Laritza Diversent, Devastated by the Police Operation Against Cubalex / Iván García

Laritza Diversent (Ivan Garcia)
Laritza Diversent (Ivan Garcia)

Ivan Garcia, 28 September 2016 — After passing the crossing of La Palma, two kilometers from the old bus stop of Mantilla, El Calvario is found nestled, a district of one-story houses, roads without asphalt and a multitude of dogs without owners.

At the end of a narrow alley the Cubalex Center of Legal Information headquarters is located, a two-story house constructed from private resources, that also serves as the waiting room for the public on the lower floor and housing on the upper floor. Continue reading “Laritza Diversent, Devastated by the Police Operation Against Cubalex / Iván García”

There, in the summer of 2011, the lawyer, Laritza Diversent Cambara, 36 years old, founded a law office to give legal advice to citizens without charging anything nor caring about the person’s ideological position.

“The last year we dealt with more than 170 cases. Most of the people were poor and without resources, and they felt helpless because of the State’s judicial machinery. We advised on homicides, cases of violence against women, drugs, prostitution and also for any dissident who needed it,” indicated Laritza, seated on a small roofed patio at the back of her house.

The judicial illiteracy in Cuba is lamentable. Very few know the Fundamental Law of the Republic or the proceedings that the police force must fulfill during arrests, confiscations or when they give a simple citation.

Since 2009, lawyers like Laritza Diversent has given lectures to bloggers, independent journalists and the opposition, so they would know how to act at the moment of an arrest.

But the laws in Cuba are an abstraction. They are a set of legal regulations that supposedly should be respected by the authorities. But the repressive forces are the first to violate them.

What occurred on Friday, September 23 is an example. Lartiza says that “several neighbors had warned us about an operation that State Security was preparing. About 20 uniformed agents presented themselves in the office, some with pistols in their belts, as officials of several State institutions. They brought a search warrant that didn’t comply with the requirements established by law. When we let them know it, they resorted to force and invaded the entrance of the Cubalex headquarters, which at the same time is my home.”

They destroyed the door to the patio and came into the living quarters after forcing the kitchen door. Now inside, they took away five computers, seven cell phones, a server, six security cameras, three printers, digital media, archives and money.

“They acted with total impunity and arrogance. The authorities assume they are above the law. They filmed everything. Then they stripped us one by one and body-searched us in a degrading way. It was really humiliating,” said Lartiza.

They took away and detained the lawyer, Julio Ferrer Tamayo, and the activist Dayán Alfredo Pérez, whom they freed 12 hours later. Ferrer was confined in the Zanja and Dragones police station, very close to the Chinese Quarter of Havana.

Laritza assumes that the olive-green Regime could send Julio Ferrer to prison. “From his family we found out that in a couple of days, Julio will be presented in the Second Chamber of the criminal court. We will do everything we can to prevent this.”

Ferrer Tamayo, perhaps one of the best prepared Cuban jurists, was a prosecutor in Guanabacoa and later a defense attorney. He knows like few do about the corruption, nepotism and trafficking in influence in the sewer of the legal system.

He has proof that points to several judges. When he decided to become an independent lawyer, he suffered all kinds of harassment from State Security. And in an underhanded legal plot, they sentenced him to three years in prison. But his legal knowledge obliged the olive-green autocracy to free him, without completing his sentence.

Now, everything indicates that they are going to prosecute him and incarcerate him again. The coercion of Special Services has no limits on the Island. Marienys Pavó Oñate, herself a lawyer and the wife of Ferrer, has been confined since 31 July 2012  in the women’s prison, Manto Negro, in a case that he considers a conspiracy.

Cubalex, like other law offices and groups on the State’s margins, operate in a real judicial limbo. In one form or another, they have tried to enroll in the Ministry of Justice Association’s registry. But either they haven’t received a response, or they have been denied the right to associate themselves legally.

In that regard, Laritza says that this indefinite or semi-clandestine status was the perfect pretext to launch the violent operation against Cubalex on Friday, September 23.

“At the head of the search was Lieutenant Colonel Juan Carlos Delgado Casanova and the prosecutor, Beatriz Peña de la Hoz. But to give it a veneer of legality, other officers participated, like the ones from the Institute of Physical Planning, the National Office of Tax Administration and the Integral Direction of Supervision, a body of inspection that forms part of the Council of Provincial Administration,” points out the lawyer from Havana.

The Cubalex team is worried about the legal actions that the State can take against Jorge Amado Iglesias, a collaborator of the office, since he has a license to work for himself and they can fine him 1,500 pesos. For her part, Laritza suspects that Physical Planning initiated a process in order to confiscate both the headquarters and her own home. Since it’s a process of investigation that can last for months, Cubalex cannot take on any cases.

Laritza Diversent is devastated. She believes that the operation suffered by the office, added to other cases of detentions and confiscations against opponents and alternative journalists, could be the beginning of an imminent repressive wave against the dissidence on a national level. “I never thought that by defending human rights I would have to go through all this,” she says.

And that new turn of the repressive screw brings back memories of the Black Spring of 2003. The only thing different in the modus operandi is the season of the year. To make it true, it would have to be in the fall.

Note: The photo of Laritza Diversent in her office was taken by Iván on Monday, September 26, three days after the police operation against Cubalex, which took place on the first floor of her house. In 2009, Laritza began writing as an independent journalist on the blog, Desde La Habana (From Havana). Her works from that period can be read in the folder entitled Las Leyes de Laritza (Lartiza’s Laws).

Translated by Regina Anavy

Havana: Tourism Boom Leads to Increase in Prostitution / Iván García

 Photo source: The blog "De otros mundos"
Photo source: The blog “De otros mundos”

Ivan Garcia, 22 September 2016 — Empty bottles of rum and Domincan beer lie scattered around the courtyard as five people drink and talk about sports and business. A Reggaeton tune, “Until the Malecon Runs Dry” by Jacob Forever, plays in the background.

Meanwhile, four girls take turns inhaling a mixture of cocaine and tobacco, known locally as cambolo, from a discarded soda can.

The party could well cost the equivalent of two hundred dollars. Eduardo, a mid-level bureaucrat in the Foreign Trade office, adds up the costs: “Forty-eight convertible pesos (CUC) for two cases of beer, forty CUC for five bottles of rum, twenty five for five kilos of chicken and two cans of tuna, and a hundred CUC for drugs and whores.” Continue reading “Havana: Tourism Boom Leads to Increase in Prostitution / Iván García”

And what are they celebrating? “Nothing in particular. A success or a failure. We’re not going to solve the economic crisis by getting all worked up. If a little money comes your way, you throw a party. That’s all there is to it,” says Armando, the owner of an auto repair business.

This is now routine, at least in Havana, where a group of friends might rent a pool or a house, buy some food, hire some prostitutes and have a good time. In summer, hookers like Elisa often take advantage of this period of prosperity to pad their wallets.

In privately owned bars, discotheques and downtown areas of Havana, the hookers roam freely. Their extremely short, tight fitting skirts and overpowering perfumes make them instantly recognizable.

“The customers are like flies to honey. I’ve made as much as 250 CUC a night. An Italian in the morning, a Spaniard in the afternoon and a Cuban who thinks he is a bigshot at night,” says Elisa.

And the economic crisis? Or the period of austerity? “That’s for state workers. Those who own businesses, work in tourism or make money under the table are still enjoying the high life. Just kick a can and the hookers come out of the woodwork. There are always more of us,” adds Elisa.

And predictions are that their numbers will continue to grow. At least that is what Carlos, a sociologist who lives in southern Havana, thinks. “In periods of economic difficulty, people choose the easiest paths to making money. During the Special Period from 1993 to 2000 the number of Cuban prostitutes soared. They didn’t work only in the tourism sector. They began operating among Cubans who owned businesses and now can be seen in poor neighborhoods where the main source of recreation is drinking alcohol and hiring cheap hookers.”

The exact number of prostitutes is unknown. Carlos, the sociologist, believes the figure “exceeds twenty thousand women in the entire island. If we add the number of men who prostitute themselves, the number could rise to thirty thousand. We must also add to this those who profit from the trade, which include pimps, corrupt police, tourist industry workers, people who rent out their homes, taxi drivers and photographers. We are talking about a big business.”

The boom in tourism on the island is too tempting a lure for many girls living in truly hellish family situations. “Although most prostitutes come from dysfunctional families, there has been in an increase in cases of prostitution involving adolescents from decent families without economic problems who are dazzled by the good life, easy money or the chance to obtain a visa,” says Laura, a former social worker.

It is likely that the number of foreign visitors in 2017 will exceed four million. And if the United States Congress lifts the ban on tourism to Cuba, the figure could be in the neighborhood of five million.

American tourists are highly sought after in Cuba. They have a reputation for being generous with tips and other payments when taking a woman or man to bed.

Yaité, a former prostitute now married to a German, believes “that prices could have a rebound. In the the 1980s the rate was $100. Then, because of the number of prostitutes and because tourists traveling to Cuba did not have a lot of purchasing power, the rate dropped to forty and even to thirty CUC a night. Now it could go up. An American might pay up to 200 CUC for a young, attractive prostitute with a good body.”

Elisa, a hooker, prays to her orishas* for that prediction to come true.

*Translator’s note: Deities in the Yoruba religion, whose practice is widespread in Cuba. 

