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Cuban all-inclusive: the planetary brothel, forbidden libraries and Hundimiento

de Radu Rizea
Joi, 31 iulie 2008, 13:47 English | Top News

On the road towards the house of Roberto Miranda Hernandez in Havana Vieja, the old downtown, we stumble upon people standing in line for food, as Romanians did in the '80's, waiting to get their quota of poultry, rice or sugar. With 18 convertible pesos, the would not survive without the state-given quota cards. In stores that offer imported products, prices in convertible pesos are close to the level in Europe. But the Cubans' poor wages are paid in "pesos national", which can't be used in the supermarkets. Imported goods are for the apartheid tourism, for the one that "get around" and the nomenclature. As we had the "shops" during the Communist regime, if anyone remembers.

In the apartment of Roberto Miranda Hernandez, an independent librarian in Havana, we find some Cubans from the countryside. They tries to arrive in Havana for the Hundimiento (the celebration of The Sinking), but they were taken in custody by the political police. The same service prevented them from going to the American Consulate on the 4th of July, where they had been invited to celebrate the US national day. They arrived in the house of Roberto Miranda Fernandez when they were no longer needed in Havana.

Roberto lets us no in a dry voice: "If you would have come yesterday, when the police were watching the house, you'd be expelled today". We were simply lucky, we only heard about the doom's day right there, in the librarian's house: dissidents can't be visited on July 13. Every one knows it, except for us.

Roberto's library is called Ellen Martinez, after the name of a six-months old girl killed in Hundimiento. They asked the Government to allow them to throw flowers in the sea. The answer was no.

The July 13 catastrophe

What is Hundimiento? A terrible collective trauma: on July 13, 1994, a group of refugees took over a ship in the Havana harbor. They were trying, just the same as thousands of other Cubans, to escape from an island ruled by poverty. The Communism had fallen in the Eastern Europe and the USSR had quit sending aid to Cuba.

Authorities blew up the ship, killing 74 people, including 14 children. Ever since, Cubans commemorate Hundimiento - The Sinking. After Hundimiento, tens of thousands of Cubans threw themselves in the waves, in a sort of mass suicide attempt. And thousands did die in the end, leaving Cuba with a bitter heritage: entire families and their children, floating face down in the sea.

Cubans are 140 kilometers away from Florida, freedom and the American dream. The flee on the sea using anything they find. The run from waiting in line for food, from poverty, socialism and the never-ending revolution. They flee using rudimentary rafts, risking to lose their lives. The small strip of water between Cuba and Florida is grave for a few families everyday - an unexpected evening treat for sharks.

The revolution doesn't believe in math

Roberto Miranda Hernandez is a Mecca for the dissidents, dispatching funds sent by exiled Cubans of various international organizations. He keeps strict books about how many shaving razors, medicines and other aid he receives. He keeps complaining that the former Communist countries forgot what suffering is.

Former math teaches, he lost his job 13 years ago. "I had to let everyone pass the exams, otherwise it was a problem that I caused to the Revolution. They asked me to relate a fraction and the Revolution. How can you tie a second degree equation to the Revolution?", asks 62-year old Roberto Miranda Hernandez. He is part of the group of 75 people arrested in 2005, during the "Black Spring". He was sentenced to 20 years in jail, but he was released after only one year. He believes authorities were scared he might die in jail. He already had had a heart attack at the time.

The forbidden library

His organization, the "Independent Pedagogues College in Cuba" has some 400 members, mostly teachers thrown out of the education system. Together, they maintain some 60 private libraries. It is an insane Sisyphus work: the political police keeps destroying the libraries, they keep on rebuilding them. Roberto is convinced that there are sneaks and snitches among the dissident groups. That many report to the political police, since this brings along advantages, like the right to buy a new car.

The state-owned libraries are worn off by intellectual cancer. Very few translations, almost nothing from the South-American or the Spanish literature, only a few Garcia Marquez stories in one of the libraries. The rest: slimy propaganda about the Revolution, Che and Fidel. America and Bush are the main enemies and the reason why Cuba is poor. The human rights are smoke in the eyes, an instrument of the Yankee-led imperialism. In all Havana libraries, half of all books are about the Revolution and the glorious victory in the Bay of Pigs, in 1961.

Among other teachers dismissed by the system, we met 25-year old Yuri, expelled from the University two years ago. He had asked, in the name of his organization, university autonomy and other civil rights. Without much of a future and unemployed, Yuri dares to dream: "The people have courage, but they don't have information. We want to prepare a new leadership, to pull Cuba towards democracy"

    *A day of peace and quiet. Today there are no meetings with the dissidents, only small Cuban stories. The former American brothel since before the Revolution, as Cuba was known during the dictatorship of Fugencio Battista, is still a brothel. Malencon, the cliff of love for money. Tourism guides call the place "the love cliff". Smoking hot mulattos offer company for a few tens of convertible pesos or ask you to join them at a party - just another way to pay for sex. Sexual tourism  is like Castro's socialism: for everyone, in a permanent revolution.
    * Two products with huge success in the apartheid tourism success are the cheap sex and the Cohiba and Monte Cristo cigars. A useful advice: buy the cigars stolen from the state-owned factories.  The very cheap cigars are counterfeit (banana leaf). We chose the stolen tobacco: 40 dollars for a box of 25 Cohiba Esplendidos, instead of 440 dollars!
    * Colonial houses in Havana Vieja - Plaza de la Catedral, Castillo de la Real Fuerza, splendid residences in Vedado and Miranmar - a prove that Havana failed to follow its destiny. Some adventurers decided otherwise a half of century ago.
    * This morbid propaganda couple, Che and Fidel, and their revolutionary screams drew on every wall are an example of pure cynicism. Everything around crumbles to dust, in the middle of slogans calling to socialist battle, patriotism and revolution.
    * Oversized state service in the apartheid tourism. Too many employees in each restaurant or museum. A guard for every two paintings, a waiter for every two tables, doormen everywhere and still, everything goes too slow.
    * The time flows smoothly. People play chess or dominoes each evening in downtown Havana, on the sidewalk, or turn into coach potatoes, watching soaps. In the darkness of the permanent revolution, the time runs to nowhere for these people without a horizon. It's just the humanity of the endless discussions among Cubans, sitting on the stairs in front of their homes that leaves a bitter taste of happiness.
    * Hitchhiking is a national sport. The public transportation is horrid, with its wrecked buses. As any totalitarian regime, Cuba has no interest in promoting mobility within the island. Circulation means information and lack of control.

Note: publishes a series of reports on Cuba. The documentation was realized though the "Strengthening of the Central and Eastern Europe's solidarity with Cuba" program, conducted by the Pro Democratia Association.

(After an article by Dan Tapalaga)

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