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My Haitian Heritage

January 26, 2010 Leave a comment

My eyes moisten whenever I read in the press and see these shocking images of the situation in Haiti. Maybe it’s sensitivity. Maybe it’s my Haitian roots.

My father was the third of 12 children of a man who in the early twentieth century emigrated from Haiti to Cuba. Vicente Diversent, my grandfather taught his children to speak their language. Too bad he did not have time to teach his grandchildren.

I do not speak Creole and even though languages are not a barrier to communicate messages, right now I wish I could speak the native language of my grandfather. To tell Haitians that I am also experiencing their pain. The same pain that my grandfather would feel if he were alive.

I feel like a spectator watching  a horror movie. I would like to do more. Console those who have lost loved ones.  Help those seeking loved ones under the rubble. Protect the thousands of homeless children who lost their parents and whose fate is already in the hands of UNICEF and several international organizations.

I am held back by reality and the constrains of my physical space. Little can be done from Cuba. But I close my eyes and ask God and the saints for mercy. And that hope returns to the land where my grandfather was born. I’m not religious, but faith is all we can cling to when a disaster of this magnitude happens.

I ask men of good will from any country, to lend a hand to Haitians of all ages who are terrified trying to escape the horror they have experienced, and the disaster that today is their homeland. I ask understanding for those who lose control due to hunger and homelessness.

But above all I ask for silence from those who for personal and ideological disputes, take advantage of this terrible situation, to talk about military intervention in a country dominated by chaos and despair. And take the opportunity to debate about who is at fault historically for Haiti’s poverty. Help where you can, but do so in silence. And if you cannot help like you would like to, remain silent.

I doubt that my father, with his 71 years, could reunite with his relatives in Port au Prince. To me, at least, remains the consolation of writing. And from Havana, from this blog, on behalf of my grandfather and the Cuban family named Diversent, descendants of Haitians, I send a message of love and solidarity to a land and people that share my same race and common genealogy.

Laritza Diversent

Photo: Haitian woman photographed by Swiatoslaw Wojkowiak, Flickr.

Translated by: LJM

Without Hemingway’s Charm

January 18, 2010 Leave a comment

El Floridita, one of Ernest Hemingway’s temples in Havana (pictured here with Errol Flynn when the American actor visited Cuba in 1959), in spite of the statue and the pictures …

… and the hundreds of tourists who annually visit it, drink a  daiquiri and take photos of the bar-restaurant, located on the corner of Obispo and Monserrate in Old Havana …

… long ago lost the charm it had when the famous American writer was a regular customer. Not because July 2 marks 48 years since his suicide, but because in Havana it is very hard to hide that streets, homes and buildings are in ruins.

Text and photos:  Laritza Diversent  and

Google-Images

Translated by LJM

Omar and the Remittances

May 24, 2009 Leave a comment

remesas

He is 23 years old and has a high school diploma, but Omar doesn’t want to work. He spends mornings sitting in the park talking with friends. In the evenings, well dressed, he drinks a few beers at Ditú at the corner .

His lifestyle caught the attention of the chairman of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) and the sectors’ chief of police. A social worker visits his house weekly offering him work, but nothing suits him.

Those responsible for prevention in his neighborhood insist on finding him a job. Based on his qualifications, all that was available were positions in construction, agriculture, and community services. The salary is 375 pesos. Too much effort for so little pay. As expected, he refused to work.

Omar frequently receives remittances from abroad. His father lives in the United States and sends fifty dollars a month. After paying the mandatory 20 percent tax, he is left with 40 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos) or about 1000 pesos when changed into national currency. With that income, does it make sense to work for a monthly salary of 375 pesos?

But the authorities are threatening to apply the “law of the slacker.” He could serve up to four years in prison for pre-criminal dangerousness, a criminal charge often imposed on those who persist in not working in jobs linked to the state.

This is one of the problems that will worsen when all restrictions on remittances from the nearly two million Cubans living in the United States are lifted. What will happen when thousands of families in Cuba start receiving remittances on a large scale?

