Price Reductions on Food Items in Cuba Are Not Enough / Ivan Garcia

Price reductions in Cuba are insufficient
Price reductions in Cuba are insufficient (El Nuevo Herald)

Ivan Garcia, 25 April 2016 — It is a Black Friday of a different sort. In the United States the morning after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the Christmas discount season, where people wait in long lines to buy electronics, computers and clothing. But in Cuba on Friday, April 22 — a date when the military government has reduced prices by 20% on a variety of grocery items — there are no lines

As usually happens at Brimart, a grocery store in the heavily populated Tenth of October district where products are sold for hard currency, employees open the doors fifteen minutes late. Continue reading “Price Reductions on Food Items in Cuba Are Not Enough / Ivan Garcia”

The Repression Obama Did Not See in Havana / Iván García

Some 46 Ladies in White who on Sunday, March 20th, were removed by force from Gandhi Park and subsequently arrested by members of the Ministry of the Interior in uniform and plainclothes. (Source: Nuevo Herald)
Some 46 Ladies in White who on Sunday, March 20th, were removed by force from Gandhi Park and subsequently arrested by members of the Ministry of the Interior in uniform and plainclothes. (Source: Nuevo Herald)

Ivan Garcia, 22 March 2016 — Just when Air Force One landed at 2 pm at the Andrew military base on the way to Havana, forty-six Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) walked in file along the central promenade of 5th Avenue, with photos, placards with slogan against the autocracy, and photos of political prisoners.

Starting eleven months ago, every Sunday, these women take part in a march which always ends in blows, detentions and insults between Castro supporters, and the opposition.

Nearly thirty foreign journalists, accredited to cover Obama’s visit, arrived at the Santa Rita church to see what would be the olive green regime’s strategy in relation to the resolute Ladies in White. Continue reading “The Repression Obama Did Not See in Havana / Iván García”

The Obama Revolution and the Average Cuban / Iván García

Cubans waiting for Obama to pass.
Cubans waiting for Obama to pass.

Ivan Garcia, 9 April 2016 — Quiet has returned to the streets of Carraguao, a neighborhood in the suburb of Cerro. There are no more patrol cars, no local police or beefy foreigners who look like U.S Secret Service agents walking around and checking everything out. But two days after it took place, Berta — a fifty-six-year-old housewife — remembers every detail of Barack Obama’s visit to the Latin American Stadium here.

“When The Beast (the presidential limousine) drove by, the the excitement was tremendous,” she says. “People were shooting videos on their cell phones and chanting ’Obama, Obama.’ A pothole on my street corner that had been there for twenty-five years was patched for the president’s visit as if by magic. They painted all the houses and fixed all the streets. People now call him ’Representative Obama.’ In one week he solved more problems than our local representative, a dim-wit who can’t solve anything.” Continue reading “The Obama Revolution and the Average Cuban / Iván García”

Fidel Castro Brings a Transitional Communist Party Congress to a Close / Iván García

Fidel Castro speaking at the close of the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in Havana in April
Fidel Castro speaking at the close of the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party in Havana in April (AP from Info 7)

Ivan Garcia, 21 April 2016 — He is no longer the beefy guy in the olive green uniform with a Russian pistol in his holster who would give improvised, hours-long speeches in a public square or television studio until he became hoarse.

It was a stale, slouching version of Fidel Castro — his hair combed back like an elderly man after a bath in a nursing home and dressed in a blue Adidas track suit — who gave a brief diatribe in a shaky voice, a man decidedly brought down by kryptonite. Continue reading “Fidel Castro Brings a Transitional Communist Party Congress to a Close / Iván García”

Raul Castro: More Boring and Conservative Than Ever / Iván García

Raul Castro at the 7th Congress
Raul Castro at the 7th Congress

Ivan Garcia, 17 April 2016 — A little bent and dressed in civilian clothes, with a dark blue suit, light blue shirt, no tie, gold metallic glasses, and a star on his bag, Raul Castro Ruz, 84, president hand-picked by his brother Fidel in 2006, among applause advanced to the dais in the corner of the room in the Palace of Conventions west of Havana.

