Hong Kong: A Font of Inspiration / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Students during the march for "The Cuban Five" (Lux Escobar)
Students during the march for “The Cuban Five” (Lux Escobar)

14ymedio, Eliecér Avila, Havana, October 2, 2014 — I saw the images of the Cuban students’ march in support of “the Cuban Five” and against “terrorism” and “subversion.” Telesur also echoed the news. I don’t know if any other television network has covered this topic. What I do know is that the participants believed they were giving an indisputable show of strength, principle and, possibly, valor.

So what did the nation gain from this audacity? Nothing – except many public expenses.

In contrast, I watch what is happening in Hong Kong, one of the most economically dynamic cities in the world, where thousands of students have been able to mobilize massive public sectors in support of their call for free local elections. The central government in Beijing opposes this demand.

Let us compare these two situations, both of which are developing in Communist territories.

In one case, protesters are taking to the streets calling for more democracy and for respect of citizens’ ability to elect their own representatives, against obstructionist government forces. In the other case – the one here (in Cuba) – the demonstrators travel comfortably to their site on buses, with snacks, slogan-emblazoned T-shirts, and security detail all included. All this to make a show of boldness geared to and directed by an agenda that has nothing to do with student demands or social protests in our country.

The students in Hong Kong get by with using social networking applications that make a joke of state censorship. When denied Internet access, they communicate directly with each other. The Cuban students use powerful megaphones to shout their “Long Live!” chants to those who are not allowed Internet access.

The apathy of Cuban university students towards the state of the nation does not cease to astound me.

The apathy of Cuban university students toward the state of the nation does not cease to astound me. If the young people of our country, with their vibrant health and energy, do not defend our elderly, our poor, our workers – our own selves – who will do it? —The state? —The bureaucracy? —The very causers of our problems?

Of what use is a march which forgets that we live in a country without the least shred of freedom of the press? Where the workers cannot afford even to eat adequately with the wages they are paid? And where the capital city is crumbling? What manner of respect can a youth and university movement inspire if it is incapable of empowering itself to recapture its autonomy and liberty?

It is clear that these marches are not initiated by the students themselves. We should also recognize that many who will read this article, and its author, took part at some time in similar marches – to break the monotony of our class schedules – to ride the wave that everyone says is the correct one – or simply to have a free day’s outing in Havana. When we grow up a little and leave the ideological bubble which our university system has become, reality punches us right in the face. We realize then the extreme manipulation to which we were subjected in order to defend the interests of a minority comfortably in power because we put them there. And this hurts.

We realize then the extreme manipulation to which we were subjected in order to defend the interests of a minority comfortably in power….

Being that nobody learns a lesson unless he learns it for himself, we will have to wait for the many Olympic champions of enthusiasm to graduate—and then face the challenge of maintaining their own households as citizens and workers.

But by then it will be too late. By then nobody will arrange buses and snacks to facilitate their expressions of nonconformity. Alternatively, if they go and do it on their own, they will discover a little-known aspect of the system, which will increase their frustration but will clarify much in their minds.

Some will decide to leave Cuba and will easily exchange their “Long Live!” megaphones for the steering wheel of the comfortable car that the ideological enemy will allow them to buy in exchange for their labor. Others will settle for eking out any kind of living they can and … “we’ll see what happens.” There will always be those others who are set on attaining positions from which they will have to convince a new generation of youths and students to march against the “historical enemy.” Their contribution will be the mental castration of the masses – an indispensable step towards constructing “The New Man.” These are the worst.

Still and all, I am convinced that this cycle of disempowerment and deception of the people cannot last forever. I feel that we are ever growing in number—those of us who in every corner of this country, including the universities, feel responsible for contributing to the profound and vital change that we need. All we have to do is agree to work together, as those demonstrators in Hong Kong are doing with such commendable maturity.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Blessed be filtered water / 14ymedio, Elvira Fernandez

The lines are getting longer. Watting for water in nearby doorways
Watting for water in nearby doorways

14ymedio, Ciego de Avila, Elvira Fernandez, 26 September 2014 – “This water will satisfy you for today. Jesus will satisfy you for eternity, do you accept him?” it reads above the two taps, in one of the most useful and widely appreciated places in Ciego de Avila today. It is the people’s filtered water service point opened by the Pentecostal Evangelical Church in its Voice of Jubilee Assembly of God Church in the La Guajira neighborhood.