Under Cuban Socialism Something Was Always Missing / Iván García

Source: Panamerican World
Woman with money and her ration book in a state ration store. Source: Panamerican World

Ivan Garcia, 12 September 2016 — In the best of times, when there were two ration books, sixty-year-old retiree Juan Alberto was happy. One was for food, which allotted you half a pound of beef every fifteen days, and one was for “manufactured goods,” which allowed you to buy a pair of domestically produced shoes once a year.

During that period, neighborhood stores carried condensed milk and Russian canned fruit, employees could buy oranges at their workplaces and regime supporters could afford to throw cartons of eggs at the “scum” who were trying to leave the country from the port of Mariel. Juan Alberto admits, however, there were more restrictions and censorship and less freedom than there are now. Continue reading “Under Cuban Socialism Something Was Always Missing / Iván García”

“It has always been a dictatorship but, in the supposedly happy 1980s, believing in God, being a Jehovah’s Witness or watching pornographic films could get you into trouble. You couldn’t stay in hotels, travel overseas or sell your house. And if you left the country permanently, the state would confiscate it,” says Juan Alberto, who is thinking of emigrating to the United States in a few months through a circuitous Central American route.

Carlos, a sociologist, notes that, when comparisons are made between the two eras of Cuban communism, “something is always missing in each. Before, the ration book meant people were guaranteed a certain amount food and clothing. More products were available in the free or parallel market, you could have milk in your coffee for breakfast and salaries had real purchasing power. But it was illegal to possess hard currency or buy home appliances in hard currency stores. And social control was much more strict. Now, because of social pressures and new technologies, there is a certain amount of personal freedom. But not enough freedom to change the current situation, bring about serious reform or participate in government.”

Official academics will not admit it but the role played by the peaceful opposition and alternative press has been a silent lever, strong enough to prod timid but necessary reforms from the regime.

All the changes carried out under Raul Castro’s presidency (2006-2016) were intended to address the demands of opposition groups from the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. These included unrestricted internet access, the use of mobile phones, the elimination of apartheid-like practices in tourism, the ability to buy and sell homes and automobiles, and the relaxation of laws on emigration.

Are there differences between the Cubas of Castro I and Castro II? Of course.

Both rulers are autocrats but Fidel Castro was a strongman with delusions of grandeur. Under the guise of volunteerism or on a whim, he concocted schemes for agriculture, housing and highway construction, coffee and banana farming. And during hurricanes he became a meteorologist.

He ignored rules and regulations and even the constitution itself. He created a parallel government with companies like CUBALSE and CIMEX and managed the nation’s treasury as he saw fit.

Fidel Castro handed himself a blank check and ruled as though he were a landowner and the country were his farm. The anthropological damage he caused the nation is legendary.

Perhaps future studies will demonstrate that the state and its media created polarization within society by attacking people for just thinking differently. Or for believing that the political experiment was nonsense. Or that Marxist ideology and totalitarianism destroyed the social fabric and the economy of the island.

There should also be studies done on the “collateral damage” to Cubans themselves, such as the harm caused by encouraging denunciation, snitching, monitoring of neighbors and creating family divisions over simple political disagreements.

If a future military regime decided to build a more pluralistic and democratic society — one with a market economy, small and medium-sized businesses operating under an appropriate legal framework, independent business cooperatives and citizen involvement in government decisions — the Cuban economy could reach the level of the so-called Asian tigers: South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. But it would take two or three generations to re-instill key human values.

There are fewer restrictions now, private business owners have more options (though under the gaze of authorities), intrusions into people’s private lives have diminished, and the long speeches and tiresome political portraits have largely disappeared. But in the ten years of Raul Castro’s presidency, there has still been no significant improvement in the quality of people’s lives.

The housing shortage, which affects more than one and a half million people and forces three generations to live under the same roof, is worse now than during the rule of his brother Fidel. The proliferation of impoverished neighborhoods is striking. In Havana alone there are more than a hundred slums where residents have no potable water and live crammed into huts with tile roofs and walls made of cardboard or aluminum.

Education and public health have fallen apart. Thousands of cattle die annually from hunger and thirst. The livestock industry is half what it was in 1959. The sugar, agricultural and fishing industries are shrinking or not expanding fast enough. Orange juice as well as snapper and shrimp are luxuries in Cuba.

The prosperous and sustainable socialism that Raul Castro promised is only a slogan. Material conditions today are insufficient to support strong economic growth.

His government’s biggest achievements have been in the international arena. It reestablished diplomatic relations with the United States, brokered a peace accord between the Colombian government and the FARC rebels and negotiated a significant reduction of the national debt with the country’s creditors.

He also approved an investment law which, despite limitations such as not allowing local business owners to invest in their own country, is intended to serves as an enticement to international investors. But due to concerns about a judiciary that is not independent, a form of capitalism that is controlled by the Cuban military, a system which does not allow employers to pay their workers directly and the uncertainty about the nation’s future after Raul Castro’s retirement, the law has not generated sufficient investment to jumpstart the economy.

In Cuba life is too much of a burden. As soon as you get up in the morning, there is something you already ack, whether it be water, electricity or coffee for breakfast. You venture outside and mass transit is chaotic. And the food shortage remains a big headache.

Fifty-six years after Fidel Castro seized power, the overall sense is that Cubans are tired of everything. That is why so many are deciding to leave. They see no solution in sight.

Martí Noticias, September 9, 2016


The Cuban Regime Brings Back the Weapon of Fear / Iván García

Cuban State Security Agents. Source: Cubanet
Cuban State Security Agents. Source: Cubanet

Ivan Garcia, 7 September 2016 — In the autumn of 2002 at an event in a Havana theater, the dictator Fidel Castro sent a clear message to independent journalists and regime opponents in an effort to downplay their importance. Referring to dissidents, he said, “We are not going to kill cockroaches with canon-fire.”

A growing fear gradually seeped into even our living rooms. On any given night Fidel Castro, scowling belligerently while running his fingers across the corners of his mouth, would read the names of dozens of human rights activists and independent journalists whom he “accused” of having attended a reception at the home of the ambassador from what was then United States Interests Section in Havana. Continue reading “The Cuban Regime Brings Back the Weapon of Fear / Iván García”

They were difficult years. State Security, which had been granted unlimited powers by the regime, persistently harassed dissidents and independent journalists by detaining and maintaining files on them, recording their places of residence, organizing acts of repudiation against them, and seizing money and such simple things as typewriters from them.

In February 1999 the rubber stamp parliament, then presided over by Ricardo Alarcon, approved Law 88, the Cuban National Independence and Economy Act, more commonly known as the Gag Law. In Article 1 it states:

“The purpose of this law is to criminalize and penalize those acts aimed at supporting, facilitating or collaborating with the objectives of the Helms-Burton Act, the blockade and the economic war against our people, which are intended to disrupt internal order, destabilize the country and abolish the Socialist State and the independence of Cuba.”

It stipulates penalties of twenty years or more and even the death penalty for independent journalists. It remains in effect. This legal mishmash was the instrument used to convict seventy-five dissidents to long prison sentences during the fateful Black Spring of 2003.

Castro and State Security thought the Iraq war, which began on March 18, 2003, would serve as the perfect pretext for deflecting international media attention away from Cuba. But they were wrong; it did not work.

The European Union, the United States, democratic governments from various continents, organizations which monitor the observance of human rights and freedom of expression, and prominent intellectuals all raised their voices.

A recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature and supporter of the regime, Portugal’s Jose Saramago, wrote a piece entitled “It Has Come to This” in which he condemned the crackdown and the executions of three young black men who had tried to hijack a passenger ferry in order to flee to the United States.

With the ascent of Raul, handpicked by his brother Fidel after illness forced the elder Castro to resign, the military regime changed strategy.

In the summer of 2010 it released prisoners of conscience arrested during the Black Spring and gradually introduced economic reforms which provided the regime with a needed dose of political oxygen.

This political oxygen allowed Castro II to orchestrate a well-planned international campaign to lift the U.S. economic and trade embargo and overturn the European Union’s Common Position.

The climax was the restoration of diplomatic relations with the United States on December 17, 2014 after eighteen months of secret negotiations. Cuba became the subject of news headlines and a photo op for famous foreigners.

Some Cubans believed this was the beginning of an historic period of political reform and democratization. But within a few months the overly optimistic expectations turned to abject cynicism.

The flow of emigrants increased and now there is a retreat from economic reform. The creation of new non-agricultural cooperatives has stalled. In early 2016 local media began a campaign demonizing wholesalers and pushcart vendors, blaming them for the high prices of agricultural products.

But the turning point that led to the return of political dinosaurs, fanatics and conservatives was Barack Obama’s speech at the Gran Teatro de La Habana on Monday, March 20, 2016.

The opening shot that led to the political brakes being slammed on was an outrageous editorial by Fidel Castro in the Communist Party newspaper. He was later joined by ventriloquists and scribes hired to write analyses on demand.

The current period of austerity — brought on by the political, economic and social turmoil in Venezuela — is the reason for the latest round of Cuban belt tightening. Yet another.

Highly reliable government sources indicate that September, October and November will see  further rounds of cutbacks which will adversely affect the citizenry.

Faced with this dilemma, the government is looking for ways to limit the damage. Any vestige of free thought outside the official framework is considered, at best, suspect.

An “enemy” could be anyone: private taxi drivers, official journalists who write for foreign or alternative media and, of course, dissidents. It’s all the same.

It has stepped up its harassment of opposition figures upon their returns from trips abroad and the Ladies in White continue to be subject to brutal assaults.