After briefly adjusting the microphone and with a voice more hoarse than usual, the first secretary of the Communist Party began the longest and most boring speech of his political repertoire. Continue reading “Raul Castro: More Boring and Conservative Than Ever / Iván García”

Goodbye, Obama / Iván García

Good
Goodbye Obama! (See source, below)

Ivan Garcia, Havana, 23 March 2016 — Three hours before Obama delivered his speech in the Alicia Alonso Gran Teatro in Havana, while he was having his breakfast of bread and butter and cold lemonade in a private cafe in La Vibora, Anselmo shared ideas with a friend as to what matters the President of the United States would deal with in his address.

“You will see that the man will talk about the lack of democracy and human rights. This chap is not an idiot like Pope Francis or the President of France. He’s going to announce new things”, he said. Continue reading “Goodbye, Obama / Iván García”

Ben Rhodes: "I Am Optimistic About Obama’s Policy Towards Cuba" / Iván García

Ben Rhodes, with red tie, among the independent journalists Augusto César San Martín, from Cubanet, Iván García, from Martí Noticias, and Ignacio González (grey tie), video producer. (Source: Mutuum website, from Colombia)
Ben Rhodes, with red tie, among the independent journalists Augusto César San Martín, from Cubanet, Iván García, from Martí Noticias, and Ignacio González (grey tie), video producer. (Source: Mutuum website, from Colombia)

Ivan Garcia, Havana, 24 March 2016 — On any given day, getting to the residence of the press attaché for the United States public affairs office in Cuba, located at 7th Avenue and 24th Street in the Havana suburb of Miramar, never takes more than twenty minutes by taxi from the center of Havana.

But Obama’s visit had left the capital in chaos. Dozens of streets had been closed and police roadblocks set up in areas where the presidential limousine, known as “The Beast,” and its entourage were to pass. Continue reading “Ben Rhodes: "I Am Optimistic About Obama’s Policy Towards Cuba" / Iván García”

Cuba: From the Black Spring to a Rolling Stones Concert / Iván García

Cuba–Rolling Stones Poster

Iván García, 16 March 2106 — Around 12 midnight on Tuesday, 18 March 2003, I was en route to my apartment in the La Víbora neighborhood when, from the balcony, some incomprehensible signs coming from my mother set off the alarms.

Those were hard years. My mother and I were contributing articles to  the independent press agency, Cuba Press, prohibited by the government, which was led by the poet and journalist Raúl Rivero. We were detained, intimidated or warned by cowboys from State Security with too much insistence.

Fidel Castro, meticulously, had prepared his “crime” scene. Since February 1996, when MiG aircraft shot down four civilian aircraft of the Brothers to the Rescue, and with the turn of the screw to the embargo on the part of Bill Clinton’s administration, the olive-green strongman unleashed his furies upon the peaceful opposition. Continue reading “Cuba: From the Black Spring to a Rolling Stones Concert / Iván García”

Havanans Await Obama with Anticipation or Indifference / Iván García

Waiting for Obama in Havana
Waiting for Obama in Havana

Ivan Garcia, 15 March 2016 — Sipping every now and then from a plastic bottle with murky spirits that brings tears to his eyes, Arsenio is trying to sell a collection of outdated junk and a handful of old magazines from when Fidel Castro predicted that the days of “Yankee Imperialism” were numbered.

With two down-at-the-heels partners, they’ve thrown down a raggedly red blanket where they’re showing off their inventory in a doorway on Carmen Street at the corner of Diez de Octubre, in the Vibora neighborhood, a half hour drive from downtown Havana. Continue reading “Havanans Await Obama with Anticipation or Indifference / Iván García”

Havana, Waiting for Obama… and The Beast / Iván García

Source: Iván García
Waiting for Obama… and The Beast. Source: Motorbit

Iván García, 10 March 2016 — It does not take a Secret Service expert to determine, by the rush of the building work, the sites which Barack Obama is predicted to pass by or stop at during his two days in Havana.

If Air Force One touches down at Terminal 3 of the José Martí International Airport, the presidential Cadillac would travel via the East-West Highway to link up with 25th Avenue and on to the residence of charge d’affaires, Jeffrey De Laurentis, in El Laguito, where, it is assumed, the Obamas will spend their only night in Havana.

