Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Raul Castro Tells Intellectuals That Cuban Culture is Threatened

Raul Castro Tells Intellectuals That Cuban Culture is Threatened / EFE,
14ymedio

EFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 23 August 2016 – Cuban President Raul Castro
warned in a message to the island's intellectuals and artists that the
country's culture is threatened by "subversive projects" and a "global
wave of colonization," although he is confident that they can confront
the challenge, according to an article in the official media published
this Tuesday.

The letter, read last night during the celebration of 55 years of the
official Cuban Writers and Artists Union (UNEAC), congratulates an
institution "that was born in a decisive stage of the Cuban Revolution"
and has been "at the service of culture, considered by Fidel as 'the
nation's shield and sword'."

"Today we are doubly threatened in the field of culture: by subversive
projects that aim to divide us and by the global wave of colonization.
UNEAC will continue to face these complex challenges with with courage,
revolutionary commitment and intelligence," says the statement, read by
the president of the organization, Miguel Barnet.

Castro's statement made reference to the 1961 Words To The
Intellectuals of his brother, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, among other
events that preceded the creation of UNEAC, and mentioned its first
president, the "great" Nicolas Guillen, Cuba's national poet.

"On getting to this day my congratulations go to the founders and the
generations that have given continuity to the work begun in August
1961," concludes the message, which appears in newspapers above the
signature of Raul Castro.

In recent months, after the formal restoration of relations with the
United States with the reopening of the embassies in both countries in
July 2015, Cuba has become a fashionable destination among artists and
intellectuals of all kinds, who have seen something of a thaw in the
culture.

Havana has served as the backdrop for the filming of TV shows and movies
such as House of Lies and the most recent episodes of the cinematic
sagas Fast and Furious and Transformers, while celebrities such as Katy
Perry, Rihanna and Madonna have walked its streets.

In a display never before seen in the country, The Rolling Stones gave a
free concert in March in Havana, an unthinkable event in previous decades.

A month later, important figures from the United States in all fields of
art and intellectuality formed a delegation of over 50 members and
guests of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, which
arrived in Havana with the support of the US President to strengthen
cultural ties.

In May, couturier Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel staged a milestone in the
history of the island by bringing together celebrities and supermodels
in an unprecedented parade of the prestigious French fashion house's
haute couture, which disembarked for the first time in Latin America
with its Cruise Collection.

However, last July Cuba's Council of State, at the proposal of President
Raul Castro, ousted Minister of Culture Julian Gonzalez, who was
provisionally replaced by Abel Prieto, who had previously held that
responsibility for 15 years until 2012.

The dismissal was announced in a terse official note published in the
official media, in which, as is common in Cuba, the reasons for the
ouster were not mentioned.

Source: Raul Castro Tells Intellectuals That Cuban Culture is Threatened
/ EFE, 14ymedio – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/raul-castro-tells-intellectuals-that-cuban-culture-is-threatened-efe-14ymedio/

David and Goliath

David and Goliath / Cuban Law Association

Cuban Law Association, Attorney Yasmany Orges Lugo, 8 August 2016 — An
attorney is someone with an undergraduate degree which allows him or her
to practice law in accordance with a country's legal statutes on behalf
of clients. Attorneys are active and indispensable partners in their
country's administration of justice. In other words, an attorney is not
just a defender of justice but also someone whose advice serves a
preventive role in avoiding social conflict.

Attorneys in Cuba all receive their university training in the same
university system. In theory we can all aspire to the same sorts of jobs
and obtain the same skills and knowledge necessary to be good lawyers.
But only in theory. This is because every individual is an independent
being with different values and levels of intelligence.

Our legal educations and backgrounds also vary. Some of us come from
provincial universities while others are from municipal institutions
established throughout the country as part of the Ministry of Higher
Education's program of universal access.

There is a big difference between graduates of provincial universities
and those of their municipal counterparts. The former are staffed by a
higher caliber of instructors. They include individuals with doctorate
and master's degrees as well as instructors with years of teaching
experience. They demand a higher level of productivity, have more
rigorous academic standards and can provide the resources necessary for
research and individual training. Meanwhile, the municipal institutions
are somewhat less strict in these regards.

