by Francisco Rodriguez Cruz, from his blog
A CubaNews translation by Walter Lippmann.
Time passes and people are getting old. Not me, of course. From next week we will be back in the center of the maelstrom of another Cuban Day against Homophobia, the tenth. Amazing.
It seems like it was yesterday when I was filled with astonishment and excitement at the Pabellón Cuba in 2008, and I listened for the first time to other gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, transvestite people, speaking in public – and loudly – about what was always hidden before In Cuba: our lives and problems.
I did not dream at the time to have this blog – I was short a little more than a year and a half to its birth – nor could I assume that I would have the opportunity to approach first and be a part of the organizing committee of these celebrations from 2010.
With that experience, so intense that makes it difficult to discriminate between the greater relevance of one fact or another, I propose what will undoubtedly be an incomplete selection of moments or key contributions by each of the previous Cuban Conferences against Homophobia and Transphobia .
I must admit that, at the beginning, I thought of doing so only from my (bad) memory, as well as from a review of the texts I wrote in this blog and the photographs I had kept; But then I realized that was not enough.
Memories are often imprecise. I ran the risk of mixing some events and details from year to year. So I took the trouble to check each event with the reports of the Cuban and foreign press that I kept throughout these ten years.
I should also like to thank Dr. Mariela Castro, director of the National Center for Sex Education, who agreed to review a first version of this chronological summary and made several pertinent suggestions to enrich it.
Although I tried to emphasize the elements of newness or rupture in each annual edition, it is very probable that even in this selection there are issues or nuances that someone might also consider important or central. I invite you to propose and add.
I am sure that we could enrich even more this brief tour for this first decade of the day, based on the experiences that each one keeps.
My humble intention is for everyone to remember and treasure for themselves, their first, most intimate or revealing participation in this endeavor, result of the work, persistence, creativity and daring of so many good people.
We will see each other from 3 to 20 May at the Tenth Cuban Conference against Homophobia and Transphobia.
Here I leave the most recent, almost final version of the program for this year:
A CubaNews translation by Walter Lippmann.
Recently, actress and American film director Jodie Foster was in Cuba. During her visit to Havana, the winner of two Oscars for Best Actress in 1989 and 1992 shared with specialists from the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX).
Dr. Mariela Castro Espín shared her impressions about the meeting with Jodie on Facebook today:
“It was a pleasant surprise that the American actress Jodie Foster showed interest in knowing about our work at Cenesex Cuba, during her recent private visit to the Island with her wife, Alexandra Hedison, and her sons Charles and Kit, with whom we had a beautiful family evening” .
Open to scientific search, exchange of experiences and dialogue of knowledge, CENESEX counts on professionals of recognized prestige from different scientific disciplines who use a comprehensive approach in the study of sexuality.
Foster, whose performances in Taxi Driver, The Silence of the Lambs and Panic Room have always been in the memory of her followers, has now been added to the list of artists of the United States who have visited the Island after the approach initiated by Havana and Washington in December 2014.
Luis Orlando León Carpio and Leslie Díaz Monserrat
January 19, 2016
A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann.
Make love not war is an axiom that defines Alex, a young man who decided to lead his life freely and who confesses that he managed to combine money, sex and a university degree which he just completed successfully. Still not 25, he knows the nightlife of Santa Clara and Havana with the precision of a cartographer on a map.
Alex, of course, is not his real name; but while telling this story, which reveals the most personal aspects of his intimacy, he chose to remain anonymous. He tells us that actually he somehow achieved an old childhood dream of becoming an engineer, and now he travels to the capital to “turn tricks”, the act of looking for a foreigner willing to pay for pleasure. “But I do it to have fun, you know? And I charge to make a profit though I do not do it professionally.”
Tonito- whose name is also not Tonito, nor is he a professional – defines himself as more home-oriented. At an early age he discovered that he was attracted to men, but that did not cause any drastic changes in his personality. He knows a lot about Santa Clara’s nights, human relationships and sex for money. “I have a number of friends who practice it; I can speak without problems.”
