The Route Jeans and T-Shirts Take to Cuba

Until now, the main route for private merchandise has been Miami-Havana, and from the capital it fans out to the rest of the country. Although it could also make the reverse trip, from an eastern province to the west of the island.

Private imports of products from abroad tend to come from Cubans who have the opportunity to travel overseas for their work, such as merchant marines, doctors, nurses, sports coaches, and emigrants, among others.

In recent months, the customs authorities have focused their attention on articles imported by emigrants, particularly those based in Ecuador, a nation that has become attractive to Cubans since June 2008, when President Rafael Correa declared that foreigners could enter the country and stay up to 90 days without needing a visa.

An opening that Cubans have not squandered. Add to that the advantage that since 2000, Ecuador replaced the former national currency, the sucre, with the U.S. dollar.

According to the Ecuadorian Immigration Office, in 2008, 10,940 Cubans entered the country and 9,935 left. In 2009, 27,114 entered and 23, 147 left. And in January and February of 2010, 4,800 arrived and 3,357 departed. Mario Pazmiño, former director of intelligence, estimates that 7,000 Cubans have stayed in the country, many of them with the aim of getting Ecuadorian citizenship.

On the other hand, it’s estimated that of the 296,000 Cubans who traveled to the island in 2009, about 200,000 were from the United States and in 2010 that number could approach 300,000. Since the easing of travel restrictions on the part of President Obama, some 20,000 passengers have arrived in Cuba each month. Every one with the accompanying “worms” (huge bags), full of all manner of cheap and knock-off goods.

Although official figures are not available, it is assumed that the volume of merchandise imported by way of individuals is enormous. And not just from Ecuador and the United States: thanks to a half-century of socialist poverty, Cubans are among the greatest buyers and sellers of schlock in the world.

Starting January 1, 2010, General Customs of the Republic increased the taxes on goods subject to customs fees. It also stressed controls of non-commercial imports coming in with Cuban travelers, with an emphasis on those coming from the U.S. and Ecuador.

On the internet we find cases like that of Jorge, age 35, who in Cuba raised pigs for sale. Now, in Quito, he spends every morning shopping, looking for t-shirts, jeans and cheap jewelry, original or replicas.

Jorge told the reporter that the greater part of everything “shoddy” he sends to Cuba. If he manages to get through without any problems at Customs, it doesn’t take him long to sell his goods, at lower prices than those in the “shoppings” or hard currency stores.

In Quito, the local sellers are extremely happy with their Cuban clientele. Ximena, a shop owner, decided to replace her inventory of towels with a line of children’s clothes, in great demand by Cubans. Angelita, an administrator of a commercial center, says that for the last year-and-a-half the Cubans have become their main customers, and they’re “so active that sales are up 40%.”

Ecuadorian police sources estimate that 70% of the Cubans who come to Ecuador are what they call “porters,” men or women who contract a marriage to be able to enter and leave the country easily, the better to realize their “commercial activities” between the two countries.

Whether from Ecuador, the U.S., or another country, the better part of all this merchandise is going to end up on the black market. Alfredo, 43, decided to give up his desk in a state office last year to dedicate, himself to”bisne” (business). “My role is to guarantee that the schlock gets to the people on the street immediately, as they are the ones who most need it.”

Laritza Diversent

Photo: Cuban in Quito buying shoddy goods to sell in Cuba. Google-Images.

Here Comes the Wolf! / Regina Coyula

My neighbor Tomás is very concerned because he just found out that a new war is coming. The newspaper on Tuesday June 29, confirmed his suspicions of Friday. According to his reading the imperialists will use the World Cup to fall on Iran*. He doesn’t doubt it, as Fidel warns of it in two of his regular columns, which are titled “Reflections.” Tomás does not ask why he wasn’t aware of such serious news until now, despite the fact that the initial incidents did not occur last week but much earlier, but these incidents have passed through our information sources with a very low-profile because they involved leaders friendly to the Cuban government.

Now that tempers have heated up they warn us of imminent war. People better informed than I am are astonished because the war is not in any of the news from other parts of the world (well, I guess in Iran and North Korea they don’t talk of anything else). My neighbor Tomás’s concern is how the war would affect us, for he, God in Heaven and Fidel on Earth, also according to his own words, Fidel has never been wrong about external politics, and he adds sadly, “It’s unfortunate that it hasn’t been the same with regards to internal things affecting us.”

*Translator’s note: More precisely, Fidel has been saying — in his newspaper column — that there will be a global nuclear war before the end of the World Cup in South Africa.

Sugar, Half a Century of Failures

55-21The article by Juan Varela Pérez, faulting the control and dedication in the sugar harvest, published in the daily Granma on May 5, 2010, is evidence that the critical condition of Cuban sugar production reflects the situation of agricultural production and the of the economy in general.

Among other things Varela said that “the current year’s harvest, 2010, can be described as poor in production and efficiency,” it has been “the poorest since 1905,” and the Ministry of Sugar  and the Business Groups had no control and had to enforce organizational alternatives that would allow them to solve the difficulties which as of March 25 resulted in “a deficit of over 850,000 tons of sugar cane,” that cane yields in 2005-2008 “grew 24 tons per hectare to 41.6, again depressed and showing a costly decrease,” and that to reverse the current crisis demands a comprehensive review and recommendations to analyze how to improve the cane yield “whose production is now the lowest paid work in agriculture.”

