The Legacy of Fidel Castro and the Future of Cuba / Iván García

Saturday, December 3, Santiago de Cuba. Elementary school students await the arrival of the entourage with the ashes of Fidel Castro. Photo by Darío López-Mills, from AP, taken from El País.

Iván García, 6 December 2016 — Some large scale political events, the ones where people are weeping over the death of a “venerated leader” or yelling slogans like ventriloquists, are really smoke and mirrors. A dishonest trick.

On April 7, 1957, a month after the assault on the Presidential Palace by the March 13 Revolutionary Council, friends of the dictator Fulgencio Batista organized a demonstration on the esplanade in front of the palace.

It was a rainy day but, according to press accounts at the time, 250,000 citizens turned out. This was a huge number considering that the 1953 census reported that Havana had 785,455 residents. (The entire population of Cuba in 1953 was 5,829,000.) One year and nine months later the same residents, probably in even larger numbers, filled the streets of the capital to pay homage to the new soldier messiahs. Continue reading “The Legacy of Fidel Castro and the Future of Cuba / Iván García”

A resident of Santos Suárez, now deceased, told me that on November 8, 1958, Batista’s hitmen were involved in a shootout for more than five hours with four young people from the July 26th Movement, who were holed up in a building at Goicuría and O’Farrill streets in what is today the Tenth of October district.

No one from the neighborhood came to the defense of Pedro Gutiérrez, Rogelio Perea, Angel “Machaco” Ameijeiras and Norma Porras, who was nineteen-years-old and pregnant by Machaco, the group’s leader. Residents remained indoors, watching the shooting from behind their blinds. They later recounted seeing the three men taken alive. After being tortured, they were executed. Porras was captured on a neighboring roof and taken to a military hospital.

Neither their torture nor their corpses, which were thrown into a ditch by Batista’s repressive security agencies, were enough to convince Cubans to hold public demonstrations. Similarly, dissident protests denouncing human rights violations are not enough to summon the large mass of Cubans who harshly criticize the Castros in private.

According to experts, closed societies govern by resorting to human fear. In a democracy, any incident or injustice can be an incentive for strikes or public protests.

But in an autocracy — whether it be communist, fascist or a banana republic — acquiescence and fear stifle rebellion. It’s not as though Cubans have a genetic predisposition for this condition. Certainly not.

In Italy, Mussolini reined in the Mafia. In Germany, Hitler used the public squares for his xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and militaristic harangues.

Cuba has spent sixty-four years under dictatorships. Seven under a capitalist dictatorship which respected free press and granted amnesty to political prisoners. Although it did impose press censorship at times, it also later lifted it. For fifty-six years the socialist dictatorship has invoked a false sense of nationalism and co-opted the heroes of Cuban independence for its own advantage.

Fidel Castro was clearly an important leader, for good and for evil, but only in the political realm. In 1956 he raised a guerilla army and launched a war that broke all the rules of conventional warfare, destroying a professional army that relied on artillery, planes and war ships.

He was a key figure in Africa’s anti-colonial movement. He provided men and materiel to seventeen African nations. He tried to subvert almost all of Latin American except for Mexico (although Subcomandante Marcos’ men did train in Cuba) with strategies that combined armed struggle with terror.

A majority of the continent’s seditionists — from Venezuela’s Carlos the Jackal to Colombia’s Manuel Marulanda (alias Sure Shot) — passed through the military camp set up in Guanabo, a seaside area on the outskirts of Havana. They also included commandos from the Basque terrorist group ETA as well as the PLO and the IRA.

In terms of economics, Fidel Castro did very little that is worthy of applause. And a lot at which to jeer. Let’s consider what has come of some of his hair-brained schemes, the lies he told, the promises he never fulfilled.

In Picadura Valley there are no air-conditioned dairies or robust livestock setting new records for dairy production. Nor any exotic fruits in Baconao. And Havana was never able to attain the standard of living of New York, as he once promised in one of his hundreds of speeches.

Rather the opposite has occurred. The neighborhoods he built are a master class in architectural folly. His schemes destroyed or depreciated sugar, citrus and coffee production operations.

His brother Raúl had to resort to urgent economic reforms, timid and still incomplete, if for no other reason than to paper over the disasters created by Fidel.

Castro I was a dictator, an enlightened leader. He did not have a 900 million dollar fortune, as Forbes magazine reported. He had much more. He had something that cannot be appraised in monetary terms. He had a whole country. A country that he ran like his own personal estate.

Now that he has died, the question that arises is: What will happen to the more than twenty houses that he owned throughout the country? Or to his private navy? Or his island in Cayo Piedra south of the Bay of Pigs?

The man whom God has just called home has, to my mind, caused damage on an anthropological scale to Cuba and to Cubans. He polarized society and opinions. He sold us on the idea that the Fatherland was synonymous with revolution and socialism.

Castroism did not end with Fidel Castro’s death. The regime still has some life left in it. But with his death an era ends and the revolution loses a symbol. International economic forces will require new reforms if it is to survive. A relapse into ideology and a retreat from economic reform will spell the beginning of the end for Castroism.

After Fidel Castro’s ashes have been set inside an enormous rock, supposedly brought down from the Sierra Maestra, and the funeral services have concluded, honest Cubans — those from here and those from there — must sit down and discuss whether or not we want live in a democratic nation.

All of us are vital to the future of Cuba. The best way to repair the terrible sociological and spiritual damage Fidel Castro has caused is to set aside resentment and engage in dialogue.

To paraphrase the poet Angel Cuadra, the two sides have the same hero, José Martí. Both always defend their ideas singing the same anthem and raising the same flag.

The war is over. Let’s build a new Cuba together.

 Diario Las Americas, December 4, 2016

Barcelona-Real Madrid: Also Mourning in Cuba / Iván García

Benzemá, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, before starting the classic Real Madrid-Barcelona, at the stadium of the latter, Camp Nou of Barcelona, on Saturday 3 December 2016.
Benzemá, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, before starting the classic Real Madrid-Barcelona, at the stadium of the latter, Camp Nou of Barcelona, on Saturday 3 December 2016.

Iván García, 4 December 2016 — There are three things in the spirituality of the island. Rumba, Santeria, and baseball, which for a decade has been replaced by the passion for football (soccer) among Cubans, especially the youngest generation.

But Fidel Castro is overwhelming. When the cedar casket reposed in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba, about 600 miles east of Havana, and the funeral is over with complete coverage by the media, perfect amanuensis of the Communist Part, is when people can find out what is happening in the world. Continue reading “Barcelona-Real Madrid: Also Mourning in Cuba / Iván García”

For nine days — something unprecedented in the cuntry — we Cubans have been disconnected from the events and sports overseas. A real media blackout.

Mourning, hymns and slogans rining in the ether. Also the mourners and exalted eulogy. In these nine days, Cuba smelled a little bit like North Korea, its ideological partner.

At this point, after 60 years of autocracy, the public applauds, fakes loyalty to the regime and signs whatever the government proposes [during the mourning period Cubans are being asked to sign a loyalty oath]. hallucinatory as it seems. But under the table Cubans continue to live in this stronghold of the real Cuba ignored by state media.

In that Cuba, people speak with fractured words, reinvent themselves every twenty-four hours, and clandestinely buy everything from cocaine to a yacht.

In the terrestrial island, not in the virtual or the delirious one that the Castro regime authorities sells us, after eliciting some tears on Via Blanca with the passing of the caravan with Fidel Castro’s remains, Oneida, on arriving at the shabby filthy room where he resides in the Luyano neighborhood, went to see the list-keeper who collects the money from the illegal lottery known as la bolita, and bet 200 pesos, around ten dollars US, on number 64, which stands for “big death,” according to the list that assigns a meaning to each number.

The funeral rites of the “big death” recalled that stage of the not so distant Soviet Cuba, full of prohibitions and a press worthy of Charlie Chaplin. It seems like a backward Middle East nation.

Now, from 26 November to 4 December, by state decree, there is zero alcohol. Zero films, zero soap operas, not even the news. The olve green mourning prevents Cubans from learning about Stefan Curry or LeBron Hames, paralyzes the insipid national baseball series and the fans missed the game of the year, between Real Madrid and CR7 and the Barcelona team of the flea Messi.

Spanish journalists who covered the funeral figured out where they could watch the game. “I hope in a hotel in Santiago de Cuba I can see the match,” commented a reporter from a Catalan newspaper.

In hotels and bars in Havana, where the fans usually gather with their scarves in the team colors — very hot in this climate — and wearing T-shirts with Leo Messi, Neymar, Luis Suárez, Cristiano Ronaldo or Sergio Ramos, were closed, complying with the official ukase of maximum mourning for the death of Castro I at the age of 90.

But in Cuba, there is always a Plan B. Those who have powerful shortwave radios try to get the signal from Spain’s Radio Exterior. Others, paid for an hour of internet connection, 50 pesos, the equivalent of two-and-a-half days pay, to follow the crucial game on line in the pages of El Pais or El Mundo.

At the end of the game, tied at one, Julian, who had connected in Cordoba Park, located on the border between the Sevillano and La Vibora neighborhoods, some crestfallen Barça were leaving: “33 games without losing, now we’re at eight points, goodbye league for you.” A friend asked him to speak softly: “Pal, keep it down with all this going on, the police are waiting to pounce.”

With the disappearance of Fidel Castro, the last guerrilla of the Third World, has deployed an dense ideological paraphernalia in Cuba, asphyxiating, that has brought back the animal fear among many Cubans.

Those who daily put their elbows on the bar do it in secret, so that the snitches and the intransigent followers of the regime don’t think they celebrating the death of the “great world leader.”