For “the reflective comrade”* the  measures are insufficient. At the same time that he challenges, he sows doubt among his few readers about the possibility that the current U.S. administration will end “the genocidal blockade.” But we know it’s lip service. The recently approved measures will cause chaos for the regime.

What argument will the government use to force Cubans who receive remittances from relatives abroad to work? What justification will be used now for punishing young people who, like Omar, receive money from relatives abroad and refuse to work for a miserable salary?

Hopefully, one answer will be to eliminate the odious and arbitrary tax of 20 percent. A brazen robbery from those who toil and sweat to work in their countries to help their families on the island.  They do not have to contribute to the maintenance of a state that seized their properties when they left the country.

Cubans appreciate the new U.S. policy toward Cuba. Believe it or not, these measures benefit the Cuban people more than the government. The economy certainly will benefit from the entry of more foreign currencies, but … what about the workforce needed to increase production and productivity?

Laritza Diversent

Photograph: Getty Images

Translated by: LJM & Tomás A.

*Translator’s note:

“reflective comrade” is a reference to Fidel Castro. Since retirement Mr. Castro writes a newspaper column titled “Reflections.”

If You Defy the System

April 14, 2009 Leave a comment


Yuniel is eighteen. He does not work; he left his studies after completing high school. He spends the mornings in the park with friends. Likewise the afternoons, but with the addition of a bottle of rum passing from hand to hand.

There have been several unsolved burglaries in the neighborhood. Those from the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) are suspicious of him. They wonder where he gets the money to dress well and be continually celebrating. The CDR surveillance team has seen him return home drunk well into the night, although without bothering anyone.

The CDR knows that Yuniel does “business,” but they haven’t been able to determine what kind. At the monthly meeting of the neighborhood Social Prevention Committee, his name came up as a potential criminal. Social workers persuaded him to find employment. The chief of the local police precinct issued an official warning for antisocial behavior and gave him an ultimatum.

Yuniel began working as a custodian in a State-owned company.  His monthly salary of 275 pesos was not enough to help with household expenses and take his girlfriend out. The precarious economic situation at home forced him to quit his job and return to his previous work, pirating foreign television programs on DVDs, which gave him financial solvency.

This caused the precinct chief to issue him two more warnings. The city prosecutor asked the court to charge him with “pre-criminal social dangerousness.”

Yuniel never burgled any neighbor’s house, he never trafficked in or did drugs, he never assaulted anyone in public. But he was imprisoned in a correctional facility, sentenced to do agricultural work for one year and six months. This is the fate of young people who, in order to become economically independent, defy the system.

Laritza Divertsent

Translated by: Tomás A. & LJM

Unlimited Power

February 21, 2009 Leave a comment

poder-sin-limites

The term “unity” is used frequently in Cuban propaganda campaigns to refer to the compliance of the people with the socialist system. However, its more controversial use is when it is joined with the word “power”.

In essence, the “unity of power” opposes the tripartite division of powers, not in relation to the division of the functions of the Government (legislative, executive and judicial), but in the establishment of checks and balances between the different authorities of the state.

The Constitution of the Republic regulates the legislative powers of Government. In its article 75, paragraph b) it empowers the National Assembly to enact laws and regulations of hierarchical ranking in Cuban law. Article 95 states that the number, names and functions of ministries and bodies forming part of the Council of Ministers are determined by law.

However, the Law Decree No. 67 of 1983, a lower-ranking provision issued by the State Council for the “Organization of the Central State Administration,” regulates the structure of public administration. Furthermore, a provision of the State Council may amend or repeal a law issued by the National Assembly. Another example is Law Decree No. 151 adopted in 1994, amending Act No. 5 of Criminal Procedure since 1977.

In other political contexts, these examples could be violation of the Constitution and the principle of hierarchy. In Cuba, it is simply a manifestation of the principle of “unity of power”.

This explains why the Cuban Constitution does not contain laws imposing limits on Executive Power. In other words, “unity of power” is, in form and content, absolute power in the hands of a limited number of people: the members of the State Council.

Laritza Diversent

Translated by LJM

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