Maduro and the Disaster / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

February protests in Venezuela (Diego Urdaneta)
February protests in Venezuela (Diego Urdaneta)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 September 2014 — Lately, the Cuban personnel contracted by the Venezuelan Embassy in Havana are in the doldrums: there will be cutbacks among the long list of employees and no one knows exactly how many or who will end up “damaged.” It is rumored that when diplo-bureaucrats drop the guillotine–probably with the recommendations of the sinister Cuban advising commissioners–there will be a lot of Cuban workers “available.”

In case there is any doubt, not a single one of them is ever late or absent, though they were once the beneficiaries of all the Venezuelan petro-extravagances. All of a sudden, all personal problems, the irregular attendance, the requests for early leaves to attend parent-teacher conferences or doctors’ appointments ceased. As if by magic, discipline in the workplace has improved tremendously. No more playing computer games, gossiping about current TV soap operas which relieved the afternoon office boredom, and no more long telephone calls on the account of the Venezuelan exchequer.

The impending readjustment, however, should not surprise anyone. In recent months there were already signs that augured hard times: wages have been cut, lunches have lost their quality, size and variety, the “stimuli” and other benefits became more scarce, until they disappeared, as did the gargantuan parties for whatever reason, with eating and drinking galore, the ones that were attended by everybody, even the cat. Because, in the very Chavez and Bolivarian Embassy everybody was a big, happy family regardless of their rank and occupation, as befits genuine popular revolutions. continue reading

In Miraflores there is an alarming depletion of the “people’s” coffers and the time is now to limit the distribution and to cut the ribbons off the piñata

Everything points to an alarming decline, in faraway Miraflores, in the “peoples” coffers, and the time has come to limit distribution and cut the ribbons off the piñata so that only the highly anointed can reach them.

The cutbacks that the Venezuelan Embassy is applying in Havana are just an insignificant echo of a general strategy of patches and ineffective improvisations with which President Nicolas Maduro is trying to stop the most significant economic collapse that this rich nation has suffered in decades, which also include such draconian measures as a digital ration card–because poverty must keep pace with technological advances–an ill-advised policy of “fair prices” that triggered smuggling and corruption, as well as shortages of food and other staples in the markets, and also the irrational multiplication of the government’s bureaucratic apparatus to “control” the holes through which both capital and loyalties are escaping.

Preaching Poverty (of others)

The governments of democratic nations congratulate themselves when the standard of living rises under their administration. That said, any individual with a modicum of common sense should mistrust any government that declares that poverty is a virtue, and, as a consequence, a support for that country’s socio-political system. Such logic suggests that what that government will do then is foment poverty, since the more poor people there are, the more political capital there will be, and the more support the rulers will be able to count on.

In contrast, those who say they govern “for the poor” declare, as one of their main objectives, “to combat poverty”. However, in practice, they increase it and make it more acute, while they get richer. It’s axiomatic. One of the more conspicuous examples of this is the Nicaraguan Daniel Ortega, who had a meteoric metamorphosis from guerrilla to millionaire in his first term, when that “poor Nicaraguan people’s” revolution won out. However, poverty must have its charms, as Ortega was re-elected to the presidency in Nicaragua while Chavez, on his own time, was re-elected in Venezuela and, more recently, his disciple, Nicolas Maduro, was elected, though with a questionable margin. Meanwhile, the Cuban poor are so busy trying to survive poverty that for over half a century they have had no idea what presidential elections are.

These marginal and raucous sectors, prone to violence, are used by dictatorial regimes to suppress the disaffected.

Thus, the comment by Mr. Tarek el Aissami’s, governor of the state of Aragua, that loyalty to Chavez is greater the poorer the individual, follows the same principle of all “socialist” revolutions but it is not accurate: he did not refer to “the poor” as people of low income and few opportunities, but these marginal and raucous sectors, prone to violence, that are used by dictatorial regimes to intimidate and repress the disaffected. Afterwards, the Bolivarian project aims to sustain itself politically, not with the support of the poor–a growing sector–but with the terror imposed through these groups of thugs who have been sanctioned by the authorities to trample any civil complaint with impunity.

Because the truth is that, while the standard of living of Venezuelans has been falling hopelessly in recent years, particularly since the coming to power of Comrade Maduro, instead of Chavez’s supporters growing in numbers, protesters and anti-government protests have been increasing.

A bottomless barrel is not a barrel

It’s a given that every regime that tries to politically anchor itself on populist bases takes over the national and the private treasuries, not only as their own, but as if they were inexhaustible. Thus, they regard the coffers of the State to be bottomless barrels. Castro’s regime in Cuba is an old example of this, and Chavez’s Venezuelan regime today constitutes the most shocking paradigm if one takes into account the magnitude of wasted assets and the looting that have undermined that nation’s vast oil wealth in just 15 years.

Uncontrolled expenditures of the country’s wealth so it can develop “solidarity” programs with regimes akin to its ideals in the region, in an attempt to expand the old “socialist-imperialist” epidemic, expensive and unsustainable social programs, the squandering of public assets by the so-called Bolivarian bourgeoisie and its partners, among other bunch of nonsense, were not Maduro’s [In-Mature] initiatives but policies developed by him have precipitated and exacerbated their effects.

Thanks to the massive raid of Venezuelan oil treasure, we have witnessed the artificial extension of our vernacular dictatorship for almost 15 years

Today, when the economic absurdity of the Chavez project is reaching its highest point, and Venezuela, at the height of inefficiency and administrative corruption, is forced to turn to the international market to import the light crude needed to process its own oil, Nicolas Maduro’s fatal historical destiny emerges ever more clearly: the heir, by the will of the messianic departed, of authority that exceeds his meager capabilities, will end up assuming, all alone, the responsibility that should rest primarily on the founder of the madness, his mentor Hugo Chavez, now transmuted into an innocent little bird.

Thus, when the Chavez vessel eventually sinks in the waters of its own failure, its founder–who did not live long enough to pay the price of that hallucination he once termed “XXI Century Socialism”–will remain etched in the memory of millions of Latin American zombies as the philanthropist, the illustrious leader who plotted the itinerary; while Nicolas Maduro will pay the piper for a feast that will continue to cost today’s and tomorrow’s Venezuelans dearly.