All the music has been shut off, and quinceñeras, weddings and anniversaries are postponed until  further notice. Also cancelled were dances and religious festivals, like the night of 3 December, the eve of the day of Saint Barbara, who is also Changó in the Yoruba religion, one of the most venerated deities for Cubans.

“Fidel Castro owned the farm and the horses. There must be calm until his ashes are deposted in Santiago de Cuba,” said the peanut seller who was once a political prisoner.

The dissidents are also quiet. The Ladies in White didn’t go out into the street to protest on the last two Sundays, as a sign of respect and not to provoke the repressors.

On his way to paradise or hell, according to your viewpoint, Fidel Castro pounded the table with authority to demonstrate that even as dust, he generates absolute respect in the population.

Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Havana, in a big mansion about to fall down, but with an illegal satellite connection, the owner spent the whole game keeping a dozen young people quiet so they could see the match, each one paying 2 Cuban convertible pesos, a little more than two dollars.

“Gentlemen, don’t shout so much, we don’t want to go to jail,” he told the boys. But the joy could barely be controlled when Sergio Ramos, scored in the last minute of the game. Result: one to one.

And when it’s about Fidel Castro, even a football game can be an offense.

Translated by Jim

Weeping (or Faking It) at Fidel Castro’s Farewell / Iván García

Cubans in the José Martí memorial in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution. Source: Vox Populi
Cubans viewing displays honoring Fidel Castro after his death. Source: Voz Populi

Ivan Garcia, 3 December 2016 — The flag with the three blue and two white stripes, red triangle and solitary star in the middle hung from a black flagpole. For the Rodriguez family, it served as the perfect diversion, taking the attention of the neighborhood’s informers and die-hard supporters off them.

They live right in the heart of the oldest part of Havana, in a poor, largely mixed race neighborhood, which is a hotbed of hustling and guile. Residents here think twice as fast as other Cubans.

They have always relied on illegalities and whatever fell off the truck. It seems to have served them well. In the morning they would wildly applaud a speech by Fidel Castro while at night they would stockpile sacks of detergent stolen from a state-run store. Continue reading “Weeping (or Faking It) at Fidel Castro’s Farewell / Iván García”

Those born in Cuba know these tricks all too well. While the Rodríguez family appears loyal to the regime, everyone in the neighborhood knows they sell cooking oil at thirty pesos a liter.

“You do it so you don’t stand out. You know how it is. In order to survive in Cuba, you have to be be ’inventive.’ You learn to play along these people (the regime),” as one of them points out before boarding a bus to the Plaza of the Revolution to participate in a public farewell to Fidel Castro, founder the first communist state in Latin America.

Daniel, a Spanish journalist assigned to covering the funeral, cannot understand the stories he reads and hears outside of Cuba about autocratic methods, repression and widespread discontent.

“You look at hundreds of thousands of people waiting in line under a blazing sun in order to sign a book of condolence and you ask yourself how it is possible that these people are paying tribute to a guy who built a system that has so drastically impoverished them,” wonders the astonished reporter outside the Havana Libre Hotel.

The reason is that Cuba is not a typical country. Only those who have lived under a dictatorship can understand such unexpected and widespread human behavior.

It cannot be said that the Communist Party forces people to attend organized demonstrations. Attendance is completely voluntary. But it is conditional.

When Fidel Castro was at the height of power twenty years ago, the head of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution — a neighborhood-based organization that was a precursor to the powerful social control exercised in Cuba today — went door to door, urging families to sign up for mass mobilizations or to vote in sham elections.

In the Castros’ Cuba the state is the entity that both punishes and rewards its citizens. To get a house, a television or an alarm clock, Cubans must demonstrate at labor union meetings just how much effort they have made to support the Revolution.

Improving one’s standard of living depended on participating in mobilization efforts and volunteering for work brigades. It was a period when an odd disingenuousness, or double standard, took root in the Cuban population.

Twenty years ago, being able to study at a university depended on commitment to the communist cause. After the demise of the Soviet Union, the iron grip lessened and things began to change.

Fidel Castro strategically decided to allow Catholics and other religious believers to join the Communist Party. Little by little the rigid control over Cubans’ lives began to ease.

But there is still room for improvement and much to overcome, such as the pervasive fear felt by ordinary Cubans. “My daughter is in her third year at university. Do you know that, if she comes off as being disinterested to them, it could have an impact on her future?” asks Ada, a convenience store worker.

Liudmila, who works in a five-star hotel, believes that, if she does not participate in “mass demonstrations, certain people (in the party, labor union or young communists union) might take note and sack me from my job, which is a contract position.”

Such moral calculation, which numbs a person’s will and judgement, is the reason people like Lorenzo — a seventeen-year-old, third-year pre-university student — can devise a speech for domestic and foreign television cameras from talking points while expressing the opposite opinions in his living room to an independent reporter, provided his name is changed.

Classic examples of this disingenuousness are the widespread comments and displeasure over the government’s decision to not place Fidel Castro’s ashes in the José Martí Memorial at the Plaza of the Revolution.

“It shows a lack of respect. There were people waiting in line for up to three hours in the sun to sign the book of condolence not knowing that Fidel’s remains were not there. It was a farce. They were keeping vigil for a ghost,” says Miguel, a construction worker.

These opinions do not echo the official party line. It is this kind of societal hypocrisy that allows the regime to govern so easily. Most people in Cuba think one way but act in another.

They prefer to watch from the sidelines, without making political compromises. They just wait for things to change. Assuming things do change.

From Diario Las Americas, December 2, 2016

 

Cuba: Not Everyone Sympathizes with Trump / Iván García

Cartoon published in Did Donald Trump's Executives Violate the Cuban Embargo? Bloomberg, July 28, 2016.
Cartoon published in Did Donald Trump’s Executives Violate the Cuban Embargo? Bloomberg, July 28, 2016.

Iván García, 25 November 2016 — After sweeping a park that spans entire block in the Vibora neighborhood of Havana, Silvio sits on a wooden bench and, in the shade of a carob tree and a fresh autumn breeze, guzzles a liter of cold water.

As for many Cubans, politics aren’t his forte. He’s serving a year of detention for hitting his ex-wife, and sweeping parks or weeding flower beds is part of his punishment.

“Things in Cuba are really bad. There’s no money, and it’s very hard to buy food. At the rate we’re going, we’ll soon be starving even more than during the Special Period. I don’t know how Trump could help make things better for Cubans. These scoundrels (of the Cuban regime) are the ones that have to do that. And they don’t. They steal all the money and then entertain us with their long speeches. Trump seems like an S.O.B., but the sitution in Cuba isn’t his fault. The solution is to sell the country in an auction. Can’t that be done?” asks Silvio in the warm, morning sun. Continue reading “Cuba: Not Everyone Sympathizes with Trump / Iván García”

Cubans don’t really like to make predictions. They don’t do them any good.

“They’ve deceived us so many times that people prefer to live day to day. The future seems like a fairy tale. From Fidel Castro’s unfulfilled promises to produce as much milk or meat as Holland, to a quality of life comparable to that of New York.They’ve always sold us the theory that the U.S. blockade (embargo) is responsible for Cuba’s misfortunes. Then a guy like Obama arrives at the White House, who wants to change strategies and whom Cubans on the island love, and they keep blaming their problems on the Americans. That’s why a lot of people don’t care who’s governing in Washington. The solution to our problems depends on Cuban leaders,” says Carlos, a sociologist.

Cuba is hurting. The streets are destroyed, the people are tired of speeches and slogans, low salaries and decades of shortages. To escape the daily drama, people cope by settling into a recliner or an arm chair in front of the TV for hours, watching Mexican soap operas or game shows and reality shows made in Miami.

Orlando earns a living stuffing matchboxes on 10 de Octubre Avenue. He would have liked Hillary Clinton to win the election. “Forget the story that she would have continued the Cuba policies put forth by Obama. I wanted her to win because she would have become the first woman president of the United States. I think the world is lacking in female governance.”

Although polls seem unreliable after the resounding failure of Brexit in Great Britain, peace talks in Colombia, or Trump’s unexpected victory in the United States—where citizens hid their intentions in the voting booth—in Cuba an overwhelming majority preferred Hillary in the White House.

Influenced by Trump’s bad press on the island, the continuation of Obama’s legacy, and other diverse reasons—from our mixed races to empathizing with a black head of state—the average Cuban was for Clinton.

Cubans didn’t really care about Hillary’s email scandals or the accusations made against her husband by a campaign volunteer. Nor did they care about news reports accusing the Clinton family and their political dynasty of corruption.

For Delio Benítez, who has a degree in Political Science, there’s a strange phenomenon in Cuba. “In general, when Cubans are on the island, they lean toward Democrats in the U.S. elections; but once they’re living in North America, a large portion of them vote for Republicans.”

Benítez doesn’t know why. “I can’t prove it with scientific studies. Maybe it’s the prevailing anti-imperialism in Latin America, or the aggressive discourse of the Cuban regime. But in the Cuban subconscious, Democrats are, politically speaking, more reasonable than Republicans, with their tendencies toward war and their anti-immigration stance.”

For Josuán, a vegetable and fruit seller in an open-air market in Havana, Hillary was a better option because “she may not have abolished the Cuban Adjustment Act. For me, and for many who plan to emigrate, Clinton was our candidate. Trump is going to repeal that law. And those of us who planned to leave will have to speed up our trip.”

