Opponents of the Cuban Regime React to the Election of Trump / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Clockwise from top left: Eliecer Avila, Antonio Rodiles, Martha Beatriz Roque, Laritza Diversent, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Berta Soler
Clockwise from top left: Eliecer Avila, Antonio Rodiles, Martha Beatriz Roque, Laritza Diversent, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Berta Soler

cubanet square logoCubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 9 November 2016 – The elections in the United States, with the victory of the Republican Donald Trump and the defeat of the Democrat Hillary Clinton, contrary to the predictions of most polls, has captured the attention of the world’s public opinion in recent hours due to the decisive nature of United States policy in the international arena.

The normalization of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States and the diverse opinions generated by the lengthy diplomatic process and packages of measures aimed at easing the embargo, implemented by current US president Barack Obama, have given rise to a broad spectrum of opinions within Cuban civil society, such that some of the main opposition leaders on the island have expressed their views to CubaNet to the election results announced at dawn on Wednesday.

Antonio Rodiles, coordinator of Estado de Sats (State of Sats) and organizer of the We All March campaign, says: “We expect consistency of those who, within Cuba, maintained a policy against Trump and were confident in Hillary’s victory. (…) Maybe difficult times will come for the process of normalization of relations with Cuba and the continuity of Obama’s program. We expect another direction in the dialogue and a president who places the issue of respect for human rights and freedom of expression as a priority, a determinant, at any negotiating table.” continue reading

Jose Daniel Ferrer, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, UNPACU, argues that the electoral decision does not mean negative effects on the relations between the two countries: “I do not think the difference is notable. The American people have chosen. The new president will do what suits the citizens of the United States and, as he should, prioritize the interests of his nation (…). The candidate the people believed to be better has won (…). (Regarding Cuba) common sense in the process of normalization of relations will prevail and we expect a strong hand with the dictatorship because (Cuba) is a regime contrary to the interests US, it is a regime that no American candidate would never agree to in the style of Venezuela or China. (…) We expect better relations with the new government.”

The regime opponent Martha Beatriz Roque said: “It seems that the American people have passed the bill to the Democratic Party. Many people are concerned about the ways in which Trump has expressed himself during his campaign, but I think that concern should be minimized because surely the Republican Party will take control of the situation. (…) With regards to his impact on the Cuba issue I think there are measures taken by Obama that are irreversible. Especially because America is a democracy, not like Cuba, which is governed by a totalitarian. It will not be easy to give a twist to relations with the island. However, I think this gentleman will be educated by his advisers enough to not make the mistakes of the previous president.”

Eliecer Avila, activist with the movement Somos+ (We Are More), confessed to not having had a previous position in favor or against any candidate, although he said about his expectations: “I didn’t support either of them one hundred percent. In Hillary Clinton I saw very positive support for Obama’s policy (toward Cuba). (…) Donald Trump has shown some strong positions but I do not think that will change the policy of his predecessor but, apparently, will negotiate from other positions.”

The lawyer Laritza Diversent , founder of Cubalex, believes that the elections were a reflection of the opinion of the American people and believes that Cuba will occupy an important place in the policy of President-elect: “The process of normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba is irreversible. (…) There is a responsibility to the legacy of Obama. The United States, with its current policy, is leading positive changes. Many challenges are imposed on the new president. We should also consider the views of the US Congress and other powers in that nation.”

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, believes it is too early to make predictions about the directions Trump will take regarding policies on Cuba: “We have to wait. I have never preferred one or the other because there is a reality: it is not about the Cuban President but about the President of the United States. Someday I want Cuba to be able to elect a president in a way similar way to that in the United States. (…) We don’t know about Trump, we have to wait. There may be changes but I do not know, I’d rather wait. ”

The election of the 45th President of the United States has not only launched numerous questions in the world’s most important economic sectors. For Cuba, undergoing a process of rapprochement with the United States that could help find a solution to economic stagnation, for the government, or a way for democratization, for civil society, the policies toward the island that will be decisive in the immediate future will be designed by Trump.