The differences continue after graduation in terms of job choices and
locations. Graduates of the major universities find positions in their
chosen field of study, fulfilling their social service obligations in
the world of law and acquiring greater levels of expertise. Meanwhile,
graduates of municipal schools mostly keep their degrees "under the
mattress." They have to rely on personal connections to find jobs where
they can apply what they have learned or hope something opens up in a
law firm, court, district attorney's office or legal services firm. The
result is a disconnect between the degree and its holder. This raises a
classic question: Why did I study law? Looking at it from this angle,
one can understand those who say, "These university graduates have had
no training."

My purpose is not to compare one set of individuals to the another.
Ultimately, we all go through the fascinating experience of being
university students and the title Juris Doctor does not indicate a
student's grade point average or the university from which he or she
graduated.

What I would like to draw attention to here are the prejudices and
negative comments by some legal professionals against their colleagues,
such as those to which I have alluded earlier. I believe what matters is
the individual, how dedicated you are to your training, striving to be
better every day, researching and growing in spite of the obstacles that
present themselves without worrying about who your professors were, what
university you attended or what position you have in the judicial system.

This is the Goliath we are dealing with. But believing in one David is
enough to give the world an alternate example of grandeur.

Source: David and Goliath / Cuban Law Association – Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/david-and-goliath-cuban-law-association/

Black and Counter-revolutionary in Cuba?

Black and Counter-revolutionary in Cuba?
August 23, 2016
By Yusimi Rodriguez

HAVANA TIMES — I regularly read the articles written by my fellow
writer, Elio Delgado Legon, who adds a touch of humor to this website
for many of its readers. Personally, his greatest virtue, without him
intending to do this, is to show the plurality of Havana Times, an
independent media website which Delgado often criticizes, with a space
for someone whose ideas vary greatly from those of the majority of its
collaborators and readers. This inclusive space for all kinds of ideas
and opinions is the greatest difference between the Cuban government's
media and Havana Times, which isn't an institution owned by any
political party.

Recently, a reader asked Elio Delgado, in a comment left on his post, if
he was paid to write his articles. This is a question that has crossed
my mind every time Elio Delgado labels independent journalists
"mercenaries". I still don't know the answer to that question and I hope
it's negative: it's the only way that my colleague would seem coherent
to me. If it's positive, I ask myself whether our colleague thinks it's
justified to charge for writing in independent media, when it's to talk
about the government in a positive light.

In a recent post, Elio classifies the hunger strike carried out by
Guillermo Farinas as a "business". I don't know Farinas personally, but
I doubt he'd be so stupid as to start a hunger strike for money when the
chances are that he'll probably never be able to enjoy it. So many
hunger strikes take their toll on your body; holding another one is more
like committing suicide than a business really.

We live in a country where you are guilty until you're proven innocent,
and even if your innocence is proven, where you can be charged on
conviction, without the need for evidence; where political prisoners and
prisoners of conscience aren't recognized as such. Therefore, I'm forced
to seriously doubt the charges filed at Santa Clara's Provincial Court
against Guillermo Farinas.

However, I do coincide with Elio Delgado on one point: I wouldn't
stretch out my hand to Luis Posada Carriles either. I don't hate him,
not like those who lost their relatives in terrorist attacks which he
has confessed to or is suspected of having carried out. However, I don't
identify myself with him or his methods. Nevertheless, I find it
contradictory that our colleague resorts to precisely the words of
former US President George W. Bush to reinforce the idea that whoever is
friends with a terrorist (although stretching your hand out in greeting
doesn't automatically make you anybody's friend) is also a terrorist.

Seeing as our colleague has opened this door, let's examine it shall we.
In the film City in Red, which was recently aired on Cuban TV, the main
character says to his father with pride: "I make bombs." Last night,
they aired the film Operacion Fangio about the kidnapping of the
Argentinian race car driver who was kidnapped by the July 26th Movement,
which had an operations and sabotage unit. For decades, the Cuban
government offered refuge to US citizens who had been charged with
crimes including murder in their own country; many of them hijacked
airplanes to get to Cuba.

