Saturday, October 30, 2004


Cuba´s Dollar Measure: Timely, not Desperate

The US currency circulated freely in Cuba for more than half a century, until 1959. A few more years and the Cuban peso would have been discarded as is Panama´s currency, where the US dollar is king.
At the display of sovereignty and self-determination shown by the Revolutionary Government, the Eisenhower and later, the Kennedy administrations overreacted by placing a siege on this island that lasts to this day, made more inhumane and disregardful of international law over the years.
The Torricelli amendment (1992) and the Helms-Burton Law (1996) took care of that.
The US dollar was part of this aggression. It started by tthe ban on the use of the dollar by US banks, companies and citizens in connection to Cuba. The Department of the Treasury and in particular, the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) was then assigned the task of persecuting and confiscating all Cuban assets in the United States.
Ten administrations have served their terms and this normalization is a long way off. The US extreme right sectors not only have made sure sanctions and more noose tightening are applied on Cuba, but have achieved that the blockade be extended to extraterritorial limits in violation of international law.
Since the US dollar was again accepted as legal tender in 1993, due to the drastic changes in Cuban foreign trade partners and the opening of the economy to foreign investment and tourism, Cuban economic authorities always said it was adopted as a temporary measure, until a more comprehensive monetary reform could be put in place.
In ten years, the Cuban economy underwent an economic upheaval, introducing some mechanisms of market economy, going through a decentralization process while keeping state control over the most important areas of industry and agriculture, health, education and social security.
From a free exchange rate of 150 pesos to the dollar in 1993, the Cuban currency began gaining strength in the domestic market, to stabilize in the 20-26 range for more than five years now.
The same cannot be said of the dollar. Its fate has been more uncertain each day over the last two years, while its rival the euro, European common currency, has made the European Union stronger.

Red Alert

As Lord William Rees-Mogg, former editor of The Times of London put it recently, “the world´s exchange system should be regarded as completely out of control”, and in the midst of the turmoil, the dollar.
Since economic recovery in the US was announced over two years ago, the unemployment rate is still high, consumer confidence reaches all-time lows and interest rates have ceased to be an option to incentivate growth because they are at their lowest level.
Budget deficit is reaching all-time highs, trade has not been boosted as expected by the weak dollar, and the war on Iraq has also taken its toll.
Anyone using dollars began to loose money, but the United States is still the biggest partner for countries in the greenback zone. The monetary restrictions on Cuba began touching foreign partners, like the Union de Banques Suisses (UBS), demanded by US courts for sending and receiving dollars from countries in Washington´s terrorist list, like Iran, Lybia, Cuba and Yugoslavia.
Probably fearful of losing assets in the United States, UBS agreed to pay a 100 million USD fine, never admitting to its operations as a crime, being as they are, a normal international banking practice.
Long before this UBS case, about two years ago, Cuba withdrew US coins from circulation, leaving only the fractions of the Cuban Convertible Peso, equivalent to one dollar.
Later, the dollar was banned from payments between enterprises. The business sector was only allowed to make payments between entities in Convertible Pesos.
As part of the plan to gradually withdraw the dollar from Cuba´s economy, came the October 25 announcement. On that same day the greenback came close to its lowest value facing the euro and other hard currencies, 1.29 per euro.
As for the 10 per cent tax imposed by Cuba to all dollars changed in the country after November 8, it is not meant to punish anyone, but to cover part of the country´s losses in this currency´s value abroad and the handling charge of international banks.
Nothing so desperate about that, just timely.

Friday, October 22, 2004


Fidel Castro: Business as Usual

In public, Fidel Castro, 78, has only had three bad moments. The three were quickly accounted for by himself. The first was a voice failure back in 1960, during a Latin American youth gathering in the Havana stadium. There, his brother Raul continued the speech in his place, explaining he had faringitis. The second was decades after, about a year or so ago, when he fainted after a whole day without sleep and scarcely eating while delivering a speech in an open rally meeting and almost at midday under a scorching sun. Not five minutes had passed when he told the people there that he would be back on TV that evening, and so it was. The fall he had last Wednesday, October 20th, was no different. After speaking at a graduating ceremony of Art Instructors, he went to sit down again to greet people who were in the public. Suddenly, he stumbled on a ledge higher than he expected and fell headlong. He immediately knew he had broken his left knee-bone and injured his right arm. He said so over the microphone to the people still gathered there, assuring them he was in one piece, asking them to go on with the artistic part of the ceremony, and almost without showing the pain he must have been enduring. In his own words contained in a letter read over the news on TV Thursday night and published in Granma on Friday, the President tells how he was first driven to a house to assess the physical damage, given pain-killers and then moved to Havana by ambulance. The trip from Santa Clara to Havana usually takes little less than two hours by car. In the ambulance, the letter with his signature says, the occupants had a work session. They called Havana asking for information on what news agencies were saying about the accident and what would be needed to perform surgery on the patient. One phone call came in while still at the house in Santa Clara from Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who spoke with Foreign Relations Minister, Felipe Perez Roque and later, directly with Fidel, to inquire about his health. Once in Havana, he was taken to the Palace of the Revolution where a small medical center for emergencies is located. There they made the usual clinical tests and took X-Rays, after which it was confirmed that the most important complications were the fractured rotula (eight pieces) in the left knee. Doctors informed the patient they would have to operate, and with the patient´s nuance, they used spine fluid as anesthetic so he would be conscious during the surgery that lasted three hours and 15 minutes. The surgeons brought together all the rotula pieces with stainless steel thread. During surgery, says the letter, the president kept in touch with his chief assistant and kept on receiving information and giving instructions on how to handle the situation. Finally, after surgery his left leg was put into a cast and his right shoulder immobilized. Fidel Castro stresses, in conclusion, that at all times he kept handling state affairs as usual and that Cuban revolutionaries know what to do at every moment.

