Iván García, 28 July 2015 — Juliana, a seventy-three-year-old housewife, devotes much of her time to tasks related to feeding her family. “I spend eight hours cleaning rice, picking through beans, which are very dirty, buying bread, scouring produce markets, butcher shops and corner stores to see what is available and making lunch and dinner,” she explains while preparing black bean soup.
Julia and those like her do not fit the national pattern: They still have breakfast, lunch and dinner at home. “My daughters make good salaries and I get dollars from relatives in the United States, but it evaporates in trying to eat as best we can.”
In Cuba people live to eat. Food costs eat up 90% of the average salary. “And it’s not enough,” notes Renier, a laborer. “The only reason I don’t spend my entire salary on food is because I have to pay the light, water and gas bills.” Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 19 July 2015 — Norge imagines himself sipping Cuban coffee at the Versailles restaurant in Miami on July 20 as officials of the Castro regime in white guayaberas and Americans in jackets and ties listen to their national anthems being played and watch flags being hoisted at their respective embassies in Washington and Havana.
For a couple of months he has been planning an illegal escape from the northern coast of the island with a group of friends. Days before setting off to sea in a metal boat outfitted with a diesel engine, Norge consults his Santeria priestess to see if luck is on his side.
The woman throws several snails onto a wooden board and says, “Now is the time.” The rafters then accelerate their plans.
“Once diplomatic relations are reestablished between Cuba and the United States, the Cuban Adjustment Act’s days will be numbered. I don’t have family in the yuma* and it isn’t getting any easier here. As usual, things keep going downhill, so I hope to be playing dominos in Miami on July 20,” Norge says optimistically. Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 11 July 2015 — For the time being the brutish hunk of concrete that was the Soviet embassy and now serves as the headquarters of the Russian Federation — located on beautiful Fifth Avenue in Miramar, a neighborhood in western Havana — will remain the largest foreign chancery building in Cuba.
Perhaps at some point in the future, after the US Congress has approved funds, the White House will solicit bids from cutting-edge architects to design a unique and wonderful embassy building in Havana.
For now Secretary of State John Kerry will have to hoist the Stars and Stripes on the site of the building designed by Max Abramowitz and Wallace Harrison, of the firm Harrison & Abramowitz, has occupied since 1953. Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 25 June 2015 — Alberto works at a fresh produce market. On weekends he makes an advanced reservation for a room with a big soft bed surrounded by mirrors and a refrigerator stocked with beer.
“The deal costs me 10 ’fulas’ (convertible pesos) per night, but it’s the only way to have an intimate moment with my girlfriend. Luckily I have my own business. Otherwise, we’d have to do it (make love) in a park like the majority of young people of my generation,” he says while weighing two pounds of beans.
In Cuba, anything can be a problem. It’s common to wait an hour for a city bus that’s not too full to board. A lot of people cannot afford to eat two meals a day, and having coffee with cream is somewhat exotic. Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 4 July 2015 — Diplomacy does not seem to be Cardinal Jaime Ortega’s strongpoint. The archbishop of Havana behaved badly to a group of anti-Castro activists who were distributing a statement on a proposed amnesty law for political prisoners to diplomats attending 4th of July ceremonies at the home of Jeffrey DeLaurentis, head of the US Interests Section in Havana.
The cardinal’s harsh comments came shortly after a musical group — clad in colorful Prussian blue uniforms with white caps — had finished playing the last notes of the national anthems of Cuba and the United States on their wind instruments and after a brief welcome by Mr. DeLaurentis.
Relaxed officials and accredited diplomats working in Havana were chatting with dissidents, musicians and Cuban intellectuals — they had been invited to Independence Day celebrations — as waiters served red wine, beer, fruit juice and canapés. Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 30 June 2015 — In a maximum-security prison in Texas, more than 900 miles from Cuba, Ana Belén Montes, former Pentagon military-intelligence analyst, is serving 12 years, incarcerated with some of the most dangerous women in the United States.
She shares a cell with a disturbed housewife who strangled a pregnant women to take her baby, a nurse who killed four patients, and a follower of Charles Manson who tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford.