Just for the record, I don't believe that whoever is friends with a
terrorist is also a terrorist.

Another detail which has caught my attention in Elio Delgado's article:
"…for being a counter-revolutionary in spite of being black…" (referring
to Guillermo Farinas). Although I don't have my photo up on Havana
Times, readers should know that I am black, and can imagine how taken
aback I was when I realized how charged this phrase was with racism.

Racism isn't an issue that belongs exclusively to black people or
so-called ethnic minorities. Many white people have got involved, and
even lost their lives, in the struggle for equal civil rights in the US
and in the fight against apartheid in South Africa. Many white people
fight against racism even today. And I'm sure that a lot of the white
audience were able to pick up on the racist mentality that lies behind
that phrase. Not only Elio Delgado's own racist mentality, but also that
of the political regime that was established in Cuba in 1959.

The regime has denied Cubans their right to freedom of expression, to
join political parties of our own accord and in a legal sense, to choose
a different path from that set out by Fidel Castro. We've been injected
with the idea that if white people don't have the right to oppose the
regime, we black Cubans certainly don't, because if we've managed to
become something it's thanks to the Revolution. In other words, you
can't be both black and "counter-revolutionary" (a term which they use
to discredit dissidents).

We can't deny the fact that this so-called Revolution has improved the
lives of a large part of the Cuban population, including those of
Afro-Descendants. However, the regime has taken advantage of these
improvements in the same way that Carlos Manuel de Cespedes did when he
freed his slaves, inviting them to join the war against Spain: thereby
guaranteeing committed, indebted subordinates.

In one of those articles that appear and then are spread virally about
by the Left, an exiled black Cuban intellectual stated that in the
Revolution, the black man became a subordinate revolutionary.

Elio Delgado claims that it would have been impossible for Guillermo
Farinas to have studied a university degree before 1959; another idea
planted by the regime to convert us into subordinates. Not all black
Cuban families owe their first university degree to the rebellion led by
Fidel Castro.

A lot of the assaults and beatings that happen here, which Elio denies,
appear in videos. When somebody who dares to disagree is a black person,
beatings are accompanied by insults about the color of his skin: "black
shit", "ungrateful niggers", "…some niggers who never had any rights and
are now demanding more than what they have."

I'm sure Elio Delgado will deny his racist mentality and argue the fact
that he has a lot of black friends. I once knew a black man who, when he
went to see his white girlfriend for the first time at home, was
welcomed by her parents with the utmost kindness… while they understood
him to be just a friend from her pre-university class. I must note that
when the girl presented him as her boyfriend, her father "went white".
By the way, her father had a lot of black friends and had fought for the
"Revolution" in the Sierra Maestra.

Source: Black and Counter-revolutionary in Cuba? - Havana Times.org -
http://www.havanatimes.org/?p=120638

The Female Boxer Fighting for Recognition

Cuba: The Female Boxer Fighting for Recognition
It's too late for the 2016 Olympics, but hope remains that the sport
will be officially accepted.
By Julio C.A.

After more than seven years of tireless fighting and training, of never
being knocked out by dejection, Namibia Flores, the most qualified woman
boxer in Cuba, will not enter the ring to fight for her biggest dream.

Born in Matanzas province and brought up in Havana, it is too late for
the flyweight boxer to fight in the Olympics. In Cuba, women are still
banned from taking part in international boxing competitions.

"I'm 40 years old. In this sport that's old. It's the age limit for the
Olympics," said Namibia after her five-kilometre morning run, while she
prepares for her daily training session at the Rafael Trejo boxing gym
in Havana Vieja.

The place needs repairs. The leather bags are heavily cracked, and the
majority of the gloves can't take any more rounds. The mirror has lost
part of its shine and in some areas it no longer reflects the boxers'
images.

