Capitalism Straight Away, or the Chinese Method First? / Rafael Alcides

By Rafael Alcides — It’s December 17th. The majority (and right now there are about 30 of us in line at the pharmacy) is celebrating the agreements between Raul and Obama; if there had been firecrackers, they would have lit them. Anyway, implicating everyone with her finger, a woman with a child in tow and a voice choked by emotion was saying: “Saint Lazarus has made this happen!”

As I was saying, the majority, because among the old guys (there were eleven, counting me, and I’m not from that neighborhood; I’m just in line there because my pharmacy didn’t have my medicine), there are three in opposition: one who says that, without the mediation of dissidents, the agreement constitutes a betrayal by Obama, a betrayal that will be recorded in history with words of mourning.

The others shoot back with what about the Human Rights people* in this long-awaited moment, they’re thinking about their piece of the pie; and the man, a chubby guy who looks like a lawyer, noting the lack of a quorum and all the unfriendly faces, leaves without offering anyone his place in line.

Another one is a dentist, who later they will tell me is not one of those Human Rights people, but while his cohorts debate the future of Cuban socialism, he’ll continue saying that without an elimination of the Embargo on the horizon, the agreements between Raul and Obama have been nonsense and it’s obvious that Raul is not Fidel.

And the other old guy who opposes is wearing dark glasses, is very respected by the group, and totally rejects the agreements. That’s why, in order to debate things fully, and because these guys are old, we follow Jose Marti’s old men in “Los zapaticos de Rosa**” and distance ourselves; meanwhile, there in the entrance to the pharmacy the majority continues, with the Saint Lazarus devotee as their leader, believing capitalism is already here.

“No sir, as a former military man,” some cross-eyed guy assures the man with the dark glasses, “I can tell you that the Army general has not handed the keys of the city over to the enemy. You are right when you say Fidel himself has said one thing one day and the complete opposite the next, but that’s politics. It’s the political chess game. With each new power play the scene changes. It can’t be any other way.”

“For that very reason,” insists the man with the dark glasses, “I don’t believe Raul when he says that this has been done without sacrificing our principles, and tomorrow I’m turning in my Party I.D.; I don’t want to have it on me when they let the businessman off the plane who will take charge of cleaning up the garbage, and the one who will take on the issue of transportation, and the one who’s already budgeting for the construction of two hundred thousand houses in six months, for starters, and I won’t go on because the rest you can figure out on your own.”

“Stop posing as a national oracle,” admonishes the military guy, losing his temper. And in an even worse mood, the man with dark glasses replies:

“The oracle here is still Fidel, and with his flaws, Raul.  I abide by the law of physics. If you remove a brick from a dam, just one brick, you’re bringing about the end of the dam. Look at the Chinese, look at the Vietnamese. Tons of Chinese millionaires today. Tons, thousands. And leading the Party. The only thing missing now is what the bourgeoisie and the lackeys of imperialism call ‘democracy.’”

“In any case,” says the man dressed in bermudas and an Industriales baseball cap, “is that good or bad?  Because what I want are busses that transport me, trucks that pick up my garbage, and for my family to not have to live in barbacoas [jerry-built tenements], cramped quarters.”

“But not by those means, because that would be the end of socialism,” objects the military guy, agreeing with the man in dark glasses.

“But what’s more important: the means or the end result?”

That came from one of the old guys who hadn’t spoken yet, apparently someone of authority in the group and who addressed the crossed-eye guy and the soldier as “my brother.”  His summons surprised the one with the dark glasses:

“So then, for you principles don’t matter. Very strange considering your history. A guy like you.”

“I trust Raul,” says the historical one. “You were talking about the Chinese, but we aren’t Chinese here. And if it’s necessary to be Chinese, we’ll become Chinese. And if we have to do what the Chinese haven’t done yet, we’ll do that, too. Socialism hasn’t worked at all anywhere in the world, and Raul, who’s in touch with the world, has seen this. That’s why he’s done this, so get ready for what’s coming.”

Since the historical one seemed to know a lot about what was coming, the group got quiet, willing to listen. The quietest one was the man with dark glasses; but, suddenly, as if coming to his senses and more interested in his present than in the future, he unexpectedly asked:

“And what about me? You know me; the sixty-four awards, seals and medals I have at home say something, the son of mine who died in an internationalist war, and everything else you know. Outside of Cuba, I could live like a king. So tell me, can he who has suddenly made it all clear, at the end of his life, stand to see us back where we were when we started this thing?”

