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Generation Y is a Blog inspired by people like me, with names that start with or contain a "Y". Born in Cuba in the '70s and '80s, marked by schools in the countryside, Russian cartoons, illegal emigration and frustration. So I invite, especially, Yanisleidi, Yoandri, YusimĂ, Yuniesky and others who carry their "Y's" to read me and to write to me.
Noel repairs the blades of the fan. He has a little workshop in a doorway in Cerro neighborhood. He repairs electric irons, blenders, every kind of obsolete motor, and does good things with rice cookers and water heaters. It’s not a job that generates a lot of dividends. Some of the customers ask for his reliable services and then he doesn’t see them again; others want to pay in installments and end up not paying it off. However, in addition to diminished returns, this labor offers Noel a unique experience. Every day, he is in contact with people, many people. Speaking, opining, telling him what came over the illegal satellite dish and especially listening, opening his ears to what they have to say. So he has become, in his little cubicle full of grease and cables, an actor of opinion, a born leader appreciated for his abilities and respected for his words.
Cuba is full of people like Noel, anonymous, simple, who know reality at a level no minister can reach, even with the most competent advisors. People who donâ€™t show up on TV screens, who arenâ€™t at the front of any parade, but who have natural charisma and contact with the people to lead changes. For now, we only know those with whom weâ€™ve managed to interact or meet personally, but there are thousands. They will never draft a political platform, but they know by heart the most acute problems that afflict our society. They would not sign an action demanding improvements in human rights, nor will they open a blog, practice independent journalism, or autonomous law. The word “activist” scares them and to call them opponents would put an end to the life they have now. They are — without saying so — all that and much more. They are citizens of conscience, to those who damage the situation in our country.
The future of our nation will be influenced by Cubans like this. So many who, today, are behind a desk in some office, at the front of a classroom, filling out forms in some State agency, we will see reach the public sphere. As they feel thereâ€™s a mark of respect in stating their opinions publicly, they will emerge from all sides. Itâ€™s important that at the point when they decide to take that step we do not react with our suspicions nor with confrontation, but with our embrace. Because while Noel fixes a broken fan blade, I feel that one day he will also have the ability to join together the broken and separated pieces of our reality. The same care with which he glues plastic and fixes the motor, he will put into the social leadership he will show tomorrow.
The language of diplomacy, although distant and calculated, gives us a glimpse of changing times. I remember that for years I could predict every word foreign presidents would utter once they arrived in Cuba. Never lacking, in the script of their speeches, was the phrase “the unbreakable friendship between our peoples…”. Nor was a commitment to total harmony between the political projects of the visiting leader and his counterpart on the Island. There was one path and fellow travelers could not deviate an inch from it, and so they made it clear in their statements. Those were times, seemingly, of complete agreement, no nuances, no differences.
In recent years, however, the expressions of the official guests who arrive have been transformed. We hear them say, “although there are points that divide us, it’s best to look for those that unite us.” The new expressions also include the declaration that “we represent a diversity,” and that “we come together in working together, maintaining our plurality.” Clearly, bilateral relations in the 21st century are no longer conceived with a monochromatic and unanimous discourse. They exhibit the variety that has become fashionable, although in practice there is a strategy of exclusion and denial of diversity.
JosĂ© Mujica, president of Uruguay, has added a new twist to the discourse of presidents received at the Palace of the Revolution. He stressed that “before, we had to recite the same catechism to come together, and now despite our differences, we manage to be united.” Incredulous spectators on national television, we immediately asked ourselves if the doctrine to which the Uruguayan dignitary referred to was Marxism or Communism. According to today’s evidence, two presidents can shake hands, cooperate, pose together for a smiling photo, even though they have dissimilar or opposing ideologies. A lesson in maturity, no doubt. The problem — the serious problem — is that these words are said and published in a nation where we, the citizens, can have no other “catechism” than that of the party in power. A country that systematically divides its population between the “revolutionaries” and the “unpatriotic,” based purely on ideological considerations. An Island whose leaders stoke political hatreds among people without taking responsibility for these seeds of intolerance they consciously sow, water and fertilize.
This is Cuban diplomacy. Accept hearing from a foreign visitor what you would never allow someone born on this island to say.
Â The Congress of the Journalists Union of Cuba (UPEC) has just been contradicted. Barely a few days after that meeting of official reporters, reality has put them to the test … and they failed. Yesterday, the news that a freighter flying under the North Korean flag, coming from Havana and found with missiles and other military equipment in its hold, jumped to the first page of much of the world’s press. In Panama, where the arms were detected, the president of the country himself sent out a report via Twitter about what happened. Knowing that in this day and age it’s almost impossible to censor — from the national public — an event of such scope, we awoke this morning to a brief note from the Ministry of Foreign Relations. In an authoritarian tone it explained that the “obsolete” — but functional — armaments were being sent to the Korean peninsula for repairs. It did not clarify, however, why it was necessary to hide them in a cargo of sugar.