On August 24, the official press began describing a conference on freedom of internet access to be held in Miami on September 12 and 13 as subversive. The conference is sponsored by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, which oversees Radio and Television Martí.

The event seems to be the ideal pretext to dust off the machinery of repression for use against dissidents and independent journalists. It serves as a smokescreen to blur the bleak scenario facing Cuba.

Given the Castro regime’s underhanded tactics, lust for power and unwillingness to play by democratic rules, the international community should take note of its recent domestic and foreign policy directives.

Could a major economic crisis lead to increased repression of dissidents and freelance journalists? Of course. The delicate state of affairs on the island will always be the sandpaper capable of lighting a match at the slightest touch.

The regime is also very worried about the opposition making inroads with the private business sector and the average citizen. If there is anything at which totalitarian systems are effective it is in the art of repression and preventing social conflicts.

It is no accident that they have remained in power for almost six decades.

 Martí Noticias, August 31, 2016


In Castroism, Those Who Deviate From the Script Are Adversaries / Iván García

Fernando Ravsberg, in 2004 o 2005, when he was a BBC correspondent in Cuba. Taken from the blog Cubaninsider.
Fernando Ravsberg, in 2004 o 2005, when he was a BBC correspondent in Cuba. Taken from the blog Cubaninsider.

Ivan Garcia, 1 September 2016 — While certain groups and people on the island try to distance themselves from the openly anti-Castro dissidence, however they can, they will always be marked with a scarlet letter by the Department of State Security and its guardians of the faith, specialists in destroying reputations.

The logic in the analysis of these people is worthless, people such as those who collaborate on the website Cuba Posible; the pointed notes of Fernando Ravsberg about the institutionalized bureaucracy; the critiques of the status quo from the Marxist ideology of Harold Cardenas; or the excellent reporting from the team of reporters on Periodismo de Barrio. Continue reading “In Castroism, Those Who Deviate From the Script Are Adversaries / Iván García”

All of them, for their free thinking and because they don’t take orders from the ideological machinery of the Communist Party, are considered “enemies of the fatherland,” Trojan Horses who, with more or less subtlety, pander to “Yankee Imperialism.”

For the dinosaurs in the Palace of the Revolution there is no middle ground. The rules they write are to be followed by others. The exercise of criticism, debate and controversy without approval from the state apparatus will never be well received.

Probably, as in Dante’s Inferno, all the enemies or those in conflict with the “Revolutionary Project” are not located in the same circle. But none of them are to be trusted.

This makes it easier for the government to condemn an anti-Castro journalist to twenty years in prison, as dictated by the Gag Law adopted in 1999.

In the end, they end up fired from their jobs, like the economist Omar Everleny, now watching the autocratic drama from a fellowship in Japan, or like the talented academics Pavel Vidal, Haroldo Dilla and Armando Chaguaceda, all of whom live abroad.

It’s worth nothing, recognizing the de facto government, to bet on nationalism or a democratic socialism. The ukases and the direction of the nation are dictated by the same people as always.

In an intolerant, autocratic and arrogant regime, you have to have sufficient ability to interpret when you’ve crossed the tenuous border that limits how far governmental permissiveness will go. As the popular refrain says: You can play with the chain, but not the monkey.

Perhaps Roberto Veiga and Leinier Gonzalez are not detained in the public street by State Security henchmen and have all their belongings taken from them, as they were taken from Augusto Cesar San Martin and Ana Leon, reporters for Cubanet, when this last July they made a video in Cienfuegos.

It is likely that Arturo Lopez-Levy, a political scientist and a relative of Luis Alberto Rodriguez Lopez-Callejas, Raul Castro’s treasurer, doesn’t have his books, money and personal articles seized at the Havana Airport, nor is he brutally arrested like the independent unionist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo was on his arrival in Cuba some weeks back.

The fact that the treatment from the political police is less degrading, that they use the formal “Usted” when talking to you and not “counter-revolutionary” or “worm,” doesn’t mean that articles that reflect the realities of the citizens and the wave of liberal thinking that can be read in the digital media right now, are appreciated by the regime and its repressive organs.

The government fears opinions and analysis different from its own. It doesn’t matter that the necessary debate is found on the internet and is barely known by ordinary Cubans. The Castro brothers’ autocracy is an institution of command and control. Its journalists are soldiers of the Revolution. They cannot be allowed to write on their own account in the alternative media.

An insulting aberration appeared in recent days through Aixa Heveia, a mediocre information bureaucrat — or more accurately, a censor of journalists — when she proposed to expel from the country the Uruguayan journalist Fernando Ravsberg, former correspondent for the BBC, and creator of the website Cartas desde Cuba, and contributor to the Spanish newspaper Publico and author of the book The Cuban Headache, published in 2008.

For Ravsberg, a long time resident of the island, there is nothing new under the sun. It was Fidel Castro himself who at a certain moment decided to put him on the blacklist. One can agree or disagree with this commentaries, that’s called freedom of expression, but that a reporter of his caliber is treated like a criminal is shameful.

But this is the real core of the regime. A bizarre founding gang that includes the enlightened, illiterates and ex-convicts. Democracy is not their main course.

For Castroism, those who think with their own heads or set aside the libretto orchestrated by the Communist Party chieftains, will always be adversaries. Some more dangerous than others. But enemies.

See also:

Response to Fernando Ravsberg / Rosa Maria Payá Acevedo

A Swede in Burundi a Uruguayan in Cuba / Regina Coyula

The Voices of Cubans? / Miriam Celaya

Cuba: Return to the Classrooms / Iván García

Source: Visual St. Paul Blog
Source: Visual St. Paul Blog

Ivan Garcia, 5 September 2016 — After getting up at dawn and after waiting in line for two hours in the rain, Alicia, 37, a mother of a junior high school student was able to buy her son a uniform for the new school year.

“This year they changed the method of distributing the uniforms. Before you could buy one in any store in the municipality designated for such things. Now there is one store for every neighborhood. The State grants two uniforms in seventh grade, one in eighth and none in the ninth. It is a headache to get the exact size,” says Alicia, while putting the uniform in her old Singer sewing machine. Continue reading “Cuba: Return to the Classrooms / Iván García”

The official price of a uniform is the equivalent of ten cents on the US dollar. In elementary school, the blouse or shirt is white and the skirt or shorts are wine red. In junior high the blouse or shirt continues to be white, but the skirt or shorts is mustard yellow. And in high school, the colors change, bright blue blouse or shirt and dark blue skorts or pants.

In Cuba wearing the uniform is obligatory at all levels of schooling, except in university. But the majority of the parents complain about the limited quantity of uniforms awarded by the State, not taking into account individual growth.

“It’s a single uniform for the whole year. My sons are a bola de churre* when they get to school. The solution is to buy them abroad and they cost between 100 and 150 Cuban pesos (around $6 US), says Ernesto, father of two boys in elementary school.

For families like Angel’s, owner of an old 1954 Ford that he uses as a private taxi, purchasing uniforms on the black market is not a problem. “Every year I buy my kids three or four extra uniforms. I spend 150 CUC (about $150 US) in uniforms alone each year.”

But the lack of uniforms is only one of the many inconveniences and added costs that face parents on the Island. We ask Carmen how much money she spends during the school year, and with the precision of an accountant, she offers the details.

“Ten convertible pesos (CUC) for two uniforms for my daughter. Thirty CUC for a backpack. Fifteen for portfolio because now the girls like to carry bags. A pair of Converse, 80 CUC. Twelve CUC to buy notebooks in hard currency, because the ones the government hands out are poor quality. To this I have to add 40 to 50 convertible pesos a month in snacks and lunches,” says Carmen.

In Cuba, excepting in elementary school, the schools don’t offer lunch. “In primary they serve lunch rations at school dining rooms, and in junior high they get a midday snack, a piece of bread with sausage or hamburger and a soy yogurt. But due to the terrible preparation, a good portion of the students don’t eat it,” says Eusebio, an education methodologist in a Havana municipality.

Until high school, students have two class sessions, morning and afternoon, and usually stay in school about eight hours. Some parents, like Miguel Antonio, gives 40 Cuban pesos to his son every morning to buy lunch in a cafe near the school. Others, like Maritza, prepare snacks and lunch in a thermos Monday through Friday for her daughter, all of which is loaded into an extra bag.

“The students look like Alpinists. They carry enormous bags full of books and food. I don’t know how they don’t end up with scoliosis,” comments Sandra, a medical specialist and mother of a son in the 8th grade.

On Monday September 5, when the 2016-17 school year begins in Havana, more than 1,700,000 students will head to classrooms at different levels of education throughout the island. According to the newspaper Granma, 94.2% of the teaching positions are filled. The provinces with the highest deficit of teachers are Havana, Artemisa, Mayabeque, Matanzas and Ciego de Avila.

For a long time, being a teacher in Cuba has been a dignified profession. Osleidys, a native of the eastern province Guantanamo, some 600 miles from Havana, is a teacher more by necessity than by vocation. “After I finished high school the only career I could study was teaching, and I didn’t even finish. Because of the deficit in teachers the Minister of Education was forced to hire teachers without sufficient training.”

The positive part, for Osleidys, is that she was able get a permit from the authorities to live in Havana, “Because Law 217 prevents anyone from settling in the capital except for teachers, builders and police, so we were able to move here.”