Nice Cubans have much to feel sorry for in this regard, since, thanks to that massive raid of the Venezuelan oil treasury by the Chavez elite, we have been aided in artificially prolonging our vernacular dictatorship for almost 15 years.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Pot With Missing Cord Doesn’t Come With a Guarantee / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Fachada-centro-comercial-Puentes-Grandes_CYMIMA20140908_0003_13
Exterior of the new Puentes Grandes shopping center (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, Regina Coyula, 8 September 2014 — Tiendas Panamericanas [Panamerican Stores], owned by the CIMEX corporation, has just launched a grand (for Cuban national standards) shopping center. Utilizing the building formerly occupied by the old towel factory, Telva, on the corner of 26th Avenue and Calzada del Cerro street, a side addition was built, doubling the space. The opening of Puentes Grandes has been well received, being that until now only small stores have existed in that neighborhood, and the closest shopping centers — La Puntilla, Galerias Paseo, and Plaza Carlos III — are located about two miles away.

Spurred by curiosity, I visited Puentes Grandes last Saturday. Hundreds of people had flocked to the place. There was a line at the handbag security station, because bags and purses are not allowed inside stores that take convertible currency. There was another line at the entrance. We were going on half an hour already. In other circumstances I would have left, but resisted the impulse just to be able to write this article. Finally, I went through a narrow entryway where, as always, are those who wait, and those other, clever ones who butt the line. The interior entrance is quite spacious, with metal shopping carts, and other cute small plastic carts on wheels for which I predict a brief, happy life, and baskets. All is set up for the customer to select his purchases; merchandise is kept behind the counter in the perfume and household appliance departments.

A large interior arcade connects the grocery and housewares area with the hardware department, where I was detained by an employee. To go from one area to the other, you have to now go outside and re-enter, even though just days before you could walk directly between departments and check out at any register. Why is this? The employee doesn’t know, but he was assigned there to enforce the trajectory. I had placed various items in my cart, then had to stand at the register line, go outside, stand in another line to leave my purchases at the handbag security station, then go stand in another line to enter the hardware area.

continue reading

Among my purchases was a pressure cooker — a Columbian one. I don’t know whatever happened to those marvelous pressure cookers from the INPUD factory of the city of Santa Clara, which for a while now have not been on the market. At the exit of every Cuban store there is always an employee who compares purchases to sales slips

Employee: “You’re missing the guarantee for the pressure cooker.”

Me: “And where do I get that?”

Employee: “In Household Appliances.”

Back at Household Appliances, the young (all the employees are very young) lady told me “no,” in that overly-familiar, faux-affectionate way that many mistake for kindness:

“Mami (Mom), do you see a power cord in this pot? My department is *electrical* household appliances. The guarantee is given at the register.”

The check-out girl assured me that she had no guarantee certificates at the register, that it was at Household Appliances where I had to obtain one.

Among my purchases was a pressure cooker — a Columbian one. I don’t know whatever happened to those marvelous pressure cookers from the INPUD factory of the city of Santa Clara, which for a while now have not been on the market.

I know how to be patient. Besides, this ridiculous episode was prime material for my article. I returned to Household Appliances, where I told “my daughter” (she had called me, “Mami,” right?) if she knew the meaning of “back-and-forth.” The girl gamely took my pressure cooker and marched over to the register. The ensuing argument over the pot without a power cord was priceless. A half hour was spent on that silliness, just to conclude in the end that the guarantee for the pressure cooker is the sales slip.

I asked to speak with the management because it is inconceivable to me that a business can operate in this manner. The manager was not available, but there were various people in his office who turned out to be his superiors. I’m not going to repeat my complaint here — you can put two-and-two together and imagine it. The interesting thing is what those officials, who have been spending opening week in a kind of mobilization mode, told me.

For almost all the personnel in the store, this is their first work experience. The cash register system is new, the check-out staff do not understand it very well, and the registers frequently get stuck, producing electrical overloads that trigger the circuit breakers, leaving whole zones of the shopping center in the dark. On opening day they had to suspend a children’s event. Adults and children were run over by the crowd, and nothing less than a sacking of the place occurred, what with many people taking advantage of a power outage to eat and drink for free in the food court. From the hardware area there even disappeared an electric drill, among other, less valuable items. The neighbors (not the officials) say that even a flat-screen TV went out the door without being paid for.

These officials, who themselves are retail veterans, expressed amazement at the level of theft they are encountering here. For example, they told me that on Friday (the day prior to my visit), they had surprised five people in the act of thievery; two customers had had their handbags stolen inside the store and one other in the adjoining cafeteria; and all of this is in addition to the disappearance of many small objects from the shelves. They told me that they had never had such a hard time at any other store, not even at Ultra, which is located in a densely-populated and troubled area of Central Havana.

The solution (?) has been to divide the two areas of the shopping center, creating an inconvenience for the customer which I don’t think will solve the theft problem, because the cause of this phenomenon has to be sought outside the store.

I thanked the officials for their friendly explanation. However, as long as the customer of this center remains nothing more than an annoyance to the staff, the oversized photo at the door of the smiling young woman promoting efficient service and customer satisfaction will be just one more Kafkaesque detail of the whole picture.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Ministerial Hustling / 14ymedio

Habanarte in the Casa del Alba
Habanarte in the Casa del Alba

14ymedio, Havana, Luzbely Escobar, 11 September 2014 – When I was younger and went out looking for something to do in Havana’s evenings or nights, one day I stumbled over Julio. I went out with a girlfriend from Berlin and he was looking to make a living scamming innocent foreigners. He approached us intending to invite us to a Rumba Festival, but was disappointed by our refusal. The trick was easy: lead the unwary to Hamel Alley where there was almost always the sound of drums and right now there was the Festival he mentioned.

I had warned my German friend about those characters who invent everything to attract the tourists, and the truth was that, in those days of September 1993, there wasn’t much to do. Every encounter ended in a park, along the Malecon, or the home of a friend. Julio didn’t give up and told my friend, Angelica, that he knew a place where there was salsa dancing. We turned our worst faces to the old rockers and took off before they came up with something else. I remember my friend at the end of this episode telling me, “That’s what I would call cultural hustling.”

