Trashcan City / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 21 April 2015 — Half a century ago Havana was a clean city with an efficient system for trash collection and streets that were swept every day. Not only did mechanized sweepers ply the main boulevards and avenues, after midnight these thoroughfares were also washed down with high-pressure water hoses. In addition to the steps taken by the city government, owners of business and covered walkways made sure the sidewalks adjoining their buildings were clean. As though that were not enough, both public buses and commercial transport vehicles had to be absolutely spotless, both inside and out, in order to operate.

When new officials came to power, the system began to decline. In its current state the city is one big trash can.

Citizens’ demands and complaints are not being heard. The city and district administrations provide banal excuses for their incompetence and shoddy workmanship. The problem stems from, among other things, a lack of resources, insufficient maintenance and repair, and unqualified personnel. All indications are that it is impossible to find a solution under the current system, which is marked by corruption, diversion of funds and other illegalities.

Why not do away with these obsolete methods and turn the job over to private or cooperative enterprises? Many cities have done this. Businesses are now responsible for collecting, treating and recycling of all types of waste, categorizing it from the moment it is discarded by providing separate containers for plastic, glass, metal, cardboard and organic products. This facilitates and humanizes the task, something the authorities have not been able to achieve.

How long must we listen to the same old stories? The public demands more than explanations; it wants solutions.

Posted in Fernando Damaso

One More Insult / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 15 April 2015 — The culture minister’s presentation of Cuban flags to twenty Cuban artists and intellectuals, members of the “governmental Jurassic park,” in recognition of their shameful behavior during the Summit of the Americas civil society forum — actions criticized and condemned the world over — is deplorable.

It is true that our national standard, debased through improper and cheap use, has been losing over time, among many ordinary Cubans, the respect it always deserved, especially during the most complex moments of our history.

Since wearing the flag as apparel (not unusual in some countries) is prohibited in Cuba, how ironic to be using it now as a mop cloth.

The unacceptable and swaggering behavior of these artists and intellectuals deserves not recognition, but a reprimand, for how poorly they have represented all Cubans.

True representatives of intolerance, dogmatism and the most caveman-like authoritarianism, they have amply demonstrated that, if this is our only civil society, we are better off without it.

As no one has before, they have demonstrated that “within the Revolution, everything….” is possible.*

Translator’s Notes:
*A reference to Fidel’s so-called Speech to the Intellectuals in 1961, in which he proclaimed, “Within the Revolution, everything. Outside the Revolution, nothing.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Posted in Fernando Damaso, Translator: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Speaking of Legitimacy / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 8 April 2105 — The claim that governmental organizations and associations are the sole representatives of Cuban civil society to the exclusion of all others not legally recognized by the authorities figures prominently in public statements and actions by leaders and officials of the regime and is a frequent topic in articles by academics and some official journalists.

Government leaders and officials simply state it. Academics try to provide a rationale for it while journalists generally disparage, accuse and repeat tired slogans.

The idea that “civil society has advanced beyond the primitive stage to the point that it is organized to serve political ends, with the state directing and regulating it,” is not only absurd, it amounts to blatant manipulation.

Equating civil with civilized is very crude, especially when the words are associated with primitivism. It amounts to nothing more than a digression into theory that is intended to confuse the gullible and lead them to simply accept the claim that “Cuban civil society is represented only by organizations and associations directed and regulated by the state.”

Certainly, some of these organizations — including those founded by women, students, workers and farmers before independent organizations were directed and regulated by the state — have historical roots.

But after they were forced to merge into a single organization under the aegis of the state, they lost their civil character and became mere instruments, with some performing the grim tasks of monitoring and denouncing those who did not agree with government policy, participating in so-called “repudiation rallies” and other such repressive activities.

Those which refused were considered illegal. No wonder all of them boasted of having been created by the commander-in-chief, the highest ranking government official, and of being unconditionally loyal.

It was during this “historicist” transition that the Federation of Cuban Women, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the University Student Federation, the National Association of Small Farmers, the Union of Cuban Pioneers, the Cuban Workers Center and all the other “sole” organizations — with the “sole party” being the jewel in the crown — emerged.

The most massive of these organizations and associations, which are said to be made up of millions of citizens and tens of thousands of children, fill their ranks through political coercion. Although their official guidelines stipulate that membership is a voluntary decision by each citizen, in practice this is not the case. Political pressure, both direct and indirect, is exerted both at the neighborhood level and in the workplace.

In the first instance it is a concern about “what people will say.” Preferring not to seem apathetic to the government, most adopt a convenient “double standard” in order to avoid problems in their neighborhoods.

In the second it plays a fundamental role. Aware that bosses and directors report to authorities, no one wants to give the impression of “standing apart from the collective” by acting “different.” The goal is to keep one’s job or position and to not lose the “bonus” for being “trustworthy.”

This phenomenon can currently be seen in attempts by government labor unions to get all private business owners to join their ranks, and in pressuring private producers and self-employed workers to form cooperatives.

The figures published on membership are qualitatively questionable. Only a minority remain actively engaged in these organizations. Most are members in name only, paying their monthly dues and avoiding taking on any responsibility, especially in leadership, from which they flee as though it were the plague. The authorities are well aware of this situation, and regularly issue pleas for activism and a fighting spirit within these organizations.

None of this means that turnout in the next mid-term elections, scheduled for April 19, will not be high. The same is true for the May 1 election in which, according to a statement in the government-run press, “millions of happy and spirited citizens will turn out, giving thanks for the many gifts they have received from the authorities.”

Civic mindedness has been confused with civic irresponsibility and fanaticism, two evils that have become entrenched in the minds of many in the population, leading to symptoms of “herd mentality syndrome.”