At a time when newspapers are offering lessons that governments can’t get away with secrecy, the conformist role of the official Cuban press is, at the very least, painful. Meanwhile, in Spain several newspapers have challenged the governing party by publishing the declarations of its former treasurer; in the United States the Snowden case fills the headlines which demand explanations from the White House about the invasion of privacy of so many citizens. It is inconceivable that, this morning, Cuba’s Ministry of the Armed Forces and its colleagues in Foreign Relations are not being questioned by reporters calling them to account. Where are the journalists? Where are these professionals of the news and of words who should force governments to declare themselves, force politicians not to deceive us, force the military not to behave toward citizens as if we were children who can be constantly lied to?
Where are the resolutions of the UPEC Congress, with their calls to remove obstacles, abolish silence, and engage in an informative labor more tied to reality? A brief note, clearly plagued with falsehoods, is not sufficient to explain the act of sending — secretly — arms to a country that the United Nations itself has warned others not to support with the technology of war. They will not convince us of their innocence by appealing to the antiquity of the armaments; things that produce horror never entirely expire. But, as journalists, the most important lesson to come out of this “crisis of the sugar missiles” is that we cannot settle for institutions that explain themselves in brief press releases, that cannot be questioned. They have to speak, they have to explain… a lot.
I leaned against the window carefully. The glass had a crack running through it and with each jolt it seemed likely to shatter. A few minutes, a roadway traversed by collective taxis, an arithmetic exercise: count all the people on the street who were smiling. In the first stretch, between Rancho Boyeros Avenue and the Maravillas Cinema, none. One lady was showing her teeth not for joy but because of the sun, which made her eyes squint and her lips open. A teenager in a high school uniform shouted at another. I couldnâ€™t hear because of the engine noise, but there was no joking in his words. Coming to the Plaza de Cuatro Caminos, a couple was locked in a kiss at the corner, but there was nothing playful about it. Rather it was a carnivorous kiss, devouring, predatory. A baby in a stroller looked close to laughing, but no, it was just a yawn. Coming to Fraternity Park, I was barely able to calculate some three laughs, including one from a cop who was mocking a boy in handcuffs being shoved into a patrol car.
Itâ€™s an experiment Iâ€™ve carried out on several occasions, to see if we really are the smiling people so talked about in the stereotypes. In most cases, the number who express some level of happiness has not exceeded five in a trip varying between two to six miles. Clearly this doesnâ€™t prove anything, unless itâ€™s that in our daily circumstances laughter is not as abundant as they want us to believe. Still, we remain a people with a great deal of humor. But the jokes act more like the rescuing piece of driftwood that saves us from the shipwreck of depression, not as evidence of our happiness. We laugh to keep from crying, from hitting, from killing. We laugh to forget, escape, shut up. So when we see a comedy show that touches all the painful springs of our laughter, itâ€™s as if the valves open and the whole of 10th of October Avenue starts to laugh, including the buildings, the street lamps and the traffic signals.
Last Friday something like this happened at the â€śDe doime son los cantantesâ€ť show, presented at the Karl Marx theater by the actor Osvaldo Doimeadios. A tribute also to the best of our vernacular theater, the comedian offered magisterial interpretations and monologues. From the economic hardships, the migratory reform, the excessive controls on the self-employed, to the corruption scandals associated with the fiber optic cable, these were some of the themes that most made us roar. We laugh at our problems and our miseries, we laugh at ourselves. After the distraction ended, the audience crowded into the hot aisles to exit. Outside, Primera Street was packed in the late night. I took a bus home and leaned against the windowâ€¦ no one was smiling. The humor had been left in the seats and on the stage, we had returned to our sober reality.
The same day that Marino Murillo, Cuba’s Minister of Economy and Planning, appeared on television explaining the prosperity potential of the Cuban economic model in the municipality of Pinar del Rio, he met urgently with several farmers. The meeting took place in the town of San Juan y Martinez and focused on the agricultural state of emergency across the country. Among other topics, the official demanded that the cooperative members in the area — especially those dedicated to the cultivation of tobacco — sow more vegetables and grains. â€śThe country is experiencing a food crisis,â€ť he said, without provoking any turmoil among those listening because ordinary Cubans donâ€™t remember any state other than crisis, anxiety and chronic collapse. â€śKeep sowing, and later the resources will come…â€ť he said hurriedly to people who had heard more unmet promises than mockingbird songs.