To understand the magnitude of the disaster, we review some data of Cuban sugar production in the last 115 years. In 1895 for the first time the country produced 1.4 million tons of sugar, an amount that fell with the incendiary torch during the War of Independence. In 1903 production was 1 million tonnes and in 1907 reached 1.3 million, in 1919 4.0 million was exceeded, and in 1925 the figure reached 5.3 million, in 1948, 6.1 million and in 1952 the country achieved the colossal figure of 7.2 million tonnes. In 1959 there were more than 6 million tonnes and in 1970 it reached 8.5 million, a record number in our history, with the drawback that the determined effort to accomplish this disrupted the entire Cuban economy.  Then the harvests between 1982 and 1990 were close to that of 1970, until 1999 hardly reached 3.8 million tonnes.

To address the decline of sugar, Ulises Rosales del Toro, Major General and Chief of General Staff of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), was appointed Minister of Sugar. In that position, he forecast a recovery and in 2001 reached the figure of 5 million tonnes. To that end he directed two projects: the Sugar Industry Restructuring and the Alvaro Reynoso Task. The first was aimed, among other things, at achieving an industrial output of 11%, which meant removing 100 tons of cane, 11 tons of sugar, but in 2002, 71 of the 156 sugar mills closed and 60% of the land was redistributed from cane to other crops, even though Cuba has enviable conditions for its production. The second, which is named after the famous Cuban Alvaro Reynoso, intended to achieve a yield of 54 tons of cane per hectare (well below the world average), which was also unsuccessful.

The strategy proved to be unfeasible. In 2001 there were 3.5 million tonnes produced instead of 5.0 million, an amount similar to 1918, and in 2002 it dropped to 2.2 million tonnes, the lowest in 80 years. In 2003 it dropped to 2.1 million and in 2004 there was a slight recovery which reached 2.52 million, then it fell precipitously in 2005, which produced only 1.3 million, the worst sugar harvest in the last hundred years — a figure that was produced in Cuba in 1907 — while the yield per hectare, as explained by Juan Varela, suffered a slight increase before continuing to decline.

The other measures taken for the agricultural economy have been, essentially, the enactment of Law 259, on the distribution of land in usufruct, and changes of staff in charge of the ministries.

The first measure, Act 259, is limited to handing over idle land in usufruct for 10 years; these are lands which were invaded by the marabou weed, to the point that the area of cultivated land between 1998 and 2007 decreased by 33%.  Despite this, the Law retains ownership in state hands. On Thursday, May 13, on the television show The Morning Journal, the journalist Ariel Terrero said that although Act 259 increased the number of farmers, they lack the equipment, resources and experience, and that Cuba is importing 80% of consumed agricultural products; that the yield of bananas grew over the previous year, a year which was also very bad for cyclones, but yield decreased in many other areas such as taro, fresh vegetables, etc., and that half of the land given by Act 259 is still not producing.

The second measure, changes of staff, has not had any positive effect; Ulises Rosales del Toro, after eight years without being able to stop the decline in sugar production, “based on his extensive experience of leadership and political authority and the need to enhance agricultural production, of the country,” was appointed Minister of Agriculture and in his place, as Minister of Sugar, Luis Manuel Ávila González, was appointed but later dismissed. More recently, the First Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Gustavo Rodriguez Rollero, was promoted to Minister and Ulises Rosales and elevated to the post of the comprehensive care of the Sugar Ministry, Agriculture and Food Industry.

The essence of failure both in sugar production and the rest of the economy, is the subordination of the economy to politics, the inefficient current structure of ownership and wages that do not correspondence to the cost of living. A millennium of experience and economics have shown all over the world that human beings act depending on their interests, so when the interest is gone, as has happened in Cuba for the reasons discussed, the result can be no other: preventing citizens, by law, from ownership, and paying them an insufficient income, means what instead of engaging in production they will remain outside the law, with the consequent detrimental ethical deterioration.

Hunger Strikes, Weapon of Cuban Dissidents

A tragic fashion. Objectionable to many. The only option the opponents have. They believe that in this way they can force the regime. It is their war cry. But it is not a new weapon.

Already in 1972 a 53-day hunger strike took the life of opponent Pedro Luis Boitel. It was before the era of the internet and global media. Few learned of it. One of the principal dissident organizations on the island bears his name.

After 1959, it was one of the most-used measures by those imprisoned for opposing Fidel Castro and his revolution. According to Archivo Cuba, of the 59 to date, at least 12 political prisoners have died from hunger strikes. Others gave up or, at the request of family and friends, reconsidered their position.

Oscar Elias Biscet, a gynecologist who began his criticism of Castro condemning abortion and demanding respect for basic human and political rights, used fasting as a tool to draw worldwide attention and to put the stubborn and rigid commander’s back against the wall.