I’m telling this story because right now there is a cultural event called Habanarte. I support the theory that this is more or less the same thing, but organized by the Ministry of Culture itself. With a program that includes everything but which, in reality, brings little new, one more festival where supposedly a program specially designed for the event is created, which comes to be a kind of umbrella that covers everything and anything that’s happening in Havana lately. Thus, this umbrella festival takes credit for everything and even includes visits to museums on its list of events.

Presentations by the National Ballet of Cuba, Haydée Milanés, Descemer Bueno,
among others, are part of the shows absorbed by Habanarte. Also, the Art in the Rampa show, and even the sixth Salon of Contemporary Art, have been put under the umbrella.

An odd, or revealing, piece of data is that the Paradiso agency confirmed the participation of 1,500 Venezuelans and announced that the event in question is being marketed to tourists passing through Havana and Varadero. The perfect mix to ideologize even more the cultural spaces that, gradually, we Havanans have conquered to relax the everyday political ballad.

At the press conference that took place a few days ago, we learned that the Festival Information Center will be located at the Casa del Alba, the most rancid epicenter of political propaganda masquerading as culture. All this made me remember Julio and his fake musical event, and my friend Angelica who realized the farce in time. However, unlike that lie to get some money from unsuspecting tourists, Habanarte is a huge ministerial balloon scamming thousands of people.

(The event takes place from 11 to 21 September, but the official opening is on September 12, at 11 pm, at El Sauce Cultural Center, of Artex, with a concert by El Chevere de la Salsa, Isaac Delgado.)

The Cubans of 9/11 / 14ymedio

Marco Motroni
Marco Motroni

Born in Havana in 1945, Marco Motroni emigrated with his family at age 11. In 1963 he graduated from George Washington High School in Manhattan. He started playing in la Típica Novel, one of the most successful Latin orchestras in New York. Years later he began working as a broker at Carr Futures, whose offices, in 2001, were on the 92nd floor of the North Tower.

Juan La Fuente
Juan La Fuente

Born in 1940 in Cuba, Juan LaFuente emigrated to the United States to attend university. In 1964 he married Colette Merical, who was the mayor of Poughkeepsie between 1996 and 2003. LaFuente worked at IBM for 31 years and at the time of the events was working for Citibank. On September 11 he was attending a meeting at a restaurant North Tower.

Niurka Dávila
Niurka Dávila

Niurka Davila was 47-years-old when she died in the attacks. Her real name was Rosa, but she changed it when she was naturalized as an American citizen. She worked for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Nancy Pérez
Nancy Pérez

Born in Cuba in 1965, Nancy Peréz emigrated with her family five years later and settled in New York, She was a supervisor at the Port Authority at One World Trade Center at the time of the attacks.

George Merino
George Merino

Born in Matanzas in 1961, George Merino emigrated with his family when he was only 7 and settled in New York He lived in Bayside, Queens, and was a securities analyst at Fiduciary Trust, located in the World Trade Center.

Carlos Domínguez
Carlos Domínguez

The son of Cuban emigrants, Carlos Domínguez was born in New York in 1967 and lived in Nassau County, New York. In 2001 he was in charge of computer system security for Marsh & McLennan, on the 95th floor of the North Tower.

Michael Díaz Piedra III
Michael Díaz Piedra III

Michael Díaz Piedra III was born in Cuba in 1952. His family, plantation owners, emigrated to the United States in 1960. They settled in Florida and later, in New Jersey. He was 49-years-old in 2001 and was a vice president for the Bank of New York in charge of disaster recovery planning. His family said his desire was to return to Cuba the day it became a democracy.

From 14ymedio, 11 September 2014

Alert Sounded in the Informal Market / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Photo: Exterior of Terminal 2 of José Martí International Airport
Photo: Exterior of Terminal 2 of José Martí International Airport

Unauthorized vendors welcome new customs regulation with caution as they prepare to redefine strategies

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 3 September 2014 — “Call me from a land line” instructs the classified ad placed by Mauro Izquierdo, vendor of electrical household appliances. He has a wide range of items on offer, from air conditioning units to toasters, but his specialty is flat-screen TVs. This morning, his cautious response to all callers was: “Right now I’m in the midst of redefining my pricing structure until everything settles down with the new customs regulations.”

Mauro is but one strand in the complex tapestry of unauthorized vendors who are living through anxious moments with the new restrictions imposed by the General Customs of the Republic. Price increases are imminent in the black market, given that a good part of the merchandise offered through its networks enters the country via the flight baggage of so-called “mules.” “I have ceased all operations for the time being, because I don’t know if I will get the accounts with new prices that have been imposed on the airports,” the able merchant confirms.

His clients also have been preparing for the increase.”I’m finishing construction on my house and I had to run to buy lamps, bulbs and bathtub plumbing for the bathroom, because all of that might become unavailable very soon,” said Georgina M., looking to the future, as she concludes construction on a new residence in the western township of Candelaria.

14ymedio contacted approximately 20 vendors offering merchandise on classifieds sites such as Revolico and Cubisima. Although previously-listed products remained at their advertised prices, any orders going forward would come “with with new tariffs added to the price,” according to various distributors. Last week, Leticia was offering hair dryers, massage machines, and hair removers. However, now she is planning to raise prices by about 20 or 25 per cent on each product so as to be able to “finance the payments that those who bring the items into the country must make at Customs.”

The advance notice given of the new rules has allowed many people to be prepared. Rogelio, a Panataxi driver who makes trips from Terminal 2 of José Martí International Airport, refers to how even “two days before the new restrictions went into effect, what people brought was incredible — suitcases upon suitcases.” Even so, he noted that since yesterday, “travelers seem more cautious and, among those I have transported, I have seen a decrease in the amount of baggage they’re carrying.” Another taxi driver joined the conversation, saying that “people have now been made to jump through hoops.”

Even so, for other alternative vendors, the new measures barely affect their supply chain. “I buy space in the ‘containers’ of people who are on official missions, working in the embassies and consulates throughout the world, and that is how I bring in my merchandise — therefore the new rules don’t touch me,” boasted a seller of lawnmowers and commercial refrigerators, who enhances his ads with attractive photos of each unit and the guarantee that it’s “all done with proper documentation.”