It rains frequently here, but the city suffers a scarcity of potable water. People are afraid to drink the water from the aqueduct network because it is almost always contaminated with sewage waste, due to the abundance of cracks and leaks in the pipes. For the people, in addition, in an environment where hygiene isn’t front and center, this water is one of the few chances to prevent contagious diseases such as cholera, which seems to be here to stay.

The modern filtration equipment has been donated by an evangelical congregation in the United States, which is dedicated to providing this type of assistance to countries facing humanitarian crises, such as Haiti. In Cuba they keep about forty similar pieces of equipment running. In Ciego de Avila province there is another in the Pentecostal church in the Venezuela municipality.

The modern filtration equipment has been donated by an evangelical congregation of the United States

Four days a week (Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday) the doors of the side yard of the church open to all, believers and non-believers, between 2 pm and 11 pm. At first they came with small bottles, but most have already made tanks, tanks and big jugs because, with a single trip and after waiting so long, they are trying to accumulate the water for several days. And the lines are getting longer again. The people waiting when the sun shelter in the doorways all around.

The church can not cope and, lately with very little water falling in the tank, they have to pay for water from the Communal Company’s pipes. A woman carrying several bottles says: “I have two children and I feel very safe when I can be assured of this water. In my house, no one wants to drink any other. But I’m worried, what if this disappears?”

Sign asking people to limit the water they take.
The demand is such that rationing is imposed. (EF)

Given the shortage, the increasing demand and the difficulties, expands fear of a reduction in service. A new sign has appeared on the church gate has caused general concern, as it heralds drastic rationing:

“We have little water, but we want to continue helping with filtered water, therefore, during this situation, we can only give you 5 liters per person. We expect your cooperation, thank you. God bless you.”

A Strange Foreign Policy / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

14ymedio, Fernando Damaso, Havana, 1 October 2014 — The foreign policy of the Cuban government, which promised to start with democracy and freedom, soon showed its tendency to ally with authoritarian regimes when it suited the government’s interests.

From the first months of 1959 the Cuban government maintained close economic ties and a careful political deal with the Franco regime, although publicly it criticized it. In the case of Latin America, it interfered in the internal affairs of less like-minded countries and gave its political and logistic support to local guerillas, with the objective of weakening the influence of the United States in the region. Most of the attempts were defeated and failed, not receiving the hoped-for popular support, so it became interested in African countries, where it sent military advisors and even regular Cuban troops.

The African adventures were financed by the Soviet Union in the name of “proletarian internationalism” and with the objective of consolidating socialist influence on the continent. Over more than thirty years and at the cost of damaging its prestige, Cuba unconditionally supported Soviet policy in international forums, even when Moscow intervened militarily in Czechoslovakia in 1968 to liquidate the Prague Spring, or when it invaded Afghanistan eleven years later. continue reading

Whatever the “friends” and the friends of “friends” did received immediate support, and everything the “historic enemy”—the United States—and the friends of the “enemy” did was censored. In fulfilling this irrational principle, the Cuban government increased its support for dictatorial or totalitarian governments in Asia, Africa and even in Latin America. This context includes the strange alliance between Cuba and Argentina between 1976 and 1983, when the military was in power in Buenos Aires. Kezia McKeague, a political scientist specializing in Cuba, explains it in the 50th issue of the Bulletin of the Center for the Opening and Development of Latin America (CADAL).

In this context is the strange alliance between Cuba and Argentina between 1976 and 1983 when the military was in power in Buenos Aires

“While relations were not always optimal, despite the conspicuous ideological differences both governments approached each other regarding the sensitive issue of human rights and established a mutual support, to prevent violations of human rights in both countries being considered at the United Nations, specifically before the [Human Rights] Commission,” Kezia McKeague wrote. The Argentine dictatorship’s then ambassador in Geneva, Gabriel Martinez, described this relationship as “optimal” and “extremely close” adding, “The Cubans always, always supported us and we supported them.” As Cuba chaired the movement of Non-Aligned Countries in those years, it also played an important role in the defense this organization mounted for the Argentine regime, as well as serving as “interlocutor” between the Buenos Aires delegation and Eastern Europe.