On the ring's old canvas Namibia seems to be dancing with her sparring
partner Maikel. She throws jabs, straights and hooks while holding
Maikel back so that he cannot counterattack. Her three training partners
watch her closely. They would like to have Namibia's resistance and punch.

She trains every day from ten in the morning until two in the afternoon.
She almost always goes to the gym in Havana Vieja, but sometimes she
goes to a vale todo (anything goes) gym in the Víbora neighbourhood,
close to Córdova Park, where they practice mixed martial arts.

"There's got to be sport in Namibia's life every day, even if I'm ill,"
she said.

Before training she just drinks a coffee and takes her vitamins. After
she drinks an ice-cold pru oriental, a frothy Haitian drink made by
fermenting different plant roots.

Namibia eats whatever is available and what she can buy in the market,
but tries by any means possible to eat vegetables and proteins.

For two months she trained with a male boxing team in Indonesia, where
she managed to beat one of its members. She has been fighting men
fearlessly for 25 years after a bout with a boy.

"They constantly harassed my brother, who was smaller than me then. I
went out to defend him and I ended up with a swollen eye," laughed Namibia.

The next day she started to practice a combat sport to learn how to
fight, although so far she has not needed to use it to dodge another
punch. She chose taekwondo, training for nine years and reaching black
belt 1st Dan. She gave Havana province its first bronze medal for the
sport in the provincial games. Then she started to work as a trainer,
but she gave up the martial art because it bored her.

At the beginning boxing was just a hobby, a way of channelling her
negative energy.

Love for the gloves came later, motivated by the esteem of her trainer
Nardo Mestre. He discovered her knack for boxing and he encouraged her
to prepare for the day in which women could officially measure up
against each other with their gloves on. He put the idea of an Olympic
medal into her head and she has not stopped training since.

Also, the intense physical training made her optimistic and fed her
vanity. Namibia has always enjoyed hearing that she looks young for her age.

But she does not understand why the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC),
which was created in 1960 with the objective of "achieving full equality
for woman in all areas and levels of society," has not supported women's
inclusion in boxing.

Vilma Espín, the deceased wife of President Raúl Castro headed the FMC
until her death and María Yolanda Ferrer has been the General Secretary
for two decades; neither ever took a stance on lifting the ban on women
in boxing.

The silence and lack of support demonstrates the Federation's refusal to
recognise female boxing in international competitions, a posture that
serves to strengthen sexist ideas on the issue.

It is even more difficult to understand the FMC's silence when almost
all combat sports, such as taekwondo, wrestling, karate and judo have
female competitors who achieve outstanding results.

In judo, for example, Cuba has Olympic and world championship medallists
such as Amarilis Savón, Yurisleidy Lupetey and Driulis González.
González, with four Olympic medals and seven world medals, is considered
to be a judo legend and the best judoist of the Americas in the 20th
century.

After so many sacrifices without tangible results, Namibia has two
options left and neither has yet come to fruition. One option is
professional boxing but this could mean moving to a different country,
and it is not always easy to find a promoter.

"When I went to the United States I could have stayed, and now I could
be knocked out or earning money, as we say," Namibia explained. "But
that wasn't what I wanted. I don't want to live outside of Cuba. But the
formula that we have created to be able to fight and also live in Cuba
doesn't work either because there's no money in it."

Namibia has gone to the US on two occasions. First in March 2015 to
attend the presentation of Boxeadora, a documentary about her life
produced by the North American Meg Smaker. The second time was in July
of the same year to try and finalise a contract where she could train in
Havana and travel to Miami a few weeks before each fight.

She still thinks it is possible, with the help of some friends, to sign
a contract in Europe to take part in professional female boxing before
age beats her for a second time.

Namibia's second option, which she believes has potential, is to become
a trainer for young boxers in Cuba. If female boxing is officially
approved, Namibia, who also has a degree in physical education, could
train female boxers or give private personal defence classes. If all
else fails, she could fall back on her cooking skills.

"I don't have work at the moment, but I'm also a good cook," she said.
"I've cooked for paladares [small private restaurants]."

Her trainer, Mestre, believes that Namibia is physically and mentally
capable of teaching new boxers.