It is still too early to measure the true impact on the informal market of the new customs rules, but sellers as well as merchants are preparing for the worst.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Have You Tried Cyanide… General? / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 1 September 2014 – Today is Zero Day, the fateful date, the day the General Customs of the Republic enacts its new restrictions for non-commercial imports. The measure called to mind an old joke that circulated in the nineties and is still heard today. In this humorous story, a foreign journalist interviewed Fidel Castro and he listed all the obstacles we had faced. “The Cuban people have survived the collapse of transportation, the food crisis and power cuts,” the delusional politician said proudly. The reporter interrupted him and asked: “And you haven’t tried cyanide, Comandante?”

Nearly two decades have passed and they are still imposing limits and prohibitions incompatible with development and with life. As if in this social laboratory they want to test what they can do to get the guinea pigs—which are us—to keep breathing, clapping, accepting. The new experiment doesn’t come in the form of a syringe, but through customs rules governing the luggage of every traveler. Measures that were taken without previously allowing commercial imports that favor the private sector. As if in the closed glass box in which we are trapped, they are cutting off the oxygen… and watching from the other side of the glass to see how much we can stand.

And you haven’t tried cyanide, Comandante? echoed in my head while I read “The Green Book” with the new prices and limits applied to imports from electric razors to disposable diapers. We lab rats, however, have not remained calm and quiet, like so often in the past. People are complaining, and with good reason, that these restrictions are suffocating self-employed labor and the domestic economy. Everyone is upset. Those who receive parcels from abroad as well as those who don’t, because some of those bouillon cubes or rheumatism creams end up reaching their hands through the black market or the solidarity of a friend.

The reason is not an altered chromosome, but a system that has failed to maintain a stable and high-quality supply of almost any product … except canned ideology and the insipid porridge of the cult of personality

It’s not that we Cubans have a specific gene to accumulate things and—out of pure neurosis—throw stuff into our suitcases from toilet paper and toothpaste to lightbulbs. The reason is not an altered chromosome, but a system that has failed to maintain a stable and high-quality supply of almost any product… except canned ideology and the insipid porridge of the cult of personality. While the shelves of the stores are empty, or filled with the worse quality merchandise at stratospheric prices, we have to bring from outside what we don’t have here. A law on commercial imports was not what we needed and the knife of customs restrictions falls very heavily upon us.

That the measures have come into force is still more evidence of the divorce between the Cuban ruling class and the people’s reality. In their mansions there is no lack of resources, food, nor imported products! They, of course, have no need to bring them home in their luggage. To stock up they reach out to the Ministry of Foreign Commerce, to the official containers that arrive at our ports, and a network of transport that brings chlorine for their swimming pools and French cheese right to their doors. The customs rules do not affect them, because they don’t pay excess luggage fees on their luxuries, which are not considered sundries, household items or food. They live outside the law and watch us locked behind the thick glass of the laboratory they’ve built for us.

Have you tried cyanide… General? Perhaps it would be faster and less painful.

What Purpose Did the Dual Currency System Serve? / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

"This commercial site accepts payment in national currency"
“This commercial site accepts payment in national currency”

14ymedio, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 27 August 2014–The information that the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) published on August 19th in the paper edition of the newspaper Granma about “the next issuance of high denomination bank notes (100, 50 and 20 pesos, CUP) with new security measures” brings back to the forefront the issue of the dual currency and its unification, as announced by the same official press, a change which will take place in the near future.

Security measures that will begin to appear in the above currency issues starting in 2014 consist of the placement of a watermark with each patriot’s image corresponding to each denomination placed in the upper left corner of the front face of such bills. In addition, another watermark will repeat the bill’s denomination on the upper left portion of said image. Meanwhile, lesser denomination bills will continue to carry the watermark with the image of Celia Sánchez, to the right of which will be added the corresponding denomination of the bill.

Some believe that such measures respond primarily to the large amount of counterfeit currency that, according to some, is currently circulating, which should gradually start to disappear as the new notes start to replace the existing ones in circulation. However, most of the random 50 people surveyed in Havana felt that this is a preliminary step to the announced monetary unification, which may be imminent.

This second view seems to be reinforced by the fact that just two weeks before the information of the BCC, Granma had published an article that addressed the issue of the dual currency and the need to eliminate the “distortion of the economy”, especially in the government sector. continue reading

The media’s insistence on the issue of the monetary system in such a short period of time must not be by chance, and it’s in line with the “baseball-informative” style to hit the ball before it’s pitched. This allows for people to assimilate more resignedly (more like passively) the effects that such a step might have on the common pocket. In that experiment is included the recent permission for payment in national currency at the stores that up until recently only accepted CUC (Cuban convertible pesos). So far, no information has leaked as to exactly when the unification process will begin which has already been announced; it will begin at the government level and will gradually extend to all sectors.

Solving a problem and creating another

Dual currency was created only in the interest of the government to collect all circulating currency in the country following the decriminalization of the American dollar.

Economist Joaquín Infante, of the Union of Economists of Cuba, said in a statement to Agence France Presse that eliminating the dual currency “is one of the most important steps” of economic reforms being implemented by President Raul Castro. He also felt that “monetary and exchange rate unification is an urgent, strategic decision” that “should have been made long ago.”

It probably would have been a tall order for him to express a more obvious truth: The dual currency was only created in the interest of the Government to collect all the circulating currency in the country after the decriminalization of the dollar, announced by Fidel Castro in his speech of July 26 1993, and then approved in the Official Gazette of August 13th of that year, dates that show that the then Cuban President took the “enemy” currency issue very personally.

So, the convertible peso (CUC) began circulating in 1994. Comparable to the US dollar, CUCs and dollars began to circulate simultaneously until 2004, when the dollar was finally withdrawn from circulation, though the penalty for its possession was not reinstated. Thus, for at least for 10 years there were not only two, but three currencies in circulation: The two Cuban currencies: the CUC, nicknamed “chavito” or “carnavalito” (little carnival because of its coloring); the CUP or non-convertible peso; and the US dollar. This had not happened since the national currency was created in 1914 during the presidency of Mario Garcia Menocal, when the Cuban peso made its debut as a legitimate currency in the country, with legal value and as the unlimited legal tender for payment of any obligation within Cuba.

More questions than answers

Cuban-style government, and, as a consequence, its monopoly on information too, are based on an unrestrictive conspiring principle: everything is a secret, supposedly “for security reasons, because we are besieged by a powerful enemy”, but on the issue of the much heralded and long-delayed monetary unification, reality points toward more plausible causes, such as a lack of liquidity and the economic and financial crisis that the system–and with it, the country–is going through where monetary duality creates a distortion that hinders the government’s interests in attracting foreign investors.

