Are We Cubans More Unruly Than Other Peoples?

Telephone with the handset ripped off

Telephone with the handset ripped off

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 September 2015 – “Nobody takes care of anything,” raged the lady in line at the cash register of a State butcher shop. She was referring to those who leave the refrigerators open or who put their shopping baskets on the glass counters. However, she didn’t seem to notice the lack of air conditioning, the stench coming from some of the freezers where the goods were spoiled, or the single employee taking payments, while the others looked on with their arms crossed. The customers are to blame, according to the feisty woman.

Social indiscipline has become a recurring theme in reports and interviews in the national media. Vandalism is blamed for everything, from problems with public transport buses to the deplorable state of planted areas. Official journalists raise the accusing finger more and more against the pillage, while barely addressing the educational and political system that has molded these citizens so bent on looting and destruction.

Social behavior is shaped by one’s environment. On a spotless floor, a clean sidewalk, in a cared-for city, many will imitate the environment and avoid dirtying, destroying or degrading it. Context greatly influences people’s attitude toward public spaces and common goods. But when the environment is dirty, assaulted by carelessness and becomes hostile, those who inhabit it will neither respect nor care for it.

Cubans are no more unruly than other human beings and yet, right now, a park filled with children’s play structures needs to be guarded like a bank, so that the swing seats, the iron from the carousels or the ropes from the climbing nets aren’t stolen. In poorly lit areas of the city people defecate or urinate, microdumps rise in thousands of corners and a stream of dirty water can fall from any balcony, directly on pedestrians below.

When the environment is dirty, assaulted by carelessness and becomes hostile, and those who inhabit it will neither respect nor care for it

The situation has gone on for so long that many have come to believe that it is in the DNA of our identity to not care for our surroundings. “This city couldn’t have a subway, because imagine the stink in those tunnels with people taking care of all their needs down there,” states a gentleman with the tint of a shabby official, while waiting at a bus stop.

With his words, the man suggested that we Cubans cannot enjoy the privileges of modernity and comfort, because we are unable to maintain them. However, this same “unredeemable exterminator” that we have become can get on a plane, go to New York or Berlin, and in two weeks in those place be throwing trash in the bins, not lighting up in public places, and cleaning the mud off their shoes before entering an office.

Vandalism is a problem present in all societies. Laws and control regulate it and keep it in check, but there it is. It is a part of our human nature that a moment of rage makes us take a blade and inscribe our name on a recently painted wall, or rip the fabric of a movie theater seat. Fines and other penalties should keep this vulture we all shelter within us from getting out of hand.

However, the context has to encourage people to care for things. It is not enough to call for discipline and formal education, the individual has to feel that it’s worth the trouble to preserve his or her surroundings. A street full of potholes, a late and overloaded bus, a sidewalk plunged into darkness, its single streetlight broken years ago, are the ideal components for depredation and pillage.

Many, like the lady who complained at the butcher’s, no longer perceive the scenario of constant attacks on the rights of consumers and citizens that our society presents. So accustomed to the abuse, the inefficiencies, the breakage and the high prices, they throw all the blame on those “unruly Cubans” who couldn’t “live anywhere without destroying it.”

Raul Castro, The Altar Boy

Pope Francis greets Raul Castro on his arrival in Cuba. (EFE)

Pope Francis greets Raul Castro on his arrival in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 September 2015 – The Cuban leader, Raul Castro, has accompanied Pope Francis at all his Masses during his tour of the island. From the one celebrated in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution to the words pronounced at the Santiago de Cuba Cathedral. Like one seeking absolution for a long list of sins, the General President has traveled from the capital to the east of the country, following the papal entourage.

Castro appears to be fulfilling, in this way, the notice he gave in Rome last May. He said then, “If the Pope continues speaking like this I will go back to praying and return to the Church, I’m not joking.” The return to the faith appears to include not only him, but a part of his family that has accompanied him, along with the executive branch of the island and officials from the state press.