"She has the fortitude and the willpower. She's been training for years
for nothing. Imagine what she could achieve if she could at least train
others officially."

Mestre believes that female boxing will be approved in Cuba soon.

Although so far Cuban women have not been allowed to access training
programs or to choose boxing in sport schools, this reality could change
shortly.

The president of the Cuban Boxing Federation, Alberto Puig de la Barca,
told ESPN in April 2015 that "we are still considering female boxing. We
are looking at the pros and cons. It's a subject that is being
evaluated; there hasn't been a decision. We'll see over the coming years
what decision we make.

"For the moment, the Federation does not approve female boxing, at least
not in the competitive system. But we know that women are practicing
this sport. Here sport is everyone's right".

According to reports in the official media, such as the newspaper
Vanguardia, at the beginning of March the National Commission suggested
teaching women interested in boxing because the World Boxing
Confederation had approved women's participation in the Seventh Word
Series of Boxing, to be held in 2017.

The Cuban sporting authorities have not made an official statement on
the subject and the FMC still has not issued any declarations.

But female boxing fans and the general public are used to all kinds of
changes being experienced first on a small scale and with limited
publicity, and this seems to be the case for women's official entry into
boxing.

Namibia has complete confidence that female boxing will be approved as
an official sport, as well as total assurance that she will continue
training until she dies.

"I'm going to be the super boxing grandmother. I'm going to carry on
boxing as long as I can throw a punch on the bag," she said jokingly. "I
think that they'll bury me in a punching bag instead of a coffin."

This story originally appeared in Vice Sports Latinoamerica.

Source: Cuba: The Female Boxer Fighting for Recognition | IWPR -
https://iwpr.net/global-voices/cuba-female-boxer-fighting-recognition

Miami conference to tackle internet freedom in Cuba

Miami conference to tackle internet freedom in Cuba
MARIO J. PENTÓN
mpenton@elnuevoherald.com

Next month, Miami will host the first of what organizers hope will
become an annual conference on freedom in the digital era in Cuba.

Titled Cuba Internet Freedom and organized by the Office of Cuba
Broadcasting (OCB), the Sept. 12-13 event aims to bring together
independent journalists from the island with digital innovators and
personalities who want to open up the country to the digital world
without limitations.

The purpose of the conference is to exchange ideas, explore best
practices, examine the current state of internet use on the island and
find ways to support its growth.

"We looked, first, at providing the basics on the use of the internet in
Cuba, and also present 'offline' internet services developed by people
within the island: applications, information networks, among other
things," said Maria (Malule) González, director of the OCB.

More than 20 experts — from developers to policy makers — will take part
in the two-day Cuba Internet Freedom conference to share their knowledge
and experience on the use of the internet in Cuba. The event is part of
Social Media Week, which will be held at Miami Ad School in the Wynwood
Arts District through Sept. 16.

The event also will feature workshops on universal access to the
internet as a human right, and exchanges on what is happening on social
media platforms in Cuba. The dissident movement and activism in the
digital age also will be discussed, as well as how media outlets cover
Cuba from outside the island.

Among the speakers traveling from Cuba are Eliecer Avila, a computer
science engineer and president of the opposition group Movimiento
Somos+; Ernesto Oliva Torres, of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU),
who serves as the audio-visual editor for videos produced by the group
and published on YouTube; and Miriam Celaya, a freelance journalist.

For Celaya, the gathering in Miami will provide an opportunity to
illustrate that independent journalism in Cuba has its own voice.

"We are going through a process of maturity," Celaya said. "Independent
journalism in Cuba was not born yesterday, but rather is the result of
an evolution. At this time, the conditions are present to allow it to
get to the next level."

Cuba has one of the lowest internet connectivity rates in the world.
According to official sources, about 30 percent of the Cuban population
obtains access through WiFi hotspots that the government has installed
at parks and other public spaces in some cities. Only two provinces —
Havana and Pinar del Río — have WiFi available in all its
municipalities, but the cost of $2 per hour to obtain access remains
high in a country where the average monthly salary is about $26.