Except for the man with the dark glasses, everyone sided with the man in bermudas and baseball cap. Rectifying things is the work of wise men, he was saying. There was no agreement, however, on whether or not Raul would take the necessary steps to dismantle the system, whatever those were, without causing damage, doing it without seeming to, one step here, another there, taking his time.

“But, what about me?”

“Raul doesn’t have time to do things slowly,” said a fragile but energetic-for-his age doctor who had intervened twice before.

“And what about me?”

Nobody paid attention to the one in dark glasses, he kept repeating his “what about me’s” but the people ignored him. Their attention was on the argument between the doctor and the military guy.

“The Army general has all the time in the world,” the military guy insisted angrily. The one in bermudas and baseball cap backed him up:

“These people last a thousand years. Gallego Fernandez is 100 and look at him still standing stronger than a light post.”

“No sir, Gallego isn’t 100 yet,” specified the historical one.

The doctor explained himself, appealing to their common sense:

“I’m saying that Raul doesn’t have time to waste making changes one baby step at a time; not in the crushing conditions the country finds itself now; whatever he is going to do, he has to do it quickly, he’s opened the gates and that’s very delicate, he no longer has the outside enemy as the excuse that allowed him to keep the non-conformists here on the inside in their place, and they will become more courageous.  Without stopping to think about whether he hurts one or one million, he has to do it like Fidel did when, suddenly, at a burial he said that when I said digo [I say] it was really Diego, and in the process turned us into socialists. In fact, that was also on a 16th day of the month.  Just like that, the way you rip off a Band-Aid. That’s the kind of time he doesn’t have.”

The historical one didn’t understand the objection. He spoke for everyone:

“Everyone has their methods, and in the one I’m talking about, Raul would avoid responsibility and end up as the one who corrected Fidel’s mistakes. For starters, this is about Cuba, not the conceited fame of anyone. Do you remember the last interactions between the Godfather and his son, Mike Corleone? Imagine Diaz Canel acting like he’s talking and, behind him is Raul—who has resigned, alleging that he was really really sick but in reality he’s healthier than all of us—speaking for comrade Diaz Canel. We are, as my pal and neighbor used to say” — then he signals for the man with dark glasses — “in the very moment when the Chinese, after wasting thirty years making cement in the back yard with a cauldron and wood fire as if they were frying pork rinds, enter history. Talk to the Chinese about those lost years. In the same way, anyone here today who has felt deceived, will applaud later.”

It wasn’t a finished debate. There was still hardly any blood.  Someone was saying that maybe a Chinese method was coming that didn’t use Cuban capital, recalling the economic philosophy of the bonsai*** set forth by Murillo; for his part, the dentist continued to repeat like someone obsessed, that without an elimination of the embargo, Obama and Raul’s agreements were nonsense, even more so considering that not so long ago Raul had claimed that we could withstand the embargo 55 more years.

Then the doctor, perhaps fed up with that guy’s lamenting, raising his voice and confronting him, said that the plural in Raul’s “we could” was an exaggeration, that Raul hadn’t experienced one second of the embargo, that during 55 years Raul had woken up in air conditioning, that he had sat in an air-conditioned car, walked into an air-conditioned office, gone to bed with air conditioning and had only gotten sweat on his shirt when he went out to review a military unit, catching some sun on the way in order to synthesize his vitamins, or when he went hunting.

And that’s when it started. The military guy demanded the take back his words; audacious, the doctor refused; and while those two old men were being subdued by the group, I heard a woman who had been cleaning her upper dentures with a nail file say to an old man who had just arrived, as she put her teeth back in, energetic and ready to interject:

“With these changes that are coming, I would like them to do what the Chinese still haven’t done; if for no other reason than for the people here to be able to say what they think without things like this happening.”

Translator’s notes:

*This phrase does not refer to any specific organization; the expression “human rights person/people” is widely used by Cubans to refer to anyone engaged in any way in working for democracy and human rights in Cuba.

**”The Little Pink Shoes” is a very famous poem in Cuba by José Martí. It tells the story of Pilar, a privileged little girl, who while playing on the beach sees a poor little sick girl with cold feet and no shoes. Pilar gives the girl her shoes, telling her, ‘Oh, take mine, I have more at home.

***Marino Murillo is Cuba’s Minister of Planning and Economy. The late Cuban economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, a regime opponent, coined the term “bonsai businesses” to refer to the types of small private businesses now allowed by the regime: bonsai, of course, are very small, and are subject to constant “trimming” to make sure they are not allowed to grow to any significant size.

