“Check out how free this country is!” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.”  The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)

Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.” The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 29 January 2015 — “In Vietnam, Yoani Sanchez would be in prison,” says Rafael Hernandez, editor of the magazine Temas (Topics), comparing the Cuban regime with the Vietnamese one. And he adds: “Check out how free this country is!” According to the official researcher, Cuban bloggers “are arrested and released, but they are not put in prison,” as occurs in the southeast Asian country, where these cyberspace activists receive “nothing but” jail for being “anti-government.”

The political scientist and essayist offered these observations last Wednesday at the Juan Marinello Center during the presentation about the book “From Confrontation to Efforts at ‘Normalization.’ The Policy of the United States towards Cuba,” by the publisher Social Sciences. One of the authors, Elier Ramirez, participated in the panel discussion held by the magazine.

Just reading its name, one deduces that the essay by Elier Ramirez and Esteban Morales – co-author – reflects the offical Cuban position about the rapprochement between the Island and its “historical enemy.” The word “normalization” in its title appears in quotation marks because, among other reasons, “the United States has always understood normalization from the position of domination,” says Ramirez. “There is no change in its strategic objectives [basically, regime change in Cuba, but] a profound tactical adjustment” behind the negotiations between Washington and Havana, according to the author.

This work had already been released, at least once, during the presentation of the volume “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana,” written by U.S. researchers Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande. But then, last October, the political situation was very different from the current one.

During Wednesday’s presentation about the book, the comparison between Vietnam and Cuba emerged in the context of what Rafael Hernandez considers a double standard in U.S. foreign relations which criticizes Cuba on questions like freedom of expression while not doing the same to other countries. “How do you [the American government] demand from me [the Cuban government] what you do not demand of the Vietnamese who put bloggers in prison?” asked the researcher who is also a moderator of the space Ultimo Jueves (Last Thursday).

Rafael Hernandez also referred to the case of the performance by Tania Bruguera last December 30. In order to justify the attitude of Cuban authorities, he gave as an example a hypothetical megaphone protest in front of the home of the British prime minister. “Before taking out the loudspeaker, they already told him off and got him out of there,” he said, referring to the imaginary protester. “What does that have to do with freedom of expression? What are we talking about?” he added, insisting on the supposed “double standard” of the western discourse with respect to that basic right.

Entering into a process of negotiations that both parties have deemed “historic,” one can no longer speak only of “a relationship between two governments” because now there is also “a relationship between two societies” declared Hernandez, who called for a realization that “there is a new game.”

The official analysts define this “game” as a “form of battle” for preserving the regime, different from all previous battles. This war, certainly is already taking place also in the symbolic realm where the most rancid nationalists have been contaminated by a certain foreign banality, especially American.

It is not strange that an official intellectual like Hernandez expresses himself thus about the rapprochement between the two countries. As far as his comparisons in matters of human rights, it is legitimate to ask what exactly the editor of Temas meant to say. There are three possible interpretations:

  1. Vietnam is a dictatorship.
  2. Cuban bloggers should be prisoners.
  3. We bloggers should feel grateful for the few handouts of freedom that the regime grants us and that it also can take from us at any time, imitating its “sister nation” from southeast Asia.

Translated by MLK

The ‘Sandor Case’ / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Known as "The BimBom 23 and Malecón" this is one of the meeting points for pingueros. (14ymedio)

Known as “The BimBom 23 and Malecón” this is one of the meeting points for “pingueros.” (14ymedio)

  • In tribute to El Caso de Sandra (The Sandra Case) by Luis Manuel García Méndez

14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 30 January 2015 — A farmer wakes up before dawn to brand with a burning iron the last cow he has left. It’s a ritual of pain and possession. A tourist brands a young person in one of Havana’s cabarets and takes them to bed in exchange for some money. The brands are different, but both as permanent.

Sandor was born in the countryside and was raised to be rough. When he reached adolescence he had already castrated and slaughtered pigs. His wide shoulders, olive skin, and oriental eyes earned him town-wide fame as being “hot.” Since he was young he felt the pressure of desiring other men. It was like a permanent breath down his neck that followed him everywhere.

His father had deep wrinkles around his mouth, a group of them also skirting his eyes. The hours in the furrow, beneath the sun, had cracked his skin and his character. He started drinking rum with his friends in the afternoons after work, but ended gulping anything he found. One day, Sandor saw him downing one of his grandmother’s perfumes. His mouth smelled of sweet roses for hours.