The majority of citizens that have coffee without cream for breakfast also don’t expect a disaster from the Trump administration. “He’s a businessman.  Maybe he’ll fit in better with Castro than Obama. Hillary would have been perfect, but (Cuba-U.S.) relations won’t be broken with Trump. One thing for sure, things are going to be bad for us Cubans regardless of who wins in the United States. The blame for our misfortunes lies here at home,” claims Emilio, a personal barber, in a soft voice.

If you want to meet a sector of Cubans that applaud the election of Donald Trump, please visit the dissident, Antonio Rodiles, in the Miramar neighborhood in east Havana, or Berta Soler at the Damas de Blanco headquarters in Lawton on the south end of the capital.

That branch of the opposition, under the umbrella “Forum on Rights and Freedoms,” practically held a party over Trump’s victory. According to their statements, they believe that as repressed dissidents they will get more backing and financial assistance from the White House.

But it just so happens that, in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, anyone who has survived eleven U.S. administrations had an equal chance of being imprisoned or executed during a democratic era as they did a republican era.

Autocracies thrive and survive regardless of any major or minor international condemnation. Ending autocracy is Cuba’s business. No one else’s.

Translated by: Kathy Fox

The Death of Fidel Castro: What Awaits Us Now? / Iván García

One of the many billboards that went up all over Cuba after Fidel's death. Source: Infobae
One of the many billboards that went up all over Cuba after Fidel’s death. Source: Infobae

Iván García, 28 November 2016 — It was half past ten at night in the privately-owned Perla Negra bar in Havana’s populous La Viñora neighborhood and thirty minutes by car from the center of the city, where the locals were drinking mojitos, caipirinhas and even stout. No one had yet learned of the death of the Fidel Castro.

The dominant sounds were salsa music, reggaeton and Marc Anthony ballads along with the clinking of glasses, the shuffle of canapés and the whispers of couples in love.

No one thought to interrupt the party to announce the death of the old guerrilla leader. At midnight, Oscar Lopez —an engineer who was celebrating his birthday with his wife — was walking the nine blocks to his apartment in the Lawton neighborhood. He did not notice anything out of the ordinary other than a short line of four or five people waiting to buy ground pork patties for their children’s breakfasts. Continue reading “The Death of Fidel Castro: What Awaits Us Now? / Iván García”

As is customary at this time of the morning, sales clerks at small food service businesses were yawning in front of shelves of confections and cold-cut sandwiches, drunkards were lying on the covered sidewalks of Tenth of October Avenue, and a few gay and transvestite prostitutes were trolling for customers.

“I swear, nobody was talking a about the news. I didn’t even notice any extra police deployments. The night that Fidel Castro died was a night like any other. I found out about his death at two o’clock in the morning when my brother, who lives in Miami, phoned to tell me,” says Oscar as he waits in the line to purchase bread, which Cubans have bought from the state using their ration books since 1962.

When you ask ordinary Havana residents what they were doing when they heard the news of Castro’s death, they respond without any hint of drama. More than a few of them found out through text messages sent from Miami. This is not surprising given that a large segment of the Cuban population does not typically watch state television.

Most people watch TV through illegal satellite antennae or they rent a compendium of programming known as the Packet, which offers melodramatic Mexican soap operas and mediocre audience participation programs from the other side of the Florida Straits.

Unlike Miami, where Castro’s death took place on the day after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and hundreds of people celebrated with bottles of rum and roast pork, the news here was received here with little notice or fanfare.

For Cubans, Fidel Castro essentially died on July 31, 2006, when an unexpected illness forced him to give up power. By the time his passing was announced on a cool autumn night ten years later, his death had been long expected.

Sahily Téllez, a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore, says Fidel was a distant figure to her. “Unlike my parents, I did not grow up seeing him as a dominant figure in my life. To me, he was old news, a man who led a revolution and built a society that barely works. Fidel and other elderly officials like him seem anachronistic, conservative. Among people of my age, Fidel and Raúl are not very popular. It’s just that many of us aspire to live in a consumer capitalist society. We associate Fidel with poverty and his speeches were full of ideology.”

What most worries Daniel Pereda, a self-employed taxi driver who drives a dilapidated 1954 Chevrolet, is what could come after the death of Fidel Castro.

“The situation isn’t pretty. There’s the crisis in Venezuela. If Nicolás Maduro loses power because he is shipping oil to Cuba at rock-bottom prices, it will impact Cuba and our lives. Then there is the victory of Donald Trump in the United States. He is an unpredictable guy who will probably not continue Obama’s friendly policies towards Cuba. This must be giving quite a few people in the Palace of the Revolution (the seat of government) anxiety attacks,” he says as he swerves to avoid potholes in Cerro Avenue.

Already the state press has begun broadcasting extensive special programming eulogizing the life and work of Fidel Castro. The funeral planning committee has announced that on November 28 and 29 people will be able to visit the José Martí Memorial in the Plaza of Revolution to pay their well-deserved respects.

People are also being called upon to do something that seems mind-boggling: “Sign the solemn oath to fulfill the concept of Revolution as expressed by our historic leader on May 1, 2000 as an expression of the will to give continuity to his ideas and our socialism.”

At 7:00 P.M. on November 29, a commemorative rally will be held in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. The transfer of Castro’s ashes will begin the following day, retracing the route that The Caravan of Freedom followed in January 1959. The journey will end with another rally in Santiago de Cuba on December 3, this time in the city’s Antonio Maceo Plaza.

The internment is scheduled for 07:00 A.M. on December 4 at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. It was also reported that the Military Review and Combatants March, which commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Granma landing (December 2, 1956), and Revolutionary Armed Forces Day are being postponed until January 2, 2017.

Suspicions and rumors are spreading throughout Havana. Marino Ruiz, a grocery store worker, believes that “Fidel Castro died days ago. Everything fits perfectly. A weekend that correlates with December 2, the 60th anniversary of the armed forces and a month and six days after the 58th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution,” he observes. But the truth is that Fidel Castro met with the president of Viet Nam, Tran Dai Quang, at his home on November 15. And photos of the meeting were taken by his son, Alex Castro, and his personal photographer.

According to Ignacio Gonzalez, a nurse, the memorial events will be a nine-day nuisance. “There will be dozens of programs on radio and television eulogizing the ’maximum leader.’ And all this racket will no doubt go on for one or two months. You have to wonder what awaits us. If only I could fly to the moon.”

With no power to rally supporters or a message that resonates with the average Cuban, Castro’s death has caught the divided dissident community off guard.

“Difficult days lie ahead,” according to Carlos Díaz, an independed sociologist.” I would not want to be in Raúl Castro’s shoes. He is faced with an ongoing economic crisis, a system that does not work, a very erratic Donald Trump as president of the United States and the impending fall of Chavismo in Venezuela. He will have to move very carefully to avoid being the one who brought down the revolution his brother Fidel led. I believe the government will accelerate new and more significant economic reforms. But the political process will remain closed and they will continue exerting iron-fisted social control as long as they can.”

Julio Aleaga — head of the opposition group Candidates for Change, which advocates nominating dissidents for the few elected offices for which private citizens can compete — believes that “the death of Fidel Castro, a very negative figure, can be the catalyst for profound change. The conservative wing of the ruling party has lost a powerful symbol. And in medium term change is unstoppable.”

Diana Armenteros, a political science graduate, is not so optimistic. “Castroism has a lot of life left in it. They won’t be able to bury Fidel just yet. Let’s not forget that the military controls 80% of the national economy. Untangling this mess won’t be so easy,” she claims.

At the moment it is too soon to analyze what effect the death of Fidel Castro will have on the current situation. The funeral ceremonies have only just begun.

The legendary Plaza of the Revolution is being prepared to receive millions of Cubans who will pay their last respects to Fidel. And the Communist Party propaganda machine will continue to run at full throttle.

For a few days — probably for a couple of months — the place Cuba will most closely resemble is North Korea.

 

The "Dry Law" After the Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García

"Sale of alcoholic beverages prohibited" says a sign in a hard-currency shop in Holguín. Taken from 14ymedio.
“Sale of alcoholic beverages prohibited” says a sign in a hard-currency shop in Holguín. Taken from 14ymedio.

Ivan Garcia, 29 November 2016 — Cintia will never forget the day Fidel Castro died. Not because she had affection for the old guerrilla or felt devoted to the figure of the ex-comandante in chief.

One month ago, Cintia’s parents had reserved a room, paid for sessions of photography and makeup, and invited some 100 people to a party to celebrate her 15th birthday.

No expense was spared. More than 2,000 convertible pesos, some 2,400 dollars, four years’ salary for a professional. The adolescent’s birthday coincided with the nine days of official mourning that the Regime decreed for the death of Fidel Castro. Continue reading “The "Dry Law" After the Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García”

In accordance with the provincial government’s regulations, bars, night clubs, shops and markets were prohibited from selling alcoholic beverages.

Cintia’s parents had already invested around 500 convertible pesos in clothing and 400 in photo sessions and videos. The date of the birthday celebration, with plans for a dance group, a professional presenter and a bottle of aged rum on each table, was to take place on Sunday, November 27.

As a precaution, Cintia’s family, preparing for a shortage of beer, had already bought 15 cases of Cristal. But they figured they could buy the rum, which was always available on the shelves of the hard-currency stores, the day before the party.

The first problem came with the renting of the salon, a State center that was used at night as a discotheque. On Saturday morning the administrator returned their money, explaining that “because of the national mourning after the death of Fidel, recreational and cultural activities were suspended.”

Cintia’s family understood the reasons. “Look, here almost all the businesses are State property. So we decided to rent a private house. The trouble happened later, when we went to buy rum, red wine and champagne,” the mother says.

