Beyond the Flag / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 16 August 2105 — After hearing and reading the speech by the US Secretary of State during the flag-raising ceremony on 14 August at the site of his embassy in Cuba, and the statements by him and the Cuban Foreign Minister at the subsequent press conference, I think it necessary to clarify some things.

The Secretary of State used, at all times, a conciliatory manner of speech, cautious and respectful, focusing on the present and the future, without forgetting the past, but without allowing it to dictate the course of events.

The Cuban Foreign Minister, on the other hand, repeated some of the absurd and already-routine demands, adding now a populist twist, with the objective of gaining supporters: “…we consider it necessary to make progress on the matter of compensations to the Cuban people, to Cuban citizens, for the human and economic damages….”

Could it be that the Cuban authorities are going to hand over some of these improbable compensations directly to Cubans? Or, as is their custom, will they keep all or the greater part of them, as happens with the doctors, athletes and other professionals who are rented out to other countries?

As if this were not enough, he did not have the slightest compunction in affirming that “Cuba feels very proud of its record of guaranteeing the full exercise of human rights — indivisible, interdependent, and universal; of civil liberties and political, economic, social and cultural rights, on an equal basis for every citizen.”

Does the Foreign Minister not know that in Cuba there are no political rights, no right to form labor unions, nor freedom of expression, nor the right to demonstrate publicly and, even less, the right to strike? Does he not know there is only one Party and only one ideology, and that all the rest is deemed illegal and is repressed?

Besides, he forgot to say that in Cuba there is police repression and racial discrimination. It would be good if he were to ask the citizens about this, those who have suffered it first-hand, and who still suffer it (which, of course, has never been a topic addressed by the official media); similarly, the citizens of color, constantly required to display their ID cards to the authorities and who, besides (not by choice), constitute the greater percentage of the Cuban prison population. It would help if he took a stroll through Centro Habana, Cerro, 10 de Octubre, and other municipalities, so that he could know reality.

As is now routine, he recalled how much Cuba does for humanity in health and education — without clarifying that those who do it are the governments of those countries, which pay the Cuban authorities for these services.

This is not primarily about some supposed humanitarian sentiment, but a commercial one, too: with a dearth of agricultural and other products for exportation, professionals are exported at below-market rates, in a sort of “slave labor,” wherein the Cuban authorities appropriate the greater percentage of the payment received. It should not be forgotten that this and the remittances sent to Cubans from their family and friends abroad are the authorities’ two principal sources of revenue.

In any case, despite the lies, omissions, distortions, obsolete slogans, and stale repetitions, there is no escaping reality: as a matter of survival, the Cuban authorities have need of relations with the government of the United States of America. This is, ultimately, one of the greatest guarantees of success for what has only just begun.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Posted in Fernando Damaso, Translator: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Two Accursed Words / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 30 July 2015 — Prohibition and prosecution are two words widely used by Cuban authorities since their accession to power an amazing fifty-six years ago.

From the first months they prohibited political parties and organizations, free speech and the free press, the exercise of trades and professions outside state control, and the public practice of religion. They banned private education and health services, privately owned companies and businesses, and everything that would hinder the totalitarian regime they were establishing. To achieve this, they persecuted  everything that emerged contrary to it.

As for prohibition, they banned: free exit from the country; private trips abroad; access by Cubans to hotels, shops, and other facilities set aside for foreigners; possessing foreign currency; buying and selling houses and cars; fishing from a fixed platform; the sale by farmers on the free market of agricultural products; and even the sale of creations by artists, who should always be creating “within the Revolution.”

The victims of this prohibitive megalomania number in the millions, and the damage to the country in the billions, much more than can be blamed on the American blockade (embargo). Those who have lived under these daily absurdities can vouch for that.

As for persecution, they have persecuted all, under the “totalitarian principle” that “everything that is not properly authorized, is prohibited.” To do this they have created vast agencies of persecution. They persecute the political dissident the same as the commercial intermediary, the street peddler the same as the owner of a duly established restaurant or cafeteria. The problem is to persecute, in order to maintain the terror that induces subjugation. It is not the result of a random act.