From their testimonies we know that male prostitution exists in Villa Clara. It seems that it subtly slips in around corners, especially in the provincial capital. We also learn that some resort to it out of necessity and others just for fun. Following this lead “Juveniles” went after a phenomenon that is rejected by many, while others already see it as natural.
An old trade
In an exclusive interview, Dr. Julio César González Pagés, a scholar who researches topics related to masculinity, defined male prostitution as the act of a male person having carnal relations with someone else in exchange for money or other material benefits. It is mostly young men under 30 who perform these acts and the market includes mainly men who have sex with men (MSM).
Although many tend to think that this is a modern business, it is actually an ancient practice, which is now visible and generates discussion. So says González Pagés, who points out that, since the late nineteenth century, anthropologist Luis Montane had published studies on homosexuality and transvestism linked to the male body as merchandise.
“There was talk of prostitution in the barracks of black and Chinese immigrants. Also, in early 20th century Havana there were the so-called tolerance zones, such as Chinatown or the Nogueira Theater that staged pornographic performances with paid male actors”, he added.
The 1990s marked a turning point within Cuban families and their system of values. Following the economic crisis, life imposed new ways of thinking. It was the time of the legalization of the dollar and the arrival of tourism to the country as an emergency measure to revive a stifled economy.
In this scenario, and as described by Denise Hernandez Villar, a specialist in Sociology and Sociology of Gender in the Marta Abreu Central University in Las Villas, the situation led certain households to take on prostitution as a livelihood.
“In Cuba, the social pyramid was inverted. Labor and wages became devaluated. Many professionals were left destitute and some of them chose to take up this practice as an escape route to bring money to their pockets.”
“From that point on, something unusual happens. A practice frowned upon, questioned, criticized, condemned and rejected by social controls (i.e. laws, regulations and political will), changed its perception by social standards. One example: a woman who was previously classified as a prostitute is now called “jinetera”, a fighter … and in the case of men, “pingueros”, pimps …” said the sociologist.
Children of the night
Tonito comments that the world of male prostitution is made up of three classes: low, medium and high. The first includes those who practice outdoors (turning tricks on the street) and charge 80 pesos in national currency. It usually takes place between Cubans. The middle class includes those who ask for 5 or 10 CUC –perhaps a set of clothes or a pair of shoes– and are more demanding.
“Stories are told about the restroom in Las Arcadas or other places near Vidal Park. In the so-called Fuente, in the Pastorita housing projects, there is a place to wait for customers. These are called points. There are also some around the hospital area,” reports Tonito.
Those in the upper classes –he adds– find their foreigners on the Internet and make online appointments. The rate depends on the country of origin: a Mexican will be charged 20 CUC and an American between 50 and 60. You just have to type a few keywords on Google: sex + guys + Cuban + rates … and you get pages devoted exclusively to this purpose.
“They are more refined; they don’t let themselves be seen much. Most end up in Havana, where there are higher rates and a better market for this job,” he adds.
Perhaps, in search of higher profit, Alex preferred to travel to the capital regularly. And he confesses: “At first I asked for 50 or 60 CUC because I felt sorry; but later on I charged no less than 80. The older the client, the more I charged. It depended on what he asked for; and if he was active or passive, although I always did the full job. But there are some who ask for such weird things… “
Tonito coincides and sadly remembers the day when a friend of his was left half-naked in the middle of the national highway, because he was asked to perform a service which he simply refused to perform.
Do some clients get violent? We ask Alex.
“Many times I had to get tough, because if I acted first, then they didn’t want to pay. So you start a big fuss: I’ll call the police, I’ll scream, I’ll cry rape … to scare them into paying. It happened to me with a Brazilian.”
Normally this work is done alone. Perhaps some fraternities are established; but men tend to think of themselves as their own bosses, unlike the days when women were under the clutch of a pimp.