Twenty Independent Communicators to Consult in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas

ndependent Journalism. Illustration from "Another Waves" website
Independent Journalism. From “Another Waves”

Luis Felipe Rojas, 1 February 2016 — This list is not intended to be a “Top Ten,” as is so common on internet publications. The list of names that follows carries the history of the men and women who believe in words and images as a tool of liberation.

The independent journalists that appear below do their work in Cuba under the microscope of the apparatus of repression that we know as State Security.

Most of them suffer arbitrary arrests, they have spent long years in prison, they are violently detained, vilified and — paradoxically — are non-persons in government media. In the case of Jorge Olivera Castillo, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison in the “2003 Black Spring,” but he continues, unrepentant, to do alternative journalism. continue reading

Another of those on the list is the blogger Yoani Sanchez who, among numerous international awards, holds the 2008 Ortega y Gasset Prize, given annual by the Spanish newspaper El Pais. Confirming her commitment to the journalism in which she believes, she founded the digital newspaper 14ymedio and 2014.

These are “ordinary” rank-and-file reporters, who get up each morning looking for news and accompany the victims of state bureaucracy — a way of doing journalism that has already gone on for three decades in the country, under the derision that arises from within the regime’s prisons.

I wanted to include here those who have specialized in the genre of opinion, thus helping to clarify what goes on within the country, but also preserving the sharp wit that has been missing for years in the journalism published on the island. The blame for this drought in opinion pieces is due to the jaws that are greased every morning in the offices of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Good health for free and uncensored journalism!

Here is the list:

Regina CoyulaBlog “La Mala Letra”. BBC Mundo. La Habana.

Iván García. Diario de Cuba. Martinoticias. Diario Las Américas. La Habana.

Augusto C. San MartínCubanet. La Habana.

Serafín Morán. Cubanet. La Habana.

Ricardo Sánchez T. Cubanet. Bayamo, Granma.

Miriam Celaya14yMedio. La Habana.

Alejandro Tur V. IWP. Cienfuegos.

Juan G. Febles. Dtor Semanario Primavera Digital. La Habana.

Yoani Sánchez. Directora Diario 14yMedio. La Habana.

Iván Hernández Carrillo. Twittero. @ivanlibre Matanzas.

Yuri Valle.  Reportero audiovisual. La Habana.

Jorge Olivera Castillo.   Columnista opinión. Cubanet. La Habana.

Luz Escobar. 14yMedio. La Habana.

Luis Cino A. PD. Cubanet. La Habana.

Roberto de J. Guerra P. Dtor Agenc. Hablemos Press. La Habana.

Ernesto Pérez ChangCubanet. La Habana.

María Matienzo. Diario de Cuba. La Habana.

Bernardo Arévalo P. ICLEP. Aguada de Pasajeros. Cienfuegos.

Roberto Quiñonez H. Cubanet. Guantánamo.

Alberto M. Castelló. Cubanet. Puerto Padre. Las Tunas.

Gangs in Havana, Crime Gains Ground / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

A member of the gang Blood for Pain shows us the marks used to identify the group (photo by the author)
A member of the gang Blood for Pain shows us the marks used to identify the group (photo by the author)

The landscape could become very similar to those found in Central American countries where the issue is out of control

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana 20 August 2015 – Hector arrived in Havana at the end of 2005. He was only 15 years old when he had to confront a city where its residents’ greatest ease came from knowing how to survive amid so much uncertainty. Today he is 25 years old, and he knows no way of subsisting other than prostitution, pimping and gangs.

Hector was living in Niquero, Granma Province, when bad luck invaded his home: his father died in a domestic accident while he was trying to re-fill a gas cylinder for cooking. A couple of years later, his mother got sick with cancer, and he had to leave high school in order to go to work on the farm of his paternal uncle who, besides paying him very little, abused him sexually and even forced him to prostitute himself.

Although he was only 12, his uncle took him almost every night to the home of a friend who paid 100 pesos [four dollars] in order to rape the little boy who, with time, came to accept that the world was that evil atmosphere that surrounded him and from which he could not escape but could only adapt in order to survive.

