Monday, January 28, 2008


Farewell to a Revolutionary Combattant

Aleida Rodriguez Villavicencio, 77, passed away in Havana on January 24. Funeral service was held along the seaway drive and her ashes were spread in the tranquil sea, surrounded by relatives, friends and comrades in struggle.
Aleida was a priceless support of those who, like myself, were students at the University of Havana before the triumph of the Revolution and were involved in the resistance to the Batista dictatorship, not only by hiding our firearms and leaflets but also visiting those who were wounded during the protest rallies providing them with food and information, said doctor Hector Terry in his farewell speech.
These tasks did not prevent her, poor, black and a woman, from being at the front of student and civic demonstrations. After the March of the Torches in commemoration of Jose Marti´s birth centenial, on January 27, 1953, she was arrested and detained by the police.
From her humble job in the Hospital Calixto Garcia, she was an agitator in favor of the needy and disposessed. When the political history of that hospital is written, the name of Aleida Rodriguez has to be extolled, said doctor Terry.
After 1959, Aleida was a lifeline getting her comrades together, counseling and educating the young generation of youth and student leaders, never wavering before the revolutionary tasks and being a stalwart against corruption and wrongdoing.
The ceremony ended with the student identity slogan become a war cry before the Revolution. Who lives? Caribs, Who goes? University.
Personally, Aleida was one of my dearest friends for over 40 years. Modest, shunning privileges, she was one of those rare persons you can count on in the good, but above all, in the bad times. During her last months, barely three since she was diagnosed with colon cancer, she announced to her friends she would have a farewell party with friends and family. That takes a lot of courage and she gave us all a lesson of humanity to last us until death.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


Soaring Oil Prices don´t Worry Cubans

Expensive oil and gas in world markets is at the bottom of Cuban worries, where food, housing and transportation are at the top of their daily agenda.
Maybe Cubans have begun applying energy-saving measures at home, because the electricity and phone bills are among the most pressing on the family budget. If you received a bank credit for one of the appliances recently distributed, like fridges, fans, and stoves, then salary money is not enough to buy food out of the ration card.
On the other hand, solidarious Venezuela sells Cuba about 100 thousand barrels of oil per day which can be paid with the thousands of doctors, teachers, sports trainers and other specialists now working in Venezuela. Forty-eight percent of the national energy balance is made up by oil and gas extracted at home, with the other 52 percent made up by imports.
Renewable energy sources are being quickly developed, mostly through solar panels, wind parks and mini-hydroelectric plants.
The new integration scheme of ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), an initiative of president Hugo Chavez, of which Cuba is a founding member together with Venezuela, and now benefits 14 nations in the Caribbean basin.
I, for one, own a Lada, model 2105, manufactured in 1984, sold to me as a journalist together with other professionals, in 1986. With great effort and money, my son-in-law has attended to all the needs of this veteran that has not gone to war, but treads over streets that look like Sarajevo after being bombed or maybe worse.
Other Soviet cars are the Moskvich and Volgas, which also roll on Cuban roads, although the latter have been mostly discarded because they need an oil well attached to the gas tank.
For a Russian tourist, a trip to Cuba could seem like a trip back in time, the opposite of what occurred in 1962 when I visited the Soviet Union for the first time and was surprised at people looking at US cars in awe when that was yesterday´s news for me, as Havana still had some new US models.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and Cubans have become mechanics of their own automobiles. Gas, however, can only be bought in Convertible Cuban Pesos (local equivalent of hard currency) or for 15 ordinary pesos a liter, about one US dollar (0.80 CUC).
State institutions also give monthly prepaid cards to present at service stations to professionals they employ and own vehicles. The cards cover from 25 to 50 liters each according to the post held and the distance from work to the car owner´s home. Some unions like the Cuban Journalists Union, also give their members 40 liters a month, charging 32 ordinary pesos for that amount of gas.
As a report on Soviet cars published recently says, modern technology seems to have bypassed this land where car parts are still being made and attached by hand. However,optimists as they are, Cubans refuse to succumb to gloom and extol the excellences of their vehicles that demand little from owners and render great services, sometimes even their livelihood.In sharp contrast to modern world politics, American oldies blend well with their Soviet-made peers, as Soviet spare parts are used frequently to repair American cars. So they reject gathering dust as exhibits and have made Cuba an auto museum come to life.

When Cuba was Reborn

One week took the guerrilla caravan led by Fidel Castro to get from the Sierra Maestra mountains to Havana, where an apotheosis awaited the victors along each city, village and town those first days of 1959.
The New Year brought dawn on people who had lived in fear, anger and discontent for so long.
It was Havana´s turn on January 8, 49 years to date, to receive the bearded heros. The capital was like an expectant sweetheart, bathed in the light of a warm January morning, filled to the brims of joyful and boastful people waving flags, posters or just their hands.
The man known to some but stranger to most, was at the front of his men, on a jeep at times and on armoured vehicles, but never hidden, visible and stretching hands of thousands who greeted him by his name, Fidel.
From the start, his fearless and friendly attitude had a personal impact on people who watched in awe. He rejected going to Batista´s fortress of Columbia by helicopter, he felt disgusted when he stopped at the Presidential Palace and without the help of soldiers asked the crowd to open the way so he could continue.
To top the day, the rally in Columbia where he spoke of how difficult it would be from then on, as opposition would come from inside and outside the country. He turned to the second most loved officer in his army, Camilo Cienfuegos, to whom he asked, “How am I going, Camilo?” and a white pigeon nested on his shoulder, to forever become an icon.
Young and old Cubans present that day have carried that image with them for almost half a century.

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