They went to dozens of markets and saw that black nylon had been put over the alcoholic beverages on the shelves, as a sign of mourning. “Señora, I’m sorry, I can’t do anything for you. If they catch me selling alcohol I’ll lose my job,” a clerk told her.

When asked where this regulation came from, they pointed toward the roof. “From above, from the Government.” As always happens in Cuba, when you want to know the name of the officer or minister who approved an absurd law, the web of bureaucracy conceals the one who implemented it.

Telephoning departments of the Ministry of Interior Commerce, which administers the hard-currency shops, the answers were the same: “We’re in national mourning for the death of the comandante.”

So what do you do with those who wanted to celebrate their birthdays or their weddings between November 26 and December 3? Or the devotees of Santa Barbara who always celebrate on December 4?

Although the official press hasn’t announced it, the Dry Law is extended to the whole Island. The journalist Lourdes Gómez, in Diario de Cuba, reported that “strangely, you don’t see anyone drinking alcohol. A cafeteria worker said that they received a directive prohibiting the sale of alcohol for the next nine days, the period decreed by the Council of State for national mourning.”

We Cubans are used to getting silence for an answer. Right now, Fidel’s death is the priority. He’s a genius and an important figure up to the grave, after his death, built up with a gibberish worthy of a Cantinflas comedy.

The celebrated tenor, Placido Domingo, who was going to make his Cuban debut in the Gran Teatro de La Habana, on Saturday, November 26, had to pack his bags and leave until further notice. Those who love baseball or football in the European leagues have to spend the equivalent of two days wages to get on the Internet to find out the results, since the official press and other media like radio and television are only giving news about the trajectory of the Maximum Leader.

By State decree, the army of drunkards in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and the rest of the provinces can’t drink beer or rum. “This would be in poor taste, to have people drinking and partying in the middle of national mourning. Where’s the pleasure in that? After December 4 they will have plenty of time to booze it up,” answers a police officer.

Those not suffering from the unexpected tropical Prohibition are the usual drunks. “Those people will even drink dog piss. The ones selling “chispa de tren“* are making a fortune now, since it’s not easy to spend nine days of this fuss without having a drink,” says the owner of a cafe on the outskirts of Mónaco, south of the Capital.

Private bars, restaurants and cafeterias can’t serve or sell alcohol either, but under the table, rum and beer are sold for consumption on the premises.

Coming back to Cintia’s family: At the last minute they were able to buy several bottles of rum and red wine. Of course they paid dearly for them. Finally they could celebrate her birthday, with the music at low volume. So as not to offend Fidel Castro in his national mourning.

*Translator’s note: Literally, “train spark,” referring to the sound made by train wheels on the tracks. A cheap, homemade rum, distilled from sugar and mixed mainly with kerosene or residue from petroleum refining. The toxic rum of the poor.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Fidel Castro Dies for Real / Iván García

Fidel Castro with his wife and the president of Vietnam shortly before his death. See details at end of article.
Fidel Castro with his wife and the president of Vietnam shortly before his death. See details at end of article. (El Nuevo Herald)

Ivan Garcia, 26 November 2016 — At midnight no one was talking about the biggest news story of the year along crowded Tenth of October Avenue. A group of drunks was downing white rum from little cardboard cartons, cheap hookers were plying their trade in a tiny park in Santa Catalina, and four transvestites in high heels were on the hunt for clients right across from La Vibora’s Red Square.

Ten minutes after a shaken Raúl Castro announced the death of his brother Fidel on state television, the event had barely registered in the darkened streets of Tenth of October, one of the island’s most densely populated areas.

No extra police were seen being deployed. Dozens of young people were climbing up steep Patrocinio Street to El Túnel nightclub next to the Los Chivos Park, intent on dancing to reggaetón music and drinking Cristal beer. Continue reading “Fidel Castro Dies for Real / Iván García”

Two bored employees at a state-run coffeehouse near the old La Víbora bus stop were talking about the the latest soap opera. People first heard the news only when asked about it.

The reaction was low-key, without any drama: “Is Fidel really dead? He has been killed off so many times before.” And the responses from those who had already heard the news were along the lines of “He’s had a long life” and “We all have to die sometime.”

Eduardo, a driver on the P-10 bus from Vibora to Playa de Marianao does not believe things will change much after the death of Fidel Castro. “The government has everything locked up. There may be some economic changes but, as usual, ordinary people like us won’t see them. It’s not just Fidel Castro that is the problem; it’s his cronies in the ruling class who don’t want to open things up so Cubans can make some money.”

Sometime after eight o’clock on Saturday morning, November 26, a number of people are standing on the corner Acosta and Tenth of October, speculating about what Castro’s death might mean for the future.

Lidice, who sells pirated DVDs, believes that, “with Fidel’s death, Raul can lay one era to rest. This gives him free reign to carry out real economic reform, not the band-aid solutions he has been using. Otherwise, the country is going to fall apart. If he wants to hold onto power, he has to let private businesses prosper.”

Diego, an information technology worker, is more cautious. “It would be easy to say that everything bad in Cuba is because of Fidel. The problem now is with the system, which is worn out, and the gang of corrupt officials who live off it. Castroism is not going to die with Fidel. The best option is to head for Miami, Madrid or Canada. It doesn’t matter where. The main thing is to leave here before it all goes to hell,” he says.

Denise, who has a degree in history, worries about the future after the death of Castro I. “After the funeral services are over, after the televsion channels have aired all their old footage extolling Fidel, then we will ask ourselves what will happen in Cuba. The country will not put up with any more lies. People want change that will affect their daily lives. Fidel was a guy with an outsize personality. His death has left a huge leadership vacuum. Have you noticed that the current leaders don’t have a political message to sell? They don’t express themselves well and don’t even know how to laugh. The worst thing that can happen to a politician is to not be able to offer his constituents any ideas,” she observes.

Julio Aleaga — head of the opposition group Candidates for Change, which advocates nominating dissidents for the few public offices open to citizen participation — believes that “the death of Fidel Castro, a very negative figure, can be the catalyst for profound change. The conservative wing of the ruling party has lost a powerful symbol. And over the medium term change is unstoppable.”

The death of Fidel Castro has come as a blow to the dissident community, which is clearly feeling disoriented. Without a popular base of support and unable to summon more than a hundred people for a public march, Victor Manuel Domínguez, a journalist and freelance writer, feels that there may be tough times ahead for the opposition.

“The current situation is frightening. Venezuela, the teat providing us with petroleum, is experiencing a ferocious economic, political and social crisis. Chavismo has an expiration date. Cuba lives in almost perpetual economic crisis and with a system that is a failure. The looming demographic time bomb, with a third of the population over sixty, is troubling. Emigration has led to the exodus of a quarter of a million Cubans over the last four years and the figure is likely to double. And now we have the election of someone as unpredictable as Donald Trump in the United States. The regime has already used up all its political time. It did not take advantage of the outreach from Barack Obama. Either Raul Castro takes on profound economic reform or the country collapses,” predicts the journalist.

Domínguez also believes repression will increase. “The regime has lost its greatest symbol. I believe that the physical attacks on opponents at the barricades will worsen. They’re going to play hardball.”

So begins a waiting period to see if the physical absence of Fidel Castro will lead to major reforms or will provoke greater retrenchment by the most conservative wing of the military dictatorship. But that is a story yet to be told.

Photo: On December 15, ten days before his death, Fidel Castro met with Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang (third from left) and a Vietnamese delegation. The woman behind Castro is his wife, Dalia Soto del Valle. The photo was arranged by Castro’s son Alex and his personal photographer, and is probably one of the last public images of the elderly leader. From El Nuevo Herald.

Cuban Emigration: All Roads Lead to the United States / Iván García

The line outside the US embassy in Havana can be seen Monday through Friday. Source: Faro Trimestral blog.
The line outside the US embassy in Havana can be seen Monday through Friday. Source: Faro Trimestral blog.

Ivan Garcia, 17 November 2016 — Yoandry, 29, vowed that he would emigrate fromCuba in 2016. The best strategy was not to put all his eggs in one basket.

Last year he sent in a form to participate in the global lottery offered annually by the United States government. “To have an American visa is like winning the lottery. But in the end I chose other paths,” commented Alvarez on leaving an airline reservation office.

Yoandry and his wife ruled out the maritime route. Crossing the dangerous Straits of Florida with its unpredictably ocean currents and sharks, is not exactly an agreeable adventure.

The couple looked at three possibility. A marathon through a South American country and Central America, crossing frontiers led by coyotes; paying a sum that could vary between seven and ten thousand dollars to a corrupt Mexican immigration official, or traveling through Europe to get to the longed-for ’American dream.’ Continue reading “Cuban Emigration: All Roads Lead to the United States / Iván García”

“We didn’t rule out giving ten to twelve thousand dollars to a human trafficker with a powerful boat that goes to the Florida keys. But in a religious consultation, the [orisha] Itá said don’t go by sea. With the closing of the borders in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, with people stranded in Ecuador and Colombia, and the extradition agreements between the Cuban government and Mexico, it is hard to pay through that region,” said Yoandry, adding:

“So we chose a tourist route via Italy. It was the embassy that informed us about tourist visas and, incredibly, we had no problems. After filling out the various forms, we bought two tickets to Rome.”

For two years now, a Cuban tourist agency had offered a nine-day package tour to several Italian cities. It costs the equivalent of four thousand dollars per person, with stays in two and three star hotels with breakfast included.