Very young teachers, almost the same age as their students, enroll in teaching programs to escape military service. A Cuban teacher draws a salary that fluctuates between the equivalent of 20 and 35 dollars a month. Professors at the university level earn something more. And they receive bonuses from the State.

An officer in the armed forces or the Ministry of the Interior could go on vacations with their families to recreations centers subsidized by the regime, they have the right to a house and other material benefits. But in Cuba, unlike in Finland, the model nation for education, teaching is among the worse professions.

Recently, Education Minister Ena Elsa Velaquez recognized that not everything is ready for the coming school year. After a tour or the 15 provinces and the special municipality of the Isla de la Juvented, declared that more than 390 schools were in critical condition and the students are being relocated.

For his part, Deputy Rolando Ruiz reported that the Ministry of Education (MINED) has 17.5 million convertible pesos to secure key resources, including science laboratories, workshops and sports equipment.

Teaching in Cuba is the job of the government. But the steady economic crisis that has gone on for 27 years, has caused parents, grandparents and other relatives to take on the tasks inherent to the state.

“In theory, MINED doesn’t accept that parents paint the classrooms, repair the desks, buy the fans and donate brooms and detergent to clean the bathrooms. But under the table, the teachers accept it because state maintenance crews, at best, only give a coat of paint to the front of the school,” says the mother of three children at three different levels of schooling.

Sometimes not even the basics get done. Eugenio Maria de Hostos High School, in the neighborhood of La Vibora, has been unpainted and inadequately maintained for years. Several classrooms have leaks and the uneven floor of the patio cries out for repairs. “Last year, thanks to the pressure exerted by social networks and independent journalists, they changed my son’s classroom. When it rained it was like a river,” says a father.

Five hundred yards from the school, in Monaco park, there is a wireless internet zone. However, in Eugenio Maria de Hostos, as in the rest of the country’s schools, except for universities, there is no connection to the World Wide Web and the computer room is ramshackle and has only three old second generation computers in appalling conditions.

“In 2015 it was said that they would deliver tablets and have internet access. But it was all talk. ETECSA, the Cuban communications monopoly, likes to boast that it provides a social service. But despite living in the 21st century where the Internet and new technologies are not a whim, but rather a necessity, it is demonstrated that the government is only interested in building things that earn money for them, like WiFi zones,” says Omar, a computer engineer.

For this new school year, internet in all schools will have to keep waiting.

Diario Las Américas, 3 de septiembre de 2016.

*Translator’s note: A negative nickname that refers to Fidel Castro — it roughly refers to raggedy/dirty.

Domestic Cuban Tourism Growing on the Island / Ivan Garcia

Source: Diario de las Americas

Ivan Garcia, 31 August 2106 — Nothing pleases Germán more than having a cold beer by a swimming pool or indulging in the all-you-can-eat buffet at a resort hotel. The fifty-five-year-old blacksmith worker also likes people calling him Sir, watching foreign TV channels and having something for breakfast other than coffee with milk and bread with mayonnaise.

Sitting in a large leather chair at the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort in Cayo Coco, a small island in Ciego de Ávila province about 600 kilometers east of Havana, Germán confesses that is the seventeenth time he and his family have stayed at a resort. “I do not have money to spare nor am I rich. But we have the right to relax in a nice hotel and be treated the same as foreigners.” Continue reading “Domestic Cuban Tourism Growing on the Island / Ivan Garcia”

The number of Cubans who are able to afford a stay at an all-inclusive resort at various tourist spots across the island has been steadily growing. In spite of sky-high prices, Eugenio — a tour promoter for the military-run Gaviota chain — says that this year “the number local tourists staying at three, four and five-star hotels is likely to surpass one and a half million.”

That figure would not be significant but for the fact that the average worker makes only about twenty dollars a month. A three-night stay for Germán, his wife and their three children costs 556 convertible pesos, the equivalent of what a medical specialist earns in a year.

Where are Cubans getting that kind of money? It is a good question but one that Giordano, a forty-year-old self-employed worker, prefers to sidestep. “Not by saving a few kilos every month in a business curing ham and sausages,” he replies.

It would seem that things are going fairly well for Giordano. He and his wife rent a hotel room twice month. If business is going well, I will stay for four or five days. If not, we’ll only come on the weekend.”

Luis Alberto, a desk clerk at a hotel in Cayo Guillermo, says, “Many Cubans stay for a week or more. They often tip more generously than foreign visitors. I suppose they can afford it because they have successful businesses, receive big remittances or have money saved from working in medical missions overseas.”

Gina is a dermatologist who has worked in South Africa as well as Trinidad and Tobago. She acknowledges that, with the money someone like herself saves from her job and treating affluent clients on the side, she could spend six days in an “all-included” hotel with a nice beach. “But this is the exception,” she notes. “Usually, doctors have so many pent-up needs that we use the money to repair or purchase a house or to buy a car.”

A source who works at a Havana branch of Western Union says, “Every year more money changes hands, mainly from the United States to Cuba. Whether it is to address a serious family problem or to buy a plane ticket for a relative who wants to emigrate to the United States, the average Cuban receives an average of two-hundred dollars a month.”

For Daniel staying in a high-end hotel and being a tourist does not represent an economic sacrifice. As the owner of a private publicity firm, he can afford to stay up to five times a year at a resort spa. “Of course, I am always on the lookout for promotions and good deals. There is a segment of the population like me that can spend more than three days in a first-class hotel.”

Noel, a former manager with the state-run resort company Cubanacán, says, “Clearly, a ton of money is coming into Cuba from Miami but let’s not forget that there are private businesses that also generate quite a bit of money, which can make a resort vacation affordable. It’s incorrect to think every Cuban on holiday is there because his overseas family is paying for it. Most people are broke but I estimate that about ten percent of the population can afford a few short vacations within Cuba.”

And the number of domestic tourists on the island is an important figure. It exceeds the number of Canadian travelers, the largest foreign contingent.

According to Eugenio, a tourism promoter, “within five years it could be as high as two and a half million people. Cubans have an inferiority complex because of mistreatment by service staff at some hotels. But although local customers spend less, their money is just as good as that of Spaniards or Italians. Before too long, the only contingent that will be bigger than ours will be the Americans.”

But that is yet to be seen.


Cuba: Journalism on Demand / Iván García

Journalism on Demand
Journalism on Demand

Iván García, 27 August 2016 — I still remember that two-day trip to Pinar del Río. I stayed in a Communist Party hotel at the side of the old central highway. I visited the province’s outstanding factories, cooperatives and work centers.

Then in Havana, I wrote three or four sugar-coated articles about the excellent management of the Peoples’ Power and the “enthusiasm” of the workers’ collective at the Conchita factory after winning a banner of socialist excellence.

No one told me how to do journalism. I experienced it for four decades. I was studying primary education and during school recesses, at the request of my grandmother, my mother [Tania Quintero, now living in Switzerland], a former official journalist, took me with her when she had to do reports in the cities of the interior. Continue reading “Cuba: Journalism on Demand / Iván García”

In that epoch – and now, according to what they tell me – journalists covered the subjects indicated by the Department of Revolutionary Orientation, which weekly dictated the guidelines to the communication media.

Most official journalists are scribes rather than reporters. They write on demand.

With the arrival of new information technologies and the transition from a personalistic and totalitarian society to an authoritarian country of incipient military capitalism, dozens of State journalists now publish with their names or pseudonyms in alternative digital media, generating a reprimand from their bosses.

It’s precisely in blogs and on independent sites that these correspondents can express their talent, tell their stories and pour out opinions that they never would publish in the dull, propagandistic Government press.

The most notorious case is Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism), spearheaded by Elaine Díaz, ex-professor of the University of Havana Faculty of Communication and probably the best journalist in Cuba. After dropping the official ballast, Díaz published excellent research on communities and citizens that never appeared in the Party media.

Doing independent journalism in Cuba brings risks. You won’t get a pension when you retire; you will suffer harassment from State Security, and the Taliban hard-liners will try to assassinate your reputation with every type of crude accusation. But those who manage to do it are free persons.

In my case, I choose the topics and how I’m going to present them. The only censorship is that imposed by reason or by the sword of Damocles represented by the Gag Law, which obliges you to revise the content with a magnifying glass so you don’t get tangled in a crime of defamation or accused of denigrating the President of the Republic.

Certainly, the chief editors with whom I collaborate make recommendations. Up to now, they haven’t censored the content nor the style of drafting. Only on two occasions did they not publish one of my articles (a right that newspapers or websites have). Then I uploaded them to my two blogs.

That an independent journalist doesn’t write on demand means that inside the Island several opposition organizations and dissident leaders try to use you at their convenience.

It seems legitimate to me that a dissident project aspires to having the best media impact possible. That’s not what I’m referring to. It’s the deplorable obsession of certain dissidents who want to manage the work of a journalist.

They use different strategies. One is to invite you to meetings where they paint a superficial picture of their organization and their chimeric plans. The story is like that of the Government, but in reverse. They exaggerate the number of members and present a battery of proposals that are forgotten after a few months.

If you ask uncomfortable questions, they simply take you off the list of their meetings and press conferences. If you’re too critical of the dissidence, they prepare a reprimand.

They never tell you that they disagree with you. They start the discussion by pointing out that you’re wrong. If voices are raised, accusations begin: that you’re an undercover agent of State Security, a traitor to the cause, or you’re providing arguments to the “enemy” (the Regime) that later will be used to discredit the opposition.

Another strategy, in mode among certain opposition groups, is that in addition to “renting” a journalist, they enroll him in their cause. A huge mistake. Keeping a distance is the first rule of journalism.