He failed. Nor did the opponent Orlando Zapata Tamayo succeed, he died after 86 days without food in the hellish prisons of the island.

Right now, there are several Cubans who, as a way to protest for their demands, have chosen hunger strikes, more or less strict.

One of them is Egberto Escobedo Morales, who on April 16 declared a hunger strike in prison in Camagüey. Escobedo was arrested in July 1995 and sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, for the alleged crimes of “spying, theft with force, and enemy propaganda.” With his strike, he demanded that the regime dialogue with internal opposition. His situation critical, ten days ago he was taken to hospital Combinado del Este in Havana.

Guillermo Fariñas, a psychologist and freelance journalist, has maintained his strike from the February 24, as reported in this blog. A twitter from the opposition Martha Beatriz Roque, reported that on the night of Sunday 27 June, a group of dissidents was going to spend the night outside the hospital Arnaldo Milian, of Santa Clara.

Since March 11 Fariñas has been in intensive care there, but his health has deteriorated alarmingly. His current physical status is unknown. Although he is permitted visitors, similar to the June 19 case of Ariel Sigler Amaya, recently released from prison, they have not let anyone take photos or videos.

It is not the first time that Fariñas has decided to use hunger strikes as a weapon of pressure. Is the 23rd. A record.

One who uses this method for the first time is Juan Juan Almeida García, son of the legendary Juan Almeida Bosque, one of the stalwarts of the Revolution. He has gone two weeks without food but he is taking liquids. He has decided to undertake a hunger strike because the government will not let him travel abroad, to visit his wife and daughter. It remains to be seen whether the son of the guerilla can move the general.

Unlike Zapata, Escobedo and Fariñas, Almeida junior is someone close to the Castro family. For a while he lived in the home of Raul Castro. And he became a close friend of Alexander, Raul’s only son. He does not make political claims. He just wants to respect for his rights and to be allowed to leave and return to his country.

Others who have decided to use hunger strikes as a weapon of pressure in 2010, are accused of trafficking in persons, fourteen of them in the Ariza prison in the province of Cienfuegos.

In Havana, the Cuban Yamil Dominguez, 37, has gone 75 days without eating, only drinking water, in the maximum security prison, Combinado del Este.

Yamil was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to 10 years for the crime of human trafficking, in an illegal trial according to independent lawyers. After three years in prison, and after exhausting all legal requirements established by the Constitution, Dominguez opted for the hunger strike.

Independent sources report two Cuban political prisoners in their respective prisons who have declared a hunger strike, Diosdado and Abel Linares López Díaz Pérez, as well as the opponent Guillermo del Sol Perez, who recently released a letter stating that he has been proclaimed Fariñas’ successor, if he should die.

The fatal fashion of dissidents and prisoners, political or common, of refusing food and liquids, promises to continue to grow. But no one in the regime has taken them seriously.

There is no history of a hunger strike in Cuba that has softened the hearts of the Castro brothers. Still, the Cuban prisoners and opponents believe that hunger strikes are a weapon to pressure the regime. So far, none have succeeded.

Iván García

Photo: ABC. Juan Juan Almeida, then 5 years old, standing next to a model of the yacht Granma and Raúl Castro.

The Business of the "Pacotilla" in Havana

There are particular stores in Havana to chose from.  In some, you will find arts and crafts made by hand.  Others are better sorted than the Cuban outlet of Adidas or Zara.  This is the case with the “shopping” establishment of Rufino, age 45 and retired because of an illness.

In his house he sells everything.  In fact, he even orders things.  His wife receives you in their living room with a Colgate smile.  She’ll lead you to a spacious and well-ventilated room where there is a closet that takes up an entire wall.  In it, hang numerous articles of clothing.

In a mahogany shoe-rack there are over two dozen pairs of shoes.  For all preferences, too.  Nike, Adidas, New Balance.  There are even leather Italian and Brazilian shoes.  There are even Guess and Levi shirts and jeans.  There are Lacoste shirts and Mango dresses.

Without ever letting her smile fade, the lady then shows us another room where there is a wide range of toys and electric appliances.  “Always cheaper than the store,” she tells us.

In the patio of the house they display hardware supplies. In his square shorts and Hawaiian sandals, the owner of the illegal shop, Rufino, asks us if we are satisfied.

This kind of private store, without authorization from the government, has surged throughout the entire capital during the last few years.  They compete in price with the State stores and many times they are better in quality.

Ernesto, 39, also dedicates himself to the pacotilla business.  He is a man who speaks well and is smart.  He graduated in History, but his degree resides in a drawer somewhere in his room.

Pacotilla,” in the singular, is what Cubans call one or more cheap merchandise articles.  Many times they are copies of name brand products, a field where the Chinese are specialists.

“Selling pacotilla makes more money,” assures Ernesto.  “One day I told my family in Miami that, instead of sending me 200 dollars monthly, I would prefer if they lent me 5 thousand dollars to set up a clothing store.”

Two years ago, his family finally lent him that money.  In a year and half, Ernesto paid them back.  “I sell clothes for all sorts of price ranges, and if someone wishes to purchase something exclusive, then I simply order it for them.”