“But, and this was important for us, the embassy gave us a visa for a month, good for the rest of the European Union countries. After the nine days, a friend living in Germany bought us two tickets on a train to Barcelona and from there we traveled to Madrid. Through social networks I men Cubans who are helping me to get work under the table. Then I hope to contact a guy who has connections with Mexican officials and get a tourist visa to Cancun,” says Yoandry, who together with his wife traveled with 11 thousand dollars and ten boxes of cigars to sell in Spain.

Consuelo, 35, explored a longer journey. “I filled out the form for the 2017 United States visa lottery. I don’t have family in that country and it is an excellent possibility. But you have to have a lot of luck to win a visa. And when people decide to emigrate they are desperate and they can’t wait for good luck.”

In the summer of 2015, Consuelo traveled to Russia, one of the few countries that doesn’t demand a visa from Cubans. In Moscow she bought printed fabric to resell in Havana.

“In Moscow there is a network of Cubans who take you to the cheapest stores. I looked into the possibility of buying a trans-Siberian train ticket that would take me to a point close to the Russian border with Alaska. But this is heavily guarded and even in the summer terribly cold. You have to have several strategies to leave. Now, thanks to a religious project, I am going to Canada soon. And from there I’ll hop over the border with a single step,” says Consuelo.

It is incredible how Cubans have done detailed research, created networks and designed protocols for emigration plans with the objective of leaving Cuba. According to some official statistics in the last 20 years 660,000 Cubans have emigrated from their country.

For Diana, a demographer, the data isn’t correct. “Don’t play with the ticket list. Just for family reunification, since the 1994 migration agreements with Bill Clinton, the US consulate in Havana has awarded at least 20,000 visas a year, which gives us a figure of 440,000 people at a minimum. And only in the last two years, almost 100,000 people have gone to the United States via underground routes.”

Diana believes that the real figures approach or exceed a million people. An authentic human drama in a nation where there is no civil war nor huge natural disasters as in Haiti.

Fermin, 41, has no one in the United States and no money for a foreign trip. He makes a living under the table, eats poorly and drinks too much cheap rum. With a friend, last week he was outside the US embassy in Havana. “I paid 20 Cuban convertible pesos to one of those guys who works filling out the paperwork. Then you wait. Luck is crazy and it can touch anyone,” he said, sitting in a Havana park.

US embassy officials in Havana clarify that the lottery program is not exclusive to Cuba. “It awards 500 visas on the island the person doesn’t necessarily have relatives in the United States,” said an official who said he didn’t know the number of Cubans signed up for the lottery.

The timeframe for the new lottery is 1 October to 7 November 2016. Like previous lotteries it has a global character, is administered by the Department of State and offers permanent resident visas to those citizens who meet the simple, but strict, requirements to qualify.

The requirements for participation are simple: be born in Cuba and, at a minimum, have a high school diploma or two years of work experience. The candidates are chosen at random by computer draws. The registration for the 2017 Diversity Visa is made only through the E-DV website: www.dvlottery.state.gov. On 2 May 2017, confirmed applicants must go back to the site and check if their application was accepted.

But, as they say, Cubans who decide to emigrate do not put all their eggs in one basket. They try through Central America, South America, Europe or the visa lottery. They throw themselves into the sea in a rubber boat.

The ultimate goal is to reach the United States.

 

Cuba, Getting On-line to be Informed: This is the Dilemma / Iván García

Connecting to wifi in a park in Cuba. Source: Cubanet
Connecting to wifi in a park in Cuba. Source: Cubanet

Iván García, 27 October 2015 — Roberto, age 47, is a balding athletic type who usually has earphones hanging around his neck, he’s an engineer, an expert in bridge construction. For a decade now, twice a year he goes to Miami where his children live.

Four hours before his most recent trip to the Sun City, Roberto went first to a wifi point in Central Havana, to upload photos and chat on Facebook. At the end, he inserted this message: See you in Miami.

The war against ISIS, the fifteen years since the terrorist attack against the Twin Towers in New York, or the intense debate now taking place in Cuba, with regard to the role of the national media, are not topics of interest to Roberto, a hyperactive man who, before boarding the plane to Florida, constantly looks at his watch. Continue reading “Cuba, Getting On-line to be Informed: This is the Dilemma / Iván García”

And, believe me: his case in no exception on the island. According to a specialist in internet data traffic who works for ETECSA, the Cuban communications monopoly, through which, in way or another, more than half a million people connect with some frequency.

“Between some 15% and 20% of the population accesses the internet occasionally and some 80% do it two to three times a week, and in some cases daily. But their principle interest is to speak with their family and friends living abroad, to manage the process of emigrating, or to navigate the social networks,” said the specialist.

On September 12 and 13, numerous of us journalists, academics, and human rights activists traveled from Havana to Miami to attend the Internet Freedom Conference, organized by the United States Office of Broadcasts for Cuba, and we have been attacked in the official media — and also by a former State Security agent — as Talibans.

In the two days of sessions, we debated, not without a dose of passion, the present and future of the internet on the island. I recall a phrase of Norge Rodriguez, a swarthy looking basketball forward, with a degree in telecommunications engineering, who said:

“In the 19th century, Cuba was the 6th most advanced nation in railroads. But in the 21st century, we are last in line in internet access. What needs to be understood, is that the internet is about much more than communications or information. It is a vital part of the development of the country. This backwardness is caused by the Cuban government, and we will pay the bill for that,” said Norge at the event, held at an art school in a Miami neighborhood where the walls are covered with graffiti.

Those of us who came from Cuba to participate in the conference had a flood of ideas in our heads. How to use the internet without internet, or how to strengthen the wifi signal through nano devices. Because if there is something that we are convinced of it is that sooner or later the network of networks will land on the island of Cuba.

But what we also discussed, among the attendees, is what the priority will be for Cubans who want to have full access to the internet, taking into account the perennial economic crists and the hardships suffered by the population for half a century, above all the scarcity of food, drinking water, housing, public transport…

Having the latest technology in hand does not necessarily make a citizenry modern and well informed. In Miami I met compatriots who only use the internet to learn about sales in the stores, put up photos, or make snappy jokes on Facebook.

In the most connected nation in the world, I met several people who are atrociously uninformed, who barely know the work of the independent or alternative press, nor the work of the Cuban dissidence.

I fear that the Cuba of the future will follow this weedy path. A little intellectual segment interested in promoting the best tools on the internet and the new technology. And a majority who prefer to consume frivolities. Just like the rest of the world.

Translated by Jim

Villa Clara: Poverty, Wifi and Monotony / Iván García

In Santa Clara, as in the other cities and villages in the interior of the island, the horse and cart has become one of the main means of transport. Taken from Carol Kieker's blog.
In Santa Clara, as in the other cities and villages in the interior of the island, the horse and cart has become one of the main means of transport. Taken from Carol Kieker’s blog.

Iván García , 3 November 2016 — Situated between sugar cane fields and with the Escambray mountain chain visible in the distance, at the side of the old Central Highway is the village of La Esperanza, part of Ranchuelo, one of the 13 towns of Villa Clara province, some 290 km east of Havana.

It’s an unpretentious village, similar to thousands of hamlets and little groups of outbuildings deep in the heart of Cuba. Smelling of molasses at sugar harvest time, a parish with commercial and neighbourhood life going on in the village park. A place where everybody knows everyone else. They know every family’s ins and outs, and outsiders live the life of Riley. Continue reading “Villa Clara: Poverty, Wifi and Monotony / Iván García”

“The smaller the town, the worse the gossip. When my husband and I want to drink a few beers, we go to Santa Clara, the province capital, 16km from La Esperanza, because otherwise the comments start up right away: ’Look at that, those guys have money’. Here, people just have enough to get by, says Dianeye, 36-year-old mother of two children and wife of Servando, who has a 1936 Harley Davidson and is probably one of the most important guys in the village.

In La Esperanza, people count their centavos. In the El Colonial restaurant, at the side of the park, a lunch of white rice, pork chops, red beans, plantain chips and seasonal salad for 2 people costs 34 pesos, less than two dollars.

The currency exchange shop is empty. Two bored assistants chat about the current TV soap and one shows the other one how to connect to the internet via wifi on her cellphone, in order to sign up to Facebook.

“So that I can make friends”, says the girl. “She’s trying to get a boyfriend”, says her friend with a smile. And in these villages, getting married always affects the family’s future.

Dianeye knows it only too well. When she was fifteen, she married Servando, the father of her children. Often she rides pillion on the old Harley Davidson to get to out of the way places on the island. “Yes, once I wanted to move to Santa Clara or Havana, but I got over it. My husband built a good sheet metal house. After spending so much money we’re not going to leave the village, which isn’t very entertaining, but it is peaceful”, says Dianeye.

Peaceful and boring. In La Esperanza, minutes seem like hours. The clock stands still. You can chatter forever, and only four minutes will have passed. And the time also passes slowly if you decide to walk the two kilometers round the village.

The kids who have finished with high school, give each other moral support in the park. The pensioners read their single-focus national newspapers and talk about baseball, while they yawn. The drunks share a litre of Ron de Caña (Flor de Caña rum, made in Nicaragua) and when they are completely pissed they sleep it off on the red-painted iron and wood benches.

The bus that takes you here and there passes at certain times. If you want to go a short distance, you take a small horse and cart. A noisy out-of-date Girón bus (a type of bus introduced in the ’70’s to alleviate the transport problems of the time, also known as “aspirinas” — aspirins, because they helped a bit but didn’t cure the problem ), which has Cuban-made bodywork and a Soviet-era engine, and an exposed roof showing the metal structure, takes you the 16 km separating La Esperanza and Santa Clara.