At one point the meeting changed direction and those called together began to set the dayâ€™s agenda. Then the complaints rained down. A fruit grower explained the impediments to contracting directly with La Conchita factory and marketing his guavas and mangoes. Instead, he had to sell his production to Acopio, the State entity, which in turn was charged with supplying the pulp and jam industry. The official intermediary still exists, and gets the major economic share, the grower asserted. For his part, 400 yards of wire fencing to enclose the land costs a State agricultural company some 80 pesos ($3.30 USD); while the farmer affiliated with a cooperative can expect to pay 600 pesos ($25.00 USD) for the same amount. A sack of cement — indispensable in expanding the facilities of a farm — has a maximum value of 20 pesos ($0.83 USD) for the State farm, and 120 pesos ($5.00 USD) retail price for the cooperative member.
When the relations of production become a straitjacket for the development of the productive forces, then these relations have to change. This is in keeping with one of the Marxist conclusions we most study in high school and college. Thus, on comparing Marino Murilloâ€™s declarations with the testimony of several farmers and the agricultural disaster all around us, one can only conclude that the current economic model behaves like a deadly embrace for the development and prosperity of Cuba. Itâ€™s not particularly helpful that the officials tell us that now, indeed, prosperity and progress are just around the corner. If the man in the furrow remains gripped by the absurd, who establish so many restrictions, they should step aside and make way for others who can do it better.
The piece of paper was left under the door, but he only found it the other day. The list was written in rough handwriting, with spelling that exchanged â€śRâ€™sâ€ť for â€śLâ€™sâ€ť and some â€śBâ€™sâ€ť for â€śVâ€™s.â€ť But he understood everything. Diazepam continues at 10 pesos for a dozen pills and should be delivered within a day, at least for the next month. Paracetamol is also available, so next to the name of that medicine he put the number two. This time he didnâ€™t need alcohol, but Nystatin cream is a yes so he marked it. His son, restless by nature, could also use some meprobamate so he also wrote down the number for a several week supply. This dealer was reliable, heâ€™d never been cheated, all the medications were good quality and some were even imported. More than once heâ€™d bought the sealed jars that said, â€śSale prohibited, free distribution only.â€ť
The business of medications and other medical supplies is growing every day. A stethoscope on the black market costs the salary of two working days; a Salbutamol spray for asthmatics costs the wages of an entire work day. Given the undersupplied State pharmacies, patients and their families canâ€™t sit around with their arms crossed. A roll of tape costs around 10 pesos in national currency, the same price as a glass thermometer. You can break the law or continue diagnosing fever with a hand to the forehead. The danger, however, comes not only from violating the law. In reality, many customers self-medicate or consume pills that no doctor has prescribed for them. Given the clandestine seller, itâ€™s not necessary to show a prescription and he never questions what the client is going to do with the pills or syrups.
Despite the successive sweeps against drug smuggling, the phenomenon seems to increase rather than decrease. In the Havana area of Puentes Grandes an old trash bin turned into a pharmaceutical warehouse is the emblem of the government strategies and failures to prevent illicit sales. The police are incapable of eradicating the situation, because the diversion of medications is carried out from grocers, pharmacy technicians, nurses, doctors, even hospital directors. The greatest demands are centered around analgesics, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, syringes, cotton and painkiller creams. The illegal drug market also goes along with adulteration and counterfeiting.
Some small white pills, costing three times their official value, can end the problem, or be the start of others, more serious.
His own neighbor watches him. No one has confirmed it, he hasn’t read it any report, and he doesn’t have any friends in the police who have warned him. He’s simply not stupid. Whenever he opens the gate to his house, a white head peers out from next door. For every five times that he comes and goes, at least three times he runs into the old man who lives in the next apartment pretending to water the plants in the passage. The pots are overflowing, but the improvised watcher continues to add more and more water. Also he asks questions, a lot of questions, on the most imponderable topics: Um… what you have in that bag, where did you buy it? It’s been some time since you visited your mother-in-law, right? So he has his own private informer, an intelligence cell — of just one member — focused on his existence.
The informing neighbor spent Fatherâ€™s Day alone. None of his children came by to celebrate with him. The truth is, no one ever visits him, other than two men with military haircuts. Because the old man is reputed to be someone whom even his own family doesnâ€™t support. He is â€śmore alone than the stroke of one,â€ť say the other residents in the crumbling building. In the middle of the afternoon the watched knocked on the door of the watcher to give him a piece of cake. â€śSo you can try it, my daughters brought itâ€ť… he said, savoring the victory of feeling satisfied and visited. A short flash of guilt shone from the eyes of the nosy one. By nightfall he was already back at his post, checking who entered and left the adjoining home.