Monday, October 04, 2004


The Day US Supremacy was Only Second Best

A day like today 47 years ago, the whole world had chance to hear, over radio and TV news programs, the first beep-beep of a man-made satellite in space. Scientists and engineers of the Western world were in shock. The Russians, the reds, the commies, had taken the virginity out of space travel. There had been an atom bomb, a hydrogen bomb and a powerful weapon called V-rockets, but in contrast with those weapons of mass destruction, this was the first invention born without a directly lethal purpose. That was until spy satellites and star wars devices came along. I was only 13 years old then, living in Miami, but I still remember the awe and debate which arose in our eighth-grade class. It was long before I knew what socialism and communism was all about, yet I felt such satisfaction that US supremacy had failed where underestimated Russian science had excelled. After all, I had already seen in movies, the press and on TV what American bombs had done to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, one year after I was born. A new era was being born with incredibly good and bad consequences for the human race. The globalization process took giant steps forward by multiplying telecommunication options, bringing a world unknown out of the shadows and into the light, making distances so short as the movement of your hand to dial a phone number. The planet was something more than the United States, Europe and Japan. Knowledge and research results spread like wildfire. Even ferocious transnational corporations or hegemonic powers cannot prevent the truth from being known any more. According to Cuban scientist J. Alvarez Pomares, guest in Reinaldo Taladrid´s popular Sunday TV Program: Passport to the Unknown, the sputnik (it means travel companion in Russian) put into orbit by the former Soviet Union was very small, weighing a few pounds. Almost half a century later, there are 5,000 tons of metal debris orbiting in space at fantastic speeds of almost 20,000 miles per hour. This means that a piece the size of a marble might do the same damage as a heavy half-a-ton safe falling from a 10-story building. Only one company, the ATT has over 20 Intelsat satellites hovering the earth, military sats are capable today of detecting a softball from a height 22,000 miles up and tracking every move or conversation of persons and vehicles all over the world. A complex network of radars is responsible of keeping track of every particle of metal, operational satellite or space station, so they won´t hit any rocket launched or device put into orbit. There is a new project of an orbit lift, held by plaited giant wires, inside of which persons or satellites can be lifted to orbit without the launching of rockets, held to one point on the equator. This plan already in the stage of feasibility studies may prevent contamination from burning fuel, leaving no debris and much more secure. The catch is there are only a few places in the earth´s equator from which such a lift can be built. Alvarez Pomares even believes this elevator can become operational in about 20 years. Four years after the sputnik, there was another “first” for the USSR, the first man to orbit the earth and return alive after something more than an hour. Four decades after these momentous events, the situation changed radically. Russia cannot surprise us now, or challenge Washington´s arrogance, to mankind´s sorrow. Her wings were cut by the Western powers, but there still is China and India, which have come to achieve notable scientific development. Anyway, let´s just hope that scientific goals prevail over the military, that will only take us to global destruction.