Sine he was little, Sandor resolved not to end up like his father. After he turned 16, he packed up what little clothes he had and went to Havana. He arrived at night and walked from the train terminal to Fraternity Park, where the lamps were off and one could hear moaning coming from the shadows. “This is my thing,” he immediately said to himself.

Between footlights

In Las Vegas Cabaret, the air smells of urine. There are tables far from the lights where almost anything can happen. Sandor watches, empty-eyed, the male stripper show unraveling on the stage. The bodies shine from the oil they have been rubbed with.

A sixty-year-old moves forward and puts some bills inside one of the dancer’s underpants. Sandor follows him with his eyes and later sits on his same table. He’s wearing very tight clothes and his muscles stand out provocatively, but competition is strong. He is part of a sea of ephebes practicing prostitution that will battle to see who takes the foreigner to bed.

“I am a male sex worker, a pinguero,” he says shamelessly to anyone who cares to hear him. He offers his goods to any buyer, although he emphasizes not considering himself a homosexual. Sometimes his clients are women, European and in their fifties, but his main market is made up of men who come “de afuera” – from abroad. Cuba is a promising destination for gay tourism and Sandor casts his rod into the turbulent river waters of caresses for money.

He fixes himself up constantly while speaking, an eagerness for physical perfection that makes anyone who approaches him feel ugly and wrinkled. He has shaved his eyebrows and painted them in a fine, high arch. On his arms, his forearms, his chest and his pubis there isn’t a single hair. Hours of painful hair removal have left his skin smooth and even.

He prefers this world to days of working in construction, erecting walls or putting roofs together. He spent his first months in Havana working with a brigade of bricklayers, but he couldn’t stand it. Now, the palms of his hands feel soft from the body lotion he lathers on to please his partners with caresses, but during those times the hammer and chisel had left him with rough and ugly calluses.

He is part of a sea of ephebes practicing prostitution who will battle to see who takes the foreigner to bed.

The Malecón, Central Park and the private Cabaret Humboldt, on the street bearing the same name, are his habitual working grounds. “I go looking for yumas [foreigners]. I get there and, in between drinks, the zorreo [flirtation] begins and then comes business,” he says when describing his modus operandi. There isn’t much to say in those places, because those who visit know the codes and steps to take in order to leave accompanied.

“I never leave with a Cuban, even if he has all the money of the world,” assures the young man. The rates range from 10 to 100 CUC, so he seeks to reach a middle ground so as to not sell himself “for nothing” but also not to end up “more alone than the 1 o’ clock peal.” Not few times has he had to exchange love for objects, like a watch, a pair of shoes or an expensive bottle of cologne, but “I prefer cash,” he says.

The hours to “expensively sell oneself” are before midnight. After that, “the goods lose value and you have to take whatever comes your way.” He learned that language, or jargon, while working in a produce market. Amid dirty sweet potatoes and the smell of rotting onion, he understood that wasn’t the life for him. “Now, in one night I can make as much as I made in a month behind the counter of an agricultural market.”

Below the sun-faded awning where he sold fruits and vegetables, the first foreigner branded him. This, in street slang, means identifying someone and exchanging seductive glances. He was Dutch and had come to buy some plantains, but he noticed Sandor and invited him for some ice cream. That night, they slept at the Hotel Nacional and for the rest of the week he didn’t show up to his job at the produce market. He had never been in a hotel, so he jumped on the bed and left the faucet open for hours. He swallowed his breakfast almost without chewing it and the tourist gave him a gift of some clothes.

Las Vegas Cabaret, one of the places where tourists “brand” pingueros, jineteras, and more. (14ymedio)

Las Vegas Cabaret, one of the places where tourists “brand” pingueros, jineteras, and more. (14ymedio)

At that time, Sandor lived with an older woman, through whom he was able to get a transitional address in the capital written down on his national ID card. Without that, he was in danger of being deported by the police if they asked him for his ID on the street. One night he arrived with a lot of money, a bottle of wine under his arm, and she began to suspect. While he slept, she checked his cellphone and found a picture in which the Dutch man held him by his fly. In the middle of the night, the woman threw his clothes from the balcony and told him never to return.

Later he had a Mexican. “When this farmer saw himself driving a rental car, with a gold chain and money in his wallet, he got used to this life,” he recalls while speaking of himself in the third person. However, he says he prefers Europeans and North Americans because “they pay better and are more delicate.” He had an African only once, a doctor from Luanda who gave him many gifts.