If you are for democracy, that doesn’t mean you should march with the Ladies in White through Miramar. When that happens, the journalist misjudges the profession.

Sometimes the debates caused by a journalistic article are civilized. Other times they set up a “repudiation meeting” for you.

The Sunday of March 20, hours before Obama landed in Havana, I was with the Ladies in White in Gandhi Park, to write an article about the aggressions against the group of women on the part of the repressive bodies.

There I had to put up with the insolence of Ailer González, a member of Estado de Sats, asking me what I was doing there and refuting my assessments. I answered her briefly and told her that she didn’t have to read me.

This type of journalism by genuflection, habitual in Cuba, sometimes tries to pass itself off as freelance.

Everyone is free to have an opinion and reproduce it. Sometimes our commentaries or stories provoke controversy and irritate the local or exile dissidence. But at least I don’t write to please anyone.

If a handful of ungagged journalists have been able to defy an olive-green autocracy for 20 years, I don’t believe that the pride and intolerance of some dissidents should inhibit us.

Authentic journalism is always in search of the truth. Whatever it costs.

Photo: Elaine Díaz and Abraham Jiménez, directors of the digital media Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism) and El Estornudo (The Sneeze). Taken from Brotes de periodismo cubano (Outbreaks of Cuban Journalism), an article by Pablo de Llano, El País (The Country, a daily newspaper in Spain), March 22, 2016.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cayo Coco: An Emporium Of Cuban Military Capitalism / Iván García

View from the pool of the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort, one of the several hotels that the Grupo de Turismo Gaviota S.A. administers in Cayo Coco. Taken from the blog Travel the World with Shirley A. Roe.
View from the pool of the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort, one of the several hotels that the Grupo de Turismo Gaviota S.A. administers in Cayo Coco. Taken from the blog Travel the World with Shirley A. Roe.

Ivan Garcia, 22 August 2016 — The breeze coming from the coast is a blast of hot air that barely cools things off. The sun reverberates and the tourists take refuge from the insufferable irradiation in a swimming pool in the form of a huge shell, split in two by a cement walkway.

Others escape from the heat wave by tossing down beer like British hooligans or drinking insipid mojitos one after another. The Russian and Serbian tourists continue doing their thing: drinking vodka with ice as if it were mineral water, leaning on the bar rail of the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort hotel, nestled into Cayo Coco, in the archipelago of the Jardines del Rey, north of Ciego de Ávila, a province some 360 miles to the east of Havana.

In the tiny shop, Mexican tourists ask where they can buy El Cuervo tequila. Close by, a group of Spaniards follow on television the performance of their compatriot, Mireia Belmonte, in the Olympic swimming finals in Rio 2016. Continue reading “Cayo Coco: An Emporium Of Cuban Military Capitalism / Iván García”

There are very few Cuban tourists. Even fewer black people. Past 2:00 in the afternoon, the Memories Flamenco hotel seems to be a plenary session in miniature of the United Nations: East and West Europeans, Mexicans, Hindus, Asians and Americans, who try not to call attention to their clandestine tourism at Cayo Coco.

“Traveling to Cuba isn’t a problem. You can justify it with any of the 12 categories authorized and, although it’s not permitted legally, no institution in the United States asks if we’re doing tourism when we travel to the island,” comments a North American of Peruvian origin on vacation with his wife and two kids.

The five-star hotel is located on the highway that connects Cayo Coco with Cayo Guillermo. It has 624 rooms; 12 are suites and 4 are adapted for the handicapped. At this moment, half of the rooms are empty. “We’re in the low season. And even though the number of visitors to Cuba continued growing in 2016, hotel occupancy isn’t more than 50 percent,” says a receptionist.

Like 70 percent of Cuban tourist installations, the Memories Flamenco hotel is administered by the Gaviota S.A. military emporium, a business that appeared in 1989 under the auspices of Fidel Castro, on the pretext of testing the profitability of the incipient tourist business.

“When the tourist boom began, since so much in Cuba is stolen, it wasn’t known for sure whether a hotel would generate profits. Gaviota reduced expenditures and raised productivity on the basis of low salaries and internal controls,” says an employee.

Another employee, driving an electric cart that transports the recent arrivals to their rooms, says with total frankness that “most of us workers don’t agree with the deal they give us. Gaviota contracts only with foreign businesses to administer their hotels. The salary is shit; I earn 500 pesos (almost 20 dollars) a month, and since it’s a hotel with ’everything included,’ tipping is scarce. The luggage handlers and the maids are the ones who get extra money. But it’s always better to work in a hotel than to be a policeman.”

Every day a maid cleans and prepares 12 rooms. Her base salary is 465 pesos/month and about 18 dollars as a stimulus. “When it’s not Juana, it’s her sister. The truth is that we never receive a salary that matches the number of tourists staying in the hotel. I get by, more or less, thanks to the guests who give me two or three CUCs as a tip, and leave me clothing and useful stuff when they go, although getting it out of the hotel is a problem,” confesses a maid.

According to a gardener, most of the Cubans who work in management changed their military uniforms for white or blue guayaberas and black shoes. “They arrive from military life thinking that a hotel is operated the same as a barracks. In addition to being rude to us, they’re arrogant. I don’t leave, because for better or for worse, working in a hotel is better than cutting cane.”

Most of the employees of the Memories Flamenco live in Morón, a town 50 minutes from Cayo Coco. “The work routine is very demanding. I work seven days and get three days off. The management is treated differently. In spite of the hotel’s good results, Gaviota doesn’t let our families enjoy the facilities. Even the food they give us workers is different. In general it’s very little, and poorly prepared,” confesses a bar worker.

In addition to Memories Flamenco, there are on Cayo Coco, among others, the hotels Memories Caribe Beach Resort, Meliá Cayo Coco, Meliá Jardines del Rey, Pullman Cayo Coco, Pestana Cayo Coco All Inclusive Beach Resort, Tryp Cayo Coco, Colonial Cayo Coco, Sol Cayo Coco, Playa Coco, Playa Coco Star, Iberostar Mojito, Iberostar Cayo Coco and NH Krystal Laguna Villas & Resort, with more than 6,700 rooms total.

The zone is designed to be an example of true tourist apartheid. At the entrance to the isle, a police official, guarded by several soldiers with red berets, checks the people and vehicles that enter and leave the Ciego de Avila key.

Almost all the hotels located on Cayo Coco are administered by Gaviota, which has plans to continue growing in the coming years. Several brigades are building three new hotels, which will increase room capacity even more.

Many tourists aren’t pleased with the strategy of being confined in installations far from towns and cities. “It’s annoying; it prevents you from interacting with people. When they put you in hotels in Havana you can chat with Cubans on the street, but it’s impossible in the rest of the tourist zones,” says Eusebio, an Andalusian who lives in Seville.

The same thing has happened with the construction of the Hotel Kempinski, in the heart of the capital. Gaviota’s management prefers to hire foreign chefs and directors before Cubans.

“It’s absurd to bring bricklayers from India or cooks from Spain. They pay them fair salaries, but not us. It seems that whoever directs Gaviota hates Cubans,” complains a kitchen assistant.

The dream of one of the tourist promoters is to hook up with a foreign woman and leave the country. “My goal is to work in Miami Beach, Cancun or Punta Cana,” he says, and he runs for cover from a drizzle that barely alleviates the leaden heat.

When night falls, the lobby bar fills up, and in an adjoining theater, the guests take their chairs to see the performance of Divan Sotelo, one of the Reggae musicians in style at the moment, who was born in Havana in 1996.

At this hour, one of the maids is waiting for the worker transport that will take her home. Today was a decent day. Four convertible pesos in tips and two half-filled bottles of shampoo that a couple of Japanese tourists gave her.

Now she is looking for a way to take them out of the hotel without calling attention to herself. Tomorrow, perhaps, she will have better luck.

Martí Noticias, August 19, 2016

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuba in Rio 2016: A Forecast / Iván García

Clothing and footwear with which the Cuban delegation paraded at the opening of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro is the work of French designer Christian Loboutin. Taken from the Internet.
Clothing and footwear with which the Cuban delegation paraded at the opening of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro is the work of French designer Christian Loboutin. Taken from the Internet.

Ivan Garcia, 7 August 2016 — A couple of months ago under a frightening morning sun, the team of Cuban athletes who will compete in the next Olympic Games were training on the deteriorated synthetic track of the Pan American Stadium, east of Havana, under the watchful eye of a dozen trainers, with stopwatches around their necks while, taking notes on their tablets.

In a corner of the track, in the shade, as if escaping the sweltering heat, Dayron Robles was training in headphones and with his inseparable signature plain glasses on.

The story of Robles, since winning the gold medal eight years ago at the Beijing Olympics, has enough material to make a soap opera. Continue reading “Cuba in Rio 2016: A Forecast / Iván García”

He left the national team due to dissatisfaction with late payments and enrolled in a European athletics club. In the international media he complained about the failures of the Cuban Athletics Federation, he tried to found a private school for hurdlers and competed on his own in some athletic meetings in Europe, America and Asia.

But he never regained the standard of the past. It seems a long time has passed since then, when Robles, with his technique almost perfect, tackled the hurdles as if he were singing.

Then in the forecasts the gold medal was a given. Eight years later, he returns to compete under the national flag. But his chances of medaling are limited. He rarely competes due to physical ailments and his chances in Rio are a mystery. To reach the semifinals would be a feat. Dayron’s star has waned.