Even today, after eliminating some absurd prohibitions, they have increased persecutions. It could not be otherwise: it is the only way to keep a failed economic, political, and social system in place for a while longer.

Posted in Fernando Damaso

Another Circus Act / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 23 July 2015 — Cuban authorities surrounded the flag-raising ceremony at the Cuban Embassy in Washington with a circus act of clowns, magicians, and jugglers, part of a large delegation that traveled to the city to participate in the affair. They were joined by Americans friendly to the government, “patriotic” Cuban emigrants, and Latin American “brethren” invited for the occasion. As expected, there was no lack of jingoistic gibberish incorporating the words “victory,” “independence,” “freedom,” “sovereignty,” and others that for years have comprised the rhetorical arsenal of the authorities of the island.

The Cuban Foreign Minister’s speech, as gray as he is, could not have been more repetitive and lacking in originality and freshness. As usual, he was stuck in the past, repeating the same old story, exalting the role of the Cuban historical leaders in the action and minimizing that of the President of the United States, who was actually the leading figure.

Moreover, he repeated the same intolerant approaches about a possible political opening and respect for different opinions. You would have to be deluded to expect anything different.

Despite the restoration of diplomatic relations and the opening of embassies, it will be very difficult for the Cuban authorities to abandon their totalitarian concepts that, at least in politics, though not in the economy, have yielded them a few results. They will continue clinging to them until the end of their days, simply because they don’t know anything else.

The show was colored with a performance of the “national painter,” portraying the red and black flag of the July 26th Movement across from the White House. That’s their way of achieving fame, because if they stop talking, you would need an interpreter to understand it. There were also some musical numbers, dances, and abundant slogans.

Posted in Fernando Damaso

Virtual Changes / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 20 July 2015 — The subject of cooperatives in Cuba offers much to talk about. In the first place, it would be interesting to know who had the absurd idea of dividing them into two types: agricultural and non-agricultural.

Owing to this linguistic aberration, a cooperative that is engaged in the repair, scrubbing and lubrication of vehicles is designated non-agricultural, the same as one that makes plastic articles using recycled raw material. The qualifier of “non-agricultural” should precede these peoples’ names as a divine punishment.

But furthermore, the self-employed grouped in these cooperatives, the same as the farmers who make up the agricultural ones, are not independent, but rather find themselves under the control of bureaucratic governmental organizations and institutions, the same that during countless years have been incapable of resolving the problems of production and services, such as the ministries of Agriculture, Transport, Construction, Interior Commerce and others, which now are responsible for the creation, regulation, functioning and auditing of the cooperatives. These inefficient ministries refuse to downsize or to disappear, inventing new mechanisms in order to subsist, now at the cost of the farmers and the self-employed.

Or is it that, in reality, the proclaimed changes are nothing more than simple governmental adjustments, in order to continue exercising power over every facet of society, maintaining an iron control, now without having to answer directly for production and services, tasks that they have transferred to the shoulders of the farmers and the self-employed.

So, the lands that are turned over to the peasants “in usufruct” and the premises that are leased to the self-employed continue to belong to these ministries, which, unsuccessful at performing their principal jobs, now also have the jobs of real estate agents.

From all these economic spawns, as logic dictates, you can’t expect much.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Posted in Fernando Damaso, Translator: Regina Anavy

The Musketeers of the Culture / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 14 July 2015 —  For some time now, certain “musketeers” of the culture, somewhat advanced in years–headed by a D’Artagnan of hirsute mane, addicted to Chinese pomade manufactured in Vietnam–have assumed the ruling party’s defense of the national identity and the history of the country.

The members of this group, taking advantage of all the space generously provided to them by the media, have started a campaign against the so-called “weekly packet” (a bundle of movies, episodes of series and soap operas, musicals, and other foreign weekly programs recorded on DVD), which private sellers purvey to Cubans as a way to escape the insufferable boredom of the national TV channels that are loaded with political diatribes). They propose to substitute it with a “greater packet” (a similar item, but containing Cuban programs). In addition, they bow before the official version of history, and the rejection of foreign symbols used by many young people.