“Sometimes a friend of mine and I watched over each other to protect ourselves from the guys who were into the business full-time. By the way, many even had a girlfriend. My friend is a hairdresser and makes a lot of money; he did not need to do this, but went out with me anyway. “
You just graduated from the Marta Abreu Central University in Las Villas, why choose this path?
I know of university graduates who practice there in Havana. I am not an exception. We did it mostly to go to parties, restaurants, and hotels … to places you usually cannot afford. We were like tourist guides. That’s how we presented ourselves. We took the foreigners to tour the city; they paid for everything and at the end… what was to happen simply happened.
From prostitution to transactional sex
For Pedro Chaviano Rodriguez, prostitution is an outdated term. “Now, as a behavioral category from the epidemiological point of view, it is called transactional sex (the name itself indicates a transaction, a sexual service in exchange for a material or non-material profit),” he said.
Chaviano works as a specialist at the Provincial Center for Prevention of STD-HIV-AIDS and coordinates the social networks of the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex) in the territory.
From his experience, he says that there is an increase of young people engaged in this activity in Villa Clara. Usually they are from other provinces and come here. The ages range between 19 and 21 years.
“Ideally, the practice of transactional sex should not exist. We are trying to integrate these people into society; but if someone wants to do it, we cannot interfere with the practice, because it is not penalized. We just ask them to do so responsibly, with the use of condoms.”
Is prostitution penalized in Cuba, or not?
Here, unlike in other countries, prostitution is not treated as a crime but as anti-social behavior, which is codified in Article 73, paragraph 2, of the Criminal Code,” explains José Ramón González Guadarrama, a specialist in training and professional development from the Peoples’ Provincial Court of Villa Clara.
“The law describes the crime of pimping and human trafficking, and punishes those who live off the sex trade. The punishment will depend on the age of the person the pimp engages in the practice of prostitution, and ranges from 4 to 30 years of imprisonment,” he added.
And what about those who practice prostitution?
They are considered exploited victims, and therefore prostitution is not seen as a crime but as an anti-social behavior. Security measures can be applied: between one and four years of internment in a Ministry of the Interior special work or study center. We know that in recent times the practice exists among men; but these cases have not often been brought to court. It is more difficult to prove that a man engages in this activity.
Just like Alex and Tonito’s friends, other young guys venture into the streets and offer their bodies to the highest bidder. Some define it as having fun for profit; others practice it as a profitable trade. The truth is that this is a latent phenomenon in Cuba, one which we toward which we cannot turn a blilnd eye
“It is no more and no worse than in other countries. It just has its peculiarities. Male prostitution is a phenomenon that we must analyze and determine what steps to take regarding these people who see transactional sex –or prostitution if you wish– as a life choice.”
“In this case, it would require education to regard sexuality as the full enjoyment of our individuality, not as a commercial act,” says Dr. Julio César González Pagés.
Luis Orlando León Carpio y Leslie Díaz Monserrat
19 Enero 2016
Hagamos el amor y no la guerra, axioma que define a Alex, un chico que decidió llevar una vida sin tapujos, donde —confiesa— supo imbricar dinero, sexo y una carrera universitaria, de la cual acaba de salir airoso. No rebasa los 25 años, pero conoce la vida nocturna de Santa Clara y La Habana con la precisión de un cartógrafo en un mapa.
Alex, por supuesto, no se llama Alex; pero al calor de esta historia, en la que revela los aspectos más personales de su intimidad, quiso mantenerse en el anonimato. Y nos cuenta que sí, que de alguna manera cumplió un viejo sueño infantil de ser ingeniero, y ahora viaja a la capital a «hacer las calles», ese acto de salir a buscar un extranjero decidido a pagarle por placer. «Pero lo hago pa’ pasarla bien, ¿tú sabes? Y cobro pa’ sacarle provecho, aunque no me dedico a eso».
