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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Paperwork / Fernando Damaso

Photo by Rebeca

If, in Cuba, you are one of those who has the bad luck of needing to engage in any legal process, as simple as you can imagine, prepare yourself to navigate Niagara Falls on a bicycle. The official in question, and even more so if it’s an attorney or notary, after you start to talk to inform them of the problem, they will take a piece of paper and, without looking you in the eyes, begin to detail all the original documents you will have to present to initiate the process, starting with the obligatory recently issued birth certificate, and if you have one from some time ago it won’t do.

Several questions present themselves here: Why not the Identity Card, where all this data is found, and which is the principal identification document of every citizen? Why not use it for this? Why a recently issued certification? Is it that over time a person’s birthdate changes? These are the bureaucratic absurdities established by our legal system.

Something similar happens when you have a pain and have to go to the family doctor or clinic. You barely present yourself and aren’t even checked out before the doctor starts to fill out controls, orders for analysis and other tests and, in the end, perhaps some prescription. You’re left with the pain and decide to find a friend who’s a doctor who will really check you out.

These simple events are repeated so often that, at times, they even appear in the citizen complaint sections in the official press, but they are not resolved and are expanded in justifications for the mentally retarded.

The socialist government bureaucracy has to rooted itself in these fifty-six years, such that it is more difficult to eradicate than the invasive marabou weed. This is the officials’ way of being and doing in any hierarchy: they are raised this way, educated this way, and act this way.

16 June 2014

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“Indiscipline” Unites* Us / Fernando Damaso

The Electric Union (UNE), considered a Socialist State Great Enterprise, offers citizens some really original services, regardless of whether or not they are requested. Among them are:

Programmed weekly defrosting of refrigeration equipment through power cuts of eight hours or more, to avoid their clients having to be concerned with and waste their precious time with such trivial matters.

Destruction of trees in streets and cities through indiscriminate and savage pruning, to avoid unscrupulous people undertaking this on their own account.

Keeping the National Health System in business, principally their orthopedic services, with injuries and fractures from falling in unfilled post holes and tripping over unremoved sawn posts.

Systematic breaks in electrical appliances through surprise voltage surges.

Failing to light the streets and avenues at night, promoting the work of thieves and assailants.

I don’t know if in their quest for perfection, consistent with the government’s guidelines, the Electric Union (UNE) will maintain these additional services or increase them.

The title of this post, duly corrected, corresponds to the phrase the company uses in its advertising: “Discipline unites (UNE*) us.”

*Translator’s note: In Spanish “unite” is “une”; Fernando is making a play on words with the acronym of the state electric company, “UNE.”

7 June 2014

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A Permissable Violation / Fernando Damaso

Chapter II, Article 32 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba stipulates the following: “Cuban citizenship shall be lost: a) by those who acquire foreign citizenship.”

However, for the hundreds of thousands of Cubans who have emigrated and obtained foreign nationality, and for the thousands who have attained residency in Cuba — mainly Spanish nationals — this clause does not apply.

One might think this constitutes a humanitarian, though unconstitutional, action by authorities to benefit those born on the island. The reality, unfortunately, is quite the opposite. By requiring one and all to have a Cuban passport — even if they hold another one — in order to enter or leave the country, the Cuban government brings in a respectable amount of money, especially since a passport is only valid for six years and must be renewed every two, with the resulting monetary expenditure.

In Cuba a passport costs 100 CUC and each renewal costs twenty. Overseas, however, Cuban consulates charge significantly higher fees. This is the economic impact but there is also a legal issue. Upon entering the country, an emigré is completely subject to Cuban law and the government of the country of which he is also a citizen can do nothing to protect him because, as far as Cuba is concerned, he did not enter the country with the other country’s passport but rather with a Cuban one. As is quite clear, the Cuban state commits this constitutional violation purely out of economic interests in order to obtain hard currency. Secondly, the same perverse motivation allows it to maintain complete control.

In today’s globalized world, where geographical borders become less important with every passing day, people have dual and even multiple nationalities. For Cuban authorities updating this legal statute presents no great difficulty. The flattering reference to the Soviet Union was dropped from the constitution once this state ceased to exist while the ridiculous term “irrevocable socialism” was later added.