The OCB is funded by the U.S. government with a mission to break down
the government's monopoly on information in Cuba. For more than 30
years, Radio Martí has been leading that effort, which was later joined
by a television signal.

Collectively known on the island as Los Martí, the radio and TV
broadcasts have long been a source of friction between the Cuban
government, which consistently blocks the signals and wants an end to
the broadcasts, and the U.S., which continues to fund them.

"One of the pillars of Los Martí is the pursuit of internet freedom in
countries where this right is censored, as is the case of Cuba,"
González said, adding that the media outlet is now focused on enhancing
its digital portal.

"Our first means of distribution is Radio Martí, but increasingly,
shortwave works less in Cuba." she said. "The digital world is gaining
tremendous momentum."

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER @INCUBATODAY.

STAY CONNECTED: SIGN UP FOR OUR INCUBATODAY NEWSLETTER.

IF YOU GO
What: Cuba Internet Freedom to be held during Social Media Week.

When: Sept. 12-16

Where: Miami Ad School, 571 NW 28 St., in the Wynwood Arts District.

Cost: Free

Info: For tickets and information on Social Media Week, visit
socialmediaweek.org. To register for the Cuba Internet Freedom
conference, visit eventbrite.com.

Source: Miami to host social media and internet freedom in Cuba
conference | In Cuba Today -
http://www.incubatoday.com/news/article97406542.html

Pool owners in Viñales rebel against bureaucracy

Pool owners in Viñales rebel against bureaucracy
14ymedio

VIÑALES
The tables are ready, the glasses shine on the tablecloths and the bar
displays a wide variety of drinks. However, the restaurant is closed.

Just a few months ago, the spacious dining room of Casa Nenita, in
Viñales, was packed with tourists, but the building of a pool by the
owner resulted in the government cancellation of a license to rent rooms
and sell food.

It is a quiet fight, barely noticed by visitors, spreading across
Viñales' rolling hills, caves and tobacco fields. For the past five
years, tourism has flourished in the region, and the cuentapropistas
(self-employed) who rent rooms took a step further at providing comforts
to by building their own pools.

Local authorities have forced these entrepreneurs to demolish what has
been built or to fill the pools with earth and turn them into huge
flower beds.

Earlier this year, without notice, the Municipal Administration Council
ordered the suspension of all licenses and canceled the leases of those
who resisted to obey. Local authorities used satellite imagery to detect
the striking blue circles or rectangles in the backyards serving as pools.

"They say it's because of the water shortage," says Roque, 38, a private
taxi driver. "But in recent months there have been a lot of downpours
here and the pool of the [state-owned] Los Jazmines hotel is always full."

The owners of private rooms-for-rent pay the Tax Administration Office
(ONAT) about $35 a month for each room that they rent. In addition, they
must also pay 10 percent of their income and social security fees.

The pool trend began with plastic wading pools bought in stores like
Plaza Carlos III in Havana for a price ranging between $600 and $1,800.

Gradually, the pools became permanent fixtures constructed into the
ground. Glitzy designs replaced the plastic and some of the more
elaborate pools feature mini-islands with coconut trees and
sophisticated pumping systems. Construction costs for many of the pools
exceed $8,000.

The rentals with pools took the lead in Viñales' lodging industry, where
911 homes have licenses to rent a room. More than 80 percent of the
tourists coming to the province of Pinar del Río stay in Viñales.
Offering a swim in the garden was a plus for attracting customers.

In Cuban stores it is almost impossible to find chlorine compounds,
disinfectants or cleaning products for pools. But a thriving informal
network provides everything needed for maintenance. In most cases, the
products are imported by people visiting the island or diverted from the
state.

The cuentapropistas in Viñales had to overcome all these obstacles, and
they say that they didn't receive any notice from the government warning
them not to continue with their renovations, a detail they are now
presenting to try to stop the governmental onslaught.