“My body is my enterprise,” he brags. “Pingueros are better paid than the most regal prostitutes”

Beginning some years back, Sandor has had a routine he repeats daily. He gets up at noon and tries to eat only protein. “No bread or fried things that make me fat; my body is my enterprise,” he brags. He also takes vitamins and spends hours in the gym. “Pingueros are better paid than the most regal prostitutes,” he points out while lifting several pounds of iron to render his biceps irresistible.

At the gym he met Susy, a transsexual who is also in the business. She helped him find more select clients with more money. They both work without pimps, although there are groups of pingueros that pay others to protect them as they try to make a living in certain territories. On the corner of Payret Theater one can only work if “one is protected” because police harassment is very harsh, explained Susy on the first week of friendship.

The police know the hook-up zones well. Some of the officers fight to patrol those corners or streets to get money in exchange for looking the other way. It’s a profitable business, where the pinguero has everything to lose if he doesn’t give the cop a piece of the prize or do him a sexual favor.

Sandor prefers not having to show himself off on the street, instead he looks for his clients inside of clubs, cabarets, and other local party scenes. His ID with a transitional Havana address expired and he is now illegally in Havana. If he comes across a troublemaking policeman, it’s very probable that he will be deported to his home province.

Since he arrived in the city, he has been detained on various occasions. He has three warnings and could be tried for the charge of pre-criminal dangerousness. The last time he was inside a police station, the officer told him that he knew what he was doing, so he changed his area of operation from Old Havana to Vedado and Playa.

The danger is not only to end up in a courtroom, it’s falling victim to police extortion and having the entire night’s earnings snatched away

The danger is not only to end up in a courtroom, it’s falling victim to police extortion and having an entire night’s earnings snatched away. If he had a pimp, then he would protect him and keep la fiana, or the police, away, but since he works alone, he needs to deal with those in uniform. The worst thing is ending up in a cell, because there anything can happen. 

The price of meat by its hanging weight

Every day, the market becomes more competitive and each client wants the best porcelain for the smallest price. The illusion of buying a home or supporting a lover with what you make is a thing of the past. A wrinkle, a bit of belly that may show when you strap your belt will signify tens of convertible pesos in losses. “On facial and body treatments, gym and clothes alone, I spend most of what I make,” he says while showing us his Dolce & Gabbana underwear. Most likely they are a counterfeit of the Italian brand, but, even so, they cost about a month’s earnings for a regular state worker.

He doesn’t scout his clients on looks because he confesses that his work does not give him pleasure and it’s been a long time since he has felt anything. In order to give a good performance of his role, he tries to think of some porn film or he drinks some alcohol. Sometimes he thinks of a girlfriend he had back in his town, when he still wore his middle school uniform and life seemed simpler.

But that was a long time ago. Now he has to work very hard. Cuba continues to be a cheap destination for tourists searching for a night of wild passion, but there are many young people for sale and prices decrease. For months he disguised himself an “intellectual” with sandals and went to Plaza de Armas. There, he feigned looking at books on displays and branded the yumas, capturing various sleepless admirers of Che who wanted to feel “the clay of the new man.”

Susy has shown him how to tell the ones who are forrados (the wealthy ones) apart. It’s in the details; like being treated to bottled water or a Heineken beer on the first date. He once knew a German who, in August’s midsummer heat, would pack his own beverage in his backpack and wouldn’t even offer a sip.

The man turned out to be so stingy that Sandor got payback and applied la segunda, which is to take him in a taxi to where, supposedly, they will spend the night. The client would have paid for the room in advance and when he gets out, the driver hits the gas and “if I once saw you, I no longer recall.” He later had to share his earnings with the taxi driver, but at least he taught the miserly man a lesson… “so he learns,” he would chuckle to himself for weeks.

Cuba continues to be a cheap destination for tourists searching for a night of wild passion, but there are many young people for sale and prices decrease.

The best case is when an old client recommends a pinguero to his friends and so more come over. Sandor spent some months with a group of Japanese businessmen because of that, but the Cuban government didn’t pay them what it owed and no one from the company ever came again. When he remembers those days his face lights up and he shows off a gold tooth, “it’s a shame they didn’t come back, because they were very polite and had a lot of money.

In the world of the pingueros there’s someone for every taste and every wallet, but Sandor explains that “the one you see there, with the nice watch and the fancy cellphone, most likely if a yuma propositions him for 20 CUC he will say no” and he will demand that he give him more than the 150 he already has in his wallet. But those older than 20 can’t make such high demands. “Fresh meat, the fresh meat always wins,” he says with some melancholy as he touches his hardened thigh muscles from hours at the gym.