“Here you have to survive in whatever way,” says Hector. He has only agreed to speak with me about his life because he was asked by a mutual friend who is none other than the doctor to whom he has always gone in emergency situations. “He is the only guy for whom I give my life. The only one who has helped me without any self-interest since I came to Havana at age 15.” continue reading

Hector was a boy when he entered the world of prostitution and gangs. Today he has HIV (photo by the author)
Hector was a boy when he entered the world of prostitution and gangs. Today he has HIV (photo by the author)

Hector has HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus). They found the virus a couple of years ago when he was hospitalized due to gunshot wounds he received in a confrontation with other gang members from the Mantilla neighborhood in Arroyo Naranjo.

“Back then I was not in the gang [referring to the Diamond Gang which mainly operated in the areas surrounding Brotherhood Park and Monte Street up to the Train Terminal] but my cousin was. He had about ten transvestites who worked for him, but one was connected to a pinguerito [a man who lives from male prostitution] from Mantilla who was in the Blood for Pain [gang], because they are all queers there. (…) One day Lanier [the cousin] tells me that there is a party in Mantilla, and I go with him. I did not know that we could not enter Mantilla, and that is why I went, and we just went into the house and all hell broke loose. (…) They shot at Lanier and me, I took a shot in this leg and another in the back which almost left me crippled.”

According to Maria del Carmen Cordero, a sociologist participating in a study of the subject, although they tend to disband after a short time, five to ten new gangs emerge every year in Havana, made up mainly of adolescents who live in the poorest areas of the capital. An increase is also noted in the gangs composed of youth from the eastern provinces – especially from Granma (almost 40 percent of the youth) and Guantanamo (almost 30 percent) – who cannot aspire to a legal status in the city due to migratory laws that prosecute them as criminals.

“You have to keep in mind that, although some even have initiation rites and identity marks like specific tattoos, the gangs function as a kind of syndicate where the members get protection,” says Maria del Carmen who also explains what the protection consists of: “I have gathered statements from young people who say they have bribed police to let them operate in a certain area. (…) I don’t mean to say that there is a direct relationship with the policing institution, I don’t believe that exists as such, but that there are established relationships of compromise with the officers who usually patrol the streets.

“Those who walk around Brotherhood Park or Rampa by night – well, if they dare to do it – can identify the presence of gangs who control male prostitution and of transvestites, I have even seen transactions carried out, sex deals, in front of officers, and nothing has happened, which is a sign not of tolerance but of corruption. (…) If the boy, the girl, don’t join that syndicate, work becomes very difficult, getting shelter, connections. (…) Remember that they gather them up in trucks and deport them. Just like the dogcatcher with animals. It is a crime to be from eastern Cuba and spend more than the set time in Havana. Those regulations have created other phenomena related to regionalism, racism, the establishment of social hierarchies among Cubans themselves and have increased these ‘syndicates’ which is what the gangs are.”

Although black, Adrian uses the swastika to identify himself with his group (photo by the author)
Although black, Adrian uses the swastika to identify himself with his group (photo by the author)

Adrian, from Ciego de Avila, is 31 and for more than five years was tied to the Blood for Pain gang where he admits he committed several violent crimes but only under the influence of alcohol and drugs:

“There is a story about Blood for Pain. It is true that sometimes we told some new member to bug [wound with a knife] someone, whoever they wanted, but we did that for screwing around, you would start drinking, smoking a cigarette, and then see some wretch going by and we made the night with him. It’s not like people say, as if we were some criminals. (…) It is true that there were those who snatched a tourist’s wallet or camera, a gold chain, but that does not mean that it was the gang. What is always abnormal they want to say is by Blood for Pain. What is true about us is the transvestites and because they like that. Having the male that controls them, and I like that, to each his own.”