On the issue of the much heralded and long-delayed monetary unification, reality points to causes such as lack of liquidity and the economic and financial crisis of the system

Indeed, dual currency is not a “Fidel creation”. In China there was also a dual foreign exchange where one of the currencies was hard currency; the other one was not “convertible so it had a much lesser value. However, the reforms that allowed a rising of the economy in that country allowed the unification into one strong currency with internationally recognized value. It’s not the case of Cuba, where after a process of “updating the model” and countless incomplete reforms, the economy shows no signs of recovery and the currency lacks absolutely any value in the international market.

On the other hand, the loss of wages in Cuba by the huge difference in value of two circulating currencies has created uncertainty about the ability for public consumption once unification occurs. The increasing trend of commodity prices in the domestic market, coupled with the many restrictions that hinder the economic empowerment of citizens and the unfair wage regulations that will be applied to workers in foreign companies –onerously taxing hard currency in the change- is not conducive to optimism.

At any rate, the BCC has not yet informed the public about a timetable for unification, much less, the exchange value of the final currency… the humble CUP.

As my colleague Reinaldo Escobar said a while back in an article posted on his blog under the title of ¿Cambio Numismatico? (Currency Change?), “The question we ask ourselves is whether there will be a change in the value of our salaries. How many hours will we have to work–once the currency is unified–to buy 500 grams of spaghetti, a litter of oil or a beer?”

The good news is that from the currency unification on, Cuban workers will have a more clear awareness of what “real salary” is. Perhaps by then the official media will stop informing us about the statistics about poverty levels in other countries, including those “poorer than ours”.

And, at the end of the day, can someone explain what the purpose of the dual currency was for us?

Translated by Norma Whiting

72 Hours to Demolition / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Inspectors arrive to demolish an illegal construction (Luz Escobar)
Inspectors arrive to demolish an illegal construction (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Havana, Luz Escobar, 26 August 2014 — Impotence and indignation has spread among residents of La Timba, in the Plaza de la Revolution municipality, one of the Havana neighborhoods affected by the Government’s war on architectural illegalities. For years, thousands of families with housing needs built additions their homes, took vacant land to expand them, or improvised makeshift parking spaces. A campaign by the authorities against this social indiscipline has put the spotlight on all these irregularities.

The Housing Institute inspectors, in cooperation with the police, travel the neighborhoods looking for these “illegalities” and, once they detect a violation, deliver an order to the homeowner to tear down every inch of the constructions put up without permission. The situation not only hurts those affected but puts the serious construction problem in the country at the center of the debate.

It is estimated that there is a deficit of over 700,000 homes in Cuba. In addition, 8.5 out of 10 existing dwellings need repairs. During the year 2013 only 25,634 units were built in the entire country, of which 47.7% were erected by the occupants’ own efforts. continue reading

Havana is one of the most seriously affected areas, and it is estimated that it would take about 28,000 new homes to ease the situation.

Jazmin, age is 57, is responsible for three teenage granddaughters. She lives in La Timba, at the bottom of 39th Street with her husband, who is about to turn 60. A few years ago, they added two square meters to their home by taking over part of the building’s common garden. Aware of the family problems that had pushed them to do so, none of the neighbors ever complained.

“We live with my husband’s brother and father. Both are alcoholics,” says Jazmin. “They’re good people but when they’re drunk they are completely transformed.” The problems of living together got more acute and, over time, the family felt forced to divide up the house. “We had to figure out this little piece to put a kitchen and a bathroom,” she explained, pointing toward a construction made from blocks and a light roof.

Jazmin decided to commit the architectural illegality after her husband, who worked in construction for three decades, asked for a house but they weren’t given it. The family’s economic hardship keeps them from buying a larger house or renting another space for the problematic relatives. “If they knock this down, we’re going to have defecate in a bucket,” she explains. But the time for herself ended with the collapse of the walls she built. This Monday the police and inspectors put an end to her “social indiscipline.”

“If they knock this done, we’re going to have defecate in a bucket.” A neighbor explains. 

Her case is repeated all over the area. Maria and Juana are two elderly ladies, both over 80, who have surrounded their property with a barbed wire fence to protect themselves against the many robberies in La Timba neighborhood. They, also, were given only three days to dismantle the entire fence, but they’ve resisted doing it and now have legal documents to validate it. The Housing Institute, however, alleges that it was authorized by a prior law and by employees who no longer work for the State.

“What’s happening is they woke up pressured by someone from above and, as it’s easier to obey than to question, here they are,” as they say here, “following orders,” the older of the elderly ladies points out.

In the midst of the conversation Gladys appears, an impulsive neighbor who was also required to remove her fence and who shouted, at the top of her lungs, that she “didn’t feel like removing anything,” because the law says that every citizen has the right to protect their home. Furious, she accuses a neighbor of having built a parking space, sure of having permission because he works in military counter intelligence. “That didn’t go down well with me, I’m not stupid,” she says.

Tempers flare and the clock is ticking. In a few hours the inspectors will arrive.

The Swimmer Diana Nyad Returned to Cuba a Year After Her Feat / 14ymedio, Orlando Palmo

The swimmer Diana Nyad (from her Facebook page)
The swimmer Diana Nyad (from her Facebook page)

14ymedio, Havana, Orlando Palma, 29 August 2014 — Just twelve months ago, all eyes were on Diana Nyad while she swam between Cuba and Florida. This willful 64-year-old woman was the first person to cross the 100 miles from Havana to Key West without a shark cage, wetsuits or fins. A feat she tried four times, but that only on the fifth opportunity was she able to savor the taste of success. A year after her feat she has returned to the Island. She wanted to visit the place she left from, the Hemingway Marina, and meet athletes, sports authorities, and other people who collaborated in this endeavor.

“You always have to pursue your dreams,” Nyad reiterated, on touching land after 52 hours in the water. The well-known athlete had started the same crossing in 1978, but deteriorating weather conditions caused her to abandon it. Jellyfish stings and asthma came between her and her goal on the three other previous attempts. Last year she finally managed it, beating the record for the greatest distance swum by a woman without a shark cage, previously held by Penny Palfrey. The same route between the two countries had been crossed by the Australian Susie Maroney in 1997, but on that occasion with protection.