In those years, Argentina was looking for support for its claim over the Falkland Island, and it and Cuba needed to prevent the issue of human rights violations from being taken to the United Nations Commission of Human Rights: here is the reason for this strange relationship which, ignoring the ideology and principles so often proclaimed, responded to simple short-term interests.

In later years, Cuban foreign policy has maintained the same course, introducing the practice of “solidarity” as well, through offering and sending specialists in health, education, sports and other areas, as well as awarding scholarships for study in Cuba, receiving in return political support in international forums. While, in Latin America Cuba tries to consolidate a common front against the United States, regardless of the different ideologies, politics, and economies of the countries—The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) is the principle instrument—in the international arena it continues to maintain close relations with dictatorial governments and extremist movements, giving them its unconditional support: the dynasty that governs North Korea, some of the African countries with long-standing one-man regimes, the “family” regime in Syria, the totalitarian Belarus, or the Islamic Palestinian movement Hamas.

When voting in international organizations our government always starts from ideological principles

If we follow what is published in Cuba, our government and its representatives in international organizations always start from principles of an ideological character when it comes time to vote: supporting Russia in the annexation of the Crimea and condemning Ukraine for trying to defend its territorial integrity; condemning Israel for bombing Palestinian territory but not saying a word about the Palestinian attacks on Israel; sympathetic to Hamas terrorists and those they call patriots and freedom fighters, while accusing the Hebrews of genocide; opposing the bombing of the so-called Islamic State; applauding constitutional changes in “brethren” countries, where their presidents, intoxicated by the enjoyment of power, seek to be reelected indefinitely; they do not hide their sympathy for the Colombian guerrillas and, ultimately, they are against those who question and criticize, albeit respectively, and in favor of those who accept and applaud unconditionally.

Although it is undeniable that, in recent times, the Cuban government has maintained a more pragmatic foreign policy, managing to establish relations with countries with different political, economic and social regimes, and abandoning costly and unproductive offshore military adventures, it has not yet been able to develop a serious and viable policy of normalizing its relations with its principal neighbor, the United States. This constitutes, without a doubt, its principal unresolved foreign policy matter.

The Tokmakjian case and the snares of the law / 14ymedio

Cy-Tokmakjian-Fuente-The-Star_CYMIMA20140930_0002_13
The Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian. (Source: The Star)

14ymedio, Havana, Ignacio Varona, 30 September 2014 – Few expected a magnanimous gesture from the Cuban courts toward the Canadian businessman Vahe Cy Tokmakjian. After he was arrested in September 2011, this 74-year-old man was turned into a test case for those thinking of investing in the Island. “If Tokmakjian is judged too harshly, few are going to want to put their money here,” whispered many in charge of businesses at embassies and other market and capital professionals.

The 15-year sentence for the president of the Tokmakjian Group may now seem a gesture of strength on the part of Raul Castro, but the main outcome is the weakening of investor confidence and the withdrawal of capital from the island. The idea has gained strength in diplomatic and business cliques, who placed all their hopes… and their suspicions on the judicial process that started last June.

According to the prosecutor, Tokmakjian was tried for the crimes of bribery, acts to the detriment of economy and contracting activity, fraud, trafficking in hard currency, forgery of bank and business documents, as well as tax evasion. Two other Canadian citizens, managers in the same company,Claudio Franco Vetere and Marco Vinicio Puche, were sentenced to 12 and 8 years in prison, respectively.

The excessive sentences fell not only on the foreign defendants. Fourteen senior officials and Cuban executives were tried in the same process and received sentences of between six and twenty years. Nelson Labrada, former vice minister of Sugar, will spend the next two decades of his life in prison, according to the ruling of the Provincial Court of the Havana.

The main outcome is the weakening of investor confidence and the withdrawal of capital from the island

On learning of the sentences, relatives and defense attorneys let out a cry of horror that had been pent up for three years. The Ontario-based company has denounced “the lack of due process” and the CFO has confessed that the Cuban authorities have demanded some 55 million Canadian dollars from the group to let Tokmakjian walk the streets again.