When Sandor closes a deal, he goes off to a privately rented room. A bed, condoms, and it’s all set. Nowadays he prefers private rooms to hotels because they’re more intimate and he also gets a commission for taking a client. Some of them are just like hotel rooms, with air conditioning, Jacuzzis, minibars, and mirrors on the ceiling.

Sometimes he gets a client who wants a longer relationship. Those are the most yearned for. The biggest success of the operation is finding a foreigner that will support them from overseas. The highest price for his caresses is to manage to leaving the country. But, make no mistake, on the other side he says he wants to abandon this lifestyle. “I’ll load bags onto ships with my bare back or mop floors in a hospital, but I won’t return to this filth.”

For the moment, while waiting for the foreigner who will get him out of here comes around, he dreams of buying a motorcycle. When he has it, he wants to show it off in the same areas he has offered his goods, but this time with a “hot girl with a killer body” on his arm. That will be his small revenge for all that’s past.

Maybe he’ll go back to his town, to see what’s become of his dad. He will take a bottle of aged rum for him and get his grandmother some new perfume. From that trip “I’ll come back with a country girl to wash and iron my clothes who I can also introduce to the business.” He plans to live off of her for some time, but, if they have a child, “he has to get out of this shit, he has to get out of this shit.”

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Internal contradictions, solutions and the new politics of the United States / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 29 January 2015 — The main contradictions in Cuban society lie between the concentration and centralization of property ownership and decision making of all kinds, and the broad cultural, technical and professional training of Cubans, eager to improve their material and spiritual living conditions. The unviable state-dependent employment model has been incapable of satisfying these needs.

Its origin is the conception of socialism inherited from Stalinism, which was based on the concentration of ownership and decision-making, and the system of wage-labor for the State, with everything administered by the Communist Party: a State-monopoly capitalism that sharpened all the conflicts of the exploitative wage system.

The lack of a solution to these problems has stalled the productive forces, the development of society, economic progress, modernity and improvements in the living conditions of the great majority of the population.

The solutions move to increase the participation of citizens in property, ownership of the results of their work, and decisions of all kinds: economic, political and social. Democratization of politics and socialization of the economy are also imposed.

But “state socialism” blocked these solutions, almost eliminating the small and medium proprietor, preventing the development of forms of free labor — unionized or otherwise — the free-management of production, the social economy, and restricting the democratic participation of citizens in political matters.

Now, with the normalization of relations with “the enemy,” there is no danger of military aggression, always used as a justification to postpone the empowerment of the people, and the Cuban government should not delay any further moving in this direction.

The solutions move to increase the participation of citizens in property, ownership of the results of their work, and decisions of all kinds

The return to power of groups of oligarchs allied to American capital would not resolve these contradictions – rather it would increase them – newly excluding workers and citizens in general from economic and political power, with concentrated ownership passing from the hands of the State to the huge capitalist entrepreneurs, and political power from the Communist Party to another party that could act at will without submitting itself to democracy.

The proposals made from the positions of Participatory and Democratic Socialism, since 1991 with the 4th Cuban Communist Party Congress, raise the need to advance this process of democratization and socialization of politics and the economy. Traditional opposition sectors have also presented similar demands.

In 2006, networks of the international left published “Urging the Cuban Revolution to Advance Entrepreneurial and Social Self-management” and sent it to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and the Government. The following year, they published “15 Concrete Proposals to Revitalize Socialism in Cuba.” In 2008, we publicly presented the document “Cuba Needs A Participative and Democratic Socialism, Programmatic Proposals,” and with the view of the 6th Congress of the PCC and the entire Cuban people, we announced our “Proposals to Advance Socialism In Cuba.” More recently, we published “14 Keys for the Padlocks that Depress the Cuban Economy.”

These and other documents of the broad democratic left argue the need to democratize the party and the society, free up self-employment and cooperatives, and especially to involve employees in the direction, management and profits of state enterprises, without ignoring the necessary spaces for state capital, domestic private capital, and foreign capital.

The neo-Stalinists have tried to prevent the people from having knowledge of these ideas and a part of the traditional opposition has tried to ignore them.

The “update of the model” did not resolve these conflicts — although it introduced dynamics and presented proposals concomitant with participative and democratic socialism — due to its limitations, state-centric origin, biased legislation and its application of the same traditional bureaucracy present in a State willing only to strengthen its total control and never disposed to transparently bend toward the essential.

In this scheme, the “update of the model” has not been able to accomplish substantial modifications in what continues to block the development of a socialized economy directly in the hands of the citizens.

The recent agreements between the governments of the United States and Cuba come when all the problems of Cuban society are aggravated and the insufficient “updating” is exhausted, unable to attenuate those problems.

