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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A Badly Garnished Dish / Fernando Damaso

Every now and then the Cuban Authorities mount the spectacle of ’external subversion’ against the regime. As if it were a ’blue plate special’ it’s seasoned with a press statement from a second or third rate official, articles on the subject from some government journalists, a session on the Roundtable TV Show with energetic participants, an anecdote about an alleged event that took place in a cultural forum, and statements about some media junkie being a double agent.

It happens that, despite the political events they participate in, a great part of Cuban youth don’t believe in the country’s current political, economic and social project, and try to abandon the country by any means possible to pursue their lives in other lands.

If the constant defections of athletes, artists and professionals weren’t enough, along with the illegal departures on boats, rafts and other methods by hundreds of Cubans, you only have to talk honestly with the young people in any neighborhood in our towns and cities to know what they really think.

The double standard is well-rooted here, right along with the invasive marabou weed, and you shouldn’t give much credence to what is said in an assembly or mass event, or in front of a microphone or camera. At those times, most of the young and not so young say what the authorities want to hear, so as to avoid trouble.

The solution is not ’blue plate specials’ every now and then, but the adoption of profound measures to resolve the current critical situation and to offer, rather than a long delayed future, a prosperous and dignified present.

7 August 2014

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Overstatement / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Rebeca

Typically, we Cubans are short on economic issues and pass on politics. At least that has been the case for the last fifty-six years. We veer between shortcomings and excesses, never finding a happy medium, as so many of the world’s nations and peoples do. We now seem to be in a period of unrestrained overstatement.

First there was the celebration of 61st anniversary of the assault on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes barracks. Given the hours devoted to scheduled programming on radio and television and the tons of paper and ink expended on this topic, one would think this event had completely changed the history of mankind, except that, so far, mankind has not noticed.

The series of neighborhood concerts given by the singer Silvio Rodriguez — which compelled him to say that, until giving them, he was not aware how bad (he used another word) Cubans were — was described as an epic accomplishment.

The summer road trip take by twenty or so young people from Sabaneta in Guantanamo province to Miraflores in Ciego de Avila — names which by sheer coincidence matched those of two places in Venezuela, recalling the last electoral campaign of that country’s late president — were part of an admirable campaign.

The victories by the Cuban baseball team — reinforced with professional players — against a team of American college students constitute a great accomplishment which swept aside memories of the defeat suffered the previous year by the Cubans at the hands of American team. The sliver and bronze medals which our athletes win are as valuable as those of gold and even shine more brightly because they were won with heart. Apparently, athletes from other countries do not have the heart to compete.

There are even dead people who go on living even after their deaths because they are eternal. It’s not that they get older every year but simply that their birthdays are remembered.

In any normal country the output of a factory or farm is not considered newsworthy. Here it represents a heroic labor achievement. One might add that our children are the happiest in the world, our women the most emancipated and that our citizens enjoy the best health and education systems in the world as well as the most generous social security benefits. The list goes on and on.

Superlatives on a daily basis have become a bad habit. Moderators of radio and television programs, journalists, artists, politicians and even national leaders all do it. Today’s sad reality must be masked with big-sounding words. The problem is that overstatement to the point of ridiculousness is only a step away.

2 August 2014

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A Hilarious Conclusion / Fernando Damaso

Artwork by Rebeca

An article by a young Cuban journalist was just published in the so-called youth newspaper under the arresting title “The Happiest Children in the World.” In it she recalls her childhood of aged, half-bald dolls previously belonging to her older sisters, toys given to her by a neighbor after he was too old to play with them, Soviet nesting dolls, daily blackouts, nights spent in darkness and many other shortages. In the end she comes to the conclusion that she “was born in this country, a place where children have everything they need to be the happiest in the world.”

I do not know if the author is trying to be slyly ironic or if she has been a practicing masochist since early childhood. She presents no evidence that would lead to such a conclusion. It could be that for her this is what constitutes happiness, but such generalization is a bad habit on which Cubans too often rely. Statements about having the best baseball, the best boxing, the best education, the best health care, the most courageous people and so forth are far removed from reality.

If this were true, then we would also have to accept that we are the happiest people in the world. This would be in spite of the fact that more than 80% of our homes are in disrepair, that many families live in inadequate and unsanitary housing, that streets and sidewalks are inaccessible, that neighborhood sewer lines are broken, that potable water is scarce, that public sanitation is notable by its absence, that the health and education systems are poor, that social indiscipline and violence are endemic, that salaries and pensions are at poverty levels, that prices for consumer goods are exorbitant, that public transportation is chaotic, that the economy is not growing, that every day the country moves further backwards, and on top of all this that we live without internet access or civil liberties.

One should be careful about what one writes and publishes as well as a little more responsible. Accepting misery and shortages as a normal way of life without working to change them does nothing to help eliminate them. It is one thing to repeat slogans but quite another to discard objectively in order to fill up pages. You don’t want too much of a good thing.

24 July 2014

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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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