The route taken by Diana Nyad is a common route of rafters trying to reach the U.S. coast. The harsh conditions, the dangers of storm waves, and the abundant presence of sharks costs many lives each year.

Suchel, a State Monopoly With Feet of Talcum Powder / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Suchel at the Havana International Fair
Suchel at the Havana International Fair

14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 29 August 2014 — Just outside the Tienda Ultra (Ultra Store), an illegal seller advertises deodorants and colognes. It is precisely in August, this terribly hot month, when the shortage of hygiene products aggravates the bad odors and other annoyances. The problem has made the pages of the official newspaper Granma, which this Thursday published a story looking for answers to the lack of soap, cologne, toilet paper and deodorant. The text reveals the tortuous and inefficient ways of Cuban centralization.

The director general of the Cuban company Union Suchel said that “funding cuts” have limited purchases of raw materials. The statement of this official contrasts with the monopoly status of this well-known industry. Suchel has reigned for decades in the domestic market, given the absence of competitors to push down prices, diversify the product line and improve the quality of the offerings. Instead, the perfume, talcum powder and detergent giant has taken advantage of the privilege of being a State-majority consortium with zigzagging foreign capital.

For 2104, Suchel developed a “reduced production plan” due to the financial problems facing the entity. Even so, the volumes coming out of its factories point to mammoth nature of the company still so influential in its decline. Deliveries for this year in the unrationed market should reach 17 thousand tons of laundry soap, 17.9 thousand tons of hand soap, and 9.6 thousand tons of liquid detergent. Packing, transporting and distributing such quantities has become a real headache, especially in a country where corruption and the diversion of resources act as leaks, sucking dry the sources of products and services.

The position of guard in one of the many company plants trades on the black market for more than 5,000 Cuban convertible pesos

Suchel is undermined by the theft and embezzlement, an issue not addressed by the article published in Granma. The position of guard in one of the many company plants trades on the black market for five thousand Cuban convertible pesos. Working in one of those jobs guarantees the fortunate employee “under the table” earnings that exceed in three days what a doctor earns in a month.

The work of the guard consists of simply looking away, to allow the majority of the merchandise slip away, unregistered in the accounts. These undeclared goods are sold in the State’s own “hard currency collection stores” (as they’re called). The profit is distributed among the managers, drivers and the industry’s own security guards.

In the absence of a free market to test the efficiency of Suchel in competitive circumstances, the monopoly will continue to impose prices, quality standards and high costs, as well as to cause chronic supply problems.

Angel Santiesteban, Being Held in Military Unit to the West of Havana / 14ymedio

Angel Santiesteban through the blinds (14ymedio)
Angel Santiesteban through the blinds (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 2 August 2014 — Writer Ángel Santiesteban has been relocated to a prison under the control of Border Guard Troops in the Flores neighborhood near the town of Jaimanita, west of Havana. After weeks of uncertainty and conflicting information, a reporter for 14ymedio was able to locate and see this military unit.

For three weeks Santiesteban‘s situation has become even more confusing after the authorities in charge of keeping him under custody in the prison center in the Lawton neighborhood declared that he has “escaped.” He was immediately taken  to the police station at Acosta and Diez de Octubre Streets, where he could only receive visits from his closest relatives.

Freelance journalist Lilianne Ruiz, after touring the different places where it was stated that the writer being held, was able to see him and talk to him through the blinds. The guards of the Border Guard Troops confirmed to the journalist that Santiesteban is considered a “special case.”

Santiesteban himself assured Ruiz that he is not being prosecuted for a new offense, and that a brief letter will appear in his blog, The Children Nobody Wanted, explaining everything that happened during the last days.

Ángel Santiesteban serving a five-year sentence for the alleged crime of violation of domicile. Multiple irregularities during his trial have been denounced by activists and independent lawyers. A couple of weeks ago Reporters Without Borders released a statement calling on the Cuban government to clearly state the fate of the narrator and journalist.

University (for the Tenacious) / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Reinaldo Escobar

Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)
Henry Constantin during the interview (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 28 August 2014 — Henry Constantin is a native of Camagüey province, born in Las Tunas on Valentine’s Day, 30 years ago. He has been expelled from university three times for his ideas, but still believes he will obtain his journalism degree.

This slender, plain-spoken young man has founded two independent publications and has just returned from a cultural exchange program. For years he has been part of the reporting team of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence), and today he invites the readers of 14ymedio to share the challenges he has faced in his classroom journey.

Question: You hold the sad distinction of three expulsions from university. What was the first time like?

Answer: One day I wrote this question on the board: Who was the Cuban nominee for the Nobel Prize? My fellow students did not know, neither did the professor, so I wrote the name of Oswaldo Payá. continue reading

Later I selected for a research topic the actual level of acceptance enjoyed by the official media in the general population. I was failed, and that report was suggested as possible grounds for my expulsion. Finally, they lowered my grade for poor attendance — a false claim being that the majority of my colleagues had more absences than I did. That was the year my son was born and my professor/advisor had told me, “take care of that and don’t worry about absences.”

My son is now 8 years old – the same age as my problems.

Q: Even so, you tried again…..

A: A year later I was able to enter the University of Santa Clara journalism school. I was the only student who was not a member of the FEU (University Student Federation), and — in the university’s Internet lounge — I learned of the existence of alternative blogs. It was there that we founded a magazine called Abdala*, which we ultimately we named La Rosa Blanca* (The White Rose). We produced it without a computer, but still published five issues, until (another magazine) La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour) replaced it.

When I completed that course, they failed me for having produced a radio script dealing with the effects of the Huber Matos case on the broadcast media in Camagüey.

Q: Were you allowed to present it?

A: The professor thought it was heresy for me to stir up the case of that Sierra Maestra commander condemned to 20 years in prison for resigning his post. He suggested that I do a project on the journalism of José Martí. So I tackled the censorship suffered by the Apostle** at the hands of the Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper, La Nación. They failed me again, but by that time I had the right to reevaluation.

So I tackled the censorship suffered by José Martí at the hands of the Argentine government for his articles in the newspaper, La Nación.

I went to Camagüey for the weekend and when I returned (to the university) they were waiting to remove me from the premises. They informed me that I had been expelled from the graduate school by virtue of a disciplinary action — nothing ideological, of course!

