Police Behaviour

In a gastronomic food shop which only takes foreign currency, situated at 3rd and 8th in Miramar, a little more than a week ago, a known customer, who is a doctor at the Polyclinic at nearby 5th Ave., instead of asking for something in a discreet manner, as required, shocks the shop assistant by his drunken behaviour. The doctor is upset by the telling-off he receives, and starts using abusive language and the macho body-language well-known to Cubans. The employees decide to eject the drunk. Having been thrown out of his happy hour he returns to 3rd and 8th with reinforcements. The fight with the employees starts up right away. They call the police, who turn up quickly, but all they do is watch, until the moment when someone collapses and there is blood spilt. The doctor’s son is knifed.

Last Thursday in the same part of Miramar, but at 18th and 1st. A woman by herself, holding two signs, with the word VIOLENCE on one of them, is detained with the sign and without any preamble is put into one of the two police cars which promptly turn up.

These accounts are given to me by direct witnesses, people uninterested in politics, but in each case the way the police acted was unacceptable. It isn’t that the image of the police throughout the world has to be about helping old ladies cross the road or catching pickpockets in the act. The police should always inspire respect. But respect is one thing, fear and repulsion are something else.

Regina Coyula

Translated by GH

December 14 2012



Bola de Nieve

Bola de Nieve

Readers, something light, in keeping with the season. In one of those conversations to fill the time between people who barely know each other, the topic of Divas came up. In Cuba, Alicia Alonso, distantly followed by Rosita Fornés; but neither Rita Montaner, nor Omara Portuondo, who were cited, are considered to be by me. Instead, I put forward Bola de Nieve (Snowball).

Diva (and Divo) is more than fame and career. Also each era has their own. Nearly a century ago Valentino’s status was undisputed, but today he would be ridiculous. The quintessential diva is Greta Garbo, but at that time Louise Brooks seemed much more interesting to me.  Marilyn Monroe doesn’t impress me, but Sophia Loren, still today, has a powerful presence.

Sara Montiel and Carmen Sevilla are two nothings compared to La Faraona. And what can I say about Clark Gable? If he cleaned the Vaseline out of his hair, he could be a gallant or villain right now. Better a gallant, and that we see him take off more than the Vaseline. And the same for Ava Gardner with a slight makeover.

The way they’re presented in the news has made other artists, athletes and supermodels Divas just as much as the movies.

Mick Jagger, Cher, Andy Warhol, Tina Turner, Freddie Mercury, Usain Bolt, Cary Grant, Maria Felix … But everyone has their own.

Regina Coyula

December 27 2012

A Smoky Exploit

During these final days of the year the chatter in my neighborhood has focused on a woman who traded up from a nice little house to a gorgeous residence on a corner lot. This neighbor spared no expense in order to create the home she wanted. An array of private and state-owned trucks delivered material to the site where a building team repaired and remodeled the home over the course of more than a year, following the owner’s instructions. Residents of Nuevo Vedado are used to seeing nice houses — ones that are in good repair and well-maintained — but they were astonished by the magnitude of this project. When they told me about it and I later saw the house, all I could say was, “They are waiting for her to finish it so they can seize it.”

I do not know if the house was ever completed, but the owner was fired from her job. It is rumored that she is facing investigation at a farm called “La Campana,” which I believe is the place where corruption cases are handled. The police conducted a search and filmed the entire house, but the neighbors found out, to their great surprise, that the remodelling project was not the cause but a consequence. It seems the owner, who was recently fired as director of a cigar factory, is under investigation for matters related to the factory’s output.

Since November we have known about the detention of the company’s general manager related to the shipment of contraband cigars to Europe. I won’t deny that I immediately thought of my neighbor, the director of that same company. For a long time she emerged unscathed after anonymous and on-the-record accusations were made by her own workers.

I understand she was very confrontational, and was even offered the directorship of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution to which she belonged. She also active in the Cuban Communist Party and cracked the whip at her workplace. I am not surprised. Someone told me it was a shame what had happened — it was a way of personally profiting by robbing the state because, if these managers are harming anyone, it is their employer.

The neighbor has not been tried and remains innocent until proven guilty. But I am not happy about this. Corruption depletes my county’s patrimony and that of all its citizens. Anyone who has followed the recent history of Russia and the other Soviet republics will know that many of the USSR’s now-discredited company managers shielded themselves as they set about getting rich. With of all their stolen gains, they are now rich and powerful businessmen, mafiosi or both. When it comes to the multi-million dollar tobacco industry, it seems that robbery is practiced on a grand scale.