Despite the sudden mystical fervor, national television carefully avoided showing images of the Cuban president when the faithful were reciting the Mass, making the sign of peace, or repeating some prayer when he was present. The cameras only focused on his arrival and departure from temples and plazas.

Some television newscasters who participated in a special ‘magazine’ feature, broadcast during these three days have faced a particular plight. Several faces well-known for their staunch ideological discourse have had to moderate their vocabulary, and are salting their phrases with psalms, biblical allusions and reverence for religious figures.

The pirouettes performed by these presenters and journalists, to avoid words like “revolution,” “communist” or “comrades,” have also been worthy of the political circus they represent. All that was missing in the studio was a crucifix and a Bible, but they weren’t necessary.

The excessive incense of these days is not appreciated by many. “This goes from the sublime to the ridiculous,” a 63-year-old Communist Party militant who lives in my building told me. “From atheism to religious servility,” he added, referring to the attitude of the Cuban authorities and the broadcast of complete Masses in the national media.

Now, all we need is to hear Raul Castro’s next public speech, to see if he also has replaced the bellicose “Homeland or death!” with the more concise, “Amen!”

Generation Y Behind Bars

Men handcuffed(Luz Escobar/14ymedio)

Men handcuffed(Luz Escobar/14ymedio)

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 17 September 2015 — With the publication of the Official Gazette No. 31, there have been many published opinions about the pardons granted to 3,522 prisoners in anticipation of the visit of Pope Francis. Most of the criticism has focused on the fact that the beneficiaries include no one sentenced for political reasons. However, on reviewing the list of the released prisoners, another element jumps to mind.

At least 411 of those pardoned have names that begin with the letter “Y,” more than 11 percent of the total. It could indicate the we are talking about people between 20 and 45 years of age, because from the beginnings of the seventies to well into the nineties it was a fad in Cuba to give children names starting with the penultimate letter of the alphabet. Thus, we are in the presence of the “New Man,” born and raised in a society that felt itself part of “Utopia,” living under Soviet subsidies and excessive ideological indoctrination. How is it possible that so much of this human clay has ended up behind bars?

How is it possible that so much of this human clay has ended up behind bars?

Meat from the social laboratory and the skin of prison, Generation Y is far removed from what was projected for it. It has come to live in a different country from the one promised, and to survive in this jungle it has had to do the exact opposite of what it was taught. Although the list of released prisoners doesn’t include the crime for which each one was condemned, it is easy to adventure what led many of these Utopian men and women to end up in a cell.

Perhaps among them is Yoandis who killed a cow to feed his family, or a Yuniesqui who stole fuel from a company to resell on the black market to make up for his low wages. Who knows if some Yordanka was led down the road to marital revenge because of gender violence? Or a Yusimi, who learned from the time she was little in the tenement where she lived that it was better to strike first than to strike twice? From little Pioneers with their colored neckerchiefs, they passed to being inmates in gray uniforms; from the Cuba of Marxist manuals they fell into the real world.

A generation trapped by circumstances, forced many times to commit crimes, pushed at others to escape, and condemned to few opportunities. The 411 families of these children of the Cuban experiment will be relieved right now to see them return, as will the relatives of the rest of those pardoned. But, the society they will encounter on passing through the bars continues to belie that which was once explained in front of the blackboards and at the morning school assemblies. Prison has been a part of the social alchemy that has touched them.

Leopoldo Lopez, The Freest Prisoner In The World

Leopoldo Lopez waves from a window of the Ramo Verde military prison in Caracas. (EFE)

Leopoldo Lopez waves from a window of the Ramo Verde military prison in Caracas. (EFE)

Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 September 2015 — I met him and it was impossible not to notice him. He stood out among everyone: young, with an impressive energy and an intelligence that suggested he would go far. Yesterday he was sentenced to 13 years and nine months in prison by a court as biased as it was malicious. On hearing the sentence I started to calculate how old his two children would be when he left prison, but I immediately stopped short. Leopold Lopez will not serve those years behind bars, I told myself, nor will he disappoint the first impression I had of him.