Sunday, October 03, 2004


Looking for my Classmates in the US

There comes a time when, after raising a family and having done something with one´s life, people like to return to childhood friends and, in most occasions, turns out they will never get in touch with them again. In my case, I would love to find some of those who I remember the most among my classmates in the United States. I lived in the US from June, 1953 to May, 1958, one year in New York and four in Miami. From New York I don´t remember the names of my friends, just that of the school, The Good Shepherd, in a neighborhood called Washington Heights, I believe. My address was Vermilyea Avenue, near 200 St. and Broadway, that is all I recall. When I arrived at New York in the summer of ´53, to live with my aunt and uncle, I had recently lost my father from a heart attack, at the peak of his vitality, for he was 37. My mother had to get used to the idea of having me and my two sisters living with different relatives so that she could work. I was the eldest, 8, the middle one was 6 and the youngest a year and a half, so they were very difficult times for my mother, a widow at 36. Brave and foolish, she never married again because she couldn´t bare the thought of leaving her three girls alone with a stranger, even if he was her husband. Our status in Cuba at the time of my father´s death, 1952, was that of a low middle-class family. He owned a small retail store for selling animal feed and farming implements, near the town of San Francisco de Paula, made famous for having Ernest Hemingway, the Literature Nobel Prize winner, as one of its neighbors. Though I never got to meet him, I did go to his villa, La Vigía, during the early 50´s and, luckily, it remains today much the same as I remember it, very visited as a museum. In a New York State of Mind I am sorry now to have lived in New York for only one year, but the environment of the Vermilyea Avenue apartment, near 200 St. and Broadway, was beginning to get violent. I went to the Good Shepherd School and already when the school year started, I had learned enough English to make myself understood, thanks to watching TV programs, in particular cartoons and reading comic strips. Aside from English and Catechism, I learned very little that year. School programs had nothing new to teach me in third grade, because I had already finished fourth in Havana. My most exciting activities were the Saturday shopping trip downtown with my aunt and some picnics on Sundays to the Cloisters and Catskill mountains. About three years earlier, when I was six, I had been in New York to visit the relatives with whom I later lived for five years. On that occasion I went with my grandmother and had a great time, I visited the Zoo and the Museum of Natural History. I went to Radio City Hall and the Empire State building, Central Park and Fifth Avenue, the usual round of tourists. But most of all, I remembered passing the United Nations building and saying that someday I would work there. The prophecy has not come true, although I have been around a lot. Comparing my recollection with London, where I also lived for a year, working as correspondent for Prensa Latina, I still prefer New York. Today, still some of my cousin Jose Antonio Quintana´s children (already with families of their own) live in New York. I sent them a letter about nine years ago which they never answered. I invited them to come down and visit me in Havana. Beach and Biking in Miami Miami was a completely different experience. At the beginning of my stay there, 1955 and 1956, it was like living in a beach town, full of retired people, mostly Jewish. I often saw kids barefooted and thought: if I saw children like that in Havana they would surely belong to the poorest families or were probably orphans, street kids. Maybe that is why whenever I came to Cuba on vacations, I would walk the house barefooted and my mother would get angry and say I looked like a homeless kid, not a well educated girl like I was supposed to be. It was a time when movies and music encouraged the otherwise natural rebellious spirit in the young generation. James Dean and Sal Mineo were my heroes for a long time, not to say the King of Rock and Roll, Elvis Presley. Enough of “I Love Lucy” and other “family” series. I loved Dragnet and Sargent Friday and the westerns, more Alan Ladd than Roy Rogers. In 1957 and 1958, movies like the French “And God made Woman”, “The Karamazov Brothers”, forbidden by the Catholic Movie Guide, were a must-see for all the girls in my class. From the Gesu School, I remember Emil Tracy, Tommy Cheehan, Kino Sakamura and Kathleen Ostuni in 5th and 6th grade. I moved to St. Peter and Paul´s School in the South West area and passed 7th and 8th grade there. The latter belonged to the Order of St. Joseph. Priests and nuns were so natural there, they participated in school repairs, baseball and football games with the students and even joked with us girls about our boyfriends. In Cuba, I had been baptized and took my First Communion, but my family was not church-going. However, in Miami I made it a habit of going to mass on Sundays and even took my Confirmation vows. From that time I remember Carol Lundeen and my Cuban friends, Caridad Carballosa and Acacia Carreras. Their parents had fleed Cuba during the Batista dictatorship. In 1956, my mother sold our retail store in San Francisco de Paula and joined me in Miami together with my middle sister, Elina. My aunt found her a job in the same clothing workshop where she worked and rented a small apartment in the back of my aunt´s house. I became very money-conscious then, because we had to manage with a low salary of about $40 a week, $15 of which went to pay the rent. And if I told those were the most happy years of my childhood after my father´s death, nobody would believe it. Our main entertainment on weekends would be going to the beach with our aunt and uncle and on Sundays, walking all the way to downtown looking at the shop windows and dreaming of what we were going to buy when we saved enough money. Our family broke up again in October, 1957, when my mother had a gallbladder crisis and had to leave with my sister to Havana to have surgery, all in one hectic day. In the morning, she went to the doctor in Miami, who told her she needed to be hospitalized immediately and by nightfall, she was already being operated on in Havana, at a clinic to which we had continued paying our monthly fees. It took her over a month to recover and, as she had lost her job and my sister had to continue her school year, they both stayed in Havana and never went back to Miami. For that reason and already feeling homesick for Cuba, I decided to stay definitely at home that summer of 1958. One thing I still remember today when I pondered whether to go or to stay were the discrimination blacks were subjected to in the States, not even in Cuba did one see such actions as to segregate public transport, toilets and water fountains. While I was on the winning side, I felt ashamed of such behavior. Also, because American culture was so overpowering I felt it threw away all of our Latino living habits, customs and traditions. If anyone reading this piece in my blog happens to know or finds out about my friends, I would appreciate you tell them to get in touch with me.

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