To defend the national identity, the country’s history and patriotic symbols would be commendable, if it weren’t for the gross manipulation, crude political indoctrination, and chauvinism in their actions.

It is notable that these battle-hardened “musketeers” do not care about the loss of legitimate Cuban traditions, nor about the improper and disrespectful use of the national flag, absurdly displayed throughout the entire year inside shops, farmers’ markets, beer gardens and other state-run establishments–as well as on streets and buildings.

Many of these flags, subject to neglect and the inclemencies of the weather, end up as literal rags, with nobody to take them down and incinerate them, as should be done, according to established custom. Neither do they say anything about the paper flags that are utilized profusely during political events and which later, along with other garbage, are spread all over the streets and sidewalks, and are trampled without the least respect accorded to them by the passersby.

Something similar occurs with the national anthem, used frivolously and without the least reverence in any type of activity, in the face of indifference from the audience–and with the national shield, practically forgotten and absent.

This misuse of patriotic symbols throughout too many years has made it so that many of our citizens, regardless of age, have lost respect for them.

The task of these “musketeers” is not any easy one, especially when we find them participating in certain activities far removed from the values and ethics that they preach for others. To persuade, one must first set an example.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Posted in Fernando Damaso, Translator: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Reporter Pulls Food Prices Out of His Hat / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 9 July 2015 — A few years ago an official reporter for the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, when he was a correspondent in Venezuela, wrote fanatical features about the late Venezuelan leader. Upon returning to Cuba he set about “clarifying,” in dense articles, the functioning of agricultural markets and other issues related to domestic trade. It’s the same as the article about ground turkey and “floor mop” steak.

Now, calculator in hand, he rambles on about prices in the agricultural markets. In an article entitled “Sofrito Continues Just Like Before” he states that “the Cuban family, between January and March this year, had to pay 1.10 pesos per pound for garlic and 76 cents for onion, the same as in 2014.” He adds that “a sweet potato, which before cost you a peso, now costs you four cents more.”

I really don’t know which top hat he pulled these prices out of; they are completely unrelated to reality. First of all, garlic is not sold to retail consumers by the pound, but by the head, a small one selling for from 2 to 4 pesos. A pound of onions has fluctuated between 10 and 15 pesos, and one sweet potato has risen to between 2 and 2.50 pesos.

He admits something that is undeniable, “prices of almost all agricultural products have continued to rise,” but he blames “low production, the existence of private restaurants and cafes, tourism growth, and declining imports, which have caused supply not to meet demand, generating higher prices.”

Next he tackles problems he can’t solve, and develops a strange thesis “on the impossibility of generating an algorithm to determine, with some degree of certainty, the correspondence between supply and demand for modeling prices in the agricultural market,” followed by other convoluted notions, “in my opinion,” as he habitually repeats.

“Sofrito continues just like before” because the system doesn’t work and is unable to solve the problem of feeding the Cuban people, as has been more than demonstrated by 56 years of failures.

This, presumably, the reporter doesn’t say.

Posted in Fernando Damaso

Between the New and the Old / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 3 July 2015 — In his speeches of December 17, 2014, and July 1, 2015, the President of the United States of America opted for the present and the future, once again laying aside the past, for which he is not responsible and which is a bygone stage. Moreover, he acknowledged, before his people and the world, that the policy of isolation applied against Cuba for more than fifty years had failed.

On the other hand, the President of Cuba has continued to focus on the past, for which he is partly responsible, repeating the subject of reparations and other demands, some completely absurd, and others difficult to complete in the short or medium term. Nor has  he acknowledged the failure of socialism, imposed on the Cuban people since April 16, 1961.

They are two totally different concepts: the first speaks to a young president and the second to an old one.

Maybe the permanent vision of the new is what has made the United States constantly advance and develop, and the permanent vision of the old is responsible for Cuba having stagnated and regressed.

Regardless of all this, I believe that the facts are most important and (though arriving too slowly) they are there, and that speeches and declarations anchored in the past are made solely for the purpose of reassuring some characters from the national Jurassic Park. Time will have the last word

Posted in Fernando Damaso