The authorities don’t learn. They don’t take into account that the bars magnify a political leader and the pain suffered in the cells hangs on his chest like a medal won on the bloodiest battlefield. Leopold will leave there strengthened, while on the other side, a fearful Nicolas Maduro, will not know what to do with the freest prisoner in the world. Every day that he spends behind bars, this Venezuelan will hang like a shameful weight from the dying remnants of the Chavez regime.

I also remember the moment I met Lilian Tintori. A woman who had to leap over her own fears to become the citizen who last night read a message from her husband after the unjust sentence. There was a firmness in her that had not yet emerged in the first exchange of phrases we shared in Madrid. However, the absurdity that she has experienced has emphasized her strength, brought forward her resolve.

The authoritarians know not what they do.

Leopoldo will return. Young, energetic and rewarded for his pain. Lilian is already here, with this determination that makes us ask ourselves, would we be willing to do the same for our family and for our country?

The Sacred Way

Reina Street in Central Havana. (14ymedio)

Reina Street in Central Havana. (14ymedio)

Yoani Sanchez, 8 September 2015 — The paint drips into the cracks and holes and over the rusted metal poking through the columns and the ceilings. A colorful layer that covers over cobwebs, cracks and dirt, like make-up masks scars and wrinkles. Havana preens for the arrival of Pope Francis. The facades along the streets are touched up where the Bishop of Rome will pass by and popular humor has derisively re-baptized the path “The Sacred Way.” It is an ephemeral blush, rushed, one that the rain and the months will wash away.

They have not been able to camouflage the people, however, with optimism. The strokes of the painters, rushing to meet their schedule, don’t cover the skin or the worries. From early in the morning, Habaneros go out with their bags hanging from their shoulders looking for food. “Not even the pope coming has put something in the shops,” complains a woman on the corner of Manrique and Salud, while a friend directs her to Galiano Avenue where, she assures her, “they have good hot dogs for sale.”

Bergoglio isn’t going to pass by the empty refrigerators in the stores, so the touch up doesn’t include pretending that there is food, or disguising the shortages. Thus we are saved from the cartons of chicken thighs and the powdered milk extended with sand! There are no cosmetics to cover up the economic downtown we are experiencing. The market stands and shelves remain indoors, far from all the pomp of the papal entourage.

Our Sacred Way is hollow, purely a stage set, with the crudest props, the least believable.

Machado Ventura: Neither Young Nor Female

Machado Ventura in 2012, at the eighth plenary session of the 1st National CDR Directorate. (JCG)

Machado Ventura in 2012, at the eighth plenary session of the 1st National CDR Directorate. (JCG)

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 31 August 2015 — If anyone embodies the most antiquated orthodoxy of the Cuban political system, it is undoubtedly Jose Ramon Machado Ventura. With his frail gait and infinite power, the vice president of the Councils of State and Ministers represents the most reactionary and ultra-conservative wing of the island’s government. Thus, the excessive role he has gained in the media in recent weeks worries many.

Machadito, as his elders call him, has starred this summer in activities ranging from visits to sugar mills and a meeting with cattle ranchers, to the speech at the closing ceremony of the Federation of Cuban Women Congress, a day at the 10th Congress of the Young Communist League, and the closing words this Saturday at the National Council of the University Students Federation. All this, although he is neither a farmer, nor a woman and much less young.

So many photos and statements have been published in the official press about the second secretary of the Party Central Committee are giving shape to a question on the mind of many Cubans. Will the most intense hardliners end up imposing themselves on the reformers who will potentially be part of power in Cuba? The frequent appearances of Machado Ventura on the public scene leave no room for hope.

Will the most hardliners end up imposing themselves on the reformers who will potentially be part of power in Cuba?

The little tree man some call this functionary, loyal to the core and grey in every mitochondria of his cells. To him is attributed a circular that prohibited the display of Christmas trees in hotels and public places in 1995. Years later, life imposed its own designs and now Santa Claus and colored lights are seen everywhere from the first days of December, in a defiant gesture that must in no way please this man who is a doctor by profession who has long since forgotten the last time he treated a patient.