Santa Clara, capital of Villa Clara province, is something else. Although still nothing to write home about. But it’s Cuba’s third or fourth town. In the avenues, there are more than enough slogans commemorating Che Guevara, a cantankerous Argentinian who occupied the town on New Year’s Eve 1958, during Fidel Castro’s guerrilla war.

Santa Clara has impersonal architecture. Self-built houses, groups of Socialist Realism buildings, same and ugly and planned without parks or leisure facilities. Some were built with ancient Yugoslavian technology, which town planners should not hesitate to knock down some time in the future.

Just as in La Esperanza, but  occupying a larger space, you will find Leoncio Vidal Park, surrounded by baroque or classical-style buildings and a modernist-looking hotel, the Santa Clara Libre.

There are several excellent privately-owned restaurants. You can have a generous portion of prawns for 4 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC, about 4 dollars) and a medium size red snapper for 3 CUC. La Terraza is one of these eating places, located in a narrow alley close to Vidal Park. It’s always full of foreigners passing through Santa Clara.

There’s a wifi point in the park, where youngsters chat to their friends, suitors or family members, on their cellphones, using the IMO app. The older folk, with their portable radios, discuss the Villa Clara baseball team’s performance, play by play, in the National Series. The fans get their hopes up over their national team.

“It’s two years since Villa Clara qualified for the second round.  Now we have a chance to put up a good show. I’m sure Alexander Malleta, reinforcement for the Industriales (a successful Cuban baseball team) will perform well”, says Mario, a total baseball fanatic.

The young people in Santa Clara, just like in the rest of the country, prefer football. And in the afternoons they get together in a cafe on the ground floor of the Santa Clara Libre Hotel to watch the Real Madrid or Barcelona Champions League games.

You need to be comfortably-off to go to this cafe. A beer costs 25% more than in other bars and it has a satellite tv channel. Around 11 at night, a dirty and half-naked crazy man begs for money from the regulars.

A security guard throws him out into the street. The number of beggars in Santa Clara is rocketing, just like in Havana and Santiago de Cuba.  They are referred to as ’itinerants’ in government-speak.

There seem to be three things which can’t be dealt with in Cuba. The future, the invasive marabú weed, and poverty. Santa Clara is not exempt from any of these.

Translated by GH

Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique: Farewell to an Exemplary Dissident / Iván García

Photo: Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique. Taken from the Facebook page of Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello.
Photo: Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique. Taken from the Facebook page of Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello.

Ivan Garcia, 5 November 2016 — When I began writing in 1996 as an independent journalist for Cuba Press, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique was no longer working as an economist for Cuba’s Central Planning Agency (JUCEPLAN ) and had already become an opponent of the Castro regime.

In 1991, together with another economist, friend and colleague, Manuel Sánchez Herrero, he joined the Cuban Social-Democratic Party, directed by Vladimiro Roca Antúnez. Later, with Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, also an economist, the three participated in the founding of the Institute of Independent Economists of Cuba. Continue reading “Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique: Farewell to an Exemplary Dissident / Iván García”

The most well-known members of the Internal Dissidence Working Group were Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Vladimiro Roca Antúnez, René Gómez Manzano and Félix Bonne Carcassés, and among their closest and most loyal collaborators were Sánchez Herrero and Ramos Lauzurique. These two also contributed their bit to the drafting of La Patria es de Todos — The Fatherland Belongs to Everybody — the document with the greatest national and international reach drafted by an opposition group on the Island.

La Patria de Todos was launched in June 1997, and barely one month later, four principal members were violently arrested (Martha, Vladimiro, René and Félix). On March 1, 1999, in the Marianao Court, the trial took place, one of those big, repressive shows mounted by Fidel Castro and the Department of State Security. The trial took place two weeks after the one-note Parliament, presided over by Ricardo Alarcón, approved the Law of Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba, better known as the Gag Law, which, if violated, provides for a penalty of 20 years or more in prison.

The four were given different punishments, although the only one who served the whole five years of his sentence was Vladimiro (they gave him a stiffer penalty for being the son of the Communist leader Blas Roca Calderío, the ex-Secetary General of the Popular Socialist Party). Quietly, in their own discreet way, Arnaldo and Manuel continued the best they could with their efforts for the Internal Dissidence Working Group.

In those days, Arnaldo was living with his two children and wife, Lydia Lima Valdés, in a one-story house near the old Cerro stadium. Cuba was going through a “Special Period,” and Arnaldo, in order to survive, was buying raw peanuts in an agromarket, roasting them and packing them into paper cones. He went on foot, selling them on the outskirts of the Zoo on Avenida 26 in Nuevo Vedado. Manuel already was in very poor health, with prostate cancer. in 1985, when he still worked at JUCEPLAN, he spent a year under arrest, accused of insulting authority. The motive? A book that Sánchez Herrero wrote about the similarities between Benito Mussolini and Fidel Castro.

But the two (and I know this through my mother, the journalist Tania Quintero, who was a good friend of Arnaldo and Manual), in addition to continuing unabated in their opposition to the regime, often got together to analyze the economic, political and social panorama of Cuba in the international context. “Some afternoons, in 1998, I had the privilege of conversing and debating for a long time with Arnaldo and Manuel. We met in the house of Elena, the daughter of Martha Beatriz, on calle Neptuno. There were tremendous shortages, but Elena always managed to offer us a snack and coffee. And more than once she didn’t let us leave before she had offered us a plate of peas she had just made and a slice of bread, which was then a luxury.”

For lack of money, Arnaldo walked around Havana on foot; his health was good. Manuel was taken away by cancer on May 15, 1999. Because their pockets were empty, Arnaldo and Tania couldn’t send a wreath, but they went to his very modest service, in the Zanja funeral home, the funeral home of the poor. They sat on chairs that allowed them to see the entrance of the funeral home and detect the presence of officials of the political police dressed in civilian clothing.

Tania told me, “We saw Odilia Collazo come in, supposedly a dissident who led a pro-human rights party. She and a woman who accompanied her approached the row where Arnaldo and I were sitting and greeted us. We responded coldly and when they sat down next to us, Arnaldo and I immediately got up and left.”

Manuel, as well as Arnaldo and Tania (and also Raúl Rivero) always suspected that Lili, as they called her, was a snitch. And they weren’t wrong: in April 2003, State Security itself uncovered her as an agent infiltrated into the ranks of the dissidence. Collazo managed to fool several diplomats — among them some at the U.S. Interests Section — and also Cubans in exile in Miami, while she offered her house for meetings with dissidents and then later reported them.

In 2002, Martha Beatriz organized one of the opposition groups that, in my opinion, was more focused on people and their reality: the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba. It was supported by Gómez Manzano, Bonne Carcassés and Arnaldo Ramos, who always was a kind of right hand for Martha, because he was a disciplined and organized person, with great skill in researching information and extreme care when it came to drafting statistical tables, reports or articles.

The Assembly had a short life. They gave it the coup de grâce on March 20, 2003, when they detained Martha Beatriz and some 20 dissidents in the capital and provinces who passed several days fasting, among them a young black man named Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Seven years later, on February 23, 2010, Zapata Tamayo would die as a result of a prolonged hunger strike.

Arnaldo didn’t participate in the fast. His task, on that and other occasions, was organizational and logistical. On March 17, 2003, the day before Fidel Castro — taking advantage of the fact that the international meda gave priority to the U.S. invasion of Iraq — would decide to unleash the most brutal operation against the dissident movement and independent journalism on the Island, Arnaldo and Tania met in the little apartment of Jesús Yánez Pelletier, on Calle Humboldt, around the corner from the Vedado Hotel.

That morning they had come together for a press conference with hunger strikers, and among those present were two supposed dissidents who were part of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society: Aleida Godínez and Alicia Zamora, who, in April 2003, would be “outed” as agents of State Security.

That morning, Tania remembers, Arnaldo had bought a copy of the newspaper Granma from a vendor at Infanta and San Lázaro. “And he showed me an article or an editorial, I don’t remember exactly, and commented that it gave him chills, that the Regime was cooking up something huge against the dissidence.”

Twenty-four hours later, Castro began the ferocious wave of repression that is still known today as the Black Spring of 2003. Among the 75 detained was Arnaldo Ramos, who had just turned 61.

His body paid the price of the almost eight years that he passed unjustly and cruelly incarcerated. But not his strength of spirit as a citizen, economist and dissident. In the three prisons where he was — Sancti Spiritus, Holguín and the last six months in Havana — he went on hunger strikes and protests, with political as well as common prisoners. But the most important thing was that in all that time he didn’t stop reading, analyzing and writing.

On three or four occasions, through his wife or the families of other prisoners, he sent his writings to Tania Quintero, so she could type them and send them out. They weren’t simply hand-written sheets of school notebooks. They were analyses of the socio-economic and political situations in Cuba. Texts that were drafted in the gloom of the cell. Annotations that he made after reading the first and last pages of the official press, the only one permitted in Cuban prisons.

It was very important for Arnaldo that his family, as well as bringing him a bag of non-perishable food so he could survive in miserable conditions, also brought him, although they were back issues, the newspapers Granma, Juventud Rebelde, Trabajadores, and the magazine Bohemia.

In November 2010, Arnaldo Ramos was released from prison, and I interviewed him for the newspaper El Mundo. In the apartment where he now was living, I could see the boxes where for years he archived the newspapers and magazines that he knew how to read between the lines and extract data that allowed him to discover the true economic situation of the country.

“When they detained me, on March 19, 2003, it was around 9:00 in the morning, and State Security spent five hours requisitioning papers and documents,” he told me. I reproduce here the first two paragraphs of that interview:

“He returned home on a Saturday. After seven years and eight months behind the bars of a cell and the squeaking of Chinese padlocks, the economist Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, 68 years old, at 6:30 in the morning of his first Sunday in liberty, sat down in the park situated in front of the modest building where he lives, in the neighborhood of Centro Habana.