The inability of the State-Government-Party to understand the urgent need to develop popular autonomous control of the economy and the political life of the country is worrying

Today, with the persistence of a high level of ownership concentration and centralization of decision-making and its respective mechanisms and laws, the economic and political structure of the country appears unprepared to absorb the impact represented by the new US policies.

The inability of the State-Government-Party to understand the urgent need to develop popular autonomous control of the economy and the political life of the country is worrying.

Bureaucratic obstructionism at all levels, at fault for the slow “updating of the model,” seems to be playing the same game with respect to the normalization of relations with the United States.

The democratic left is also concerned that the eventual increase in investment will be directed only to state enterprises, which will not resolve the already exposed internal contradictions of Cuban society and will lead to an alliance between monopolistic State capitalism and huge American capital which, logically, will results in greater exploitation of Cuban workers.

While there are American business sectors whose only interest is to do business in Cuba, the Obama administration is also interested in supporting “non-state” businesses, which they welcome.

The issues of democracy and human rights in the United States and Cuba are a matter for their people, not the governments of both countries, which should respect the Cuban people’s sovereignty and their capacity to decide their future. The role of the governments is to create conditions so that people can exercise their sovereignty.

Cuba should open a process of dialog and negotiations between all the visions and projects, political, social and economic, led by a new constituency, capable of harmonizing in democracy all the interests present in the country.

The enunciated American policies to economically and politically empower the citizens don’t hide their intentions to influence the internal politics of Cuba, which are being manipulated by the new-Stalinist mentality, the official press, the political structure and foreign “leftists,” like the “imperialist [intention] to overthrow the Revolution by other means.”

The US government may be making a mistake by stating that its new policy is designed to achieve the same strategic objectives of the previous failed

The US government could be making a mistake by stating that its new policy is intended to achieve the same strategic objectives as the prior, failed, policy. If the objectives continue to be to provoke political changes in Cuba, the American government should ask itself if it would like Cuba to propose the same objectives in its policies toward the United States.

The objectives of the new policy, if they don’t want it to backfire and be counterproductive, should be to live in peace with Cuba, to support its economic development and to facilitate, with the elimination of pressures on the Cuban government, the Cuban people being in a better condition to decide their destinies, without political changes imposed from outside.

For its part, the Cuban government must consider that methods (policies) must predominate over ends (strategy), so that the fact that the United States has changed its policy – from one of pressures and isolation to one of dialog and rapprochement – should influence what prevails in this latest approach.

There are those in the bureaucracy and in the opposition who believe that the problems of our country can only be resolved with the help of the United States. Those who think this way don’t seem to recognize the character of the internal contradictions nor their solutions, such that it will be difficult to find support for their plans among the great majority.

We appreciate the support of Obama and his administration for respect for the human rights of the Cuban people, and for their offer of assistance to non-state businesses and to facilitate people’s access to the Internet. But the democratization of the Cuban political system, the decision about the form of government, and the democratic election of our representatives, these are our tasks and the more the Cuban government feels that the United States is interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs, the more difficult is the situation of Cubans in Cuba and the more the current government will oppose this process.

The more the Cuban government feels that the United States is interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs, the more difficult is the situation of Cubans in Cuba

 Accelerating all the transformations toward a greater democratization and socialization of political and economic life should be the priority in order to cushion the impact of the new dynamics generated by the “normalization” and to guarantee that internal changes are driven by citizen empowerment and not by external forces. Something that appears to be impossible as long as the go-slow bureaucracy continues to have sufficient power to block the necessary transformations.

The difference between changes being promoted from within versus from outside could mark aspects of the independence and sovereignty that would appear in the future, sooner rather than later.

The current contradictions could exacerbated, rather than resolved, and the call for normalization of relations with the United States could stalemate or fail through not achieving the dynamics a new US policy could generate, and through lack of respect by both governments for the interests of the Cuban people who, in their vast majority welcome the normalization, but who also – for the most part – reject outside interference.

Early Farewell to the CUC / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Several people stand on line at a currency exchange (CADECA). (EFE)

Several people stand on line at a currency exchange (CADECA). (EFE)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 January 2015 — It was barely 10:00 am Wednesday, January 28th, and the currency exchange (CADECA) at Belascoaín had no national currency (CUP)*. One of the tellers explained that he had only several 50 peso bills and that was it until the “cash truck” arrived.  Some customers, leaving because they could not transact business, stated that this has become the norm, not only at this currency exchange, but also at the one on Galiano Street, across from the Plaza del Vapor.