When Adrian was in jail, he broke ties with Blood for Pain to join a gang called The Angels, connected with drug dealing, pimping and male prostitution and which uses the swastika as an identifying mark although they say they do not agree with Nazi ideology. One curious detail is that some of its members are black, like Adrian himself who does not hide his racist thoughts:

“I am black, that is true, but I never hang out with blacks. I don’t know, but I have never liked hanging out with blacks. (…) The tattoo does not mean anything. I liked it, and I made it. So do those I hang out with. (…) I know what the Nazis did, but me putting that on myself does not mean I am like that. (..) I am not homosexual, but I like transvestites, and that is another thing, a transvestite is a woman.”

Although regional statistics do not classify Havana among the most violent cities in Latin America and the Caribbean, in recent years an increase in criminality associated with gangs has been noted. Psychologist Manuel Fabian Orta, who leads a group that assists adolescents with behavioral disorders, recognizes that the phenomenon could be on the rise and that, as a consequence, the landscape could become very similar to that of some Central American countries where the issue is out of control:

“The violence associated with criminal gangs is increasing and at a worrying pace. If something is not done soon, it will be like in El Salvador or Guatemala. That is what poverty brings. There is too much poverty. Spiritual and material. Family, social values, they have cracked, and a new mentality has emerged, a real “New Man” who does not believe in any value except money. Everything is fair game for getting it, and Cuban society, far from becoming a society with high values, as was supposedly the plan of the Revolution, turned into a boxing ring where one can only resist, fight, win, but in the worst sense of those words.

“Selling his body is not a problem for this “New Man,” losing his nationality is not either, and let’s not speak to them about national or cultural identity or of working for the future because they would understand nothing. The typical Cuban, the common man, only knows the present, the rest, as the young people themselves say, is ‘being dizzy’ (not being clever).”

The New Man: Group of medical students playing dice (photo by the author)
The New Man: Group of medical students playing dice (photo by the author)
Criminal organizations, mainly made up of adolescents who fight as they can to survive, proliferate in the poorest neighborhoods (photo by the author)
Criminal organizations, mainly made up of adolescents who fight as they can to survive, proliferate in the poorest neighborhoods (photo by the author)
Police asking for identification in Central Park. If they are illegal easterners, they are immediately deported (photo by the author)
Police asking for identification in Central Park. If they are illegal easterners, they are immediately deported (photo by the author)

EPC448.thumbnail (1)

Read here about the author: Ernest Perez Chang 

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Cancer from High Levels of Metals in Reservoirs? (II) / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

In spite of the contamination of Cuban bays, health authorities do not prevent fishing and bathing (photo by the author)
In spite of the contamination of Cuban bays, health authorities do not prevent fishing and bathing (photo by the author)

Cubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 28 July 2015 – Between the years 2004 and 2007, 65 children from the Los Sitios neighborhood in Central Havana, 7 to 10 years of age, underwent testing in order to determine their degree of lead poisoning. The research, conducted by a team of researchers from the Cuban National Institute of Health, Epidemiology and Microbiology (INHEM), found that 46.2% of the children exceeded the acceptable levels for adults according to the World Health Organization (10.0 mg/dl) and that 67.7% already were demonstrating learning difficulties associated with poisoning from this heavy metal.

According to the scientists, who recommended extending the investigation to other areas of the capital, the group of those affected presented with “diminished reading abilities, more limited vocabulary, poor reasoning, very slow reactions and poor psychomotor coordination.” Also, concern about the long term consequences was raised due to lead exposure being associated not only with reduction in academic performance but with changes in hearing, behavior, low self esteem, suicide attempts, depressive syndromes, aggression, and even mental retardation or death. continue reading

Perhaps because the research involved some “taboo topics” in the official public debate like childhood, health and the poor living conditions of Cubans, the results were not repeated in national press outlets, even though they were published in issue number 47(2) of 2009 of the Cuban Magazine of Health and Epidemiology [found at http://scielo.sld.cu; most of the studies mentioned here are available on the internet], and years before, in 2003, the INHEM magazine itself had brought to light a study1 by several of its researchers about lead levels also in children in the Central Havana township, perhaps one of the most affected by the poor health-sanitation conditions and by its location in a highly contaminated area.

