Living Off Others / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 26 June 2015 — The five spies, transformed by decree into “heroes,” have proved quite expensive, both to the Cuban people and the American taxpayers.

First, it cost to train, relocate, and “plant” them” in the United States to carry out their espionage work. Second, it cost to discover, prosecute, and sentence them to prison terms. At this stage it also cost to pay the lawyers who defended them.

Their years in prison cost the American taxpayer, who had to pay for accommodation, food, medical care, clothing, bedding, toiletries, internet use, etc., and cost the Cuban people, who paid for multiple trips by their family members, including their clothing, shoes, hair care, and other details, so they would look good abroad and before the media, going and coming. Add to this the costs of the national and international campaign “demanding” their release, rebranding them as “counterterrorists,” plus fees for lawyers who continued pursuing their cases for years.

When they were released by agreement between the governments of both countries, it seemed we could at last take a rest from them, but it was not to be: they have maintained their presence at every kind of event—political, cultural, educational, scientific—as well as sending them on “tours” around the world, as if they were a musical group. I would say that they are “in the soup,” to use a phrase from the past, except this dish has now disappeared from Cuban tables for lack of meat.

After touring several countries in Latin America, they began a 21 day “African tour” that will run until July 8. I don’t remember any veterans of the “the foreign wars” in Africa (and there were many) making this kind of “tour,” still less that they received this kind of special treatment. Although they say that “the tour” is in response to invitations, we all know they don’t include expenses, which, as always, will be paid by the Cuban people.

The large amount of financial resources spent on “The Five” would have been far better spent on repairing schools, hospitals, roads and sidewalks, and building houses.

As publicized so far, we know that one of the five holds the position of vice president of the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP). Another has been recycled as a poet and painter, and a third as a cartoonist, both pretty bad indeed. What the other two are up to is unknown. On the whole, except for one, they don’t seem to be working.

It would be reasonable, given the time elapsed, if they decided to stop living off others and the public purse and began working for real. Given the proliferation of musical groups in the country, and considering that they are already members of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, they could become a quintet, in the style of Los Cinco Latinos, Los 5U4, The Formula, or The Jackson Five. They already have a stage name: Los Cinco or The Five, whichever they prefer.

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Ground Turkey / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 21 June 2015 — When a country’s Minister of Finance and Pricing devotes part of his time to setting the value of ground turkey according to the percentage of fat it contains, and to reducing by 10 cents per Convertible Peso (CUC) the price of imported rugs–besides having to publish this in the Official Gazette and get a journalist to write an article about it–it makes me feel like I am living in Macondo, the hallucinatory town in One Hundred Years of Solitude, the novel by Gabriel García Márquez, where the most absurd things would occur.

Despite its questionable record, I thought that this governmental agency was a bit more serious, and that it occupied itself with more important matters. Besides, in this adjustment of the price of ground turkey, the consumer loses: what used to cost 1.10 CUC for the meat with less fat, now costs 1.70 CUC. That is, within this adjustment there was what we call a bola escondida (i.e. a “hidden ball,” which means to succeed through subterfuge), which, as was to be expected, the journalist does not mention in his article.

There is no doubt: our official press, generally dense, tiresome and repetitive political rants, at times, with help from governmental agencies, can turn out to be even humorous.

Best Wishes to All Fathers on Their Day!

Translator: Alicia Barraqué Ellison


Posted in Fernando Damaso, Translator: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Goodbye to the “The Darkened Room” / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 18 June 2015 — I have written different posts and articles on the issue of movie theaters and the loss of them in the city of Havana. I return to it again now, motivated by a report on the current situation in the country, which appeared in the newspaper “Granma,” although in these lines I will only refer to those in the capital.

According to the official interviewed, the head of the Provincial Department of Cinema in Havana, “The city came to have 159 movie theaters, of which 42 remain, 13 of these are open and 29 are closed. Eight of the open ones have construction problems, and the 29 closed ones will be transferred to cultural institutions because they are not going to be used as movie theaters… Under a policy of the Ministry of Culture,” according to the official, “only 13 movie theaters will remain.”

The ordeal of the movie theaters started when they were expropriated from their owners and transferred to administrators at the Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC), which, although it tried to maintain them in good condition, didn’t have the resources to do so.

However, the finishing blow came when, in 1976, they were transferred to the administration of the organs of People’s Power. Suffice it to say that in 1980 the last five-year plan for maintenance and construction was undertaken, a whopping 35 years ago. Starting then, apathy took hold of them, condemning them to their rapid disappearance.

Thirteen movie theaters is a ridiculously low number for a city with more than two million inhabitants and still more ridiculous is the Ministry of Culture assuming the right to decide that in the city there are only these, a bureaucratic decision taken, as usual, without considering the opinions of the affected citizens.

Now, according to the official, the ICAIC concerns itself with the movie theaters of the so-called Project 23 — 12 y 23, Chaplin, Riviera, Yara, La Rampa, and the multiplex Infanta –and the People’s Power is in charge of the rest, this latter with a budget of 313,100 CUP (Cuban pesos, about $12,500 US), for their repair and maintenance, which is insufficient.

Of these, the Riviera, of Project 23, is closed for repairs, and the Acapulco, belonging to the People’s Power, is closed for technical problems, according to a sign that has been posted for some time in the box office.

Everything points to the passing away of the golden era when movie theaters abounded in the city, and even in the neighborhoods and areas most distant from the center. Now you can look for movies on TV, in the “weekly packet” or on DVDs bought from the self-employed, and forget about “the darkened room” and what it represented for many generations of Cubans!