Freedom has a price for this foreign businessman, although in the case of the Cuban defendants little can be done to lessen their sentences. If it is an act to make an example and stop corruption, as some say, the severity of the punishment was greater for those who don’t hold a passport from the other side of the world.

The sentence has been made public after months of waiting and tons of speculation. Some ventured that with the new Foreign Investment Law, which came into force last June, the Cuban government would “pass the case under the table” to avoid provoking fears among potential entrepreneurs who want to settle in our land.

Others believe that only an exemplary sentence against this group would make the rules clear and avoid future corruption. For those who believe that the accusations against Tokmakjian are substantiated, the law that has fallen upon him with its full weight will deter others from playing tricks with taxes, appealing to patronage and graft, or falsifying accounts.

This second line of opinion, which considers Tokmakjian guilty and deserving of a heavy penalty, ignores that similar actions are taken by figures from the government itself and the family clan that rules the destinies of the nation. “Do as I say, not as I do,” the generals and lieutenant colonels turned career businessmen seem to say. Not holding military rank is a dangerous condition for businesses on this island.

“Do as I say, not as I do,” the generals and lieutenant colonels turned career businessmen seem to say 

Almost a quarter of a century’s presence in Cuba was useless to the Tokmakjian Group in making the prosecutor lenient. Their business group calculated some 100 million dollars of the company’s assets have been confiscated during the judicial process. On top of that, the prosecutor is about to demand some 91 million as compensation for the economic damages allegedly inflicted on the national economy.

Only the Canadian nickel company Sherritt International was ahead of the Tokmakjian Group with regards to commercial operations in Cuba. Specializing in construction and mining equipment, this latter does business worth up to 80 million a year and brings in many of the Hyundai cars that are still circulating in our streets. The niche market they took advantage of included replacement parts and engines for old transport vehicles imported from the Soviet Union.

One could say that Tokmakjian fished in the troubled waters of the lack of business rights for Cubans. He made his fortune when we couldn’t, although that’s not a crime but rather an ethical omission that allowed him to profit where nationals are banned. However, one day he upset someone, and the courts undertook to remind him who rules in this house.

Now, with their offices in Havana closed and sealed, the Tokmakjian Group is claiming in Canadian courts about 200 million dollars from the Cuban government. The case promises to be an interminable sequence of chapters where complaints, negotiations and gestures of clemency or arrogance play out. However, what happens there is beyond the fate of the 17 defendants who have just suffered firsthand the lack of autonomy of the Cuban courts and the regrettable absence of separation of powers.

The harsh sentences against Tokmakjian and the others who were tried is a direct signal to those who believe that they can make easy money in Cuba with the approval of the authorities. The reality is a world of snares: some are activated immediately and others take twenty years to close on the victim.

“Cuba greatly appreciates foreign companies,” according to Tokmakjian / 14ymedio

When the highest Cuban authorities got along with the president of the Tokmakjian Group. (Peter Kent / Huffington Post)
When the highest Cuban authorities got along with the president of the Tokmakjian Group. (Peter Kent / Huffington Post)

In 2010 the Canadian businessman stressed his full confidence in the Island’s authorities in an interview with Excelencias del Motor magazine.

14ymedio, Havana, 30 September 2014 — A year before his arrest in Havana in September 2011, for a host of crimes (bribery, fraud, trafficking in foreign currency, forgery, tax evasion, acts to the detriment of the national economy), the Canadian businessman Cy Tokmakjian, sentenced last week to 15 years in prison, made very positive statements about the business climate in Cuba.

In an interview published in January 2010 in Excelencias del Motor magazine, belonging to a Spanish group with representation on the Island, the owner of the Tokmakjian Group spoke of the success of his company and its projects after 21 years in Cuba.

At that time, the company was expanding with the opening of the technical facilities of Wajay (Havana), Camaguey and Moa (Holguin), which had helped increase the number of Cuban employees from 140 to 230 workers.