In an unwritten, but very frequent, formula, most of the people involved in the betrayal of other Cubans also exhibit a great frustration in their personal lives. Not that every unhappy person becomes an informant for State Security, but failure is a breeding ground that the recruiters of informers take advantage of. With these individuals they develop shock troops willing to destroy others. In the neighborhoods, the extremists tend to be those with the most disastrous family and emotional lives. Itâ€™s not a rule… thatâ€™s clear… but itâ€™s true more often than not!
To his neighbor, retired, resentful and alone, they have assigned the task to watch him. They have given him power over his life, an ascendancy that he enjoys and savors every day. The power to ruin smiles, to write reports that one day will haul off to prison this unbearably happy father and husband who lives on the other side of the wall.
17 June 2013
The residents of Siboney have reasons to be sad and upset, very upset. Hurricane Sandy devastated a good part of their coastal infrastructure, destroying houses, throwing up huge rocks on the shore, and seriously damaging the areaâ€™s vegetation. More than eight months after this hellish morning when the storm affected them, very little has been done by the State to reconstruct the place. Some locals have restores a part of the walls that surround their houses which the strong winds toppled. Although there are bulldozers and trucks carrying stones and dirt everywhere, they are not focused on once again raising the ruined village. They have, instead, a more pointed objective: the fiber optic cable that links this region of Cuba to Venezuela.
Several owners of private restaurants and rooms or houses for rent are complaining about the decline in international tourism after the debacle of Sandy. â€śThe foreigners come with the idea of staying a week or more, but when they see the state of things these days they leave after two days… if they even stay that long.â€ť the natural beauty of the place makes its current situation more dramatic. Facing a sea so blue it looks like a retouched postcard, many people try to make a living however they can. â€śBut at least you will soon have the Internet, with the cable so closeâ€ť… I provoke them, in search of information, as well. The reaction when the tendon that cost more than 70 million dollars is mentioned, comes loaded with pure skepticism. â€śWith this cable theyâ€™ve protected even us!â€ť says a lady with eyes almost the same color as the Caribbean, glancing about as she talks.
The point where the so-called ALBA-1 touched land in 2011, shows no benefit of the data that circulates through it. A â€śsarcophagusâ€ť of concrete with a heavy metal cover, serves as the first â€śstopâ€ť of the cable that also links to neighboring Jamaica. A guard keeps his eyes on the place where so many kilobytes enter and leave. The irreverent hurricane from last October passed, ripping apart the previous box from where the end of the cable was guarded, leaving entirely open the framework fibers and its cover. The next morning after the incident, local residents looked out curious to see the placeâ€™s â€śnew tenant.â€ť Heavy equipment immediately appeared to recover it and make a small causeway under which it ran. After some weeks of work carried out by a brigade from ETECSA Telecommunications Company, the work is now in the hands of the Armed Forces (MINFAR).
As hope is the last thing to die, or so the older people there insist on recalling, the neighbors of Siboney are still waiting for the miracle of reconstruction and connectivity. “This could be the people with best Internet access in all of Cuba,” says a young man fishing from a cliff.â€ť But I can not tell if heâ€™s making a joke or is serious, as the harsh sun forces his face into a permanent grin. The truth is that this place still in ruins, could become more prosperous and have more opportunities to have access to the web.
Private businesses could attract more visitors with ads in cyberspace, they would have better information about upcoming weather patterns, and who knows, they might even launch a crowdfunding campaign to restore the nearby beach. But thatâ€™s a dream too far, Iâ€™m assured by an old man chewing tobacco and wearing an olive green cap that comes down over his ears.
Away from the beach… near the Internet
Less than ten miles from where the fiber optic cable made landfall is one of the Internet cafĂ©s in the city of Santiago de Cuba. The air-conditioned room with four computers and an attendant employed to watch what each user does in front of the screen. The stratospheric prices for most people (4.50 CUC for an hour), means there are no lines access the site. It’s time to do some testing on the connectivity and the sites allowed or not allowed.
Among the sites censored on this connection are Cubaencuentro, Cubanet and Revolico. Perhaps also other portals and sites are under the same “loop,” so it will be very useful for users to help rebuild the list of banned sites.
The good news is, sites that can be read without difficulty include: CafĂ© Fuerte, Penultimos DĂas, Diario de Cuba and El PaĂs, as well as the sites of Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders.
A speed test of the new connection, resulted in the data shown in the following image:
In summary, although this is not the Internet we dreamed of, given it high prices, censored sites and the inability to connect from home, at least it’s a crack that has opened the wall of disconnection. Now it is up to us to force this slit to become a door… may we live to see it.