The government withdrew 32 licenses and only the homeowners who complied
with the order to demolish their pools or fill them with land were able
to keep their licenses. Those who denounced the government action have
been deemed as "counterrevolutionaries" and say they are under increased
surveillance by authorities.

"Here, the government invests little and demands a lot," said an
employee of the restaurant El Olivo, located on Viñales' main street.
"We, the entrepreneurs, have raised this place, because 20 years ago
everything here was half dead and today this is one of the most
important tourist destinations in the country."

In September 2014, the resolution number 54 of Cuba's Physical Planning
Institute made it clear that it would not grant new licenses for the
construction of swimming pools. But most of the 28 pools in dispute were
built before that date. In January, the new government rules introduced
new tariffs for pools in the private sector.

A letter addressed to Raúl Castro this summer by a group of tenants
affected by the ban remains unanswered.

A defiant Emilia Diaz Serrat, owner of Casa Nenita, has vowed to keep
her swimming hole even as her place remains empty while tourists huddle
outside in search of a place to rest. .

"I will not drain the pool," she said.

STAY CONNECTED ON TWITTER @INCUBATODAY.

Source: Building a pool in Viñales results in cancellation of license to
rent rooms | In Cuba Today -
http://www.incubatoday.com/news/article97385032.html

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Best Way to “Become a Man”?

The Best Way to "Become a Man"? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 August 2016 — Recently, during my
brief stay in Miami to participate in an academic meeting on legal
issues, I was surprised to hear from a Cuban emigrant – fairly old in
age – about his wish that, in a future democratic Cuba, a law of
compulsory military service would be maintained. His proposal was based
on the assumption that military life imposes discipline and maturity in
young people. Virtues – his opinion – which are practically extinct on
the island.

Very frequently and with minimal variations, I've heard this phrase in
different scenarios for Cubans of the most dissimilar political ideas or
with no political ideas at all. The common denominator is the age of
those who think this way: usually adults over 55 or 60.

It would seem that the experience of the failed Republic, where so many
presidents came from military life, and the nearly six decades of this
calamitous revolution, led and directed ad infinitum by the military,
there are some that just don't get the damage inflicted by this
entrenched militarist tradition in our history.

There are still those who think that certain "misguided" young people
can "become men" after being forced to complete their military service,
preferably in so-called combat units. "The boys have to go through hard
work and get to know what hunger and hard life are in order to have
discipline," state many venerable septuagenarians. However, if such a
principle were true, we Cubans who have been born and raised under the
Castro regime would be among the most disciplined people on the planet.

The strange thing is that the same principle has been valid for both
Tyrians and Trojans. Suffice it to recall that supporters of Fulgencio
Batista were convinced that the country's leadership should be in the
hands of a "strong man," even if it meant the violation of
constitutional order, a perception that made the March 1952 coup
possible, which opened a new door to military violence.

Just a few years later, another "strong man" was beating popularity
records among Cubans, when he took power by force of arms, overthrew the
earlier "strong one" and imposed the longest military dictatorship that
this hemisphere has known.

That same militaristic thought made possible the existence of the
notorious Military Units to Aid Production, created with the aim of
amending and "making men," through the rigor and discipline of military
life, out of homosexuals, religious, "softies," petty bourgeois and
other elements whose tendencies and attitudes did not seem worthy enough
to the "macho" olive green power elite.

And, on behalf of that bellicose national spirit, invoked from Law 75
(or the National Defense Act), thousands and thousands of young Cubans
have been called to the military ranks. Castro-type military
testosterone planted in several countries of South America and Africa in
the form of guerrillas has not just been exported from Cuba, but
hundreds of young Cuban recruits who completed the Compulsory Military
Service were sacrificed uselessly in the war in Angola. Those who
returned alive still carry the trauma of war to the present day,
although there has never been a single patient officially reported with
post-traumatic stress syndrome. Young people who refused to go to war,
meanwhile, suffered military prison for "treason."

The chimeric moral superiority of military training in men is directly
correlated to the machista Cuban culture and is reflected even in
familiar popular phrases. Who has not heard of "if you do not like it,
go lead an uprising in the Sierra"; or "don't act so brave, you have
never fired a shot," because being "one who fires shots" is not only an
irrefutable sign of manly courage, but also the source of legitimacy of
the force imposed over arguments.