“He wanted to contemplate the dawn, breathe fresh air and see ordinary people carrying their bags to do their Sunday shopping. He wanted to feel like a free man. After two hours of meditation, the sun began to heat up the morning, and the noise of the kids with their bats, balls, roller skates and soccer balls broke his personal spell.

“Then he began what was always his daily routine. Standing in the tiresome line to buy the official press at a nearby kiosk. It’s one of his manias. Gathering the daily Cuban newspapers and archiving them in a box.”

This mulato was born May 27, 1942 and died on November 3, 2016 in Havana, his native city. He lived in a tenement and made something of himself, overcoming poverty and prejudice. He managed to become an economist, marry a woman who also studied and graduated as a doctor, specializing in radiology, had two children and grandchildren and formed a solid family. He stays with me in his writings, which can be found on the Internet and in numerous blogs and digital sites.

But, above all, I am left with knowing what an extraordinary human being Arnaldo Ramos was, with incredible memory, simplicity and modesty. He has more learning and talent than most of the dissidents who surrounded him, but he always stayed behind the scenes. He had a humility that the present dissident movement lacks, where there are so many who get off on selfies, headlines and having the title of “leader.”

Photo: Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique. Taken from the Facebook page of Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Public Services in Havana: Real Chaos / Iván García

Source: Misceláneas de Cuba.
Source: Misceláneas de Cuba.

Ivan Garcia, 27 October 2016 — The state aqueduct brigade came to La Vitoria neighborhood on Friday morning and using sledgehammers destroyed the sidewalks to install water meters on every home.

The October rains transformed the open ditches into quagmires. Many of the connections were gushing water. Six days later, after the complaints and phone calls from the residents, another brigade arrived from the capital city’s Water and Sewer Company in a rickety truck from the Soviet era, to repair the leaks and fill in the ditches.

The work was bungled. The cement patches on the sidewalks caved in and some of the water meters continued to leak. Leaks of sewage water and drinking water are nothing new in Cuba. Continue reading “Public Services in Havana: Real Chaos / Iván García”

According to reports from the official press, half the drinking water in Havana is lost through leaks in the pipes. Some 50% of the water and sanitation networks in the city are in fair or poor condition.

State media broadcasts commercials targeting the population, urging people to repair the own leaks. But a simple faucet costs a third of a worker’s monthly salary.

Fermín, an official from the Housing Institute, recognizes that between 40 and 60 percent of the multifamily buildings in Havana have problems in their water and sewer lines.

“From leaks to poor installation in the waste networks. For lack of maintenance, the majority of pipes have leaks. Many of the pumps [which pump the water up to tanks on the roofs] are old and are big users of electricity. The tanks of almost all the buildings in Havana haven’t been cleaned for years, which can cause outbreaks of illnesses. The repairs are on the residents. The state, for lack of money, doesn’t repair the city’s buildings,” says Fermín.

The infrastructure of the Cuban capital is lamentable. The trash collection services are insufficient and people throw out their garbage and even broken toilets on any corner. In the streets where tourists don’t generally walk cleaning is conspicuous by its absence.

Only the electricity networks have been repaired, so there is less loss of electricity and the voltage has improved. The same can’t be said about the telephone lines.

“When ETECSA [the state phone company] was a joint venture business with Italian capital repairs were routinely programmed. But now that the Army owns it, it’s painful to observe the working conditions of our technicians. They have to work tying together old wires and many of them are screaming for repairs to be done,” says Delia, an ETECSA engineer.

On a scale of one to ten, the assessment of public transport is a zero. Getting from one place in the city to another can take two or three hours.

In Havana there is a network of articulated buses designated with the letter P. There are 16 routes that, in theory, run every five to ten minutes during rush hour. But most of the time they don’t run any more often than every fifteen minutes and often it’s every hour. The six existing terminals should have a fleet of 540 buses.

“The ideal is that every one of the 16 routes would have 30 buses. But the terminals are outdated or incomplete. There are terminals like Calvario or Alamar, with three routes each and only 35 buses,” says a drive on the P-6 route.

Also planned was a network of buses circulating through the neighborhoods and secondary streets of the city. But there is also a deficit there. That’s the case with the routes 15 and 67, and now people don’t even wait for them, as it’s usually three or more hours between buses.

Taxi service in Cuban pesos is a calamity. In the ’80s Havana had a fleet of almost 3,000 taxies. Today there are fewer than 200. They have to serve the taxi stands at the hospitals, funeral homes and train terminals. Then, when they meet their quota, they run illegally and are more expensive than the private taxis.

There is a fleet of taxis in hard currency, but they are too expensive for most people on the island. They run modern air-conditioned cars. And the prices are at the discretion of the driver.

For three years the hard currency cars were rented to the drivers by the state. According to Manuel, “even though now I can earn 200 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $200) a month, we have to work like slaves for fourteen hours a day to pay the fee imposed by the government, 55 convertible pesos a day. That’s why you don’t see any of the taxis using the meter. The people are greatly affected. If, before, the ride from Vedado to La Vibora was 5 CUC, now it’s 10 or 15 CUC.”

The regime turned its heavy guns on the private taxi drivers, capping prices and threatening them with big fines or the confiscation of their licenses for any who violate the state decrees.

But the official media keeps its mouth shut when it’s time to criticize the prohibitive prices of the hard currency taxis. If getting around the city is a nightmare, having to deal with the bureaucratic red tape is worse.

In Cuba, for anything you want to do there is always the bureaucratic red tape. Since a change in direction, getting a passport or paying a phone bill. The lines are hours-long and the officials, with their crabbed faces, treat us like we’re criminals.

Despite a fourth-world infrastructure, some absent-minded Swiss named Havana a “2016 Wonder City.” Of course its promoter lives in Switzerland.

Translated by Jim

Cuba: Journalists, That’s All / Iván García

Cuba Internet Freedom Panelists
Cuba Internet Freedom Panelists

Iván García, 25 October 2016 — Erasmo Calzadilla, a columnist for the Havana Times digital newspaper, is a controversial chap who listens to opposing arguments but but hangs on doggedly to his own opinions.

In a forum on Cuban journalism, organised by the IWPR (Institute for War and Peace Reporting) in Miami, Calzadilla ran into Luis Cino, an openly anti-Castro reporter, who lives very near to his house, in the the Eléctrico neighbourhood in south Havana.

In the panel discussion groups they came together with different political opinions,  but united by the same aim — to improve journalism in a country where the government tries to transform it into an exercise in loyalty and bending the knee. Continue reading “Cuba: Journalists, That’s All / Iván García”

The IWPR forum was a complete success, as much as the Cuba Internet Freedom conference was, which took place the week before, also in Miami, and which was attended by reporters, bloggers and communicators from the island.

Nothing new was said they nobody knew before at the two events. But it is always good to point to the closed and locked doors which exist in Cuba in order to exercise free expression and write away from state controls.

Elaine Díaz is a journalist of the people and former professor of the Communication Faculty of the University of Havana, and now Director of Periodismo de Barrio (Neighbourhood Journalism), a freelance project which tries to publicise the thousand and one environmental problems suffered by Cubans living in remote communities. In the IWPR forum she summed up the discussion about independent and alternative journalism in one phrase, coined by ex-official journalists: “Journalism is journalism, and that’s all.”

Elaine, along with Carla Gloria Colomé, reporter for El Estornudo (the Sneeze), a nearly-new digital medium on the internet with an entertaining and relaxed angle on the national reality, and Marita Pérez Díaz, the editor of the digital On Cuba Magazine, goes for refined reporting, with light literary touches, when she comes to describing the daily life of ordinary Cubans.

There is also talent on the other side of the street. Men and women born in different provinces, seasoned reporters from the barricades, with experience of reporting from the streets and writing op-eds. There were Ernesto Pérez Chang, Regina Coyula and Augusto César San Martín, politely greeting each other.

Standing on the periphery of the media they were representing,  the participants passionately defended their points of view and journalistic priorities. At the end of the debates, they chatted, took photos and talked about their future projects.

A newspaper column pointing out the repressive nature of the Castro brothers’ regime, can be as effective as an article or report written in the east of the island, particularly following the passage of Hurricane Matthew through Baracoa, Imías and Maisí, among other towns in Guantánamo.

Taking their different routes, each one transmits a message there and back. Cuba needs to change, depoliticising differences of judgement, accepting the rules of democracy, and respecting freedom of expression.

Of course, it isn’t a perfect objective, particularly when we look at the Latin American panorama with its dysfunctional “democracies”, galloping corruption, and governments coming and going, plundering public funds, and where democracy is sometimes a dirty word. It seems to me that one way or another the reporters present at the IWPR forum and at the Cuba Internet Freedom conference, were agreed about respect for differences.

Apart from the participation of prestigious journalists such as Verónica Calderón, who writes in Spanish in The New York Times, and the editor of Political Animal, who always provide interesting material for Cuban reporters, the most important thing, in terms of the meeting supported by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, was different writers getting together under the same roof, without any hysterics, or anyone being verbally attacked or being kicked out.

Nothing like the government’s stance of physical attacks or intolerant comments to those in opposition or reporters who speak out. Right now, there are bad times ahead for the profession in Cuba.

Opinion pieces from reporters writing under orders, and official ventriloquists, paint a dismal picture. They have gone back to frenzied attacks, some of them directed at colleagues from the state press, just because of a wish to depict Cuba in flesh and blood.