Works like the foregoing join a list of investigations developed by Cuban scientists who belong to official institutions which signal the catastrophic effects of the island’s ineffective environmental policy, especially because of the link they observe with direct damage to human health.

Official Sources Note the Problem

In early 2015, the first issue of the digital magazine Science on Your PC, corresponding to January-March, published the extract from a dissertation2 by a group of researchers from the University of the East in Santiago, Cuba, about the low risk-perception and disinformation on the part of the residents of fishing communities about heavy metal contamination in the waters of the bay and surrounding areas.

According to the study, even though the Santiago Bay ecosystem is highly contaminated, there exists no government strategy to curb the negative effects of the heavy metals on the health of the residents of the city. Similarly, the inhabitants and even the fishing cooperative workers receive no information about the toxicity of the waters and the foods that they extract from them.

Santiago is, after the bay of Havana, the most poisoned on the island, and several sources discharge contamination into it such as the Antonio Maceo Thermoelectric Center, the November 30 Forming Company Electroplating Plant, the Celia Sanchez Textile Company, the repair workshops of the Electric Company and the Polygraphic. All use the principal rivers and their tributaries to discharge wastes without any effective filtration.

Despite this, according to the research, in the area “everyone claims that they have never been kept from fishing (…) This prohibition on fishing has been imposed only in the event of an outbreak of diarrheal illnesses and, of course, in the case of a closed season as with shrimp. (…) None of those interviewed from the fishing grounds knows about the heavy metals; they have not even heard this term.”

People from other regions of the country, also visibly affected by pollution, demonstrate equal ignorance about the phenomenon. The government’s policies of concealment in most cases are due to economic strategies, as deduced by those investigations that link cancer levels to the degree of contamination of the waters in mining or highly industrialized areas.

Dump next to a water source (photo by the author)
Dump next to a water source (photo by the author)

In the research report “Cleaner Production Strategy for the INPUD Galvanic Factory” (2006)3, the authors, belonging to the Central University of Las Villas, recognize that the main factor that impeded the design of a filtration system for heavy metals and toxic residues in the galvanic factory of the National Industry Producing Domestic Appliances (INPUD) was the impossibility of developing means of environmental protection because these raised the costs of production, a luxury that the Cuban economy could not afford, much less in the middle of the program called “Energetic Revolution” promoted by Fidel Castro, where he required them to commit to producing 350,000 pressure cookers benefitting the “Battle of Ideas.”

According to the researchers, at that time, “the treatment at the end of the pipe [filtration of pollution discharged into rivers and reservoirs] was improving the contamination problem but not reducing the costs [of production],” in a factory that employed Czech technology from 1964, “with very deteriorated technology and obvious obsolescence.”

In 2001, the factory had put into operation a wastewater treatment plant, but at the same time, it encountered construction problems because of which chrome and nickel wastes continued to be discharged directly into a small stream and from this to the Arroyo Grande dam, belonging to the Rio Sagua watershed with an area of more than 2,000 km².

This discharge into the groundwaters of the region could be related to the high levels of cancer that was reported by the province of Villa Clara where the highest incidence of cases on the island is recorded, according to statistics from the Cuban Ministry of Public Health itself.

In that regard, a report entitled “Contribution to Environmental Management in the Context of Urban Agricultural Production in the City of Santa Clara,” carried out between January and February of 2009 by a group of authors from the Provincial Meteorological Center and the Agricultural Research Center of the Central University of Las Villas, found high concentrations of lead, cadmium, nickel and other harmful substances in the soils and waters of several urban agriculture production systems in the city of Santa Clara. On comparing them to the standard established by Cuban regulation NC-493, from 2006, it was observed that “in organic gardens the concentrations of heavy metals were greater (…) with possible risk in some cases for human health.”

Similar studies, but focused on the petroleum areas of Boca de Jaruco in Santa Cruz del Norte and in a town near a goldmine on the Island of Youth, show that one of the fundamental reasons that the investigations are not disseminated and that urgent measures are not taken is the government’s economic interests.