Tonito —que tampoco se llama Tonito ni se dedica a eso— se define más casero. Desde temprana edad descubrió su atracción por los hombres, sin que ello supusiera ningún cambio drástico en su personalidad. De las noches santaclareñas, las relaciones humanas y el sexo a cambio de dinero sabe un montón: «Tengo unos cuantos amigos que lo practican, puedo hablar sin problemas».
Por ellos sabemos que la prostitución masculina está presente en Villa Clara; que parece colarse con sutileza en los rincones, sobre todo, de la capital provincial; que algunos la asumen por necesidad y otros por diversión. Tras esta pista se escurrió «Juveniles» para visualizar un fenómeno que muchos reprochan y otros, sin embargo, ya ven natural.
La prostitución masculina es —según especificó en entrevista exclusiva para este trabajo el doctor Julio César González Pagés, investigador de temas relacionados con las masculinidades— el acto de que una persona del sexo masculino mantenga relaciones carnales con alguien más a cambio de dinero u otro obsequio material. Mayormente se dedican a estos menesteres jóvenes menores de 30 años, y el mercado incluye, fundamentalmente, a hombres que tienen sexo con otros hombres (HSH).
Aunque a muchos les parezca un asunto moderno, se trata de una práctica ancestral, que ahora se visualiza y genera debate. Así lo asegura González Pagés, quien precisa que desde finales del siglo xix ya existían estudios del antropólogo Luis Montané sobre la homosexualidad y el travestismo ligados al mercado del cuerpo masculino.
«Se hablaba de prostitución dentro de los barracones de los negros y los emigrados chinos. También, en La Habana de inicios del xx estaban las llamadas zonas de tolerancia, como el Barrio Chino o el teatro Nogueira, donde se hacían espectáculos de pornografía cuyos protagonistas eran hombres a los que se les pagaba», añadió.
Los años 90 constituyeron un punto de giro al interior de la familia cubana y su sistema de valores. A raíz de la crisis económica, la vida impuso nuevas formas de pensar. Fue la época de la despenalización del dólar y la llegada del turismo al país como medida emergente para oxigenar una economía asfixiada.
En este escenario, y según describe Denise Hernández Villar, licenciada en Sociología y especialista en Sociología de Género en la Universidad Central Marta Abreu de Las Villas, la coyuntura propició que ciertos núcleos familiares asumieran la prostitución como un medio de sustento.
«En Cuba se invirtió la pirámide social. Se desvalorizó el trabajo y el salario. Muchos profesionales quedaron desamparados, y algunos de ellos optaron por asumir esta práctica como vía de escape para el bolsillo.
«A partir de ahí, ocurre algo inusual. Una práctica mal vista, cuestionada, criticada, condenada y rechazada desde los controles sociales (léase leyes, regulaciones y voluntad política), desde el punto de vista social ahora cambia su percepción. Un ejemplo: antes una mujer era clasificada como prostituta, hoy se le llama jinetera, luchadora… y en el caso de los hombres, pingueros, chulos…», apuntó la socióloga.
Cuenta Tonito que en este mundo de la prostitución masculina hay tres clases sociales: baja, media y alta. En la primera están los que practican en exteriores (hacer la calle) y cobran 80 pesos en moneda nacional. Casi siempre se da entre cubanos. La clase media incluye a quienes piden 5 o 10 CUC —quizás una muda de ropa, un par de zapatos…—, y son más exigentes.
«Ahí están las historias que se cuentan del baño de Las Arcadas u otros sitios cercanos al parque Vidal. En la llamada Fuente, en los bloques de Pastorita, hay un lugar para esperar a clientes, los llamados puntos. También por la zona hospitalaria», informa Tonito.
Los de las clases altas —añade— consiguen a los extranjeros mediante internet y hacen citas online. El cobro depende del país de origen: a un mexicano le piden unos 20 CUC y a un norteamericano entre 50 y 60. Basta teclear algunas palabras claves en Google: sexo + chicos + cubanos + tarifas… y afloran en el buscador páginas destinadas única y exclusivamente a estos fines.
