Prosperous and Sustainable (2) / Regina Coyula

My troubles did not end with the molars. Thinking myself clever, a month ago I bought a combined ceiling fan and light fixture at the Plaza Carlos III shopping mall. From an initial price of 120.00 CUCs, it had been reduced to 35 because it was missing its shade. I did not think twice because the phallic bulbs they have been selling since the “energy revolution” will not fit inside any shade anyway. But to paraphrase a popular saying, when something seems too good to be true, it probably is. I should have thought twice and walked away.

The electrician installing the new appliance pointed out that the screws used to attach the blades were not original. There was also evidence it had been repainted, indicating that the fan had been installed and for some reason uninstalled. He recommended that I return it.

With the item still under warranty, I went back to Carlos III to ask for a refund. The same employee who had sold me the fan told me that, although it was Wednesday, the day they handle returns, I would first have to go to the studio several blocks away where they would give me the paperwork authorizing the return.

The box the fan came in was bulky and quite heavy. As everyone knows, I am a certified expert in public transport, so I had the foresight to call to my brother, who owns a car, to help with the transaction.

It exhausts me just thinking about all the neurons I wasted trying to explain this to the employee, more neurons than she ever had. Fearing I would have a heart attack, a young man, clearly someone of importance in the chain of command there, came to my assistance. He understood and simplified the issue:

“I don’t know why they told you to come here,” he said, “because the problem is with the store, not with us.”

Back again to Carlos III. The same employee reiterated that this was not her problem, pointing to a faintly printed piece paper on the wall behind the counter. Even with perfect vision a customer could still only guess that it had something to do with the store’s return policy. But I had my own plan. I put the fan in the middle of the counter and asked to speak to the floor manager. Since this was preventing her from attending to the other “users” — at this point you will have noticed that being a customer in Cuba is highly unusual and no doubt considered unpatriotic — the employee told a young man to go get Alain. Upon hearing my explanation, Alain told the employee, “Give her a refund.”

And with money in hand I could not help but blurt out a well-worn phrase:

“That is why this thing must fail.”

At a minimum I enjoyed the gestures and words of affirmation from the line of people behind me.

11 May 2014

Prosperous and Sustainable (1) / Regina Coyula

My adolescence coincided with the era in which almost all Cuba’s dentists left the country. When I finally saw one, the most expeditious course of treatment was to remove two of my molars that in other circumstances would have been saved. But those battle-hardened dentists could not be bothered with such details as a teenager’s smile, no matter how cheerful it may have been. So as soon as I could, I had a permanent bridge made. My little bridge allowed me laugh without embarrassment until two years ago when old age began to move things around. Every time the bridge came loose, I — more stubborn than it — put it back in place. But by the end of last year it finally gave out.

In the judgement of the prosthetist a new permanent bridge was required because neither removable bridges nor dental implants were suitable in my case due to the shallowness of the occlusion. These bridges are metal but the clinic did not make them, which meant I would have to go to the School of Dentistry.

So off I went to see a Doctor Lorenzo, the only person authorized to treat patients at the school. I went on a Wednesday but Lorenzo only sees patients on Mondays. Come early, I was warned.

The following Monday I arrived at seven in the morning. At eight the doctor’s secretary appeared at the doorway and announced that the doctor had to deal with a personal matter and would not be coming to work. The following Monday I was unable to go and the Monday after that I found out, also at eight, that Lorenzo would not be seeing patients since the school was closed for a week-long break.

Last Monday the orbital paths of Dr. Lorenzo’s and myself were finally in alignment but it was for naught. Sitting behind his desk, Dr. Lorenzo was seeing patients while on auto-pilot. In my case that meant there was nothing that could be done since the metal fabricating machine had been broken since November.

Caramba! Considering how easy it is to post a little announcement, a note could have saved me three trips here.”

Whenever I asked Lorenzo where I could have the work done, he responded with the mantra, “Go to your healthcare provider.”

“But my healthcare provider told me to come here!” I said.

“Go to your healthcare provider.”

“And you can’t tell me where else to go?” I asked.

“Go to your healthcare provider.”

I went to my healthcare provider, the national reference center, and in my conversation with the prosthetist she described the conditions of her workplace. There had been no equipment in place since 2011, visitors spill out into the hallway and no journalist had looked into it.

She mentioned other places where it was possible to have the work done but I would have to go on a personal basis since the clinic only referred cases to the School of Dentistry. She did not say it but “on a personal basis” sounded to me like, for the right amount, I would be able to laugh out loud without any molars missing.

9 May 2014

News / Regina Coyula

Starting this month I will be on  BBC Mundo’s blog about Cuba. I still haven’t seen it, I don’t know what it’s called, but the project interests me because I will share it with Nórido, journalist from the newspaper Trabajadores (Workers); with the author of a blog called Alego33, which I’ve read and which seems excellent to me; and with Leonardo Padura, journalist and novelist who needs no introduction.

In the group, I am the woman, the only one who didn’t study journalism, and the dissident; several people approached me to object to the adjective in the introduction to the blog, but it’s not a lie, I dissent.

I will try to keep up, although this will continue to be the more personal space, a bit ignored lately, it’s true, because I have had work to do, but especially, study. I will also publish in 14ymedio. Not bad for someone at my age.