At 29, Robles should have enough gas to shine. But he has switched off and only with a stroke of luck could he recover from the athletic slump. In the modern, methodical, expensive and scientific sport, there is very little room for surprises.

Forecasting the 110 metre hurdles is lunacy, because the absence of major American stars such as Aries Merritt, David Oliver and Jason Richardson, who were eliminated in the US trials and the non-participation of Sergei Shubenkov, banned with the Russian athletics team, opens the doors for another Cuban, Orlando Ortega, who plans to compete for Spain.

Ortega, next to the Jamaican Omar McLeod, French Dimitri Bascou and the new American star Devon Allen must fight for gold. Dayron Robles, I fear, will be an unwelcome guest.

There are other medal chances in Cuban athletics. The pole vaulter Yarisley Silva aims for gold. Competitive as anyone, she will have the rivalry of Brazilian Fabiana Murer, who competes on home soil, with a couple of Greeks and Americans.

Denia Caballero, in discus, should take a medal. This year she is in the shadow of the bullet-proof Croatian Sandra Perkovic. But in the World Championships last year in China she defeated her.

The triple jumper Pedro Pablo Pichardo is another unknown. He has not competed in the current season and his performance in Rio de Janeiro can’t be predicted. In full form he is a secure medal candidate. In cotton wool, I suppose, he will travel to Copacabana.

But it is not in athletics that they have the best chances for gold medals. As always, boxing is the key sport that raises Cuba to the medal podium, or in case of bad performances, places it in a position between places 25th and 30th.

The official forecast of the Cuban delegation is to rank among the top 20 nations in the final standings. Gone are those days in which the Greater Antilles stood among the top ten.

Anyway, the fists of our fighters are an essential factor for a good performance. I bet, despite the participation of medium level professionals in boxing, that Cuba can achieve three to four gold medals and at least three silver or bronze.

Other possibilities of gold medals also come in the combat sports. The legendary Mijain Lopez can top his sporting career with a third title in the superheavy division of Greco-Roman wrestling. In achieving it, his feat would be at the level of epic wrestler Aleksandr Karelin, that mammoth who trained carrying bushes in Russian Siberia.

Wrestling can give us a medal. But not gold. Judo, which was in decline, has a chance of a medal with Idalys Ortiz. The rest has less chance. But beware, the standard of Cuban judo can bring pleasant surprises.

The secret weapon amongst the 120 Cuban athletes who will compete in Rio will be Rafael Alba, in taekwondo. He is a world champion and has a great chance to win the gold metal.

In other sports the chances are slim, not to say almost none. Cuba should be positioned between 15th and 20th place. Being optimistic, it could achieve six or seven gold medals and six to nine silver and bronze.

Perhaps we can better the performance of London 2012 with five gold, three silver and six bronze medals for a total of fourteen. But I’m not so sure. It is more reasonable that the performance will resemble that of Montreal 1976, when thirteen medals were obtained in total.

As in almost all indices, Cuba has regressed. Sport is no exception.

Martí Noticias, August 5th 2016.

Note: 2016 Olympic Medalists for Cuba

Translated by: Araby

Five Nights in Cuba’s Tourist Apartheid / Iván García

Entrance to Memories Flamenco Beach Resort. Taken from the blow: Andrew742.

Ivan Garcia, 19 August 2016 — On a cloudy afternoon in early July, I went with my daughter to the reservation office in the basement of the Habana Libre hotel, to reserve for mid-August five nights in a hotel in Cayo Coco, in the north of Ciego Avila province, some 360 miles from the capital.

I started saving the money for it in September of last year. A tourism representative suggested the Memories Flamenco Beach Resort. The price was absolutely prohibitive for an ordinary Cuba: 1,188 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), which, when adding the cost of transportation, was nothing less than 1,290 CUC for five days of sun and beach.

On the day of departure, at four in the morning, we were there will two pieces of hand luggage and a briefcase, waiting for the bus that would take us to Cayo Coco. They told us to come to the parking lot of the Roman Fonst Sports hall, adjacent to the interprovincial bus terminal in the Plaza de la Revolution municipality. Continue reading “Five Nights in Cuba’s Tourist Apartheid / Iván García”

In the dark, some twenty sleepy people ate a hurried breakfast before boarding the bus. With a punctuality rare in Cuba, the bus came to pick us up at five in the morning.

The driver, a skinny guy with a military-style haircut, recited the instructions like a prayer. “You cannot eat inside the bus. We will make two stops along the way. And those who want to urinate let me know, to stop the vehicle, as there is no bathroom on board.”

The man was in a bad mood or was simply a hurry. The bus, belonging to Gaviota, an emporium of military capitalism in Cuba, rolled down the national highway at the speed of a Formula One car.

“Sir, we want to live to enjoy our short vacation,” commented a pair of married doctors who had spent two years working in the intricate landscape of deepest Brazil.

At least for domestic tourism, or because they are cutting back, Gaviota doesn’t include a tour guide on the trip. “What for? It’s assumed Cubans should know by heart their own country,” said the assistant driver, shrugging his shoulders.

Looking out the windows from inside the bus, the landscape of the Cuban countryside is lamentable. Bony cattle wandering around hungry, the invasive marabou weed overrunning wastelands, and little islands planted in cane and bananas.

On the outskirts of Jagüey Grande the famous citric cultivation plan created by Fidel Castro no longer exists. Thousands of acres are covered in grass without a single orange grove to be seen.

“I’m not saying oranges have to cost two pesos a piece. Three years from now, given the chaos in agriculture, getting an orange will be has hard as it is not get a piece of beef,” commented Joel, owner of a small family restaurant who rented a room for three nights in Cayo Coco.

One of the mandatory stops was at a country estate owned by Guillermo Garcia, an illiterate peasant who, after the Revolution, came down from the Sierra Maestra with the rank of commander and is known for his temper tantrums and whims and who has accumulated more power than a minister, despite not having a professional education.

Former guerrilla Garcia is a kind of “socialist” landlord, cavalierly above following the country’s laws. He owns cockfight pits, dozens of thoroughbred horses and drinks Chivas Regal like it was a soft drink.

There is no information or transparency about how the founders of the olive-green Revolution manage the public money, including for the military enterprise Gaviota. Cuba is a gerontocracy of old cronies who took power at the point of a carbine and don’t believe they are accountable to the citizens.

Around three in the afternoon, the Gaviota bus arrived at the Memories Flamenco Hotel. On paper, it’s a five-star hotel. In practice, being condescending, it would be a three-star tourist center. The military authorities of the smokeless industry on the island has a few unearned stripes to their hotels in order to charge more.

Memories Flamenco is a beach resort with an architecture in tune with its surroundings and the abundant vegetation. The service, is ordinarily lousy. For Cuban tourists there is no welcoming cocktail and the strip of beachfront is full of stones and appallingly bad.

The food seems to be plastic. There isn’t much variety and the native fruits are incomprehensibly in short supply. The culinary staff tries their best, but their slowness in waiting on the table or serving water is breathtaking.

Don’t come to this spa to eat fish or seafood. The main menu item, sliced chicken, eggs in all its variation, mutton, pork and low quality beef drowning in sauces and fat.

Cuban tourists are no longer used to what it was like before, loaded down with bags of food and dishes of meat looking like five story buildings.

Of course, from the moment they get off the bus, there is a marathon of drinking beer, rum or whiskey. Although the foreigners aren’t far behind. Especially the Russians.

“There are opportunities to undertake scientific experiments. Breakfast alcohol, lunch alcohol and dinner alcohol. I don’t know where they put so much liquor,” says a bartender.

The hotel’s recreation activities are varied and attractive. The rooms comfortable and the chambermaids strive to be creative in making up the beds.

It is always healthy to rest after a year of work. But paying the equivalent of five years’ salary of a professional for a five-night stay is not within reach of too many Cubans.

That’s the bad news. The good is, on 13 August, Fidel Castro’s birthday, nobody in the hotel celebrated the date nor was there a media barrage recalling the ninety-year-old ex-guerrilla.

It’s something to consider. In tourist facilities that operate “all inclusive” there are not billboards in support of the government. Something that the Cuban guests appreciate.

Hispanopost, 18 August 2016

Emigration: The Great Cuban Obsession / Iván García

One of the 8,000 Cuban migrants who, in January 2016, were stranded in Costa Rica and eventually were airlifted to El Salvador, where they managed to travel to Mexico and from there could cross the border and reach the United States, the 'promised land'. Taken from El País.
One of the 8,000 Cuban migrants who, in January 2016, were stranded in Costa Rica and eventually were airlifted to El Salvador, where they managed to travel to Mexico and from there could cross the border and reach the United States, the ‘promised land’. Taken from El País.

Ivan Garcia, 13 August 2016 — Like many Cubans who emigrate, Ariel celebrated by buying a case of Domincan-made Presidente beer and two bottles of aged Havana Club rum the day before his flight to Cancun.

Only his father and a couple of his friends knew of his plans. Weeks earlier, his wife flew to Miami legally as part of a family reunification program. Ariel, who did not want to wait two or three years to reunite with his wife, saved enough money and contacted a variety of people, who arranged his trip to Mexico. Continue reading “Emigration: The Great Cuban Obsession / Iván García”

Within three days he had crossed the border and after a thirty-six-hour drive arrived in the sun-drenched city to reunite with his wife.