«Ellos son más finos, no se dejan ver mucho. La mayoría termina en La Habana, donde existen las tarifas más altas y un mercado mejor concebido para este oficio», continúa.
Quizás, en esa búsqueda de mayores ganancias, Alex haya preferido viajar asiduamente a la capital. Y confiesa: «Primero pedía 50 o 60 CUC, porque me daba pena; pero después no bajaba de los 80. Mientras más viejo era el cliente, más cobraba. Dependía de lo que pidiera, y si era activo o pasivo, aunque yo siempre hacía el trabajo completo. Pero algunos piden cada cosa…»
De esto último da fe Tonito, quien recuerda con pesar el día en que a uno de sus amigos lo dejaron semidesnudo en medio de la Autopista nacional, cuando le exigieron un servicio que no quiso realizar.
—¿Existe violencia por parte de algunos clientes?, inquirimos a Alex.
—Muchas veces tenía que ponerme fuerte, porque si actuaba primero, después no querían pagar. Uno ahí se pone a formar tremendo espectáculo: que voy a llamar a la policía, a gritar, a decir que me violaron…pa’ que se asustaran y pagaran. A mí me pasó con un brasileño.
Normalmente este trabajo se hace solo. Quizás se establecen algunas cofradías, pero el hombre tiende a concebirse como su propio jefe, a diferencia de los tiempos en que las mujeres quedaban bajo el yugo de la figura del proxeneta.
«A veces nos poníamos de acuerdo un amigo mío y yo para cuidarnos de los que sí se dedicaban a eso por completo. Que por cierto, muchos hasta tenían novia. Mi amigo es peluquero y gana cantidad, a él no le hacía falta, pero igual salía conmigo».
—Acabas de graduarte en la Universidad Central Marta Abreu de Las Villas, ¿por qué escoger este camino?
—Sé de universitarios que lo practican allá, en La Habana. No soy un caso atípico. Lo hacíamos mayormente para ir a fiestas, a restaurantes, a hoteles… a lugares que uno por lo general no se puede permitir. Éramos como guías de turismo. Nos declarábamos así. Llevábamos a los extranjeros a un tour por la ciudad, ellos nos pagaban todo y al final sucedía lo que tenía que suceder.
Para Pedro Chaviano Rodríguez, la prostitución es una palabra obsoleta. «Ahora, por ser una categoría comportamental desde el punto de vista epidemiológico, lo nombramos sexo transaccional (el propio nombre indica que existe una transacción, una entrega sexual a cambio de una ganancia material o no)», precisó.
Chaviano labora como especialista del Centro Provincial de Prevención de las ITS-VIH Sida y coordina las redes sociales del Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (Cenesex) en el territorio.
Desde su experiencia asegura que se reporta un incremento de jóvenes que ejercen esta actividad en Villa Clara. Por lo general, pertenecen a otras provincias y vienen aquí. Las edades oscilan entre los 19 y 21 años.
«Lo ideal sería que no se practicara el sexo transaccional. Tratar de que esas personas se integren a la sociedad; pero si alguien desea hacerlo, no podemos meternos en su práctica, porque esta no se penaliza, solo pedimos que lo hagan responsablemente, con el uso del condón».
—¿Se penaliza o no la prostitución en Cuba?
—Aquí, a diferencia de otros países, no se le da un tratamiento de delito, sino de conducta antisocial, lo que aparece recogido en el artículo 73, apartado 2, del Código Penal», precisa el máster José Ramón González Guadarrama, especialista en formación y desarrollo profesional del Tribunal Provincial Popular de Villa Clara.
«La Ley establece el delito de proxenetismo y trata de personas, y sanciona a quien vive del comercio carnal. Las sanciones dependen de las personas que utilice el proxeneta en el ejercicio de la prostitución, y van de 4 a 30 años de privación de libertad», añadió.
—¿Y en el caso de quien ejerce?