Posted in Fernando Damaso

Hysteria in Panama / Fernando Damaso

The circus staged by the delegation of governmental organizations at the Forum on Civil Society in Panama, supported by a similar one from Venezuela, was to be expected. Those people, used to imposing their opinions by force, without listening to anyone who thinks differently, are impossible to argue with, debate, much less have discussions with. They limit themselves to repeating what they are ordered to say by their bosses.

They are used to actively participating the “repudiation rallies” against the opponents, always protecting the authorities and the repressive organs, and have found a different scenario, where there is equal respect for everyone, where differences are accepts and political adversaries are just that, not mercenaries nor traitors, because they all know that the opponents of today are the leaders of tomorrow and vice versa.

This fundamentalist position is characteristic of those who represent the interests of the governments of Cuba and Venezuela, true “chicks of the Talibans,” used to talking a lot but saying nothing, and shouting loudly but not listening to others.

It seems incredible in this 21st Century that these dogmatists and extremists still exist, that they have more to do with totalitarianism than with democracy. thus, their hysteria and absurd demands, asking the Panamanian authorities to prohibit the participation of Cuban and Venezuelan opponents, and even demanding their expulsion from the country, and even that they will be punished when they return to Cuba.

If anyone had any doubts about how the opinions of others are pursued in Cuba, how they violate the citizens’ fundamental rights, what happened in Panama is a good demonstration.

They tried to deceive public opinion, trying to pass off governmental organizations disguised as civic society, and got their tail caught in the door. They forget that, in the Internet era, the lie no longer has legs. Their reactionary ideas, their even more reactionary methods of trying to impose themselves by force, are outdated and no longer convince anyone with half a brain.

9 April 2015

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Cuban Festival in Panama/ Fernando Damaso

The violent events in Panama, where the representatives of the Cuban regime shed their lamb skins and, ready for action, turned into a real pack of wolves, and launched insults and blows against Cubans who think differently, becoming a national shame.

The stars of this shameful spectacle were a mediocre writer, a frightened poet and a historian of Cantinflasian oratory, transformed into energetic state officials. Seeing figures of culture and intellect downgraded to simple “neighborhood bullies” (some lacking any demonstration of courage in their whole lives), was humiliating and laughable.

Who can believe what they asserted in their eloquent speeches? Having accepted, by conviction or cowardice, to put themselves in front of these “repudiation rallies” and engage in vandalism, they are reduced to what they are: simple puppets of the regime, those used according to short-term political needs, and then discarded. They aren’t the first and they won’t be last.

As a neighbor of mine with serious grammatical problems says: “It seems incredible that people ‘of such little talent and unprepared’ are such riffraff.”

About the other representatives of the government organizations present there, notable in their verbal and physical aggressions, there’s little that can be said: simply repeating the same things, forming part of the screaming rowdy government mob, the same that are mobilized for a “repudiation rally,” a beating, to vote in false elections and attend parades and rallies at the rhythm of the party.

Neither one nor the other are a part of the people of Varela, Del Monte, Luz y Caballero, Céspedes, Agramonte, Maceo, Gómez, Martí, Varona, Juan Gualberto, Villena, Echevarría and other worthy Cubans. It seems that shame and civility are missing in Cuba.

11 April 2015

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Dialogue or Monologue / Fernando Damaso

Our authorities have always been preoccupied with extolling the originality of anything coming out of Cuba. Our freedoms, socialism, democracy, human rights, political and economic system, electoral process, governmental bodies, political and grass-roots organizations, and everything else are unique and unlike anything comparable in the rest of the world. Furthermore, it is argued — with scant modesty — that they are the best and most perfect. What is striking is that this unhealthy addiction to being different applies only to the outside world. Differences within the country, among Cubans themselves, are not acceptable.

Dictating how things are to be done has become a daily and unhealthy practice over the years, especially when done by those have held and still hold absolute power. We have seen the imposition of a political, economic and social system, one-party rule, a socialist Constitution, basic laws, organizations and associations, educational, cultural, and moral standards, and many other things that should have involved consultation with citizens and should have been freely approved or rejected by them.

The disastrous results are plain to see. The country has regressed as never before in its  history, including even during the most critical times.

Even today, in spite of declarations to the contrary, we continue seeing efforts to dictate.

Wouldn’t it be more intelligent to have a dialogue and look for consensus?

When I suggest dialogue, I do not mean conversations between people who think alike, which is what we have now, but between those with differing opinions. The results would undoubtedly be better. An exchange of views in a respectful and constructive climate might yield wonderful solutions. Why not try it? We stand to lose nothing more than we have already lost from the now obsolete monologue.

1 April 2015

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The Problem Is Not the Packaging

Fernando Damaso, 23 March 2015 — Many years ago when I worked at an advertising agency named Marketing, Research and Public Relations, Inc., its head — Enrique Cuzco — would often say, “A bad product won’t sell no matter how good the advertising is.”

In an effort to get young people to actively participate in the current electoral process, the National Electoral Commission recently decided to give responsibilty for the entire public relations campaign to a group of young journalists, designers and artists, figuring they can speak a common generational language.

Cuzco’s words immediately came to mind.

If anyone thinks that by designing more colorful and attractive “packaging” he will better be able to sell a low-quality “product” such as the Cuban electoral process, he is wasting time and resources.

This can only be achieved when the process is changed, when it stops being a farce and becomes something serious, when citizens can nominate candidates they really think are better and not someone supported by the sole poltical party, and when they can vote directly for those who will occupy the most important government positions, including the presidency.

I hope the new election law now being written includes these provisions. The problem is not with the packaging; it is with the product inside.

Posted in Fernando Damaso