In 2003, the magazine Earth and Space Sciences [Vol. 4, pp. 27-33], published the study “Arsenic and Heavy Metals in the Waters in the Area of Delita, Island of Youth, Cuba,” by a group of scientists from the Geophysical and Astronomical Institute and from the National Hydraulic Resources Institute.”

The text speaks of “a reduction in the maximum permissible limit for arsenic in drinking water,” which had unleashed the onset of chronic illnesses like cancer in people who had ingested drinking water with lethal concentrations of arsenic for long periods.

Populations from Batey de la Mina and from the Delita goldmine in the southeast of the Island of Youth, were and are exposed to arsenic concentrations higher than the detectable limit. In the Manantial La Mina station alone were recorded values that exceed the Cuban regulation of 50 mg/L-1 as well as the World Health Organization guideline of 10 mg/L-1.

The “Benign” Purpose of the Studies

In spite of these alarming measurements, according to what the investigators themselves expressed, all the clinical studies that have been carried out in the area by governmental agencies interested in the territory’s tourist development were for the express purpose of demonstrating the “therapeutic benefits of Delita’s waters and sludges” and not to connect the appearance and behavior of diverse illnesses with the ingestion and external use of arsenical waters.

Escolares-de-Centro-Habana-mostraron-altos-niveles-de-plomo-en-sangre-debido-a-la-exposición-a-fuentes-contaminantes-como-la-bahía-habanera.
Students from Central Havana demonstrated high blood-lead levels due to exposure to polluted sources like the Havana Bay (photo by the author)

The group of Cuban researchers is aware of the toxic impact on residents’ health in the so-called “special township” that, in recent years, has demonstrated a rising trend in mortality rates from cerebro-vascular diseases, notably exceeding other regions of the country: “The clinic where the residents of Batey de la Mina, the Argelia Victoria People’s Council No. 6, are treated, has shown a marked increase in the years 1994, 1996 and 1999.”

“If one considers,” continues the final report of the study, “the transit time of the underground waters from Delita, which is 13 years (…) and subtract those years from the date of the first increase in deaths from this cause (1994), the resulting date is 1981, which marks the beginning of the decade in which the most important exploration studies were carried out in the mine, as well as the drainage and direct dumping of the underground waters on the surface (1982), showing some possible relationship between these events. (…) Furthermore, although there exists no detailed study by clinics and areas that indicate the behavior of those dead from malignant tumors, this condition constitutes the main cause of death in adults as well as of premature death in the township, also with an upward trend in the last decade. Lung cancer (…) has shown a startling increase between the years 2000 and 2001 for the whole township.”

According to other researchers, Delita’s reservoir area is regarded as a uranium mining prospect, a considerable concentration of this element having been identified in a sample from the deep part.

The thousands of facts offered in the studies carried out by state scientific institutions themselves exceed the limits of these pages, and at the same time, contradict many aspects of the Cuban government’s official discourse that speaks of health programs and educational strategies but persists in ignoring a true environmental catastrophe that threatens to transform into another nightmare that new chapter of the Cuban revolution that has been referred to as “prosperous and sustainable socialism.”

References

1Aguilar Valdés, J. et al., “Niveles de plomo en sangre y factores asociados, en niños del municipio de Centro Habana”, Revista Cubana de Higiene y Epidemiología, 2003; 41(1).

Rodríguez Heredia, Dunia et al., “Educación ambiental vs. baja percepción acerca de la contaminación por metales pesados en comunidades costeras”, Ciencia en su PC, 2015, enero-marzo, 1, 13-28. Centro de Estudios Multidisciplinarios de Zonas Costeras (CEMZOC), Universidad de Oriente, Santiago de Cuba.

3 Cachaldora Francisco, Isidro Javier et al., “Estrategia de producción más limpia para el taller galvánico de INPUD”, Universidad Central “Marta Abreu” de Las Villas (2006).