These are virtually the only two currency exchanges operating in the municipality of Centro Habana after most of them were converted to ATM’s, so both exchange of hard (i.e. foreign) currency to Cuban convertible currency (CUC) as well as CUC to CUP implies traveling to some CADECA or to Banco Metropolitano, both located at some distance, and the likelihood of having to stand on long lines before being able to complete the desired transaction.

Another difficulty that has become common in both CADECA and ATM locations is the absence of bills in denominations smaller than 100 or 50 CUP, which also distresses the population, especially the elderly, who receive their pensions in debit cards and are often unable to withdraw all of their money, since there are no 5 or 1 peso bills available. In these cases, they need to wait a whole trimester or quarter until enough funds accumulate in their accounts to cover the minimum denominations of 10 or 20 CUP, a ridiculous amount compared to the high price of any market product, but what is significant is that the affected individuals depend almost entirely on this income.

Since the start of 2015, Cubans who receive remittances from abroad or convertible pesos by other means are quick to exchange their money into the national currency. Those who receive larger amounts – on the order of 100’s of CUC, in general the owners of more thriving private business — prefer to use the black market to exchange their funds into US dollars. The common denominator is that nobody wants to hold CUC money, which, until recently, was in high demand and CADECAS would even often run out of.

Announcement of a new national currency bill being issued into circulation in February, in 200, 500 and 1000 peso denominations, coupled with the ability to access the former “hard currency market” with either money, has sounded the drum-roll in people’s psyche as a prelude to the much anticipated monetary unification. People fear that an official changeover will take place that will carry penalizing fees that will cause serious losses to people’s pockets.

Fear is running throughout the population that an official changeover will take place suddenly, with extremely high fees that would produce serious loses to their pockets

The expectation is felt, by osmosis, in the capital’s agricultural trade networks, especially in meat markets that are not “state-owned”, where either one of the two currencies was accepted a few weeks ago. “Mother of Mercy, give me national currency!” is the butcher’s cry at Combinadito de Sitios in Centro Habana when a customer brings out 20 CUC to pay for a cut of pork meat whose price these days of non-ration cards has risen to 45 Cuban pesos per pound. “Country farmers don’t want CUC, my brother, they have a lot of money** and are really afraid of the monetary unification. They won’t sell me meat unless I pay in national currency”.

Something similar is happening with peddlers with street carts, who still accept payment in “convertible” currency for retail sales, but their wholesale suppliers are demanding payment in national currency for their products. A street peddler in my neighborhood states “farmers have high incomes and almost all producers have accumulated large sums. None of them wish to lose when the currency is unified”.

The lack of information and clarification from the official media creates uncertainty and speculation in the population.

It is evident that, once more, the lack of information and clarification on the part of the official media are causing uncertainty and spreads speculation throughout the population, giving way to obstacles such as the (unexplained) shortage of cash in the CADECA, increasing the demand for US dollars in the black market foreign exchanges.

With the imminent introduction of the new denomination bills, clear evidence of the very high inflation rate in Cuba, nothing is known about a monetary unification that -according to official notification- will be gradual and will “not affect” Cuban pockets. For now, it is expected that, when it takes place, the official exchange rate of 25 pesos in national currency for each CUC will not continue, a transaction with which the CADECA and the state commercial networks have operated to date. Our experience, after decades of deceptive monetary maneuvers, has motivated the popular wisdom so that, already, before the dreamed about monetary unification, Cubans are shedding was has been the last few years’ supreme sign of Cuba’s status: the CUC.

Translator’s notes:

*See here for a longer discussion of the history of Cuba’s currencies and the plan to move to a single currency. Briefly, Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, also called moneda nacional (national money), abbreviated CUP; and Cuban convertible pesos, abbreviated CUC. In theory CUCs are a hard currency, but in fact, it is illegal to take them out of Cuba and they are not exchangeable in other countries. Cubans receive their wages and pensions primarily in CUPs, with wages roughly the equivalent of about $20 US per month, and pensions considerably less. The CUC is pegged 1-to-1 to the American dollar, but exchange fees make it more expensive. The CUP trades to the CUC at about 24-to-1. 

**It has been a common practice in other tightly controlled countries, when new currencies are introduced, to limit the total amount of money people are allowed to exchange and/or to require documentation of the sources of larger sums. As the old currency becomes instantly worthless domestically and internationally, people who have been ‘hoarding’ it can see almost all their savings disappear. Cubans fear this could happen with the elimination of the CUC.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“Our actions can make people lose their fears” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar and Jose Daniel Ferrer

José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)

José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 January 2015 — Few could imagine that this activist, born in the east of the country and leader of Cuba’s most numerous opposition organization, is also a compulsive reader and an avid collector of famous quotes. Conversing with José Daniel Ferrer is like a trip that starts with a pamphlet cast in the streets of Palmarito del Cauto, then jumps to the best texts about the French Revolution, and ends in the pages of some modern psychological treatise.

