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!

Posted in Fernando Damaso

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.

Posted in Fernando Damaso

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.  

Posted in Fernando Damaso

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

Posted in Fernando Damaso, Translator: Alicia Barraqué Ellison | Leave a comment

Better Than Nothing / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 6 May 2015 — A few years back, in one of the many failed initiatives of Cuban socialist commerce, there was an attempt to promote the sale of items for which there was little demand. The  term coined to describe this was venta convoyada, or “joint sale.” Three different items (a deodorant, a machete and a roll of toilet paper for example) were bundled and sold together for one price. The items had nothing to do with each other but were sold as a unit rather than separately, which would have better served the needs of purchasers. Rather than being customers, buyers were forced to take on the role of lenders. As might have been expected, the initiative failed.

It seems this practice has been revived, repeating the same mistake, but this time with political and cultural events rather than commercial goods. For example, we have just found out that there will be a political event in support of Venezuela as well as in honor of “The Five.” (The two causes are fashionable right now.) There will be a concert marking the anniversary of a muscial group, which will also be giving it. Additionally, it will commemorate an old speech as well as the allegedly successful fulfillment of a production target. In other words, we are seeing the emergence of the “joint celebration.”

Perhaps this is because the number of anniversaries, events and people to commemorate has become so large that it exceeds the number of days in the year, hence the need to bundle them.

While not being terribly important, this initiative might well be considered one of Cuba’s greatest contributions to twenty-first century socialism. It’s better than nothing.

Posted in Fernando Damaso | Leave a comment

Give It Time / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 30 April 2015 — Looking over some documents from different eras, I have determined that, when it comes to renaming things, our authorities have broken all records. Victims of their frenzied efforts have included numerous streets, public plazas, parks, virtually all sugar refinery factories, businesses and outlying buildings, towns, cities, provinces, commercial and service establishments, educational and health care facilities, theaters, cinemas and even some of the keys within our archipelago. One needs the patience of a saint to find a name from the past that is still in use today. I can only imagine how arduous the work of our historians must be.

The result has been to create widespread historical confusion, which strikes me as being more than a coincidence given that it happens to coincide with an interest in blotting out significant parts of our past in order to address the political needs of particular moments in time.

If we take a look at some of these changes, we see that Havana’s former Civic Plaza is now referred to as the Plaza of the Revolution. This latest designation has also been applied to every town square in every municipality in every province. The possible exception is Tenth of October, where it is referred to as Red Square, though it might more appropriately be called Black Square in honor of all the grime that has accumulated there.

The historic beer factory La Tropical (shuttered along those of La Polar and Hatuey) has for years now been called Jose Marrero. The Saint Francis Piers are now called the Sierra Maestra. The neighborhood formerly known as Country Club is now Cubanacán. The Blanquita Theater is now the Karl Marx (not even Carlos Marx).

The names of all the sugar refineries along with those of their outlying buildings were replaced with names of personalities from the new pantheon of saints established after January 1, 1959. Gone also were well-known, resonant names such as Toledo, Hershey, Constancia, Narcisa, Cunagua, Jaronu, Najasa Violeta, Baltony, Chaparra, Jobabo, Preston, Miranda, San Germán and many more, to be replaced by 161 others, which was the total number of enterprises at the time. A cement factory known as Titan was rechristened José Mercerón.

An even greater misfortune befell commercial establishments. Rather than allowing the stores to retain their original names, in a showy display of bureaucratic pretension, each was given a letter and number that identified it by province. As though that were not enough, Isla de los Pinos (Isle of Pines) was rechristened Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Youth). At least its residents are still referred to as pineros rather than as they might otherwise be called: juventuderos. Then there is Key Smith, located in Santiago de Cuba Bay, now called Key Granma*.

As absurd as these examples are, the saddest case is that of so-called Granma province (the repeated use of this name is striking), formerly known as Bayamo province out of respect for its rich history. Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, the father of the country, was bayamés, and the first government of an independent Cuba was established here. Its citizens burnt down their city rather than hand it over to the enemy. The flag hoisted here was the flag of Bayamo and the first stanza of our national anthem begins, “To the battle in haste, Bayameses…” To Cubans, Granma is simply a letter of the Greek alphabet, the name of a yacht, a baseball team and a newspaper, and a very tedious one at that.

Posted in Fernando Damaso | Leave a comment