—Representa la víctima explotada(o), y por lo tanto, no se asume como un delito, sino como una conducta antisocial y puede conllevar medidas de seguridad, entre uno y cuatro años de internamiento en un centro de trabajo especializado o de estudio del Ministerio del Interior. Conocemos que en los últimos tiempos ha surgido esta práctica entre los hombres, pero no han llegado con frecuencia a los tribunales. En ellos resulta más difícil comprobar que se dedican a esta actividad.
Así, como Alex y los amigos de Tonito, otros jóvenes se aventuran a la calle y proponen su cuerpo al mejor postor. Algunos lo definen como una diversión con ganancias, otros lo asumen como un oficio rentable. Lo cierto es que se trata de un fenómeno latente en Cuba, y ante el cual no podemos taparnos los ojos.
«No es más ni peor que en otros países. Simplemente tiene sus peculiaridades. La prostitución masculina es un fenómeno que debemos analizar y saber qué medidas tomar respecto a estas personas que ven en el trabajo sexual, o prostitución, según quiera decirse, una opción de vida.
«En este caso, se trataría de educar para ver la sexualidad como un disfrute pleno de nuestra individualidad, no como un acto para el comercio», asegura el doctor Julio César González Pagés.
The film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, where it was a great success
Hector Medina stars in the film
Film “Viva”, set in Cuba and directed by Paddy Breathnatch, was chosen by the Irish Academy of Film and Television to represent the country at the Oscar Academy Awards as best foreign language film.
In this regard, Aine Moriarty, President of the Irish Academy, said: “The Irish Academy is delighted that this wonderful film by Paddy Breathnach and Mark O’Halloran represents Ireland at the Oscars. It reflects the creativity and diversity of points of view of this Irish team while shooting a Cuban story that is so tender, intriguing and visually captivating.”
The film had its world premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, where it was a success. In October, it will be presented at the Busan Festival.
Written by Mark O’Halloran, the drama follows Jesus, an 18 year old Cuban who is lost and trying to find his true identity. Unsure of himself or his future direction, he works at a drag queen club in Havana. There he pursues his dreams of becoming an actor, while earning money through prostitution.
He finds his oasis at home listening to the albums his mother and grandmother left him; or even watching the boxers who train next door. Then, something comes to his life that will challenge his direction and his freedom: his missing father, a famous boxer, who returns after spending 15 years in prison for killing a person in a street fight when Jesus was a child.
The cast includes Hector Medina, Jorge Perugorría and Luis Alberto Garcia.
BRIEF UPDATE, September 2015 Next week I’ll be returning to Cuba. This has been my longest time away since 1999 when I began regular visits. It’s been a year and a half. So much has changed since then! The Five are free and home. Diplomatic relations, broken by Washington in 1961, have been restored, and the process Cubans call “updating their economic model” has been continuing, as Raul Castro described it, “sin prisa, pero sin pausa”, which means “without rushing, but without stopping”. There’s so much to be learned and said about the process, which even the most attentive observer from abroad can barely begin to grasp. So now I’m looking forward with great anticipation to being able to catch up with friends and colleagues there, and to share with readers what I can see, hear and begin to try to understand. Below a link to my first extended commentary on Cuba, written after my second visit, fifteen years ago. Some remains valid, some has long since been resolved. Well, enough for now.
Los Angeles, California
September 8, 2015.
TWO MONTHS IN CUBA
Notes of a visiting Cuba solidarity activist
by Walter Lippmann
These are some notes on my visit to Cuba from November, 2000 to January, 2001. Some things in Cuba are very similar to the US, but many others are very, very different.
This essay doesn’t pretend to be a full-scale analysis of Cuba. That would be beyond its scope. These are my own observations, reflections and comments on things I myself personally saw, heard and did. Before and after visiting Cuba, I spent some time visiting Mexico, to get some perspective and to make a few comparisons. I hope you’ll find it useful.
On the final page of this essay, you’ll see links to some other pictures I took, and a page of references for useful English-language sources on Cuba so you can research Cuba further on your own.
WHY CUBA? WHY ME?
