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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.”

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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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