These are the stories with happy endings that inspire Cuba’s would-be emigrants, who hope to scrape up enough money to make the leap.

The current wave of Cuban emigrants is different from those of the past. In the 1960s those who emigrated were mainly business owners whose properties had been confiscated by the Castro regime and military officials in Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship who were fleeing prison or the firing squad.

1980 would mark the beginning of a stampede by Cubans who, in spite of being indoctrinated by the military dictatorship, were escaping poverty, the tedious litany of alleged American military threats and the social polarization of those who think differently.

The emigration wave of 1994 was more of the same, with Cubans fleeing the Castro brothers’ ideological and economic madhouse. Even at a time when leaving the country illegally carried long prison terms, there were always people willing to fling themselves into the sea on anything that would float in search of freedom and the chance to try their luck ninety miles to the north.

All told — after Fidel Castro’s takeover, the radicalization of the military dictatorship, insane economic policies and overbearing social controls — close to two and a half million Cubans have opted for exile.

With the advent of a new period of economic austerity and the unpredictability of the immediate future, thousands of Cubans have decided to pack their bags. After leaving Cuba legally, a large percentage now travel overland, taking advantage of changes in emigration laws adopted by the government of Raul Castro in 2013.

In the last two years, as many as 150,000 Cubans have left either legally or illegally. Some decide to emigrate to Europe with the help of an Italian, who might be someone’s grandfather. Or they claim Spanish citizenship under the Historical Memory Law.* From the vantage point of the Old World, they can survey the scene, returning to Cuba every two years so as not to lose certain rights they have as Cuban citizens.

The latest group is waiting for the end of the Castros’ strongman rule to decide their future. Others are leaving, never to return. Ten years after the timid reforms by Raul Castro’s regime, the quality of life for most Cubans remains the same as or worse than it was in 2006

The poorest of the poor — a man like Heriberto, who collects empty soft drink and beer cans in the Tenth of October township — are not emigrating due to lack of funds. “If I had money or a house to sell, I would have done it right away. It’s better to be a beggar in Miami than in Havana,” he notes as he carries a sack full of cans.

A not insignificant number of small family business owners are making plans to travel or to emigrate. Carlos, a sociologist, has noticed that “people who make money and who have successful businesses are deciding to emigrate or see it as a distinct possibility. It is an indication that they are not confident about the reforms. Personal experience tells them that the government could reverse course at any time.”

Jorge Luis, a taxi driver, believes that, “for the state, private businesses are a necessary evil. They could dismantle them at any moment with a combination of  high taxes, administrative harassment and audits. The government is not interested in advancing private enterprise. That is why the goal for many people like me is to make money and then emigrate with the entire family. ”

Diana, the owner of a prosperous restaurant business, regrets not having been able to emigrate much sooner. “Things are complicated now,” she explains. “I have three children and family members I would never leave behind. But my plan is to be able to establish myself outside of Cuba. There is no future here; this will not change.”

Colombia’s deportation of the first group fourteen Cubans, announced through the official press in a memo from the Foreign Ministry, does not mean most emigration plans will be cancelled.

At least that is what Diego thinks. Ten months ago he asked for a lighter work schedule so that he could spend more time buying and selling dollars. “I made an exploratory trip to Russia to check out the possibilities of getting to the United States through the Bering Straights,” he says. “In the end I decided to go through Mexico. With all the corruption there, you can get anything if you pay cash. So in September I will be flying to Mexico City.”

And he will not be going alone. Accompanying him will be his wife and ten-month-old infant. Braving the dangers that come with a journey led by unscrupulous and violent human smugglers, many Cubans put themselves at risk on this migratory adventure, traveling with the elderly, small children and pregnant women.

Neither the repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act nor the massive deportation of Cubans from Ecuador and Colombia will deter Cubans determined to leave their homeland. The fact is people will always try to escape from a country where life has become unbearable.

*Translator’s note: A 2007 Spanish law that, among other things, grants certain rights to descendants of the victims of the Spanish civil war and the subsequent Franco dictatorship.

Without Eusebio Leal, Habaguanex is Controlled by the Military / Iván García

Eusebio Leal. Taken from Habana Nuestra [Our Havana].
Eusebio Leal. Taken from Habana Nuestra [Our Havana].
Iván García, 9 August 2016 — The sun illuminates the Plaza Vieja, and a humid heat transforms the place into an open-air sauna. When you set foot on the cobblestones, the sensation you have is one of walking on burning embers.

At the entrance of the planetarium, dozens of kids accompanied by their parents get in line to see this piece of Havana geography from a black-box camera.

The tourists, as always, relaxed and absent-minded, are drinking beer or taking photos of the Plaza Vieja, dressed in bermuda shorts and leather sandals, always accompanied by a bottle of mineral water. Continue reading “Without Eusebio Leal, Habaguanex is Controlled by the Military / Iván García”

In this tropical inferno, seated in an uncomfortable plastic chair, I chatted with José (name changed), the manager of the Habaguanex chain warehouse*. “Now everything is fucked up. They broke Habaguanex into pieces. Last weekend there was a meeting, and they removed Eusebio Leal as the head of the firm. You could see that coming. It was a methodical and studied escalation. At the end what they wanted was to control a business that earns hundreds of millions of dollars. Those soldiers are predators. They aren’t satisfied with what they have.”

Probably the best-informed person about the business of Eusebio Leal, the Historian of the City, who created an authentic empire with the intention of renovating buildings that are emblematic of Old Havana, is Juan Juan Almeida García, residing today in Miami.

This past June 13, he wrote a note on the website of Martí Noticias, “The Military Conquest of Eusebio Leal’s Empire,” where he detailed the strategies of the olive-green business group, GAESA, directed by Brigadier General Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, the ex-son-in-law of President Raúl Castro. [See Also: The Military’s Coup d’état…]

Juan Juan pointed out: “Continuing a very well-plotted plan that includes taking advantage of Dr. Eusebio Leal’s illness to strengthen, even more, the dominion in the chain of commercial and business supremacy in every corner of the island, next October 30, Habaguanex, the tourist company that once belonged to the Historic Center of Old Havana, will be completely in the hands of the greatest of the Cuban predators, the Business Administrative Group of the Armed Forces.”

Much has been leaked about the audit done by the General Comptroller and the Council of State of the business that bears the name of the first Havana cacique**. Even today, missing millionaires and presumptive cases of corruption in the central warehouses are being revealed.

“It’s common practice among corrupt officials to revise, write-off and sell outside Cuba the new equipment recently installed in hotels, hostels, properties, shops, restaurants and cafeterias of the business; but to make Habaguanex dependent on Gaviota is one of the most audacious and malicious measures that this military corporation, directed by Rodríguez López-Callejas, has taken,” according to a source of Almeida’s close to the publicized inspection.

Idania, an architect on Eusebio Leal’s project, visibly disgusted, considers the administrative transfer to be an error. “They told me in the Saturday meeting that Military Counter-intelligence applied security measures so that nothing would be leaked. They prohibited mobile phones, and those who aren’t discreet, in addition to being separated definitively from their work posts, can receive penal sanction. The soldiers are like an elephant in a toy store. I can tell you that it’s not going to work. The armed forces control a sector of tourism and ETECSA [Cuba’s tele-communications company], and that hasn’t brought a better performance. On the contrary.”

Many workers think that their salaries will be affected. “We have a special salary regulation designed by Eusebio himself. We earn higher salaries in our jobs than in the rest of the country. If now the guards start applying Resolution 17 [which stipulates that company profits be linked to wages], our salaries can be reduced by half. I was earning a monthly salary of 2,000 Cuban pesos and almost 100 convertible pesos. If this is lowered with the new administration, hundreds of workers will lose their leave,” says Osvaldo, a mason who works on the restoration of the Capitolio Nacional.

The offensive of the military entrepreneurs isn’t new. In September of last year, a scrapping brigade, in a little more than two hours, dismantled the aluminum pipes and awnings of three open-air bars on the Avenida del Puerto, where hundreds of habaneros and tourists were drinking beer or eating fried chicken among ambling musicians and prostitutes on the hunt for clients. In one blow, it put a halt to two dozen workers, and others had to relocate, causing important salary losses.

But the real interests are elsewhere. Let’s call him “Mario,” a bureaucrat of the Habaguanex corporation. He tells us that “the businesses adjacent to the port are already controlled by military companies, from the rent and liens on the old warehouse of San José, now converted into a crafts market, up to hostels, cafés, restaurants and shops. There’s a master plan to convert the port into a tourist plaza that offers recreation and services for cruise excursions.”

Nicolás, an accountant at Habaguanex, recognizes that “as in all the sectors of the country, corruption in business was brutal. There were warehouses where the entrance and exit of commodities didn’t comply with the loading cards. But the work of restoration of Old Havana and other historic sites is, perhaps, the one thing that works well in Cuba. No other State institution has been able to save or maintain the old buildings in the city.”

In the last months, there’s been a withdrawal of the Government to avoid facing new economic reforms. The most conservative sector of the Party is at the front of the country’s direction. Among the recent changes in the “furniture” are the replacements of the Minister of Culture and the czar of reforms, Marino Murillo, who was at the front of the economic portfolio.

According to what can be known, General Leonardo Andollo Valdés, the father of the swimmer and diving instructor, Deborah Andollo, will be the head of Habaguanex.

It’s not known what new functions Eusebio Leal Spengler will perform. Will he act exclusively as the Historian of Havana or will he pass to the “pajama plan” [i.e. forced retirement]? In an autocracy of command and control, anything is possible.

