constituencies.

The case of former Havana mayor Manuel Fernández Supervielle, who committed suicide because he was not able to resolve the problem of the city’s water supply, is unthinkable today.

Promises come and promises go. Officials also come and go, without anyone remembering them. But problems remain unresolved and over time grow worse. Responsibility is not demonstrated by working to commemorate some historically important date but by addressing the day-to-day concerns of every citizen. When this happens, we will truly begin moving forward instead of marching backwards into history, which seems to seems to be what has been happening in our country.

14 July 2014

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There You Go Again / Fernando Damaso

Often the resolutions of the United Nations’ Committees are worthy of laughter.  So it happens with the recent resolution by the Decolonization Committee, ratifying the right of Puerto Rico to self-determination. The initiative was presented by Cuba, with the sponsorship of Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador and Bolivia and the intervention of Syria. Birds of a feather flock together.

Maybe this Committee is unaware that the Puerto Rican people have voted repeatedly about this, always defeating the independence option with a minimal (4%) vote?  Is it unknown that in the last referendum, the majority voted for annexation to the United States as the 51st State, unlike previous votes where there was a tie of 48% who preferred the current status and those who opted for annexation, for a grand total of 96%, against 4% who wanted to be independent?

Of course the Committee and its members know all this, but they entertain themselves in continuing to waste time. It is said that it is the 33rd time that a similar document was approved. How many times is it necessary to trip on the same rock? They also confirmed the Latin American and Caribbean character of Puerto Rico, which, due to obvious geography, no one denies. But also Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Granada, Aruba, Grand Cayman, Guadalupe, Virgin Islands, Martinique, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, etc., are Caribbean, united by the language, history and traditions of Great Britain, France, Holland, and the United States, and no one questions them.

Perhaps it is intended to include Puerto Rico, against the desires of the majority of its citizens, in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States?  Who thinks the Puerto Ricans are going to trade for a pig in a poke?

If the Committee has no work to do, because they no longer have anyone to decolonize, it is better that it disband, and its members can dedicate themselves to something more useful.  Thus they would at least help reduce the high costs of the United Nations.

Translated by mlk.

30 June 2014

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Some Doubts / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Rebeca

In the recently concluded sessions of the National Assembly in which, according to the government-run press, the overall state of the country was discussed, several issues attracted attention.

To review all the country’s problems in only five days (two devoted to work by commissions, one listening to reports by heads of various departments and one in plenary session) must be a very difficult task given how complicated and longstanding each of the problems they analyzed are. If after fifty-six years of the same government — with only some changes in the secondary faces — they remain unaware of the unresolved problems and, even worse, do not know how to fix them, it’s time to start worrying.

Why so many experiments and, also, why prolong them? It now seems that the experiment with governmental operations in Artemisa and Mayabeque provinces will be extended until December 2016. Isn’t that too much time? And then what? A country is not a science lab. When one assumes power, it is to govern, not to experiment. We have spent fifty-six years carrying out experiments, most of them failures. We should have at least learned from experience.

And why so many plans with completion dates in 2020, 2030, 2050? Does someone really believe time is on his side?

All this reminds me of the famous five-year plans, which we copied word-for-word from our “older brothers,” the Soviets. There was even a “Strategy for the Year 2000.” They worked hard preparing it, dedicating time and resources, and in the end it burst like a bubble, never to be heard of again. We were going to be building locomotives, planes and ships. We were going to be self-sufficient in agricultural production, exporting and even meeting our own needs with light industry. Are we going to make the same mistake all over again with new players? Why not dedicate the limited resources we have to at least alleviating Cubans’ day-to-day lives?

The authorities often like to reiterate that socialism is irreversible, but this is a misuse that particular word. In fact the only thing irreversible is change. As long as they do not understand and accept that, they will continue grasping at straws to the detriment of the Cuban people.

9 July 2014

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Alienation / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Rebeca

The subject of lost values, poor education, a lack of respect, coarse and vulgar language, violence in the street and a lack of social discipline remains a popular topic in our impoverished society.

Though late in coming, calls by the authorities to reverse this situation continue to be made through official mass media outlets but the population seems not to be taking notice. Rather than getting better, the situation continues to deteriorate. For evidence of this one need only walk through any neighborhood and stroll through its streets to find raucous screaming across street corners, swear words and obscenities, badly dressed people, filth and environmental degradation.