19 May 2014

Performance / Regina Coyula

I have nothing to say, I have nothing to say… were the lyrics of a song Mario Aguirre sang in all seriousness in the long ago play at the Studio Theater, Something Very Serious. When they asked him for an encore, with the same music, he changed the lyrics: I have nothing else to say, I have nothing else to say

So it is for me with the May Day celebration, so you can read my post from last year, and it’s all the same. I have a photo of a printed poster taped to the door at the Endocrinology Institute where I was two weeks ago, and I saved it for this date. But my phone has problems with Bluetooth and I couldn’t transfer it to my PC or another phone, and having wasted time trying to get the photo from my phone’s screen, I’ll explain it:

As medicine will be at the front of the May Day parade, the workers have to be at their workplaces at two in the morning. From there they will go to the assigned collection point at four-thirty, where the posters (which reference anything but the workers’ demands) will be handed out. They all have to wear their white coats, and should see the secretary of the Union (that is the secretary of the Institute) for assistance.

This method, extensively tested over the years, will ensure that they can easily fill a great number of plazas.

P.S. And if medicine is marching first because of their economic happiness*, how many are marching last?

*Translator’s note: Cuban medical workers were recently notified they would receive large raises.

2 May 2014

It Costs / Regina Coyula

All the hospitals I’ve visited lately have put up  some eye-catching posters: "Your health service is free, but it costs." I’ve seen these relating to ophthalmology, surgery, orthopedics, dentistry, and I recently saw a generic one for the Institutes. Then they enumerated a list of services, from the simplest and least inexpensive to complex procedures costing thousands of pesos.

For the citizen who made several unsuccessful visits before finally receiving a medical consultation after a long wait; for  the person whose hospital admission is like moving day, having to take a tub and heater for bathing, a fan, a lamp, insecticide, and the major part of the food in the house; for the man resigned to the unwritten law that in order to receive appropriate health care he has to provide something extra, snacks for each shift, cigarettes for the nurse, a little "gratuity" to facilitate the ultrasound or the analysis—this colorful wall poster is nothing but propaganda. Propaganda and a neutralizer. It doesn’t cost you, so don’t complain.

(And I’m not saying whether it costs, with the pseudo-salaries and inflated prices.)

I admire the skill and dedication of the doctors, but the excellent service that we were promised as "medical power"—not because of the number of physicians per capita (although you can find that in the Amazon or in northeastern Brazil), but because of the quality of health service as a whole—was lost along the way. And no one can convince any Cuban that the fault is due to the blockade and the imperialist threat.

During a wait of over an hour for a scheduled appointment (visible through a window in public view) with of an employee whose function is to deliver laboratory results, a young man who decided to lie down on a bench and sleep through the wait—with that grace Cubans have for taking the edge off any situation—in front of one of the afore-mentioned signs, caused all of us who were waiting to laugh: The public health costs us, but because it’s free …

21 April 2014

Impressions of an Unprecedented Event / Regina Coyula

Those of us in Cuba who sat in front of the television at dawn, witnessed an unprecedented event: The dialogue between the government and the opposition in real-time, from Venezuela.(*)

Unprecedented in the sense that the majority of Cubans, born after 1959, don’t know what opposition to the government is. They have heard talk about mercenaries and traitors and but to see, sitting across from the Venezuelan government, a group of politicians with other points of view, provokes different reactions.

I followed the speeches of both sides with equal interest. The government remained on the defensive against accusations from the opposition, but within a framework of respect. Only the Vice President of the National Assembly seemed to confuse the meeting room with a platform for agitation, and Capriles, from whom I expected much more, organized his time badly to leave the impression that there was a catharsis around the presidential election loss.

I found the topics on the table very familiar. The Venezuelan government went for the Cuban model–I refuse to repeat that this is socialism–and the achievements in education and healthcare fail to hide the other realities which they enumerated in facts and figures. President Maduro too often forgot that he was elected with half the votes, which means that his support comes from half of Venezuelans. One of the great responsibilities of Chavism is the social fracture provoked, and as well stated on both sides of the table, with two opposite halves you can’t make a country. However, they have a Constitution that is not Chavista but Venezuelan and in which citizens feel they are represented and protected, at least in theory.

IO don’t have a lot of optimism about the future of these encounters. They are different postures and it was left very clear that those in power don’t intend to cede it. The violence and shortages affect everyone regardless of ideological tint. But Maduro is that the opposition will only enter Miraflores as visitors.

(*) From TeleSur, which for Cuba is a major window of information not offered by national television.

11 April 2014

The Means and the End / Regina Coyula

Much has been written about Zunzuneo and Piramideo and I’m not going to be an analyst. My reflection is simple: Could a mass messaging through Twitter subvert governments like those of Great Britain, Canada, France, Australia, Sweden, Costa Rica?

Beyond the well-known 15-M (May 15th) protests in  Spain, the student movement in Chile, and Occupy Wall Street in the very belly of the beast, the social networks have mobilized, have probably knocked down politicians, but they haven’t knocked down governments.

Where does this turn into a dangerous thing? In countries where a bad economy, lack of freedoms, or both, create the conditions. The Arab Spring is the best known referent. The displeasure of the Cuban government is not about the alleged violation of the telephone privacy of its citizens (that would be a colossal joke)  but precisely because the government knows very well the express or buried opinions of much of its citizens about the bad economy, the lack of freedoms, or both, and what they least want is that a significant group of them would organize themselves through this means.

And also, I believe, reacting in the face of the launch of Yoani Sanchez’s announced project–a new digital newspaper–a “means” that could align the feelings of citizens in response to the bad economy, the lack of freedoms, or both.

9 April 2014