This octogenarian, who acts as if he knows everything, represents what should end once and for all in Cuba. He incarnates this old-fashioned power that only approaches those below only to demand from them greater efficiency and more sacrifices. In his person is the sum of despotism, arrogance, the superiority of someone who hasn’t boarded a bus in decades, nor counted out the centavos to buy a a couple of pounds of chicken, and much less felt the cold emptiness of a refrigerator maintained on the average monthly salary.

Fortunately for the future, Machado Ventura will be one of those faces that are lost in history. Like in one of those jokes so popular in Eastern Europe that later jumped to the island, when someone looks for their name in some encyclopedia and finds barely a succinct note. Perhaps it will say he was a “cadre of the Cuban Communist Party who lived during the era when Cubans resumed the practice of decorating with trees and garlands at Christmas.”

Cloud Seeding or the Sword of Voltus V

The Japanese anime Voltus V

The Japanese anime Voltus V

14ymedio biggerGeneration Y, Yoani Sanchez, 28 August 2015 — Undone, with the sparks of short circuits clouding his vision and the cabin smashed into smithereens, Voltus V faced the worst end against a fearsome enemy. However, at the last minute, he drew his sword and in a clean cut slew his enemy. Japanese anime, so popular on the island during the eighties, seems to have inspired the Cuban authorities in their tendencies to hold off on certain solutions until a problem has already resulted in the worst ravages.

This has happened with the recent announcement that, as of this coming September 15, a campaign will begin to “artificially increase the rain.” Through a technique known as “cloud seeding,” Pyrocartridges will be launched from a Russian Yak-40 plane so that the water vapor particles will condense, and this condensation will produce precipitation, according to the official press.

The first reaction of many on reading the news was to wonder why they hadn’t done something like this earlier. Did the country have to get to its current state of hydrological emergency for Voltus V to draw his sword? With the dams at no more than 36% of capacity and 25 reservoirs completely dry–at the so-called “death point”–now the experts from the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH) propose to bombard the clouds?

The answers to these questions not only alert us to the insolvency and inefficiency of our state apparatus to handle certain issues, but also clearly indicate that they have not been up to the task to preserve this valuable resource. As long as leaks and breaks in the country’s water system continue to waste more than 50% of the water pumped, no water project will be sustainable.

As long as leaks and breaks in the country’s water system continue to waste more than 50% of the water pumped, no water project will be sustainable.

On the other hand, it is worth questioning how water management has been approached for decades in our nation, which has prioritized the creation of large reservoirs. This decision has ended up damaging the riverbeds of the countless dammed rivers and has reduced the sediment they carry to the coasts, with the consequent erosion of flora and fauna in the deltas.

­Of course, many of these reservoirs–now below half their capacity, or totally dry–were built at a time when the Hydrologist-in-Chief made decisions about every detail of our lives. The marks of his excesses and harebrained schemes are still apparent in our country, excesses that failed to give our people more food, more water and more freedom.

The marks of excesses and harebrained schemes are still apparent in our country, excesses that failed to give our people more food, more water and more freedom

So enormous public works of damming the rivers and streams were undertaken to the detriment of other solutions that would have helped us to ease the current situation. Among them, investments in wastewater treatment and the desalination of seawater, which surrounds us on all sides. Every hydrological bet in the country was placed on one card: the rain. Now, we are losing the game.

If the announcement of “cloud seeding” had been made in a country with an environmental movement, we would see protests in the street. The method is not as innocuous as the newspaper Granma wants us to think. In fact, the critics of this practice consider it “an alteration of the normal rhythm of nature,” and argue that interference with moisture in one part of the country could compromise the rain pattern elsewhere.

Looking up to see whether or not the rains come, we Cubans are waiting for something more than a crop of clouds altered with a blast of silver iodide. We deserve a coherent hydrology policy, over the long term, without magic or spells, but with guarantees. May the next drought not find us like Voltus V, destroyed and thirsty, raising an arm to draw our majestic sword… that we haven’t carried for a long time.