Four men escorted me to the door and instructed the custodians to keep me from re-entering the building. They also instructed the newspaper Adelante and the Radio Cadena Agramonte station — where I had done my journalism practica — to call the police if I tried to enter.

Q: So that was your definitive goodbye to university classrooms?

A: I don’t surrender easily. In September, 2009, I took the aptitude tests to enroll in the National Institute of Art (ISA), in the school of audio-visual media. I attained the maximum score and was accepted. While at ISA, I worked on the magazine, Convivencia, edited by Dagoberto Valdes in Pinar del Río province. He proposed that I join the Reporting Council and I said yes. I also worked on the independent program Razones Ciudadanas (Civic Reasons).

Another project I participated in while a student at ISA was Hora Cero (Zero Hour). It began after a strike motivated by the bad food we were served. It consisted in staging encounters with persons outside of the institution. Jorge Molina and Gustavo Arcos came, but when we invited Eduardo del Llano, we were obstructed.

In May, 2011, they scheduled me to meet with the dean of ISA, to tell me they had discovered that I had been expelled from the graduate school. At that point I was three days from completing my courses, so I resisted, arguing that the other students should decide my fate. Once again I was removed by force from the premises, in a car that left me at the bus station. So that is the end of my history as a university student, and my obsession with obtaining a degree.

Q: And after the third expulsion?

A: I returned to Camagüey and re-initiated the Hora Cero (Zero Hour) project, at my own risk, in my own home. We started with exhibitions of the photos of Orlando Luís Pardo, a short by Eduardo del Llano, and music by some troubadour friends. Up to now, we have had good attendance by the public. The poet Maikel Iglesias, the theater troupe Cuerpo Adentro, the poet Francis Sánchez, and Eliecer Ávila with his audiovisual work, Un cubano más (Just Another Cuban), have also participated.

To Hora Cero have come university students, professors, neighbors, courageous people who dare to exchange ideas. Some attend who have been instructed to inform about what takes place in these encounters, and others who have been coerced for having received a simple invitation from me to participate.

The first time that State Security visited me, my mother — who at that time was serving on a mission in Venezuela — was threatened. They told her that if she continued supporting me, she could lose the bank account where her salary is deposited. Others have been told that Hora Cero is funded by the CIA.

Q: Have you gone back to your studies?

A: A year ago I heard about a program, Somos un solo pueblo (We Are One People), for young people who have had difficulty pursuing their studies here, and are given the opportunity to do a 6-month course in the United States. Classes in psychology, personal effectiveness, principles of business or sociology, among many others. It was a wonderful experience for me and I learned a lot.

Q: And now?

A: I think I will have my work cut out for me in the next 50 or 60 years, judging by how I see present-day Cuba. If I have any time left over I want to write fiction…but with the way things are, that will have to wait.

Translator’s notes:
* Both of these titles are from the poetry of 19th century Cuban patriot José Martí.
**Martí is referred to as the “Apostle of Cuban Independence”.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

What Does a Cuban Bring Home in Her Suitcase? / 14ymedio

Nuria's suitcase (14ymedio)
Nuria’s suitcase (14ymedio)

Nuria retired last year and this month she traveled to Miami, where her sisters live. On returning to the Island she showed 14ymedio what she brought home in her suitcase.

Let’s take a look at what she threw in her bags with brief comments from her about why she chose each product.

  • Two bottle of dishwashing soap. “There isn’t any in the spiritual centers and what they do sell here destroys my hands.”
  • Two packages of napkins: “In the snack bars they cut them in two and even in four, making them real onion skins.”
  • A stove lighter: “There aren’t any matches in the stores, and when you find them the heads fall off and burn my clothes.”
  • Two packages of bath soap: “I’ve spent years without washing myself with something soft and creamy, so I just couldn’t resist.”
  • Four pairs of jeans: “They last and I’m not going to pay the price the State charges for them in its boutiques.” continue reading

  • A package of coffee: “I know it seems like a crime, but I’m going to mix it with what I get from the ration book and it’ll last me longer.”
  • Two bottles of cologne: “Since Suchel reduced production, it’s something refreshing and fragrant for after the bath which has become a luxury.”
  • A packet of washing detergent: “I have clothes that are a little grimy and I’m going to see if this can restore the colors.”
  • A paper datebook: “The doctor who operated on my cataracts asked me for something to write down her appointments and I can’t go wrong with her.”
  • Four scouring pads: “With the ban on traders [importing such things for resale], mops and sponges have disappeared.”
  • A package of instant glue: “I need it to glue together things that have broken around the house.”
  • A package of candles: “I’m preparing for the blackouts, because every now and then the lights go out.”
  • Ten condoms: “At my age I don’t think you need them, but I brought them for my daughters because they say the ones at the pharmacy are past their expiration date.”
  • A jar of CoffeeMate: “I’m going to invite my friends to have a little coffee with this, to remind us of the old times.”
  • Two towels: “The only one I have I bought a decade ago and there’s so little left of it it doesn’t even dry you.”
  • 20 bouillon cubes: “This fixes a meal, if I don’t have anything to go with the rice I throw in a cube and at least it tastes of something.”
  • Two tubes of tomato concentrate: “I have so many cravings to eat some good spaghetti with real tomatoes, I couldn’t resist.”
  • Five school notebooks: “My granddaughter is starting elementary school in September and the study materials they give them there are poor quality.”
  • A tube of toothpaste: “My prosthesis will be gleaming with this.”
  • Two boxes of Tampax: “My daughters are dying for this, because the sanitary napkins on the ration book are annoying and not very absorbent.
  • A package of disposable plates: “I want for at least one day to have the pleasure to invite someone to eat and not have to scrub the dishes.”
  • Two rolls of toilet paper: “There is none in the stores and the newspaper Granma is printed on rougher and rougher paper, so I wanted to treat myself to something soft but sturdy.”
  • A swimsuit: “You’d think we didn’t live on a tropical island considering the high price of suits in the stores.”
  • A bottle of aspirins: “When I have a headache I prefer some real aspirins, not the kind that when you take them they stick in your throat… like the ones they make in Cuba.”
  • A jar of ointment: “I’m old, I have to have something on hand for sore bones.”
  • A roll of plastic bags: “My sisters laughed because I brought these, but they don’t know how many stores and markets there are that after you buy the merchandise they tell you they don’t have any bags to carry the products.”
  • A blood pressure monitor: “I’m tired of going to the family doctor and finding there’s no one there, because the doctor is on a foreign mission or because the water is off.”
  • Four razors: “So I don’t have to go out looking like a pirate with hair legs.”
  • A bottle of salt: “This isn’t easy to find here and when you can buy it it’s so damn and heavy it will barely pour.”
  • Four incandescent bulbs: “I can’t remember when I had light on the terrace and in the hallway because the energy-saving bulbs aren’t available and when you can find them they cost an arm and a leg.”
  • Some reading glasses: “I bought them in a wholesale market but at least I solved the problem, because in the Miramar opticians they wanted to charge me ten times more for some similar ones.”
  • Powdered onion and garlic: “Onions and garlic are so expensive in the agricultural markets that I can’t buy them.”
  • A small tin of olive oil: “I don’t want to die without experiencing that taste again.”
  • A universal remote control: “The one for my Panda television that they gave me during the energy revolution broke years ago.”
  • A DVD player: “My trip was especially to bring back this, because the truth is that I can’t stand the official programming.”