Undoubtedly, those who advocate the supposed virtues of military
discipline as a solution to the crisis of Cuban social values forget
that over half a century of Compulsory Military Service, far from
forming the character of our young people, has been a source of
humiliation and deprivation, having only succeeded in enhancing the
resentment and frustration of being forcibly subjected to an activity
for which they do not feel the slightest vocation. I cannot think of a
worse way to "become men."

Keep in mind that a mechanism for corruption has been promoted from the
standpoint of purchasing permanent deferments at recruitment offices by
parents of young men subject to the draft, often with forged medical
certificates alleging their adolescent children have some sort of
handicap and are unable to undergo the rigors of a combat unit. Another
way is through bribing the officials in charge of enlisting, who, for a
set amount in hard currency, make the candidate's file disappear, and he
is not called to serve.

But the military band of men in Cuba extends beyond the compliance of
active duty, since once he is "licensed," the soldier becomes part of
the country's military reserve and is subject to mobilization whenever
the Party-State-Government declares some imaginary threat or craves a
show of force.

In so-called combat units, an inaccurate term for referring to the camp
and shooting areas, weaponry and exercises, most of the recruits' time
is spent clearing fields and cleaning, or in some activity related to
repairing and maintaining the headquarters' kitchens. At the end of
their active duty, many of them may only have "practiced" shooting their
weapons once, and some not even that, so they are very far from being
trained to carry out a war or to defend the country in case of aggression.

Of note, among other factors in the "training" of young recruits in
Cuba, are poor living conditions in the units, poor health, poor diet,
lack of drinking water or sanitary services, forced labor, mistreatment
by officers, among other hardships that have nothing to do with military
training, with preparation for the defense of the country or with the
forging of character in discipline and high ethical and moral values
which they would have to aspire to.

Compulsory Military Service has not only served the regime as a clamping
and blackmail mechanism over Cuban adolescents – restricting the
continuance of their studies, travel abroad or holding jobs – but it
constitutes one of the most backward obstacles we need to get rid of as
soon as possible. In a democratic Cuba the army should not replace the
functions of home and civilian schools in forming our youth's values. In
fact, most Cubans who have lived for nearly six decades in this prison
of olive-green uniformed guards, who have endured a regime of orders and
control as if instead of citizens we are obedient soldiers, wish to be
present at the conclusion of the detrimental cult of the epaulets and
the philosophy of "people in uniform."

A simple look at the most emblematic figures of Cuban civic history
reveals the primacy of civilian-humanist over militaristic thought in
forging the nation. Examples abound, but we quote only emblematic names
like Félix Varela, José de la Luz y Caballero and José Martí, champions
of virtues very distant from the staunch Hispanic militarism breath that
has choked our spirit since 1492 until today.

A separate topic would be the future existence of military academies,
where officers with real military vocations would be trained in
different specialties, and would lead a well-paid professional army,
properly prepared and much smaller in numbers than the substantial
hordes of hungry and resentful rookies that are bundled in the armed
forces today, who, in an imaginary case of aggression, would only serve
as cannon fodder.

It is not reasonable that a small, poor and malnourished country that is
not at war or under the threat of an armed conflict has more men lazing
about wasting time in an unnecessary army than producing the wealth and
food so urgently needed.

However, it remains true that in a future Cuba we will need a formidable
army, only not an army of soldiers, but of teachers, professionals from
all walks of life, from the labor forces, from our peasant population,
our merchants, businessmen, free citizens. They will shoulder a much
greater responsibility than a thousand regiments of warriors: the
material and moral reconstruction of a nation ruined specifically by the
military caste planted in power in the last half century, which has been
more pernicious and destructive than the sum of all wars fought in the
history of this land.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Source: The Best Way to "Become a Man"? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya –
Translating Cuba -
http://translatingcuba.com/the-best-way-to-become-a-man-cubanet-miriam-celaya/