Since 1992, the allocation of industrial products on the ration book disappeared and so too did the practice of Father State yearly granting each Cuban citizen a pair of shoes and two articles of clothing; now Cubans had to find their way however they could.

And if you want to be trendy, you have to have lots of cash.  But they get their hands on it.  Especially in Havana, where the majority of young kids want to go about dressed similar to those in any other Western city.  They want to carry their iPods, iPphones, Motorola cells, etc.

It’s known that the money necessary to purchase pacotilla mostly comes from all the financial assistance sent to Cubans by families in exile, especially those in the US.  Lots of the money also comes from prostitution.  With hard currency, prostitutes spend crazy amounts on clothes, shoes, and perfume.

In 1993 the dollar was legalized.  Since then, variety stores, commonly known as “shoppings”, sprouted up throughout the country selling pacotilla by weight  For an even more select club, boutiques were created with sky-rocketing prices.

Similarly, in the clandestine market a handful of people are dedicated to buying and selling clothes, shoes, perfumes, jewelry, toys, and even computers and plasma TVs, began to appear.

Thanks to massive collaboration of doctors, teachers, and sports trainers in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela (amongst other countries), a good number of those who are carrying out “solidary missions” from the strict salary that the Cuban government pays them, they save money and acquire pacotilla in significant amounts.  Later, they sell them when they return to the island.

Rene, 32, is a lucky guy.  He is the auditor of a company which does business with Venezuela and he travels to South American countries four times a year.  When he is in Cuba he buys dollars in bulk, at 0.92 cents U.S. for each Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC).  He pays better than the state offices; they give 0.80 cents U.S for one CUC.

He always leaves for Caracas with at least 3 to 4 thousand dollars in his Samsonite suitcase.  He uses nearly all of it to purchase pacotilla in commercial centers in the capital of Venezuela.

Business has not been bad for Rene.  He has been able to repair his house and is even thinking of buying an American car from the 50’s.  Truth be told, his pacotilla share the quality of those sold by Rufino, whose slogan is “good, pretty, and cheap.”  Even though the “cheap” part will be determined as time goes on.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: yanroux, Flickr

Translated by Raul G.

My Island Hurts

Cuba produces passions, but also pain. I am taking the liberty of reprinting here the comments of some readers, showing how much this island in the Caribbean Sea is hurting.

Laritza Diversent

Gabriel

“I’ve met many Cubans living in Spain, and their greatest trauma was not just the loss of their home. I’m talking about a lady in her sixties who gave me music lessons when I was about 16 years old. That is, back in the decade of the 60’s. For her, the greatest trauma was that they would not let her take her family photo album out of Cuba. Nor would they let her contact her relatives who remained in Cuba, either by phone or mail.

They erased the reminders of her entire life. Those photo albums lacked any monetary value. They prohibited her from taking them only to hurt her. That nostalgia for lost photo albums has been recounted to me by several different Cubans. Memories can be more valuable than objects.”

Dora Amador

“Few people in Cuba think about the pain of being uprooted. The unspeakable trauma that leaving the country entails. That is my case. I left at age 13, I am now 61. All my life, I had no greater desire than to return to my country, which, God willing, I will, to a Free Cuba, wonderfully democratic. I know it’s not easy to achieve democratic institutions, not only in the republic, but in ourselves, respecting the diversity of ideas and the validity of elections, etc.

Being exiled is one of the most horrible sufferings that a human being can experience. You can now observe this in the case of Adrián Leiva, who died trying to enter his country, because the government would not allow it.  That is my case, too.  They will not let me enter, they will not give me permission to return to my country. Soon all this will change forever.”

Anae

“Every officer who attends those who leave Cuba has a kind of license that allows them to mistreat you, with or without words, through every proceeding. In my case it was in the final days, in one of the offices where they multiply the documents needed to finish, so as not to allow you to say goodbye to your family and friends in peace, always thinking that something is missing and “without that” you cannot go.

The lack of one simple document is fatal . . . and terrifying.  It’s enough to lose sleep over, to say a quick goodbye and turn your face as you fight back your tears. Then, while waiting for the flight, you want to leave and say you’re sorry, to calmly say that you expect to return one day, but it’s not possible. Many people have not been able to return to reconcile themselves at this moment, and perhaps that is why they carry a heavy load. Many more than those who have been able to do so … ”

Eneas

“Yes, the wounds don’t heal, there are many. I left behind mother, child, childhood friends, etc. In short, every day of your life you live with nostalgia and suffering, because many of these wounds will follow you forever. I just wish that Cuba could return to normal, where the rights of every citizen are respected, and you can live in peace and harmony. Do you see? I don’t know … ”

Modesta García

“I too left Cuba 30 years ago and haven’t returned, because I also have open wounds, and I can’t forget. There were 10 years of waiting, when the exits were closed from 1970 to 1980, without hope. I started working with the government, and since I wanted to leave the country, I was considered a CIA agent. They invented sabotage plots, they watched me, etc. I can’t count all the intrigues, sufferings, and torments. All this cooled my desire to return to Cuba.