Yet, the biggest pleasure of speaking to a man like him is to see him behave as if he were free, despite the police surveillance and the years he has spent in prison. During a quick visit to Havana, Ferrer answered some questions for the readers of 14ymedio about the current situation of activism in Cuba and the new stage that is opening up for dissidents.

Escobar: How does the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) view the negotiations between Washington and Havana?

Ferrer: This process, which started after 18 months of secret talks, will be very positive in bettering the difficult life conditions of our people. However, the final result will best be appreciated as the announced relaxation of policies is implemented and also in the way that it is put in practice. If it is applied in an intelligent manner and is consistently complemented by solidarity and support to the independent civil society, it will yield better results than the prior policies. Continue reading

“I Live Happy Because I Live Without Fear” / 14ymedio, El Sexto

Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’

Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’

  • El Sexto tells of his incarceration in the Valle Grande prison

14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 January 2015 — Danilo Maldonado, the graffiti artist known as El Sexto, finished a month in prison this January 25. He was arrested while riding in a taxi whose trunk was carrying two live pigs. The animals were painted green and each bore a name written on his side. On one could be read Fidel and on the other, Raul.

The artist’s intention was to release them in Central Park in order to recreate a rural tradition in which one tries to catch pigs with the added difficulty that their bodies are smeared with grease. His frustrated performance art was entitled Animal Farm, in Memoriam.

The light blue Lada that was transporting him was intercepted by three Revolutionary National Police patrol cars. The agents took away the identity cards of Danilo and the vehicle’s driver and took them to the Infanta and Manglar Station. Two days later, they transferred the artist to the Zapata and C unit where a prosecutor told him that he would be taken to trial. He stayed in those dungeons seven days until he was transferred to the central police station of Vivac de Calabazar, where he spent another seven days.

It happened that Vivac was the destination for dozens of arrestees accused of trying to participate in the performance announced by performance artist Tania Bruguera in the Plaza of the Revolution last December 30, which was interpreted by authorities as a counter-revolutionary provocation. Some of those arrested, who learned of his presence at the place, shouted, among other slogans, “Freedom for El Sexto.”

From the Valle Grande prison, where he is now, Danilo has sent us some jail anecdotes and a couple of drawings.

The Tank

When I arrived at Valle Grande they took blood samples for the lab, shaved my head and beard. They also photographed me. During my stay in Vivac, they had diagnosed me with pneumonia, for which reason I was carrying antibiotics with me, but they took them from me and have not seen fit to return them to me so far, nor has a doctor listened to my chest to find out if I am the same, better or worse than when I arrived here. To make matters worse, I am surrounded by smokers who do not care at all that I am sick and asthmatic. Continue reading

The spy who never wanted to be one / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The journalist Jose Antonio Torres.

The journalist Jose Antonio Torres.

  • The unusual story of ‘Granma’ journalist sentenced to 14 years in prison

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Santiago de Cuba, 27 January 2015 — Just outside the building, a ditch carries sewage down the street. Several children jump from side to side of the stinking canal which later runs through Micro 7, a neighborhood in the José Martí district of Santiago de Cuba. For a few years now the neighbors have pointed to number 9 on one rough block and said, “That’s where the Granma newspaper journalist lives.” Today the family bears the stigma of a journalist who is in prison, where he is serving a sentence for espionage.

The steps are rough and uneven. At the top improvised bars cover the door to the house. I knocked for long minutes, but no one answered. Mayda Mercedes, José Antonio “Tony” Torres’s wife, only received me another day, with a certain tremor in her voice while looking up and down the street. There I managed, for the first time, to see the court ruling that twisted the fate of this man, as a bolero says, “like a weak tin rod.” Continue reading

The New Scenario / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Roberta Jacobson at a press conference at the residence of the head of the US Interests Section in Havana (Luz Escobar)

Roberta Jacobson at a press conference at the residence of the head of the US Interests Section in Havana (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 23 January 2015 – The possibility that some day the dispute between Cuba and the United States would ever be solved, the discussion about how to accomplish it having been successively postponed, seemed so remote.