Translator’s notes:

*The Habaguanex Tourist Company, a Cuban corporation, belongs to the Office of the Historian of Havana City, directed by Eusebio Leal. It owns hotels, shopping and cultural services. Its sustainable development generates income that is used to restore the Historic Center and to improve living conditions for the local population. 
**Habaguanex was the chieftain who ruled the area where Havana is located today, before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Hookers Will Increase With The Tourist Boom And The Economic Austerity / Iván García

Photo taken from My Wall Paper Top.
Photo taken from My Wall Paper Top.

Iván García, 5 August 2016 — In the middle of the empty bottles of aged rum and the Presidente Dominican beer washed down on the patio, five people are drinking and talking about sports and business. From the back comes the sound of the Reggaeton, Hasta que se seque el Malecón, [“Until the Malecón dries up”] of Jacob Forever [a Reggaeton star].

Meanwhile, four girls are taking turns with a chipped soda can, inhaling a mix of cocaine and a bite of cigar, known in Cuba as cambolo. Continue reading “Hookers Will Increase With The Tourist Boom And The Economic Austerity / Iván García”

The party can very well cost the equivalent of 200 dollars. Eduardo, a mid-level official in Foreign Commerce, sums up the expenses: “Forty-eight convertible pesos [CUC] for two boxes of beer, 40 CUC for five bottles of aged rum, 25 for four kilos of chicken and two tins of tuna for snorting, and 100 CUC for the drugs and whores.”

And what are they celebrating? “Nothing special. In Cuba you celebrate anything. A success is the same as a failure. We’re not going to resolve the economic crisis by struggling. When you have a little bit of money, that’s synonymous with a party, sex and pachanga music. There doesn’t have to be anything more,” comments Armando, the owner of a private auto repair business.

Now it’s common, at least in Havana, for a group of friends to rent a swimming pool or a house and bring in food, Reggaeton music and prostitutes to have fun. In the summer, hookers like Elisa take advantage of the prosperity to fatten their wallets.

In private bars, discos and central areas, the hookers prowl around without much discretion. They stand out: very short, skin-tight skirts and strong perfume.

“The clients are drawn to us like moths to a flame. There are nights when you can make up to 250 CUC. In the morning, an Italian; in the afternoon, a Spaniard; and at night, an old Cuban,” says Elisa.

And the economic crisis? The new stage of austerity? “That’s for those who work for the State. Those who have private businesses, who work in tourism or make money under the table continue enjoying life in style. They break open a can and a heap of hookers appear. There are more of us every time,” says Elisa.

And the prognosis points to continued growth. At least that’s what Carlos, a sociologist who lives south of the capital, thinks. “In periods of economic hardship, people opt for the easiest way to make money. During the Special Period, only between 1993 and 2000, prostitution in Cuba took off and expanded. They weren’t only in the tourist sector. They began to operate among that portion of Cubans who have businesses, and now you can see them in poor neighborhoods where entertainment consists of drinking alcohol and flirting with cheap hookers.”

The number of prostitutes in Cuba is unknown. The sociologist beleives that the figure “is greater than 20,000 women on the whole island. If we add the men who prostitute themselves, the level could reach 30,000 people. To that you have to add those who live off the business, like the pimps, corrupt policeman, tourism employees, owners of rental houses, taxi drivers and photographers, among others. We’re talking about an enterprise.”

The tourist boom on the island is a very tempting treat for many young girls whose families are a living hell. “Although most of those who prostitute themselves belong to dysfunctional families, cases of young people from decent families without economic problems are growing. They are dazzled by the good life, easy money or the possibility of getting a visa,” clarifies Laura, an ex-social worker.

It’s probable that, in 2017, the number of foreign visitors will surpass four million. And if the U.S. Congress authorizes tourism, the figure could round off at five million.

American tourists are very much sought-after in Cuba. They are known for being generous with tips and for paying by the hour to go to bed with a woman or a man.

Yaité, an ex-hooker, now married to a German, considers that “prices could go up. In the ’80s it was 100 CUC. Then, because there were so many hookers and because the tourists who came to Cuba weren’t very rich, the cost went down to 30 to 40 CUCs for a night. Now it can go up. And an American could pay up to 200 CUC for a young, pretty prostitute with a good body.

Elisa, a hooker, prays to her saints that this prophecy comes true.

Hispanost, August 1, 2016.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Voices of Change in Cuba Could Emerge from the Private Sector / Iván García

Bicyclists parading through Havana on May 10, 2016 in protest against high fines imposed on them and restrictions preventing them from operating in some streets of the capital. From Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID).
Bicyclists parading through Havana on May 10, 2016 in protest against high fines imposed on them and restrictions preventing them from operating in some streets of the capital. From Independent and Democratic Cuba (CID).

Iván García, 30 July 2016 — One a hot afternoon in May, a Havana bicycle taxi driver became upset over a fine of 700 pesos and managed to overturn a government regulation which he considered arbitrary. This triggered a flawlessly prepared legal argument, which culminated in a protest by about forty taxi drivers in Revolution Square demanding their rights.

Officials of the regime treated them with kid gloves. The government dismissed the fines imposed on bicycle taxi drivers and promised to investigate irregularities and complaints of corruption against state inspectors.

Without fanfare and despite continuing abuses, they continue working in different areas of Havana from which the government had tried to evict them years earlier. Continue reading “Voices of Change in Cuba Could Emerge from the Private Sector / Iván García”

Given what happened in the capital and the fact that the protest was covered by the independent press, one might think that the military dictatorship had shown a preference for negotiation over brute force.

In an article published in Diario de Cuba, journalist Omar Lopez Montenegro provided this analysis: “The protest in Revolution Square is an event worthy of further study. Images show the bicycle taxi drivers demonstrating an enviable level of organization, with their vehicles advancing one behind another, creating a perception of numbers and power focused on a specific issue. The protest upended a number of stereotypes. People in Cuba lose their fear when they are motivated by a matter they feel affects their interests. Opposition speeches heavily laden with policy statements are simply not in sync with their reality.”

I am struck by that last line. I have spoken to several of the pedicab drivers who took part in the protests. They were not just looking for attention. They only wanted their rights to be respected and for the state to be more flexible when it comes to their jobs.

No leaders of the deflated and divided dissident movement got involved, provided advice or put themselves at the forefront of the protest. The reasons? They vary.

The drivers did not trust the opposition and did not want their complaints to be politicized. There have been over a hundred disputes or complaints by workers and small business owners since April 2010 according to an official with the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT), the body which oversees private sector employment.

“Before, when a self-employed worker believed he was being unfairly treated by an inspector, the solution was to resolve the problem in a fistfight or by paying some bum to beat the guy up. But not anymore. Now they send well-written letters to high-ranking government officials, a large percentage of whom agree with them on what needs to be done. Complaints involve more than the need for a wholesale market and lowering certain taxes. They are also demanding greater autonomy, the ability to import goods from overseas and a legal framework that would allow them to invest in their own country,” says the official.

The private and cooperative sectors employ more than 700,000 workers. That is thirty percent of the Cuban labor force. Ask Francisco Valido, a former employee of a collectively owned bus company and open critic of the regime, and he will point out the devious strategies used by special services and government labor institutions, organizations which are always inclined to negotiate.

Valido has given dozens of interviews to independent journalists and has participated in programs by Radio Marti, a news outlet considered an enemy by the Castro brothers and their followers. Yet despite all the pressure exerted on him, they have never been able to remove him from his job.

Valido wrote letters to the Council of State and the Ministry of Transport, requesting a series of changes to the structure of transportation cooperatives that would provide a more efficient service to the population.

The state’s tactic was to lease a taxi in his name in hard currency in an attempt to silence him. “They will use any method of persuasion possible as long as we do not report these cases to the alternative press or consult an independent attorney,” says the owner of a restaurant who, when feeling mistreated, turns to the free press.

If any of the dissident leaders, who spend half the year travelling abroad to participate events of greater or lesser importance, had advised the workers at the cigar factory in Hoguin, perhaps their attempt at a strike for better wages and working conditions would have been successful.

According Oslay Dueñas, a former Labor Ministry official, “the self-employment sector is the germ from which factions and leaders will emerge to demand more fundamental economic reforms. They are a legal force that within two years could include a million members and which could provide higher quality services to millions of Cubans more efficiently than the state.”

The government knows this. That is why its strategy is to overwhelm them with absurd regulations and excessive taxes.

As a story from World War II goes, Joseph Stalin’s assistant mentioned to him that the Vatican had declared war on the Soviet Union. The butcher of Georgia asked, “And just how many tank divisions can these people send to the front?” When no answer was forthcoming, he continued making plans to fight the real enemy, Nazi Germany.

Putting this in the context of Cuba, the current group of dissidents could not summon even a thousand people for a protest march and is being worn down by disagreements and internal divisions.

It is private-sector entrepreneurs and the growing discontent of state-sector workers, burdened with low salaries and the ineffectiveness of government-run trade unions, that could bring about greater autonomy.

The tussle between the regime and the Havana transport workers is one indication of this. Faced with the government’s decision to regulate fares, taxi drivers organized in order to sabotage the attempt by employing legal strategies.

Today, the island is like a tender box. Any situation could set off a protest.

But the voices of change, anonymous and silent, are to be found in the private sector. They are the tanks Stalin was talking about.

 Marti Noticias, July 28, 2016