Although they tell me that it’s different now, I know that’s not true. Recent events show that nothing has changed, that it’s business as usual. I’m not a masochist, and as soon as I set foot in the airport, the humiliations by the employees would begin. I came to this country seeking freedom; I have it, and I enjoy it, and I don’t want to be without it for even a second.

This is not to say that I feel nothing for Cuba. On the contrary, for everything that happens, I’m sorry and I’m concerned and I very much want their freedom.  But until there is freedom, I will not return. I’m not critical of those going to see their parents, siblings, children, etc., because that is human.

I am critical of those who visit the Island looking for cheap sex from unhappy girls who do it out of necessity, and of the “millionaires” who cover themselves with gold-plated jewelry, so people will believe they are wealthy and ought to be treated as celebrities. Unfortunately, these are the sad realities of travel to Cuba. I hope this nightmare ends, once and for all.”

Translated by: Tomás A.

Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta: He Continues to Stand Up to Terror

A few months ago I dedicated a post to Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta.  I made reference to his diseases and briefly mentioned all the injustices that have been committed against the independent journalist from Guantanamo who was jailed together with 74 other Cubans during the Black Spring of 2003.

On June 29 I visited Caridad Caballero Batista in Holguin to see how she was doing after the violent moments she experienced along with Mariblanca Avila, Reina Luisa, and her family in Banes on Saturday June 26.  A call from Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta from a hospital in Guantanamo surprised us both.  He told us that the officials who took him to the doctor allowed him to make one telephone call and that is why he chose to call Holguin to testify to what he was living through in that place where he was taken a few weeks ago as a result of the changes of prisons for some political prisoners after the negotiations between Raul Castro and Jaime Ortega.

We were barely able to record the conversation with an old and beat-up voice recorder.  Cari told him that his conversation would be recorded so that he could say everything he desired.

We transcribed the call because the sound lacked quality due to all the interruptions of the telephone lines:

I was transferred to a polyclinic here in the municipality of Salvador so that I could be attended by a orthopedic specialist to see if they could finally all agree on what it is that I have in my cervical zone.  There are no records of X-Rays, no clinical exams, no information even on all my previous jailings in this same prison in Guantanamo [he is referring to clinical documents that every previously interned patient is supposed to have].  Nothing shows up, so tomorrow I am going to be taken again to the polyclinic, the same way a terrorist is escorted somewhere [here he is referring to the security measures they take with political prisoners from the cause of the 75 who are moved around with handcuffs and chains and lots of security officials around them].  I think that Bin Laden would be treated with much better conditions than myself.  I was completely surrounded by State Security as if I was some sort of assassin.”

“Really, my health situation is worrisome.  It’s been 15 days that I have had diarrhea, and I repeat, my sugar level has dropped, I have constant hypoglycemia, the water here generally is really not potable, even that the people drink.  The situation gets worse because I am under special rules.  I continue denouncing the strict and inhumane regime that is imposed in Cuban jails.”

This is the other Guantanamo that nobody talks about.  The Guantanamo of the other side, the one here in my province, the place where I was born.  It is not the North-American enclave.  This Guantanamo is the one the Cuban government does not mention.

The 26th was the official day designated by the UN as International Day of Awareness Against Torture, and the Cuban government only very briefly mentioned it.

I continue saying that Juan Carlos, here or anywhere else, will continue to stand up against terror.  They must know that Juan Carlos has suffered a lot because, disgracefully, it has not just been the blows dealt him by military officials during these 7 years of prison, but also the brutal pain of a father who lost his only daughter, who lost a friend, and a brother, practically right next to him, Orlando Zapata Tamyo.  (Orlando Zapata, before being transferred on December 2, 2009 to the jail in Camaguey was in the provincial prison of Holguin together with Juan Carlos Herrera, and even though they kept them in separate cells, they discretely managed to communicate between themselves thanks to other prisoners who would pass on their messages.)

“They are using methods of psychological torture and physical torture as well, because being here in my province does not mean anything when my family can only visit me once every 3 months and once every 4 months for the conjugal pavilion.

But then I ask myself, and I ask the government:  “Will they manage to get Juan Carlos Herrera Acosta on his knees?” Nobody will be able to.  And for being like that, he may very well be the next victim.

“I have already lived here for 5 sad years, totally isolated like a savage beast. What I am doing is calling out to the CPJ, the Committee for the Protection of Journalists, to Reporters Without Borders, to Amnesty International, to anyone and everyone who can help.  I’m not asking for my freedom because I never should have come to this prison in the first place, I should have never have been a prisoner, not even for a minute, because I have committed no crime.  I have not attacked any military barracks, I have not attacked a single soldier, I haven’t done anything, I have just written down the truth, I have spoken the truth since 1988, more than half of my life doing this.  I will be here defending this grand thing that is democracy and freedom, even if I continue imprisoned.”

Translated by Raul G.


To comment on this article please visit:

Luis Felipe’s Blog: Crossing the Barbed Wire.