There are those who argue that one has nothing to do with the other, but that does not quite seem to be the case. Normally, people are formed by their surroundings, though — as with anything — there are exceptions to the rule. When vulgarity gets confused with modernity and becomes customary, it becomes very difficult to eradicate it.

Poor education over the course of many years — both in broken homes as well as in schools — combined with an official culture of intolerance and violence, which has been both widespread and supported by the general population, has helped in the establishment and consolidation of these many ills.

Today we are concerned, but the concern has come quite late. It will take many years of peaceful coexistence, of citizen involvement, and of education by both families and schools to achieve results. The existence of a truly democratic society is also essential, a society where the rights and responsibilities of citizens are respected.

5 July 2014

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Beyond All Doubt / Fernando Damaso

That Cuba is increasing like Macondo, the mythical village of the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, no one doubts. Nor that our official journalism is a faithful reflection of it.

The two major government newspapers echo each other, the same day, each one dedicating a complete page of the eight they have to the scarcity of condoms in pharmacies. This is not news in any country, including here where the State controls everything, and it could have been solved with a simple informative note from the Ministry of Public Health, instead of filling a large space, with the detailed and unnecessary explanations about brands, sizes, manufacturers, consumption, prices and buying and selling, etc.

Maybe it would have been more convenient to dedicate so much space and so many explanations to more important questions that affect Cubans but which, however, are ignored and treated superficially.

But there is more: For “Forest Workers Day,” Trabajadores (Workers), a weekly publication, presented an article under the title “Charcoal Mambisa,” dedicated to a 63-year-old lady who has devoted herself since she was 25, ax and machete in hand, to chopping wood, transporting it in a cart, and building charcoal furnaces. She is presented as an example of gender equality and the achievement of social emancipation of women.

Although all work deserves respect, I don’t consider this an attractive option for men, let alone women. Regardless of the love of the land and the mountain which, according to the journalist, this woman professes, at her age she should be resting or, at least, engaged in less difficult labor, especially when fifty-six years have transpired since the Revolution.

This reminds me of Macondo, when the Gypsies first arrived with ice and ice cream. Gentlemen, we’re in the 21st century!

25 June 2014

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Turn Off the Lights and Let’s Go! / Fernando Damaso

In recent days economic issues have been extensively covered by the official press because of statements made by important government officials. We now know that “sugar production increased, though it did not meet the targeted goal.” Reading further, we find out that the recently completed harvest showed an increase in 4.2% over the previous year. There is no mention of how much was produced in the previous year (the problem of secrecy), though according to non-official calculations it seems it did not exceed 1.40 million tons, which is below the 1.43 million tons produced in 1907 when sugar cane was cut and collected by hand and transported in ox-drawn carts.

If we add 4.2% to the previously mentioned figure, the result would be about 1.45 million tons, well below that of 1910 and all subsequent years of the Republic. This does not take into account the fact that the growing season was extended by almost seven months. Nor do we know what the targeted goal was (more secrecy), only that it was 88% fulfilled.

The causes of this disaster, as with every harvest, are the same: a decrease in industrial output due to rainfall and high temperatures (presumably there was neither rain nor high temperatures in the past), low utilization of the potential capacity and difficulties in cutting and collecting. In short AZCUBA — the great and improved socialist conglomerate that replaced the Sugar Ministry — has overseen four harvests “without kicking the ball.”

This grim situation, which threatens to get worse, takes place against the backdrop of statements by the head of the Commission for the Implementation of Legal Guidelines, who has indicated the need to eliminate the dual-currency system (an idea dreamed up by the former president), to replace the source of electrical power generation (now provided by fossil fuels) and to restructure GDP (which has tanked), “none of which can be dealt with on a short-term basis, but which must be handled strategically.” In conclusion he adds, “We cannot imagine the country without socialism.”

So many problems, and this unimaginative statement on top of it! As my neighbor “El Chaca” would say, “Turn off the lights and let’s go!”*

*Translator’s note: Apaga y vámonos; an expression in Spanish that means something has come to its end and there is nothing more that can be done. Also the title of a popular song and a 2005 film.

20 June 2014

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