There are even reporters who have preferred to abandon their calling, before they become conspirators in carrying out their work in a way which they would find uncomfortable. That is what Yarislay García Montero did, who is now selling coffee and croquettes in Matanzas, where he was born. “Media analysis was going off in one direction while real life was going off in another. I think our journalism is merely partisan, working in an infantile manner, avoiding any conflict, in spite of the quantity of it which occurs on the street”, he says on the El Toque website.

The spiral of threats, malicious lies and repressive methods can put off many journalists from reporting the national reality with all its nuances. In a system like the Cuban one, the word is mightier than the bullet. That is why the regime is trying to silence them.

Photo:  Panel working on independent Cuban journalism, at the Cuba INternet Freedom conference on September 12th and 13th in Wynwood, Miami. Right to left: Miram Celaya, Ignacio González, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, Rachel Vázquez, Iván García and Luis Felipe Rojas. Taken from Babalú Blog.

Translated by GH

Nominated for Reporters Without Borders Prize / Iván García, Tania Quintera

Ivan Garcia (L.), Tania Quintera (C.) and Raul Rivero (R.) Summer 2000
Ivan Garcia (L.), Tania Quintera (C.) and Raul Rivero (R.) Summer 2000

Tania Quintero and Iván García, Lucerne and Havana, 25 October 2016 — To all our friends:

Thank you for the congratulatory emails to Ivan and me (Tania Quintera) for having been nominated by Reporters Without Borders for their Press Freedom Prize in the category of Citizen Journalists.

Thanks also for the notices published in Diario de CubaDiario Las Américas and Martí Noticias.

Let me dwell on the photo from Martí Noticias, the only one where Raul Rivero, Ivan and I all appear together. In the caption they say they we are in the press room of the Cuba Press agency, but as Raul Rivero used to say, Cuba Press was an “abstraction”: it never had a headquarters or a press room. Continue reading “Nominated for Reporters Without Borders Prize / Iván García, Tania Quintera”

Most of the time, the thirty some journalists of Cuba Press, climbed the three flights of stairs to the apartment of Raul and his wife Blanca Reyes, at 466 Penalver between Oquenda and Francos streets in Central Havana, and from its phone, a black apparatus with the number 79-5578, located on the hall table, we dictated our articles to people in Miami or Madrid and they posted them on the internet.  We’re talking about the years 1995-1998.

We had no internet and few Havana homes had cordless phones, which now are common. Then, we didn’t even dream of cellphones, texting, Twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook… If I remember rightly, it was in 199 when 2 or 3 of us from Cuba Press, among them Ivan and I, got some money and went to the Carlos III Mall and bought fax machines, and through them sent our work, a “luxury” in the midst of so much insecurity.

The photo from Marti Noticias, posted here, was taken in the summer of 2000 for a report on Cuban independent journalism, prepared by the Swiss journalists Ruedi Leuthold and Beat Bieri.

Raul in his only denim shirt, Ivan with his Sunday t-shirt, and me with my “coming and going” dress (in 2000 the island of the Castro’s was still living in “a special period in a time of peace”), we were ar Ricardo Gonzales Alfonso’s house, in 88th Street between 9th and 7th, in Miramar.

Three years later, on April 4, 2003, Ricardo and Raul would be tried together in the People’s Court of Diez de Octubre, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. For health reasons, Raul was released in late 2004 and April 1, 2005 came to Madrid as a political refugee.

Ricardo remained in prison until July 2010, when the negotiations between the Catholic Church, the Ladies in White, the Spanish government and Raul Castro, the political prisoners of the Group of 75 were freed and he was exiled to Spain. Ricardo continues to live in Spain, and in Cuba, it is worth remembering, was a correspondent for Reporters Without Borders.

Along with the two of us, Reporters Without Borders is also recognizing the hundreds of journalists, independent, alternative and unofficial today who in Cuba do or try to do journalism by and for Cubans.

But honestly, to be fair, that award should be given to those who are faring worse than we are: our colleagues Lu Li Yuyu Tingyu arrested in China; Ali Al-Mearay, arrested in Bahrain; Negad Roya Saberi, an Iranian-Britin sentenced to five years in prison in Tehran; the Brazilian of Japanese origin Leonardo Sakamoto; or the site SOS Média, of Burundi.

 

Cuba After a Hurricane / Iván García

Elderly married couple married in their house which was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Jesús Lores, El Marrón neighbourhood, Guantánamo. The photo, taken by Leonel Escalona Furones, was taken from the Venceremos newspaper.
Elderly married couple married in their house which was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Jesús Lores, El Marrón neighbourhood, Guantánamo. The photo, taken by Leonel Escalona Furones, was taken from the Venceremos newspaper.

Iván García, 6 October 2016 — One week. Perhaps two. That’s the shelf-life of news in Cuba about the recovery process after a hurricane has passed through. You can read information, which has a slight smell of triumphalism, about  the various teams of linesmen who re-establish communications and power.

A gallery of moving photos of the disaster provoked by the hurricane in Baracoa. The account is always related in military terms. As if it were an epic battle. If you can believe the newspaper headlines, the olive green big cheeses and first secretaries of the Communist party in the eastern regions really got down and touched base with the people.

While they are inspecting the devastation, they promise to build strong new houses, and they ask the people in neighbouring areas for more work and sacrifice, and tell them they can be absolutely sure that “the revolution will never abandon them”. After that, the news focus fades. Continue reading “Cuba After a Hurricane / Iván García”

Then the state scribblers turn to concentrate on the starting of the new sugar harvest or in the “innumerable production successes”, which can only be effectively conveyed in the black ink of the national and provincial press.

The human drama starts up precisely on the day after a natural catastrophe terminates. Ask any of the 35 families who are surviving in precarious conditions in a big old dump of a place in the town of Cerro. The run-down development, number 208, is located way down in Domínguez Street.

The authorities declared the building uninhabitable in 1969. Its occupants have seen a dozen hurricanes pass through. As a result of the floods of April 29, 2015, caused by torrential downpours, Raúl Fernández lost all the electrical appliances his wife brought from Venezuela. “I am 46 and I was born in this place. I have spent years asking for an apartment so I can leave here and, up to now, my requests have been in vain. The town council is well aware of the situation of the families here and they do nothing”.

Some tenants say that the only things they have received have been foam mattresses. “But, if we wanted them, we would have to pay, in cash or installments. It is 900 pesos for singles and 1,400 for the bigger ones. Government corruption. Because insurance doesn’t work, or works badly in Cuba, people have to pay for the fuck-all that they give you — a mattress, a rice cooker and a packet of spoons and cups, says Magaly, who has lived in Domínguez for 20 years.

In 2015, by way of Resolution no, 143, The Ministry of Finance and Prices put out a regulation containing the procedure for valuing, certifying, setting prices, accounts, finance, fees, and risk and damage management in cases of natural, health and technological disasters.

That’s to say a family which loses its possessions needs to pay for what the state can give it at the commercial retail price level. If it can’t, they authorise a credit which has to be repaid in accordance with the terms set out by the bank.

Also, based on analysis of the economic situation of the victim’s family, the Peoples’ Council, or Defence Zone, can propose to the Municipal Council or the Municipal Defence Council, if it considers appropriate, that the bank loan interest be partially or wholly assumed by the public purse.

Olga, aged 71, retired, and resident in a poor area of Havana, lost an ancient cathode ray tube television, refrigerator, saucepans, rice boiler and all her clothing.

“After an interminable paper-chase and standing in queues for hours, where I had to demonstrate that I only have my pension to live on, they gave me an airbed, some extra-large size used clothes, a half-broken rice boiler, a refrigerator motor, for which I had to pay a mechanic 500 pesos to install. For a year I have had to listen to TV soaps on the radio. And the number one item in the political propaganda is about Civil Defence performance, which is good for saving lives, but as for repairing the damage suffered by the victims, the government does nothing”, says Olga.

There are families like Jorge Castillo’s, who live in a shabby room in an old lodging house in the south of Havana, turned into a hostel for victims, who have put up there for fourteen years waiting for a home.

“That was the time of the tropical storm Edward in 2002. Imagine waiting until the people came from Santiago, having lost their homes in Cyclone Sandy in 2012 and now the people from Baracoa after Matthew passed”, says Jorge.

On 25 October, 2012, Barrio Rojo, in Mar Verde, Santiago de Cuba, nearly 1000 km east of Havana, was wiped off the map by the destructive 175 kph gusts of wind of Hurricane Sandy.

“Mar Verde is a community which has been officially recognised since 1981. It is located on the beach of the same name, forms part of the Agüero-Mar Verde Peoples’ Council, which covers 62.5 square kms and is District 47 out of the 277 which constitute the town of Santiago de Cuba. There is no postal service there, shops, farmers’ markets, pharmacies, schools or grocery stores. Only a family medical consultancy offering a basic service, reports the journalist Julio Batista in a shocking article published in Periodismo de Barrio last February.

Thirty one families, 85 persons in total, who lost their homes during Hurricane Sandy, live in little shacks in a poor old campsite where the water comes through the pipes only every 10 or 11 days.

The authorities have promised to let them have a group of new houses. But it’s a never-ending tale. First they said in December 2014 they would hand over the keys to 56 of the 250 homes. Then, in December 2015. Now, according to Julio Batista’s report, they are talking about finishing the works in December 2016.

But the people living in the Mar Verde campsite are sceptical. The people who lost their properties through natural disasters, whether in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo or Baracoa, feel they have been misled by the government. Or that it has not been frank with them. As if the tragedy they are living through is nothing much.

Diario Las Américas, 7 October 2016.

Translated by GH