Mario Alberto Pérez Aguilera

Placetas, July 2, 2010

Though held at Nieves Morejón prison since 1999, he began his activism within the ranks of the Pedro Luis Boitel Political Prisoners and suffered severe repercussions for his steadfastness in prisons, taking part in numerous hunger strikes to the point of risking his life. The repressive and harassing practices against Mario Alberto have raged from late July 2004, when his body protected me from police brutality in the dark Cienfuegos prison of Ariza. It was during a family visit to which he came, along with my sister Bertha, my wife Yris, and two small children: Mariangel, age 2, Bertha’s granddaughter,  and Yris’s son Yediel, age 9. The family meeting was interrupted by a fierce punch in my face followed by a brutal beating from which only Mariangel, asleep on a table, escaped.</p>

Lying on the ground bleeding from my face and neck, two handcuffs pulled my arms in opposite directions with the clear purpose of butchering me. A wooden bench had hit my face and only the timely and courageous intervention of Mario Alberto, who threw himself on me, protected me from receiving a hard blow against my back. They had to justify the abuse, especially the kick they gave little Yediel, so they arrested Mario, accusing him of attacking authority and he was only able to leave the cells of the Cienfuegos police station, to which they had taken him, due to the firm decision of Bertha and Yris to stay outside until he was released. But the police didn’t release him without threats: “We’re going to let you go now, but don’t forget, you’ll pay dearly for this.”

Less than a year later, and in the presence of his young son Cristian, a Macarot revolver in the hands of a soldier discharged its fury of lead against his body. Mario, after being jailed in another murky criminal proceeding, had been acquitted on proving his innocence and, and above all because of a 50 day hunger strike, but the repression persisted; they returned to punish him for the same event, and after exhausting every avenue of appeal he chose evasion, ending up captured, shot and beaten nearly to death. In those moments, barely having recovered from serious kidney, liver and cardiovascular problems, he was hovering between life and death in Agüica prison. He did not ask to be released, no. Mario asked for a basic right assumed in any civilized country. He demanded that the authorities give him prompt and specialized medical attention and that they put an end to the inhumane maximum security and punishment that he’d suffered for more than four years, in clear violation of the country’s own penitentiary regulations.

He is dying, his sister Yris knows, everyone feels it, even though the Agüica jailers hide his condition. Will the same thing that happened to Zapata happen to him? Only God knows, and the criminals, far from responding to his just demands, confine him nearly dead in the dark cells of Agüica prison. The death of Mario is very possible if one takes into account the systematic brutality applied against him and the difficulty with which he has recovered from a previous hunger strike. Meanwhile the regime and the Cardinal continue calling for calm and are sowing expectations on all sides, with little or no basis in reality, given the complete lack of goodwill on the part of the government.

My Island Hurts

Cuba produces passions, but also pain. I am taking the liberty of reprinting here the comments of some readers, showing how much this island in the Caribbean Sea is hurting.

Laritza Diversent

Gabriel

“I’ve met many Cubans living in Spain, and their greatest trauma was not just the loss of their home. I’m talking about a lady in her sixties who gave me music lessons when I was about 16 years old. That is, back in the decade of the 60’s. For her, the greatest trauma was that they would not let her take her family photo album out of Cuba. Nor would they let her contact her relatives who remained in Cuba, either by phone or mail.

They erased the reminders of her entire life. Those photo albums lacked any monetary value. They prohibited her from taking them only to hurt her. That nostalgia for lost photo albums has been recounted to me by several different Cubans. Memories can be more valuable than objects.”

Dora Amador

“Few people in Cuba think about the pain of being uprooted. The unspeakable trauma that leaving the country entails. That is my case. I left at age 13, I am now 61. All my life, I had no greater desire than to return to my country, which, God willing, I will, to a Free Cuba, wonderfully democratic. I know it’s not easy to achieve democratic institutions, not only in the republic, but in ourselves, respecting the diversity of ideas and the validity of elections, etc.

Being exiled is one of the most horrible sufferings that a human being can experience. You can now observe this in the case of Adrián Leiva, who died trying to enter his country, because the government would not allow it.  That is my case, too.  They will not let me enter, they will not give me permission to return to my country. Soon all this will change forever.”

Anae

“Every officer who attends those who leave Cuba has a kind of license that allows them to mistreat you, with or without words, through every proceeding. In my case it was in the final days, in one of the offices where they multiply the documents needed to finish, so as not to allow you to say goodbye to your family and friends in peace, always thinking that something is missing and “without that” you cannot go.

The lack of one simple document is fatal . . . and terrifying.  It’s enough to lose sleep over, to say a quick goodbye and turn your face as you fight back your tears. Then, while waiting for the flight, you want to leave and say you’re sorry, to calmly say that you expect to return one day, but it’s not possible. Many people have not been able to return to reconcile themselves at this moment, and perhaps that is why they carry a heavy load. Many more than those who have been able to do so … ”

Eneas

“Yes, the wounds don’t heal, there are many. I left behind mother, child, childhood friends, etc. In short, every day of your life you live with nostalgia and suffering, because many of these wounds will follow you forever. I just wish that Cuba could return to normal, where the rights of every citizen are respected, and you can live in peace and harmony. Do you see? I don’t know … ”

Modesta García

“I too left Cuba 30 years ago and haven’t returned, because I also have open wounds, and I can’t forget. There were 10 years of waiting, when the exits were closed from 1970 to 1980, without hope. I started working with the government, and since I wanted to leave the country, I was considered a CIA agent. They invented sabotage plots, they watched me, etc. I can’t count all the intrigues, sufferings, and torments. All this cooled my desire to return to Cuba.