Translated by: Kathy Fox

10 January 2015

Secrecy / Regina Coyula

The ruling elite accustomed themselves to living in secrecy, with that phrase, “Silence, the enemy is listening,” so convinced that all information about their lives was a matter of state, disrespecting public opinion, including that which sympathizers still have, with silence around the life (or death) of Fidel Castro.

This can only happen in a country that feels no obligation to offer explanations and where the journalists do not dare to do their job. It’s not serious to try to justify that such discretion is essential because it involves a man against whom hundreds of attacks were planned (though they never got close). Today this person is a sick old man, retired from public service, whose image for years now is always deferred and in photos.

Nor do I believe that Raul Castro needs time to prepare anything, because he controls the power and if there are cracks in the corridors of power, military counterintelligence should keep the General-President (HIS ministry) updated about the operative situation.

Fidel Castro occupied so many hours of television and so many headlines; in short, he dominated the media, that it’s logical, given the information vacuum, that his health status should be the object of all sorts of speculations.

9 January 2015

The Way Things Go / Regina Coyula

One of the things that I am going to miss when Cuba is an ordinary country, will be these days when digital piracy is still patriotic and on any corner you can acquire the best of the Discovery Channel, the magnificent series of the History Channel, or the captivating serials of ABC or Fox. With regards to the series, I am greatly enjoying Mad Men, partially broadcast here in the early hours of morning as “The Men of Madison Street.” With these series and movies on demand, I only turn on Cuban TV for the news, a brief moment of Telesur to read the news crawl across the bottom of the image.

If I, who am a great joker and not interested in reality, nor MTV, nor soap operas and all I want is to stay far from national programming; what about my neighbors. The head of the family, my neighbor Tomás, whom I’ve already talked about here, has lost the fight. It seems that as a Party member, they’ve “targeted” him in the fight against the audiovisual packets, but his wife and even his daughter, also a party member and civilian employee of the Ministry of the Interior, adore The Voice, El Gorda y la Flaca, Dancing with the Stars, Belleza Latina, and especially Case Closed. Tomás’s wife made a strong statement of her intentions to Tomás, and given the volume at which she did it, to the rest of the neighborhood:

“So here people can hold their ‘worm’* meetings and nothing happens (that’s us); they can hold their religious meetings and nothing happens (my neighbor Tania, whom you also know), and I can’t watch “Case Closed”? Because to me %$#@!… I get the &$%#!… I watch it and you’re not going to stop me!”

*Translator’s note: Gusanos (worms) is a common insult used by the Castro regime against those who leave Cuba and/or who don’t support the regime.

7 January 2105

Releases / Regina Coyula

(Published on BBC Mundo 17 December)

It didn’t fail to surprise me although I wasn’t taken unawares. I’d said among friends, who called me crazy, that Gross and the three wouldn’t be exchanged, that without Human Rights there would be no relations.

I respected the point, but I recalled the politics are cooked up with subtle ingredients that don’t appear in the news (much less the news in the newspaper Granma) but there were indications and because of these indications the news of the year didn’t come out of nowhere.

Now, with Gross in the United States and the three in Cuba, the implementation of the conversations that have taken place begin, conversations that open a parenthesis for a calm transition in which the successors of the nomenklatura live with peace of mind and even participate, if they want, in the multiparty politics that will come.

Before the announcement, workers speculated about what its contents would be.

I don’t believe everyone is happy, neither in the government nor in the dissidence, but the doctor, the closeness of the patient, shouldn’t cloud the judgement when the time comes to made a diagnosis.

The economy, as we know, is very pragmatic, American investors will weigh the risk in numbers and not in violations of human rights.

The Cuban government, for its part, needs to normalize its relations with the neighbor to the north and anxiously await new capital. The Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) will finally fulfill the function for which it was conceived.

Civil society needs to take advantage of this undoubtedly favorable junction to deepen the struggle to establish a true State of rights.

For my part, I think that today, 17 December 2014, opens a new stage in the long journey of Cuba to insert itself among the modern and democratic countries.

19 December 2014

The Challenges of Young People / Regina Coyula

When vast disagreements exist, dialogue and respectful discussion especially generate questions for the present and future. We were accustomed to the language of the barricade, where anything that didn’t align with the Holy Trinity (motherland, revolution and socialism) was as heretic as in the times of the Inquisition. There were enormous ideological fires that any newcomer or forgetful person should never doubt; he/she must only pay close attention to the embers and sparks that still rise.