According to a report written in 2013 by Jim Popkin, life in a harsh Texas prison has not softened the aging child prodigy of the Defense Department. Years after she was caught spying for Cuba, Montes maintains a defiant attitude. “I don’t like being in prison, but certain things in life are worth the price of going to jail,” writes Montes in a 14-page letter to a relative. “Or are worth the price of committing suicide after doing them, in order not to have to spend all that time in jail.” Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 28 June 2015 — Already by noon, Óscar has downloaded two terabytes of audiovisual material from the Internet. Taking advantage of his lunch hour some place nearby, he hands over the flash drive to the person who is in charge of loading the “weekly packet,” a compendium of documentaries, serials, soap operas and sports, which later will circulate clandestinely throughout the Island at the speed of light.
Óscar has worked for a decade in a State organization where he can capture the television satellite signal. “They don’t only hack private businesses. The State is a big pirate; without paying for authors’ rights, under the pretext of the blockade (the embargo), it transmits U.S. programs on public television. I also take advantage of this and sell audiovisuals under the table, and a guy pays me 40 CUCs for two terabytes.” Continue reading
Iván García, 17 June 2015 — Amid spider webs and musty smells, in a corner of his garage where things that no longer work go to retire, Leonardo has stacked molds for making candies and desserts.
There are also three rolling pins, an electric oven outfitted with parts lifted from a state-owned factory, two chrome sandwich makers and a microwave still in its original box. Everything is now for sale.
“I didn’t realize what I was myself getting into. A relative of my wife who lives in Miami gave us $5,000 in 2012 to start a business selling pizzas, desserts and lunches on our front porch. We had to close last year because of losses. I still owe $1,500. I was never able to make the numbers add up,” says Leonardo. Continue reading
Iván García, 15 June 2015 — One rainy fall afternoon in 2013, a children’s coach warned me that if apathy, corruption, and bad work continued, within five years baseball could become an exotic sport for collectors and the nostalgic.
Sitting in the concrete stands in the small baseball field at Thomas Alva Edison School, in the La Vibora neighborhood of Havana, the trainer made a prediction that I thought was exaggerated.
Baseball was his passion. From age ten he had been involved in the selection process for building national teams. A serious injury ended his playing career. He graduated with a degree in physical education, and had trained and coached school teams in the 10th of October neighborhood with remarkable success. But he didn’t like what he saw. Continue reading
Ivan Garcia,25 May 2015 — Cubans are not as uninformed as you think. Everyone knows that the Internet is a luxury. According to the latest report from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), broadband is almost nonexistent, with a penetration of less than 1%, and only 3.4% of households had internet access in 2013.
Less than 15% of Cubans have computers. Although ETECSA recently announced that the number of mobile phone users had passed 3 million, Cuba remains behind in Latin America, with only 17.7 users per hundred inhabitants and no 3G technology or smart phones. Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 30 May 2015 — One hot and boring night, drinking a tear-inducing moonshine, Yosvany and a group of friends in a remote sugar-workers’ town in Yateras, Guantanamo province, more than a 600 miles east of Havana, made plans to relocate to the capital to try to change their future.
“The village where we lived isn’t even on the map. It’s in a mountainous region and there the routine for most young people is drinking alcohol, breaking horses, and going to bed early. The school dropout rate is high and many girls as young as 14 or 15 are already mothers. This hamlet is the closest thing to hell,” says Yosvany, seated on his bicycle-taxi.
Two days later, Yosvany and his partners took a train to the capital. After 22 hours of travel, including police checkpoints where they were searched for cheese, coffee or marijuana, they arrived at the supposed El Dorado. Continue reading
Ivan Garcia, 2 June 2015 — When he is lucid, Dubiel has a photographic memory. Nearly 30 years later, he still remembers the names of remote villages in the Angolan jungle and tells anecdotes of the civil war which involved more than 300 thousand Cuban soldiers and reservists between 1975 and 1991.
Dubiel came back traumatised. It was very hard for him to see the bodies of his friends flying through the air in a minefield, and the deaths of his comrades after making friends with them in the trenches.
For a while he received psychiatric treatment and tried to adapt himself to civil life. Didn’t do any good. Alcohol and psychotropic drugs did him in. Disorientated, he fell an easy prey to dementia. Continue reading