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The Code of Ethics Makes a Comeback / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 11 June 2015 — It seems that recently we have seen a return to the “code of ethics,” that peculiar document that some years ago we, as public officials, had to sign in the presence of a manager who was later sacked for, among other things, “ethical lapses.”

This age-old document has made a comeback at the Attorney General’s Office, where it was signed by new employees, and at the offices of the Comptroller General of the Republic, where more than 300 workers signed a document “that should govern the behavior and the work of these officials.”

In the latter case, the act marked the conclusion of a “Day for the Promotion of Ethical Values,” a project which the comptroller had been working on for more than a month. What was striking about both events was the presence of an unsuccessful former spy — now repackaged as a hero, poet and painter — expounding on the subject of ethics.

I feel like I am living in George Orwell’s novel 1984 or in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ mythical Macondo.

At this point , anyone who thinks that “the game” — forcing workers and officials to sign this sort of document — will solve the serious problems of  a lack of honesty, transparency and industriousness, loss of values, corruption, diversion of funds, bribery and many other issues that afflict Cuban society is a person with his head in the clouds, someone who is far removed from reality.

The same mistake is being made once again: trying to remedy through bureaucratic measures the symptoms of profound, long-term problems that are the logical byproducts of a failed ideology, policy and economy.

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A Reality / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 1 June 2015 — The reestablishment of relations of all types (not just diplomatic) is a reality being constructed step by step, in accordance with the situation at each moment of each party implicated in it. For some, the process is going very slowly, and for others, it is proceeding at the only pace it can. Getting Cubans to agree on anything has always been difficult. Regardless, this thing is happening, and to deny it would be absurd. Besides, I don’t believe that, even given aggressive statements and temporary hysterics, there is any going backward.

What is important now? To work at shaping the new civil society, unifying the dispersed remains of the one that was destroyed, transforming the totalitarian-governmental into the independent-democratic, and incorporating into it the new components that have arisen this century.

Only a true civil society, wherein all the nation’s subjects, without exclusions of any kind, will be able to ensure the establishment of a government “with all and for the good of all,” as José Martí* advised, and allow the development of productive forces and of the country, where everyone–regardless of how they think–contributes his/her best for the good of Cuba.

The task is not simple, for it demands sowing and cultivating our citizenry’s lost public-spiritidness, and uprooting our screaming fanaticism and double standard, as well as the dogmatisms and extremisms, which have so harmed us.

Translated by:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Translator’s Notes:

*The author is quoting from a speech by Jose Martí, “Con todos y para el bien de todos,” given on 26 November, 1891, in Tampa, Florida.  

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Relations / Fernando Damaso

Last December 17, we Cubans received the pleasing news that diplomatic relations would be reestablished between the governments of Cuba and the United States, after more than 50 years of non-existence, lived in a hostile and confrontational climate. Many of us thought that, finally, common sense had prevailed, and that both governments had derived lessons from their errors, so as not to repeat them.

Soon enough, however, the alarms went off. Cuban leaders and functionaries continued using the same obsolete language from the “Cold War” years; aggressive declarations were made; illogical and improvised demands were raised; alignment with totalitarian governments was tightened; and support for extremist organizations and movements was increased.

As if this weren’t enough, it was assumed to be a duty of all Cubans to side with the inept Venezuelan government, and its even more inept president, in an attitude of brazen interference in that country’s internal affairs: demonizing and declaring war on its opposition, taking an active part on the side of the authorities, disregarding that in the last elections, the “Chavistas” (followers of Hugo Chavez, and now his handpicked heir Nicolas Maduro) won by a margin of 300,000 votes in a country divided almost down the middle, where the wishes of those who are not in accord with the government are as valid as those of the government and its supporters. The Venezuelan authorities seem to have forgotten that they should govern for all Venezuelans, and not for just a portion of them–which seems to be a common evil in our lands.

This surge in the political fire does not help the goal of reestablishing respectful relations. Once again, the Cuban authorities forget that they should represent first the interests of the Cuban people, and not those of certain political groups in other countries who have similar ideologies. Let us hope that in the upcoming dialogues of the 21st, all of this is kept in mind.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

18 May 2015

Posted in Fernando Damaso, Translator: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Changing the Subject / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 12 May 2015 — When it comes to talking about human rights, our authorities ignore the 30 items in the Universal Declaration about them, and they go on to extol the medical, educational and other types of assistance they lend to dozens of countries–as well as to foreigners in our country–without clarifying the fact that in the majority of these cases, this help is paid-for by those countries, and by the individuals who receive it in Cuba. In reality, more than help, it consists of services that are commercialized for very good political and economic returns for the government. Everything should be called by its proper name.

Such assistance, albeit respectable, does not form part of human rights and, therefore, should not be used to evade responsibility for their disrespect where Cuban citizens are concerned, nor accepted in international forums.

From the moment when exclusions exist within the country with regard to the exercise of civic and political rights, repression, and beatings, there are violations of those rights. Freedom of opinion and of expression, to not be harassed because of opinions, and to freely research information and opinions and disseminate them with no limits, remain unfinished business. So, too, freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Many others could be mentioned.

Regarding these rights and all the others, there should be conversation and, by means of respectful and serious dialogue, their establishment in the country–as well as their inclusion in the Constitution, without “tags” to render them meaningless, as occurs with some in the current version. In addition, the judiciary should guard them and demand that they be respected.

It is time to start dotting the i’s, and not continue allowing the authorities to change the subject at their convenience, if we truly want to solve our problems.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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