The Tokmakjian Group, according to its founder, intended to use Cuban specialists for trade with the rest of Latin America, especially Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic. The businessman introduced high-tech equipment to manufacture products in Cuba, “to solve national problems quickly and export from this country,” through joint ventures.

“We have to maneuver carefully not to lose the investment, the support and the confidence we have in Cuba”

Cy Tokmakjian showed no fear, faced with the ravages of the global economic crisis. “I’ve been in Cuba 21 years, I know the current situation in the country. During the years 1991 and 1992, the situation was no better, we are ‘accustomed’ to working in difficult times,” he explained. “The parent company in Canada trusts Cuba and the Cubans, which allows flexible receipts and payments; we expect Cuba will recover; we will continue doing business. However, we have to maneuver carefully, not to lose the investment, the support and the confidence we have in Cuba. We are all working on this together, Canadians and Cubans,” he added.

“Cuba greatly appreciates the foreign companies that continue to work in Cuba through difficult times. Together, Cubans and Canadians, we maintain an ethic, a principle, and mutual assistance,” he revealed.

The Fragrance of Sacred Symbols / 14ymedio

Perfumes-Hugo-Ernesto_CYMIMA20140929_0004_13
Ernest and Hugo perfumes developed by the Cuban company Labiofam

14ymedio, Havana, N. Mell – 29 September 2014 – Since an official statement published in the newspaper Granma last Saturday, rejecting the planned marketing by the Cuban company Labiofam of perfumes named after Ernest Guevara and Hugo Chavez, the controversy about who is really responsible for this “grave error” continues to animate conversations.

The omissions in the statement from the Council of Ministers are very significant. For example, there is no mention that this business group, responsible for the production of biopharmaceuticals and chemicals, is under the Ministry of Agriculture. Instead, it is treated as an organism of the central state administration. More surprising is the hiding of the fact that this isn’t the first time they have announced the creation of perfumes named after personalities connected to the Revolutionary epic.

In its previous Congress, held in September 2012, Labiofam recalled that “with the objective of diversifying its production and satisfying the demands of the market,” they had created, in 1994, “the colognes Alejandro*, Celia and Havana.” The company statement added, without beating around the bush, “The first two are products with the allegorical names of figures of the Revolution” (Fidel Castro and Celia Sanchez). Years later, Labiofam created another cologne named Lina, in honor of the former president’s mother, Lina Ruz, who was also the grandmother of Jose Antonio Fraga Castro, CEO of Labiofam.

Fidel and Raul Castro’s nephew has ruled the company with the same voluntarism that his uncles have ruled the island

Fidel and Raul Castro’s nephew has ruled the company with the same voluntarism that his uncles have ruled the island. There is nothing in the company that hasn’t been thought up, or at least approved, by him, including the weekly menu in the workers’ cafeteria. And, even though the company has fallen short of its planned performance for the last five years, it has been presented as a model institution of modern times and its hierarchy as untouchable beings.

It hasn’t been disclosed if the disciplinary measures announced by the Council of Ministers Executive Committee will seek a scapegoat to save the reputation of the CEO, or if the flames will reach the top of the pyramid. There are many threads behind the intrigue, each one pulling in a different direction.

The ideological and emotional argument that “symbols are sacred” convinces almost no one, especially in a country where the face of Che Guevara himself appears tarnishing the national flag in ashtrays where cigarettes are crushed to extinction. Maybe Labiofam believed that an independent company is governed more by the rules of marketing than by the designs of the Party, or maybe the time has come to end a feud over whose “remains” new interests already have their eyes on.

*Translator’s note: Fidel’s middle name is Alejandro

“J’Accuse” from a High Position / 14ymedio

Juan Carlos Gálvez with vice president Machado Ventura on 14 December 2008 at the 7th Congress of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (JCG)
Juan Carlos Gálvez with vice president Machado Ventura on 14 December 2008 at the 7th Congress of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (JCG)

An official with the Housing Institute denounces corruption and privileges, as well as reprisals taken against his family.