10 June 2013
Theyâ€™re no longer dressed in blue uniforms and some boys even show off their rebellious manes. Hair that no teacher will demand they cut — at least for the next few weeks — hair that will ultimately fall to the razor of Obligatory Military Service. They still look like students, but very soon many of them will be marching with rifles slung over their shoulders. They are young men who just, days ago, finished their school days at different high schools all over Cuba. The college entrance exams are long past and this week theyâ€™ve learned who will have a place in higher education.
Just outside the schools, the lists of the accepted and unaccepted speak for themselves. JosĂ© Miguel PĂ©rez High school — in the Plaza of the Revolution municipality — could be a good example to explain the situation. This educational center is one of the best performing high schools in the capital. A situation partly due to the professional and economic composition of the neighborhood, which means many parents can afford after-school tutors (we refer to these as â€śdishtowelsâ€ť — they clean things up). Despite these advantages, the end-of-year statistics for this school are more alarming than satisfying.
Of 233 12th grade students in this high school, 222 took the entrance exams and only 162 managed to pass all tests. The rest will have to go to a second round, or content themselves with failure. The highest number of low marks was in Math, in which only 51 students achieved a score of between 90 and 100 points. In the applications for careers, teaching specialties are repeatedly put down as a back-up choice; â€śTo guarantee getting a place, even if the tests donâ€™t go well,â€ť these potential teachers of tomorrow say, with a certain indecency.
The beginning and end (?) of a mistake
The young people who completed secondary school this year are the products of the educational experiments led off by the so-called Battle of Ideas. They are 17 and 18 today, so they started junior high as the â€śEmergent Teachersâ€ť program was gaining strength, a program that put hastily trained young people barely out of their teens — if that — at the front of the classroom. Today’s graduates were educated in classrooms where television and VCRs were the protagonists, for lack of sufficiently trained teachers. At the most difficult times they could count on receiving at least 60% of their classes from a screen. They also went through puberty at a time of rising ideological indoctrination. While it is true that this has always been inherent in teaching in Cuba over the past five decades in, its climax came after the Elian Gonzalez case. Fidel Castro took advantage of that event in the late nineties to impart a twist to the political discourse in all aspects of national life.
Those who graduated from the twelfth grade a few weeks ag, are the first batch who did not have to go to boarding schools in the countryside. Encouraging news for the young people themselves and especially for their parents. However, the readjustment for teachers caused by the change forced many of them to rethink careers based on study, books and binders. The teachers who came from these schools in the countryside had to adapt to new conditions. Despite the difficulties of the former regime of internment, for the teachers these countryside schools were sites of direct contact with the farmers who sold or traded for agricultural products. One of the few incentives for working in such a place was being able to take some bananas, taro, pork or fruit to the city at a much cheaper price than in the markets of Havana. The loss of that little privilege discouraged some teachers from continuing on the path of teaching.
Memorize or question?
The countless hours lost in the classroom to teacher absenteeism is another of the hallmarks of recent graduates. To this we have to add the decline of the investigative character of science instruction, due to the deterioration or absence of chemistry, physics and biology labs. In many high schools chemistry experiments were practically canceled due to the shortages and fear that students would have access to the chemicals. Physical education, computer science and English were the biggest losers in the exodus of teachers to other areas of employment. High school education emphasized rote learning of dates, names, events, without progress in creating their own opinions, a spirit of asking questions, or the capacity of discernment. Graduates can hold in their heads the years and important days of our country’s history, but fail to form their own opinion about what it all means.
The quality of handwriting, spelling and the correct use of Spanish also fell short as educational objectives. This coming September, university classrooms will see students with serious deficiencies in all three areas. But that does not mean that they will be faced with excessive demands or be unable to complete their programs of study. They will attend a University whose quality of teaching is far from that once exhibited in Cuba. In the 2013 ranking of Latin American universities, the University of Havana fell from position 54 to 81, another sign pointing to the urgent need to review the entire educational model. The educational level of the new entrants to higher education, has forced them to lower the bar.
The tinkering with the alchemy of learning, the successive experiments marked more by the voluntarism than scientific analysis, the excessive presence of ideology in every subject, the encouragement of docile, rather than questioning, minds, students’ limited access to updated materials (read internet) and the educational fraud that flourishes where ethics is absent, are all undermining one of the main pillars of national identity: that which consists of knowledge, academics and teaching. But a problem can not be remedied unless we confess that it exists. So while they continue speaking in a triumphalist tone about Cuban education, it will continue to sink into mediocrity, into material and pedagogical deterioration.