If we were to identify in a simple form the background of the disagreement between both contenders, we would have to say that it can all be reduced to the intention of the Cuban government to implant a socialist regime with a single party and without private property, in the face of the geopolitical will of the United States to maintain in the region a homogenous system of representative democracy and market economy.

The fact that Cuba became the first socialist country in the Western hemisphere sustained the dream of Nikita Khruschev to some day see the hammer and sickle flag waving over the Capitol in Washington. Perceived from afar, the problem qualified as one element of the contradictions of the Cold War. Continue reading

2015 Partial Elections: an Old Woman Wearing Rouge / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Billboard for the 2008 parliamentary elections. "Cuba in elections: without masters, without impositions"

Billboard for the 2008 parliamentary elections.
“Cuba in elections: without masters, without impositions”

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 19 January 2015 – Next spring, Cuba will hold the first election process after the announcement of the restoration of relations with the imperialist enemy. Everything indicates that the authorities of the Island are ready to stand the test of what the democratic makeup should look like to create an impression of positive change. For this reason, they are rushing to create their own mechanisms for “approval” with the democratic systems in the region.

If the US President wants to see democratic change in Cuba, the regime’s double-dealers are working on it. After all, the old adage has already stated it: “It is not enough to be Caesar’s wife; it is a must, in addition, to appear so.” Though we Cubans are aware that the innovations brought about by the hand of the same government that curtailed civil liberties are only imitations of those dilapidated and unkempt old buildings in order to prolong their existence, and that, in the popular jargon we refer to as “an old woman wearing rouge.” Continue reading

Yes to Regulation, No to Control / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin

Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin

14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Camagüey, 21 January 2015 — I interviewed Fernando Pérez in a small room of that little movie theater is still left in Camagüey one day after the premiere of his latest production, La pared de las palabras (Wall of Words), a stellar film about which I didn’t ask a single question. I decided not to interview the film director and instead question the intellectual, the public figure who contributes more than just his works to the daily life of Cuba.

Fernando Pérez deserves, and can handle, any difficult question one can think of. His films, never boring and with noteworthy depth, reveal a certain level of social nonconformity and demonstrate high cinematographic and intellectual capacities that transform the slim and modest man into a very serious subject. Despite being thoroughly deserving, the cinematographer isn’t inflated with the airs of a great artist or a prominent public figure and treats with kindness both his public and the press. Continue reading

A Letter to Fidel Castro from ‘A Revolutionary Cuban’ / 14ymedio

Fidel Castro billboard: "Fight against the impossible and win"

Fidel Castro billboard: “Fight against the impossible and win”

Dear Fidel,

I know you’re dead. Despite their attempts to hide it from me, to deny it or to lie about it with false letters bearing your signature, I am convinced of your death.

I don’t believe you capable of abandoning us now, at the moment when we need you most, because that’s not what you have accustomed us to. I can’t imagine you sitting back on your recliner enjoying a good book, listening to music or eating your favorite dishes knowing that the course of this country is changing at a vertigo-provoking speed that we are not used to and that we are now faced with the impossible task of writing a new chapter in our history without a leader. I can’t picture you oblivious or indifferent, absent as if you were roaming on an adrift cruise ship, or wandering some faraway lands, ignoring what happens on this island that gave you life, that gave you glory, and made you universal. I also know that you would never cower like an ostrich or a rat before the dangers that stalk us.

I know that if you were still alive you would be, right now, exhorting us to defy these dangers like you always have. You would be warning us of the threats that, invisible to us, only you are capable of seeing. If you were alive, we would have seen you, filled with emotion, embrace your Cuban Five, your heroes, for whose freedom we rallied behind you in every campaign, march, parade, and act. If you still held on to life, you wouldn’t allow the threat of the empire to fly again over our heads, except this time closely, too closely, and with new arms and combat tactics for which we are unprepared. You wouldn’t allow savage capitalism to return to Cuba nor for those whom we once vanquished by simply throwing eggs at them to come back as proud victors. Continue reading

“To remain entrenched” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Cuban and US Delegations at the Convention Palace in Havana (kkkk)

Cuban and US Delegations at the Convention Palace in Havana (Fotograma)

14ymedio, VICTOR ARIEL GONZÁLEZ, Havana, 24 January 2015 — We didn’t have to wait too long for an answer. “Yes, we have an enemy” was the title of an opinion article published some days ago by Pinar del Río’s Guerrillero, perhaps in honor to the provincial newspaper’s bellicose name. In any case, this was how the spokesman of the only political party in Cuba’s westernmost province appraised the country’s rapprochement to the United States, which started on December 17: “when the enemy is in your home, he becomes even more dangerous.” Continue reading