Terminal 2, the closest thing to a train station, and where US flights are received, was ruled out for the president and his entourage, according to an official of the place. Continue reading “Havana, Waiting for Obama… and The Beast / Iván García”

Cuban Dissidents in Western Democrats’ Selfies / Iván García

After leaving mass at St. Rita of Casia Church in Miramar, members of the Ladies in White gather a few meters from the church at Ghandi Park under a banner that reads, "TodosMarchamos" (We All March). The have been coming here for more than forty-four consecutive Sundays and their peaceful protests almost always end in assaults and arrests. From the New York Times.
After leaving mass at St. Rita of Casia Church in Miramar, members of the Ladies in White gather a few meters from the church at Ghandi Park under a banner that reads, “TodosMarchamos” (We All March). The have been coming here for more than forty-four consecutive Sundays and their peaceful protests almost always end in assaults and arrests. From the New York Times.

Ivan Garcia, 7 March 2016 — Between repression by the regime and the disdain of democratic governments, peaceful opposition in Cuba is paying too high a price for its shortcomings and lack of popular support. But let us not forget that they are victims, not the ones responsible for our national disaster.

The best screenwriters are undeniably good at turning villains into saints and can very discretely upend the ethical values of their readers and viewers.

Even those who never run a red light are pained to see criminals like Vito Corleone in The Godfather or Pablo Escobar in a Colombian mini-series caught and crushed by law enforcement. Continue reading “Cuban Dissidents in Western Democrats’ Selfies / Iván García”

Havana: Waiting for Air Force One / Iván García

Photo: Taken from Soda Head
Photo: Taken from Soda Head

Ivan Garcia, 22 February 2016  — If Barack Obama’s plan was to enhance the US influence in Cuba, he has made some gains. If his plan involves the use of a stealthy Trojan horse to bring in the internet, commerce and dollars to overturn the government of the Castro brothers and open doors to democracy, he will have to wait some time to see if his strategy was effective.

The military dictatorship and several thousands of its followers look upon the imperialist policies of the north with disgust, though they accept and even applaud similar strategies carried out by Russia as well as the nuclear deliria of a hooligan state like North Korea. Continue reading “Havana: Waiting for Air Force One / Iván García”

The Business of Exporting Cuban Medical Services / Ivan Garcia

Cuban doctors protesting in Bogota
Cuban doctors protesting in Bogota

Ivan Garcia, 26 February 2016 — In a hospital in East Caracas, a bronze plaque records:”To the medical workers who died in Bolivarian lands while doing their duty”, as if they had fallen in battle.

But they didn’t die in combat. They were victims of the street violence which has converted Venezuela into a slaughterhouse with the highest crime rate in the world. In April 2010, which was the last time the Venezuelan government reported on the matter, 68 Cuban doctors had died for that reason.

For doctors like Jorge (the names of the people interviewed have been changed), Venezuela was a nightmare. “I spent two years in a slum in Cerros de Caracas. Early in the morning you could hear fights and gunfire. It seemed like the wild west. The embassy advised us not to go out in the street at night. I have never felt so afraid. Not even during the war in Angola”. Continue reading “The Business of Exporting Cuban Medical Services / Ivan Garcia”

He is Obama, Not God / Iván García

Obama-620x330Ivan Garcia, 24 February 2016 — Neither American economic power nor Barack Obama’s oratorical skills seem to be enough to satisfy exaggerated, unreasonable or personal demands from the diverse group of Obama fans who make up Cuban society.

The national psyche is fixated on the underlying and widespread idea among Afro-Cubans that foreign money, investment and commerce can put the madness that is the national economy back on track.

After class at Eugenio Maria de Hostos, a high school located in Havana’s La Vibora neighborhood next to a steel mill, a group of students are chatting. “Dude, I swear, when Obama comes in March, I am going to ask him to buy me a pair of Nikes. My New Balance shoes are worn out,” says a boy amid chatter and laughter. Continue reading “He is Obama, Not God / Iván García”

Is What Comes After Raul Castro Worse? / Ivan Garcia

Photo from the travel blog Chavetas.
Photo from the travel blog Chavetas.

Ivan Garcia, 8 February 2016 — The family dinner hour is almost sacred in Cuba. After a frugal meal or a delicious supper, depending on what one can afford, comes the time for coffee, a smoke and a debate about the present and the future.

There are two factions: optimists and pessimists. Among each there are various sub-groups, those who are moderate, hopeful, neutral or disillusioned. Meal time, which usually takes place around eight, often coincides with the nightly television news.

On the island, as in much of the world, the television has a special place in the home. The family of Ignacio Remon, a private taxi driver, makes himself comfortable in his living room’s large brown chairs as his family begins chatting about this and that. Continue reading “Is What Comes After Raul Castro Worse? / Ivan Garcia”