The issue becomes complicated with the rise of a trendy lack of social discipline. The youth, whose responsibility to govern will come in a historically short period of time, is educated with videoclasses with no educational supervision and “emerging teachers” who barely have the advantage of three to four years more instruction than those they are teaching. With this deficiency in instruction, whatever one doesn’t learn at home, becomes increasingly difficult to learn at school.

It infuriates me to hear people say, “In my time…”, although I had professors who imposed their experiences, demeanor and ethics as soon as they entered the classroom. In addition to instruction, I received an education in school that reinforced the influence of my family on my development. Now, those who may not have good models at home, model their behavior to the beat of popular artists and telenovelas (soap operas), because those behaviors are neither learned in a manual nor from a class on television. Under the illusions of so much patriotism, the youth get just as excited about the anthem of Real Madrid as they do with that of Bayamo.

It will be complicated to discuss the course of this country in context when the youngest members of this nation are (at last) in charge of government. They learned that all you had to do to lead and tame people was to raise your voice and a finger along with a group of ideas-turned-slogans (or are they slogans disguised as ideas?). With those few elements, they said, one could corral the people. I don’t have any contempt for them; I was also once naive and easily convinced.

No one ever taught them how to express themselves in a simple and original way. Pay close attention, if you don’t believe me, to the way youth of any age and background mumble heavy diction, one cliché after another, whenever they speak in public. I noticed this months ago in the Ebola doctors, fifteen days ago in the athletes of the Juegos Centroamericanos [Central American Games], last week in the students of CUAJE or yesterday in the innovators and reasoners.

I can’t allow myself, however, to be a pessimist. With a lot of shame, I borrowed from José Martí. The shame doesn’t come from his greatness, but from the poor who have been bustled about from here to there. Despite the shame, I take what I borrowed as an ethical guide. That’s why I have faith in the improvement of humanity, in future life and the utility of virtue, and in you. I want to say that I believe in the youth who unknowingly prepare for their moment.

Translated by: Gloribel Rivas

5 December 2014

Reactions that won’t appear on the news / Regina Coyula

I was in the salon stretching my feet, and although some of the women there had never heard a thing about Alan Gross and acknowledged their inability to recite the names of “The Five,” the news of the re-establishment of relations with the United States was greeted with jubilation by that heterogeneous group, and yes, there was unanimity in that. While one threw kisses to the image of Obama on Telesur, I had to slightly cool the enthusiasim of those who thought (and it was more than a few) that reestablishing relations and lifting the embargo were the same thing.

The best was the only male, a young man who was getting a complicated haircut with designs. The triumphant boy rose from his seat at the risk of ruining the hairdresser’s work and raised his arms as if he’d scored a goal, with the phrase: “This is our Berlin Wall!”

17 December 2014

The Story Behind the History / Regina Coyula

I share, here, a curious fact related to yesterday’s anniversary of Maceo’s death. Almost everyone believes that Panchito Gomez Toro fell fighting alongside him. Panchito was out of commission from having been wounded in an earlier battle. On learning of the death of his admired mentor, he abandoned the body of the Lieutenant General in the battlefield after all those who were with him were wounded. Panchito decided to go and recover the body, helped by Maximo Zertucha, Maceo’s doctor, who was at his side at the moment the fatal bullet destroyed his face and he was able to confirm the death in barely two minutes.

Between Panchito and Zertucha they tried to put the body on a horse and this is when Panchito received an enemy bullet. Badly wounded, he wrote a goodbye note to his family, where he explained that he preferred to commit suicide rather than fall prisoner. The texts on this point are confused, which is explained because suicide has never been looked on kindly by Christian morality, but even so, it seems Panchito didn’t kill himself; rather a party of Spanish guerrillas, having not the least idea of who the dead man was, approached and killed Panchito with a machete to later strip the corpses of their valuables.

As is well-known, the bodies were recovered the following day by Colonel Aranguren and interred in secret to avoid the Spaniards despoiling the corpses.

For a long time, the weight of the accusation of having murdered Maceo and Panchito as part of a plot fell on Zertucha, including taking the doctor to a council of war to give an account of the events of 7 December in San Pedro; he was exonerated but for his whole life (which he lived with decency and patriotism in his native Melena del Sur) he had to carry the weight of that accusation that took flight, magnified in the foreign press and among the exile right from the start.

I wrote about this curious and little-known passage motivated by hearing on the TV news yesterday talk of the “murder” of Maceo and Gomez Toro, from a journalist named Raiko Escalante. I don’t know what sources he relied on for his work, but it seems superficial and harmful to me to have such a slight knowledge of the history we have suffered.

8 December 2014