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.

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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.

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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

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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