Although they tell me that it’s different now, I know that’s not true. Recent events show that nothing has changed, that it’s business as usual. I’m not a masochist, and as soon as I set foot in the airport, the humiliations by the employees would begin. I came to this country seeking freedom; I have it, and I enjoy it, and I don’t want to be without it for even a second.

This is not to say that I feel nothing for Cuba. On the contrary, for everything that happens, I’m sorry and I’m concerned and I very much want their freedom.  But until there is freedom, I will not return. I’m not critical of those going to see their parents, siblings, children, etc., because that is human.

I am critical of those who visit the Island looking for cheap sex from unhappy girls who do it out of necessity, and of the “millionaires” who cover themselves with gold-plated jewelry, so people will believe they are wealthy and ought to be treated as celebrities. Unfortunately, these are the sad realities of travel to Cuba. I hope this nightmare ends, once and for all.”

Translated by: Tomás A.

Yris Made It to Colón

My wife Yris left early this morning, as always with a cell phone ready with a message of arrest or detention*. Our brother Blas Fortun accompanied her as far as the station and stayed there with her until he saw her leave in a rental truck headed to Santa Clara. As always, on the few occasions when we don’t travel together, I waited with cell phone in hand for the damned message. This time, fortunately, it didn’t come, and when I called her phone she was already at the home of our dear sister Idania Yánez.

She told me how painful it was to pass by the Provincial Hospital without be able to inquire about Coco Fariñas for fear of being arrested there and not be able to continue the journey.Much less would they let her know about her brother on hunger strike. She did not ask permission to exercise this legitimate right, she was going, or more accurately she could go, as far as Colón thanks to her determination not to abide by orders that limit her rights and movement. She could go because call to alert the public that was put out hours earlier left the repressors no other option. And that decision not to accept impositions, to be consistent with what we believe and what we are fighting for is a very important and significant form of non-cooperation with the repression, a way to say I, also, am resisting.

Thanks to all those who helped her. They are, as my fellow Cubans would say, the steps towards freedom that our people are taking.

*Translator’s note: Many Cubans such as Yris enter text messages into their cell phones “ready to send” so that with the touch of a single key they can alert someone if they are arrested or detained, before their cell phone is confiscated.

The Foreignization of Cubans

Sandy Olivera is a young Cuban who, two years ago, emigrated as a political refugee to the United States. His girlfriend remained on this side of the sea. A week ago, he returned to Cuba to marry her.

The formalization of the marriage took place in the Specialized Notary at 23rd and J, in Vedado, Plaza de la Revolución District, in Havana. To marry, as mandated by law, he had to pay 525 CUC and 100 national currency in stamps. To make matters worse the notary, without blinking, asked for a gift of 5 CUC.

The Cuban government treated Sandy as if he were a foreigner. Has residing in the United States become one of the legally established reasons for losing Cuban citizenship?

The Constitution of the Republic states that when a person acquires foreign citizenship, Cuban citizenship will be lost. It further declares that the law establishes the procedure for the formalization of the loss of citizenship and the authorities who will decide.

This means that the fact of acquiring other citizenship does not by itself imply the loss of Cuban citizenship. For this to happen, the government authorities have to decide. In fact, Cubans with U.S. citizenship must enter the island with a Cuban passport. That is, as citizens of the socialist state.

In practice there is dual citizenship. What happens is that the government recognizes only the Cuban citizenship, ignoring that newly acquired. That is not Sandy’s case. He has not taken any steps to become a U.S. citizen, and therefore has not lost his status as a Cuban citizen.

As evidenced by the fact that he paid 220 CUC for permission to enter the country, as decided by the Cuban authorities. He entered Cuba as a Cuban citizen, yet within the island, he had to pay for services received in freely convertible currency as if he were a foreigner.

This is the “rule of law” so defended by the Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. A State that, in Article 41 of its Magna Carta recognizes that “all citizens enjoy equal rights and are subject to equal duties,” but that discriminates against those living in other parts of the world.

Cubans living abroad are not foreigners. It is understood that the “socialist state subsidizes the services that the population receives” and that those living abroad have greater purchasing power than those living on the island. But the factual situations do not justify the government violating constitutional rights.

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Translated by: Tomás A.

Cuba and Its System of Exclusion (II)

Cubans are outcasts in their own land. Both those who reside in the country, as well as those living abroad. The latter are doubly discriminated against. They cannot invest in the economy because they are citizens of the State, yet when they return to the country they are treated as foreigners.

Law No. 77, “On foreign investment,” provides that a foreign investor is “a natural person or legal entity with a foreign domicile and foreign capital, who becomes a shareholder of a joint venture, or participates in a company with totally foreign capital, or is named as a party in the contracts of an international economic association.”