My interest in Cuba has deep family roots. My father and his parents lived there from 1939 to 1942. As Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, they were unable to enter either Great Britain or the United States, despite having close relatives in each. The Roosevelt administration strictly enforced a restrictive quota on Jewish immigration. My father and his parents had to wait in Cuba until 1943 before obtaining permission to enter the US. I was born in New York City in 1944. (A good history of the Jewish experience in Cuba is Robert M. Levine’s 1993 Tropical Diaspora (ISBN:0-8130-1218-X). There’s also a novel which eloquently evokes the time when my father lived in Cuba, Passing Through Havana, by Felicia Rosshandler (ISBN: 0-312-59779-7).
My father took me to Cuba in August, 1956. We visited his old residence and met some of his old friends. I don’t remember much about it except that Cuba was a very hot and sticky place. (I was only 12 at the time.) We stayed briefly at the Hotel Nacional, and after that we moved to a smaller hotel. We traveled to Pinar del Rio with one old friend, John Gundrum, also a German immigrant, but one who’d never left Cuba.
In November, 2000 I made my second visit to Cuba as an adult. I’d spent three weeks there in late 1999, on a delegation of yoga teachers and students meeting and practicing with our Cuban counterparts. I knew more than most in the US about this Caribbean nation. I’ve read a lot of Cuban history, and followed Cuban affairs closely. Now I wanted to take a much closer look.
How do Cubans actually live, day-to-day? I wanted to get a sense of how they work, their likes, dislikes and so on. It’s one thing to hear and read about a place, in the media (Cuba is terrible place! People are dying to leave!) or, on the other hand, uncritically favorable accounts among the few left media sympathetic to Cuba.
My Spanish is limited, so I often had to depend on bilingual friends and acquaintances for answers and directions. During my 31-year career as a social worker for Los Angeles County, I learned some simple “street Spanish,” but not enough to carry on a complex conversation. I met many who speak, and wanted to practice, English, so I was able to get answers to my many questions.
In Havana I stayed with a Cuban family I’d met in 1999. One family member had recently quit the public sector job he’d had for 13 years, and entered self-employment. He translates Cuban TV scripts from Spanish into English as an independent contractor. Cuba hopes to sell these to providers like the Discovery Channel. He also translates for visiting journalists and filmmakers. Weeks before my arrival he’d worked with Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Barbara Kopple, filming the Washington, D.C. ballet’s visit to the country. His mother is an engineer working for a government ministry. She belongs to the Cuban Communist Party. I didn’t pay rent, but bought the food and other items for the family. I often shopped and sometimes cooked for the family. I don’t think they’ve eaten so much garlic in their lives! (Fortunately, they like garlic…)
CUBA’S HISTORIC GOALS:
INDEPENDENCE AND A JUST SOCIETY
Essential to understanding today’s Cuba is the bitter history of US-Cuban relations. The two nations have had a long, close and tense connection. Nineteenth century US politicians discussed annexing the island. They tried to derail its independence, or thwart its efforts to forge a just society where the interests of Cubans was put first. Even now, most US politicians still act and speak as if they have the right to tell Cubans how to run Cuba. The revolution led by Fidel Castro and his compañeros is the most successful of Cuba’s efforts.
Backers of the overthrown Batista dictatorship were welcomed to the US. Washington opposed Cuban efforts to take control over national resources from foreign (mostly US) companies. It has opposed, and tried to turn back, the revolution at every turn. Washington and its supporters call this policy “the embargo.” Cuba calls it “the blockade.” This is because Washington relentlessly tries to bulldoze all other countries into supporting its anti-Cuban activities.
SINCE THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET UNION
During Cuba’s alliance with the USSR and the states of Eastern Europe, the island received long-term contracts for its commodities at stable, and sometimes well-above world market prices. This provided the economic and military foundation for Cuba to survive Washington’s decades-long effort to starve it out. Washington had to think twice about military intervention. The island’s politics and economics were heavily influenced by the Soviet model.