Regina Coyula

December 25 2012

The Fair

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alfarería utilitaria

Useful pottery

alfarería decorativa

Decorative pottery

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Botellón de agua devenido lámpara

Water bottle made into a lamp

Frente a un espejo de vidrio emplomado

In front of a stained glass mirror

Yesterday I went to the International Crafts Fair located in Pabexpo, an exhibition area in the northwest of the city. This is an expo/sale held every year on this date. The first thing that struck me was the number of people in a space as big as this, so many it was difficult to move and I was constantly stumbling.

The fair this year is much bigger than in past years, especially the area devoted to furniture. You can see that the artisans have seen many Ikea catalogs, the lines and feel of many stands seem taken from the pages of one of those Swedish catalogs. There are other things made with great quality, but that give me nightmares.

The men (or women) who make furniture (I don’t know if either of the two is correct), the lamp makers and the artisans in general who work on high value objects, don’t come to the fair to sell, simply to exhibit; they always have business cards in hand through which they can be contacted; they have webpages, Facebook sites. They are “in tune with the world,” to plagiarize ETECSA’s lying slogan.

The shoe section caught my attention for the number of exhibitors and the lack of imagination. Save the exceptions with good and original designs, the models repeated themselves in detail to the point of boredom. Yes, this shoe exceeds in quality-price what is sold in the hard currency stores, some offer shoes in boxes with their brand and logo, yes Sir!

The foreign representation seemed the same as last year: something from India, a lot of Andean weaving in the synthetic version, a lot of cotton clothing Made in China, and jewelry, the cheapest and most popular. Exhibitors have even come from Spain with merchandise purchased at bargain prices and despite export costs and exhibition, they do a good business. Cubans buy because it is cheaper there than in the store.

Another of the observations from my visit is that the simple artisans, many have become small (and not so small) and successful companies. I already said something similar the other day: in a city of two million people there is a “niche market” for everyone.

December 19 2012

The War of the Worlds


Free enterprise is not a term that is mentioned in the new process of “updating the model,” but you just have to give a little nod to “the factors” in constructing your own socialism now that the Frankenstein of socialism, which according to them is being built in Cuba, seems to be delayed. There are some new entrepreneurs who are serious.

A 3-dimension cinema has appeared, with prices that seem would attract no customers, but they do; a city of two million inhabitants has several hundred happy citizens who don’t have to count their pennies at the end of the month.

Asking for directions to a friend’s, they pointed to a door at the end of a pleasant terrace equipped as a tapas bar. Going through that door was like entering a parallel world. The place is equipped with the best, down to the slightest detail, the menu and the bill are presented on an iPad. In fact, when the iPad gets to the cash register it has to be transcribed because the technology doesn’t go that far, but the effect on the customer is devastating.

A popular snackbar made stickers for cars, and those who return with the sticker on the windshield received a discount. The stickers, I was told, were ordered withdrawn because private businesses are not allowed to advertise. On their own, or with the knowledge of what had happened to the snack bar, some clever person got a bullhorn and advertised from a vintage car, an impeccable almendrón.  What did they advertise? Movie showings in 3D with a matinée of children’s films at a reduced rate. So there’s competition for the guys with the iPad.

Until now inventiveness, “the struggle” has been banned.  This is the real parallel world.

December 17 2012

The Market

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI do not know if I’m “ratting someone out,” although I do not think that I am because the illegal hardware and housewares market that has flourished alongside the Carlos III mall could not be more evident. About a year ago they closed an old tenement and self-employed vendors set up shop across the street from the park entrance of this commercial hub. There on organized stands you can find everything from a lightbulb to a selection of faucets, from pipe fittings to waterproofing.

In any event, trying to place the blame here would have no effects on such a flourishing market, today comprising most of the housefronts of this area, which display an amalgam of the same products forbidden last year and more as well. Young people strive to be more solicitous than their peers and expound in detail about the virtues of this or that merchandise, or if they don’t have what you need they assure you they can get it in two hours, or it can be resolved by the following day at the latest, all this with a professionalism that is lacking in State-run establishments.

These kids have learned the laws of the market on the fly and without a single class in theory. The technocrats who “update the model” could learn a lot from a visit to Retiro Street.

December 6 2012

Human Rights

For more or less the last five years the national media has begun to talk about human rights. But not all of them. Education and health seems to be “the Human Rights that we advocate,” a narrow concept that allows them to appear to be talking about the subject when in fact they are ignoring it.

If in the United States (I mention it because in the official press it is obligatory to do so) Human Rights are violated, it is the concern of the Americans. Individually, in organized groups created for that purpose, or appealing to the courts, they can fight for their rights. What worries me is that in Cuba those that “are not advocated” in the official propaganda are “forgotten.”

So the government is procrastinating — and will continue to procrastinate — in ratifying the U.N. Covenants on Human Rights (which they already signed in New York). We can’t speak selectively about Human Rights.

December 10 2012