Nuria has also traveled with a handbag in which she brought personal belongings and some underwear. She’s happy about her “treasures,” so she shuts the suitcase, smiles and goes home to distribute the gifts and enjoy what she brought.

Another Member of the Magazine ‘Coexistence’ is Cited by Police / 14ymedio

14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 August 2014 – In an escalation that started weeks ago, another member of the editorial board of Convivencia (Coexistence) magazine has been summoned by the police. This Wednesday Javier Valdes received a citation for the following day at 5:00 PM, at the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) station in Pinar del Rio. Other notifications were sent a couple of weeks ago to Karina Galvez, Juan Carlos Fernandez and William Rodriguez, members of the editorial team and collaborators on the independent publication. 

Convivencia is a magazine created in the westernmost Cuban province, that recently celebrated its sixth anniversary and 40 issues. Its topics include culture, civil society, debates about the economy and politics, but also cover pastoral and ethical issues. Since its inception, the publication has been the object of police pressure and its director, Dagoberto Valdes, has been treated especially aggressively in the official media.

Pressures have also come from the General Customs of the Republic, who confiscated cameras and laptops from Karina Galvez and Juan Carlos Fernández after a recent trip abroad.

You Can’t Come In / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

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This venue reserves the right of admission (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, Rosa Lopez, 27 August 2014 – “You can’t come in,” a young doorkeeper emphatically tells a young man, while gesturing for him to move away from the door. When the target protests, he receives the explanation that in this crowded Havana club, “you can’t enter wearing shorts.” A sign posted at the entrance warns that the place, “reserves the right of admission.”

The story is repeated in many other places in Havana. The Charles Chaplin Cinema downtown posts a sign with entry restrictions. When you ask an employee if the rules are dictated by higher body, she says, “No, no. Management is in charge, there’s no law. We are the ones who decide.” And she adds, “We don’t allow people without shirts, or wearing flipflops, or behaving inappropriately.” It’s not unusual to see, however, flexible rules for foreigners. An Italian in short shorts—which could be confused with a bathing suit—passed through the lobby without being ejected.

In 2010, the Chaplin Cinema refused entry to a group of people trying to attend the premier of the documentary Revolution about the hip-hop group Los Aldeanos. Some of these citizens drafted a legal demand against the entity, charging that the segregation was based on ideological reasons, because they were activists, bloggers and musicians from the dissident scene, but it was unsuccessful in court. Years later, the downtown movie theater still sports a sign with restrictions on entry. continue reading

Welcome Cubans, but…

In 2008, one of the first steps taken by Raul Castro on assuming power was to allow Cubans access to hotels. According to the General President, that decision was meant to avoid the emergence of “new inequalities.” Nevertheless, native Cubans still can’t enjoy all the recreational areas of the country. The boats that run along the coast, the marine enclaves along stretches of the coast, and some keys still do not allow Cubans residing on the Island where they were born.

By the Bay of Cienfuegos a pleasure boat sails which doesn’t allow any Cubans to enjoy the excursion. 

By the Bay of Cienfuegos a pleasure boat sails which doesn’t allow any Cubans to enjoy the excursion. The reason, according to several dock workers, is fear that that the boat could be hijacked in an illegal attempt to leave the country. The argument reveals the drama of emigration, but also the continuing existence of an apartheid that makes those born in this land second-class citizens. The measure also violates the Cuban Constitution which guarantees, in Article 43, that all Cubans have the right to use, “without segregation, maritime, rail, air and road transport.”

So far, there are no national guidelines that justify such segregation procedures, especially in State facilities, where it is established that they are projected by law. Outside Pepitos Bar, located on 26th Avenue downtown, there is a sign that shows the use and abuse of the right admission “They are rules imposed by the administration,” says a worker at the center who didn’t want his name revealed.

The rights and duties of the consumer are often subject to arbitrary criteria. (14ymedio)
The rights and duties of the consumer are often subject to arbitrary criteria. (14ymedio)

The existing Penal Code establishes one to three years imprisonment or a 300,000 share* fine for an official who arbitrarily exceeds the legal limits of his or her competency. However, none of the lawyers consulted by this newspaper could remember a trial against any administrator or director of a public facility for irregularities in the “right of admission.”

The “house rules” that govern some public sites in Cuba go against even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to its Article 133, “Every person as the right to circulate freely,” and Article 27 also adds that every citizen “has the right to freely form a part of the cultural life of the community.”

Several State restaurants on Obispo Street prohibit nationals from talking with tourists. 

Attorney Wilfredo Vallín, director of the Cuban Law Association, published an article on the site Primavera Digital (Digital Spring), in which he asserted that “restricting, and at the extreme not permitting, access to public places to people who behave correctly, don’t cause disturbances, don’t bother anyone, is illegal.”

Several State restaurants on Obispo Street prohibit nationals from talking with tourists. Management claims the right to expel people from the premises under the pretext that they are annoying foreign customers. However, cases of verbal reprimands or expulsions of tourists for annoying a Cuban with their insinuations or proposals are unheard of. Having a passport from another country appears to grant carte blanche in these situations.

*Translator’s note: Under Cuban law fines are set as a number of “shares”; the value of a single share can then be adjusted, affecting all the fines, without having to rewrite every law.