14ymedio, September 24, 2014 – Before leaving Cuba in October, 2013, the author of this accusation occupied an important post at the Housing Institute and, as a jurist, saw firsthand the intrigues perpetrated by high-level officers of the agency to illegally grant properties to elites and friends. As is shown in the accompanying photos, Juan Carlos Gálvez Migueles was an active participant in the political life of the Island. On December 14, 2008, Gálvez was elected to the national secretariat of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, and ratified as a member of the executive committee of that organization.

A lawyer by profession, Gálvez worked as a counterintelligence officer following his studies at the Eliseo Reyes Rodríguez “Capitán San Luis” Advanced Institute of the Interior Ministry. His problems started when he refused to collaborate in the legalization of mansions belonging to the children of ex-President Fidel Castro.

“I was disappointed in many things about the system that were drummed into me and that I was taught to defend. The blindfold fell from my eyes when I saw the problems of daily life in the real world of the average Cuban,” Gálvez told 14ymedio in an email exchange. “That system is not made for honest, sincere, hardworking people like me, where the more corrupt one is, the better.”

My Duty is to Denounce – I Am Not Afraid
by: Juan Carlos Gálvez Migueles

By these presents I wish to make a public statement about the violation being committed by officials of the Cuban State who represent the Provincial Housing Administration of Havana, against three women and a girl of just one year of age, with the intent of evicting them from the property located on 3rd Street, Building 15022, Apt. 10, between 7th and N streets, Altahabana neighborhood, Boyeros municipality. These women are: Sara Elvira Migueles Velo, 47-years-old; Rosaima Rodríguez Migueles, 17-years-old; Marinelvis Martínez Migueles, 24-year-old, mother of a one-year-old girl, named Aynoa. They are, respectively, my mother, sisters and niece.

The property from which the authorities want to remove them was acquired by this writer in May, 2012, when I was appointed Principal Specialist of the Havana Provincial Housing legal division, while in process of being named assistant legal director of this agency.

In August of 2013, I was accepted to participate in an advanced public administration course at the University of Extremadura, Spain. However, the Spanish embassy did not grant me a visa because I missed the deadline to submit some required original documents. At that point I decided to leave Cuba for good, due to various reasons that at present I don’t believe it opportune to divulge.

To facilitate my departure I took advantage of the opportunity provided by this course and requested authorizaton by the Provincial Housing Director, Liudmila Mejias Ocaña, to approve my attending this course. In reality, I was leaving for another country but I could not say where I was going, because right away my family’s home would be taken away, as is happening right now. Besides, I also could not disclose what I was up to, because I had been a member of the Interior Ministry and had ties to high-level officials stemming from the duties I carried out.

In October, 2013, I left Cuba, keeping my new home base a secret, until January, 2014, when it becomes known. It was then, in a gesture of cruelty and bad faith, that the Provincial Director of Housing and Assistant Legal Director, Marbelis Velázquez Reyes, imposed a disciplinary measure on me of final separation from the agency for unjustified absences. This is a measure that violates Decree 302 of October 11, 2012, which in turn modifies Law No. 1312, “Migration,” of September 20, 1976, given that what should have been applied in my case was a leave of absence from my position.

But her objective was to take revenge because I had already been selected as assistant provincial legal director. Therefore, she had to attack my family, declaring them illegal occupants without right to relocation, knowing that they had no place of origin. Then, where will they be taken to live? On the street, to a temporary community shelter? I don’t believe this is just or honorable.

Therefore, I am bound to make this accusation:

I was asked to work on the legalization of the houses owned by the children of ex-President Fidel Castro Ruz, all homes that consisted of more than 500 square meters of living space, comprising more than 1000 meters of total lot space, surrounded by hundreds of meters of addition land. I refused to do this, based on it being in violation of the current General Housing Law No. 65, which only recognizes properties up to 800 meters in size.

I was asked to work on the legalization of the houses owned by the children of ex-President Fidel Castro Ruz, all homes that consisted of more than 500 square meters of living space.

These individuals, by virtue of being offspring of a leader, have more rights to a good home than my family. I ask: What do they contribute to society that I haven’t? In what war did they serve? What have they done that is special? Why do these citizens have to have an interior ministry official representing them in their legalization proceedings?