Under the rules of this legislation, Cubans residing permanently abroad shoddily have no obstacle to investing in the economy of their homeland. They have a foreign domicile and foreign capital. So what stops them?

Article 32 of the Cuban constitution establishes that Cubans cannot be deprived of the citizenship, except for legally established causes. Nor can they be deprived of the right to change this. Dual citizenship is not permitted. Consequently, when another citizenship is acquired, Cuban citizenship is lost. The law establishes the process to follow to formalize the loss of citizenship and the authorities authorized to decide it.

The causes of losing and recovering citizenship before the 1992 constitutional reform were specific and were contained in the text of the “Supreme Charter of the State.” Now they have lost legal significance and should be regulated by law.

Taking into account the increase in Cuban emigration, one might think that the goal of reform was to eliminate citizenship. On the contrary, the measures taken by the government tend to retain it.

Conveniently for the authorities, they have not formulated the law that regulates the particulars of the analysis. The practice is to require all Cubans to enter the country with the passport that qualifies them as a national. It is not that they allow dual citizenship for them, with respect to nationals, only Cuban citizenship is available. By virtue of this, they cannot invest in the national economy.

However, within the territory they lose their rights as nationals.  They are required to pay for all services in hard currency, as if they were foreigners. Far from being a privilege, this provision violates the constitutional and fundamental rights of Cubans.

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Cuba and Its System of Exclusion (I)

It is fair to acknowledge that foreign investment in Cuba brings benefits to the economy. But by itself it is not the solution for confronting the overwhelming problems.

Law No. 77 was adopted in 1995 to provide security and guarantees to foreign investors, and from this to achieve economic recovery. So stated the Cuban Parliament, in the introduction of this statutory provision.

In it the National Assembly also said that through foreign investment Cuba could get (among other objectives) increased production efficiency, improved quality of products and services offered, and reduced costs.

Fifteen years after this law was passed, it’s worth asking: Did it enhance the welfare of the Cuban people? Which services was Parliament referring to — those received by foreigners or those offered to the general population?  And regarding the latter, some comments.

Inadequate wages discourage citizens, mainly young people, from working with the State. How does the government solve the problem of labor abstinence, which forced it to increase the retirement age? By imposing four-year prison sentences for social dangerousness.

This leads to another problem, that of illegalities. The low purchasing power of thousands of families causes them to live outside the state regulations, in order to cope with the ongoing crisis.

What is the solution to this other conflict? The deployment of police operatives to catch those who are engaged in individual economic activity red-handed. Isn’t it easier to legalize the status of people who opt to live independently of state handouts?

Why doesn’t the Cuban government encourage profitable activities by citizens? Just as with  foreign investment, the individual economic initiative of Cubans results in increased productivity, the creation of new jobs, etc..

In principle, one of the reasons underlying the exclusion of Cubans from national economic affairs was the social egalitarianism that socialism attempted but never attained.

To try to guarantee one right, others were violated. A supposed social equality justified the government acting contrary to constitutional dictates, and led to an institutionalized form of segregation, based on national origin.

Cuba needs a law of investment, not exclusion. In its 15-year existence, Law 77 has only brought economic apartheid. It is not fair that only the individual capital of foreigners has value in the Cuban economy.

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Translated by: Tomás A.

The Revolution Gives and The Revolution Takes Away

For six months Sandra has lived in Havana with her father. She’s 24 and is an “emerging” elementary school teacher. She used to work in her hometown, Holguin; but she left teaching because the salary wasn’t enough. Now she sells pastries in the doorways of Monte Street.

Sandra was saving to buy a little house. But the police caught her when she was selling sweets. They levied a fine for “speculation.” Then they put her on a train back to her province, for living in the capital without the right to do so. She was a victim of the application of Decree-Law 217 of April 22, 1997, which establishes “Internal Migration Regulations for Havana.”

The provision restricts the freedom of movement of Cubans from other areas of the country. It prevents them from residing, whether domiciled or living together, permanently and without authorization in the capital. The provision also applies to citizens from other areas of the capital who live in a dwelling located in Old Havana, Central Havana, Cerro, and Tenth of October, without the corresponding license.

Sandra has to ask permission from the President of the Municipal Administrative Council to live in the capital. She must prove to the Housing Department that she has the express consent of her father, as owner of the house. She also needs a document from the Municipal Architecture and Urbanism Department that certifies that the dwelling meets the minimum conditions for habitation, and that there are ten square meters of space for each occupant.

Once all the paperwork is completed, the young woman’s problem is not yet solved. The decision, yes or no, of the Municipal President depends on the opinion in the file that elaborates on the issue, from the Municipal Housing Office.

It is immaterial that the Constitution of the Republic in Article 43, allows Sandra, as a Cuban citizen, to live in any zone or sector. A right, according to the article, conquered by the Revolution, and if they have the right to give it they have the right to restrict it.

The “Historic Leaders,” concentrates all the power in the Executive Committee of the Council of Ministers, with the ability to grant or to restrict the rights of citizens. The validity of decree 217 proves that the Cuban government and its leaders have no desire to make positive changes. Meanwhile, cases like Sandra’s, common in Cuba, continue happening and the guilty parties go unpunished.

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