Cuba, stuck as usual in the past, rejects renewal and refuses to join the present by continuing to promote its outdated image as a “besieged island,” which for over 56 years has generated substantial political dividends. What it does not realize is that the buyers are becoming increasingly scarce.

11 June 2014

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Its Rightful Place / Fernando Damaso

The history of Cuba is in need of an objective study, oblivious to the spurious political and ideological interests that have prevailed so far, defended by a group of pseudo-historians, concerned only with achieving prominence and publishing their books.

In the study of history, one of the most manipulated periods has been that of the Republic, which lasted from 1902 to 1958, for fifty-six years. Completely dismissed and treated contemptuously as a pseudo, neocolonial or mediated republic, all that has been written and published about it, at least around here, has been atrocities, without considering that there were mistakes and successes, and bad and good things, as in all social organism .

Unlike in civilized countries, where the Republican stages are divided into first, second, third and fourth Republics, and an analysis of each is undertaken, here they decided to to totally repudiated it and erased it, which is not only absurd and criminal, it is impossible.

We Cubans today are the result of all eras that have been experienced on our island, some better than others, but with no exclusions whatsoever. Moreover, the so-called revolutionary process was conceived during the Republic, and its historic protagonists and many others were born, studied, lived and prepared during it. If this wasn’t the case, their existence would be impossible. During the Republic important writers, architects, engineers, physicians, educators, researchers, biologists, botanists, musicians, singers, dancers, economists, historians and others also appeared, who have given pride and prestige to the nation.

I am confident that, with the intervening years, the many mistakes and failures and the blows received, the minds of most have evolved, leaving behind prejudice, nonsense and sterile radicalism, beginning to react with reason and intelligence. In this process, no doubt, the Republic will occupy its rightful place.

1 June 2014

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Loss of Values

For some time the Cuban authorities have been turning their attention to “the construction of values to guarantee the continuity of the Revolution.” In speaking about the importance of family in the regeneration of values such as patriotism and honestly, and the need for social discipline, mutual respect, citizen education and good behavior, their objective is to assure the success of the official political project, ignoring that the nation, as such, is much more important and essential than the former.

In short, those values were lost in the overwhelming and unrestrained takeover of the so-called Revolution, which ceased to take them into account and, in many cases, discriminated against them to make them disappear, without offering any better substitutes, leaving the vacuum in which we now find ourselves.

We all agree that we must rescue them in reinstall them in the spaces which by right belong to them, but not to save a failed political, economic and social project, but rather to save Cuba.

To accomplish this we need to abandon the cheap politicking, barrio patriotism, absurd political and ideological manipulation and other evils, and responsibly dedicate ourselves to the very difficult and complex task that, starting with the family and the schools, must recover the entire social framework, respecting individuals and differences of every kind among those who comprise the people, which is a concept that goes far beyond simple political or ideological positioning. The rescue of values should be based in the work of Cubans and Cuba and not in any political party or government.

27 May 2014

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Too Much Noise / Fernando Damaso

The hype around the Mathematics entrance exam for higher education is exaggerate and ridiculous. As if it were something new, without taking into account that it also happened last year at a different level of instruction, as well as has been happening, in the face of the silence and complacency of many, for many years.

Have people already forgotten about the massive promotions of a 100% in most of the High Schools in the Countryside, which were always an institutionalized fraud?

Who doesn’t know that, in many schools, for years the teachers have been helping their students to the content of the exams, with the objective of their passing the grade, which means the teachers will get good evaluations?

Are we forgetting how many high school diplomas have been bought, to be able to get a job in certain economically privileged sectors?

To announce today, in the press, that these events won’t go unpunished, is to unleash a witch hunt in search of scapegoats to bear the full weight of the law, doesn’t exempt the truly responsible: a system that hasn’t been able of preserving nor developing the civil and moral values that always characterized the majority of Cubans of whatever social level, as well as forcing citizens to live in poverty, struggling every day to live on their miserable wages, which has generated corruption, stealing, crimes and other greater evils well known to all.

This is not a unique situation that shows up only in education. It also exists in many other areas: healthcare, services, production, culture, sports, etc.

The bad thing is, although we try to minimize it, it corrodes our society and, in order to rid ourselves of it, it’s not enough to go after certain isolated events that come to light now and again, rather we must make decisions and take serious and deep measures to attack the roots, which, to date, are striking in their absence.

23 May 2014

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