Are they different from other Cubans? Can they not go to the municipal housing administration like other citizens? Could it be that they cannot wait in line? Can they not observe the waiting period established by law? Are they subject to a different law that I was not taught at the Advanced Institute of the Interior Ministry, when I was pursuing my degree in law and operative investigation of counterintelligence? Where is the equality that we so proclaim to the world?

Another case is that of Marino Murillo Jorge, vice-president of the Council of Ministers, to whom was granted a grand residence – or rather, a mansion in the Playa district, in return for an apartment he owned in Cerro municipality. But the irony is that the property Murillo was granted was assigned to the Ministry of Education and, with supposedly just the authorization of Raúl Castro Ruz, it was transferred to the ownership of this citizen without any disentailment process and, hence, no discussion.

Perhaps this citizen, for occupying a high post in the Cuban government, has more right to a dignified home than my family? What merits does he have that hundreds of thousands of Cubans, as educated as he or more so, do not?

I can also speak to the favors granted to officials of the National Housing Institute such as the house that was exchanged for the president of this agency, Oris Silvia Fernández Hernández, a grand property, which originated in a confiscation. Could it be that she has more rights than my family? Does the legal director of the National Housing Institute also have more rights than my family, a corrupt individual who has been sanctioned and yet remains in his post? I could go on naming any number of high State officials.

The granting of housing is decided in the office of the Provincial Director in favor of individuals who pay up to 5000 CUCs.

I denounce how thousands of families live in unhealthy conditions in temporary community shelters. They are not granted public housing, this being a responsibility of the Provincial Housing Director, Liudmila Mejías Ocaña, who does not control the administration of the Provincial Housing Commission. The granting of housing is decided in the office of the Provincial Director in favor of individuals who pay up to 5000 CUCs, friends who give gifts, as well as high-level officials, and relatives and lovers of high-level officials. All of this is public knowledge and has been condemned on various occasions but, as there is so much intrigue that involves high-level officials, nothing happens.

I denounce how legal documents are worked up in the Provincial Housing Office to favor these same people, all under the Thirteenth Special Ruling on Law No. 65 (General Housing Law), being concluded in record time, while the documents in other cases go to eternal rest. Those responsible are the Provincial Director, and the Assistant Legal Director, Marbelis Velazquez Reyes. The latter owns a fine house that was disentailed to her after seven years, very well furnished and equipped, while she earns a monthly salary of only 500 Cuban pesos.

I denounce how my family, on September 17, asked to be seen at the Council of State of the Republic of Cuba to present their case and were refused attention, the officials alleging that only letters are accepted at that location and nobody is seen in-person – an unheard-of and ill-intentioned assertion. This is not the democracy promised by our rule of law.

In similar fashion, they went before the Provincial Party Committee of Havana and the officials who saw them during a public hearing told them to go before the Municipal Administrative Council of Boyeros and, if their problem was not resolved there, they should go before the Provincial Administrative Council of Havana. As we would say in Cuban, it was a ball game, back and forth.

I should ask, why not lease the property to my family? For whom is this property being reserved? It could be that this apartment is already sold, or is being set aside for a friend.

Surely when this accusation comes to light, they will begin to question me about where I obtained the money to leave Cuba. Well, it was from the sale of the deplorable house that my mother owned and a landline telephone that I had in my name, money that I supplemented with funds from a friend who was my older sister’s boyfriend.

I ask that the right of my family to live in a decent home be respected, that events will not be repeated like those we endured when for more than 10 years we lived in a wooden building that was falling apart, where we would bathe in the kitchen, and defecate in nylon bags because we had no toilet. At that time I was a delegate to the Municipal Assembly of Popular Power of San Nicolás de Bari, today Mayabeque province.

My neighbors there and those who voted me in can attest to this. That was also the time that I served as Municipal Housing Director and never did I take even one concrete block for my house – a fact that my employees can corroborate. What did I gain from being so humble, so honest, that now my family should be treated in this manner. For all of this I decided to leave my homeland.

I declare that today I fear for the lives of my family in Cuba, for possible reprisals against them, resulting from this accusation and others that I may be forced to make to defend our rights. By the same token I fear for my life in this country where I reside, for having information about officials, for having been myself a member of the Cuban counterintelligence and someone who knows the methods they employ.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

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.