EPC448.thumbnail (1)Read author bio here: Ernest Perez Chang

 

 

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

 

Contaminated Aquifers, Cause for Alarm / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

High levels of lead and other metals harmful to health have been detected in reservoirs intended for human use
High levels of lead and other metals harmful to health have been detected in reservoirs intended for human use

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 23 July 2015 – Although they have not been properly disclosed, in spite of their great importance, numerous studies carried out repeatedly by teams of Cuban scientists have raised the alarm about the critical state of Cuba’s main aquifers.

The detection of high levels of lead and other heavy metals harmful to human health in lakes and reservoirs intended for human use and for work related to agriculture and fisheries suggest that this could be one of the main causes for the increase among the Cuban population of cancer and other illnesses related to prolonged exposure to toxic substances.

The Ejercito Rebelde dam receives wastes from the nearby Antillana de Acero (photo from the internet)
The Ejercito Rebelde dam receives wastes from the nearby Antillana de Acero (photo from the internet)

While the phenomenon afflicts all the country’s provinces, Havana is the region most affected because, first, it is surrounded by several landfills capable of leaking highly toxic elements into underground waters that feed sources destined to supply the capital; and, second, most industries do not comply with international norms for the treatment of wastes and the filtering of harmful gas emissions, and they even discharge wastes directly into river basins like the Almendares, which crosses the capital and whose waters are used on farmlands. continue reading

A study published in 2013 conducted by a team of specialists from the Laboratory of Environmental Analysis, part of Cuba’s Higher Institute of Applied Technologies and Sciences, reported the levels of highly toxic substances in the soils of and produce grown on 17 farms dedicated to urban agriculture, all located within two kilometers of the 100th Street landfill to the west of the capital.

According to the research, the soil of half the farms exceeded the ranges at which heavy metals, like lead, are usually found in Cuban agricultural soils, while a high percentage exceeded levels considered toxic according to some international standards. Similarly, 12.5 per cent of the vegetable samples collected exceeded the maximum permissible limits of this contaminant in foods intended for human consumption established by Cuban regulation NC 493 of 2006.

One of the areas that most worries those who are familiar with this phenomenon, about which nothing is said in the official press outlets, is the Ejercito Rebelde dam, built in 1976 south of the capital and considered one of the largest stores of “potable water” in the western region.

Surrounded by highly polluting industries like the steelmaker Antillana de Acero and giant dumps like Cotorro, the lake has been singled out by several scientific groups as a danger to human health since analyses of its sediments as well as of its flora and fauna have revealed lethal concentrations of heavy metals and other harmful substances.

In spite of the released warnings – almost always by digital academic publications of limited circulation – state fishing cooperatives that sell their products in the capital’s markets continue to operate there, while the regional authorities do very little to prevent the area’s inhabitants from coming to fish, swim or wash cars at the banks of the reservoir.

The oil stains and countless accumulations of rubbish that surround the dam speak for themselves of the government’s lack of control and the ignorance of the people about the danger to which they are exposed.

A scientific study from 2005 had already detected high levels of lead, zinc, cadmium and copper in the so-called “Almendares-Vento” basin as well as at the Ejercito Rebelde dam.

In its report, the team of analysts from Cuba’s Higher Institute of Applied Technologies and Sciences explained that such levels of contamination were due, in large measure, “to inadequate hygienic-sanitary coverage and industrialization without regard to protective measures for the environment.”

In order to have an idea of how terrible it could be now as well as in the future just for Havana, the Almendares-Vento watershed (which also includes the Ejercito Rebelde dam), provides almost half of all the potable water that the city’s populace consumes and a good part of its food. The heavy metals are extremely toxic even in relatively low concentrations, they are not biodegradable, and, to the contrary, they accumulate through the food chain.

To understand the gravity of the situation – both because of the discharged contaminants in our waters and the authorities’ willingness to conceal or disinterest in the matter – it suffices to refer to the body of research that, although carried out by Cuban institutions and experts, almost exclusively circulates outside of the island in foreign digital scientific media, while domestic publications keep their distance from what already constitutes a real silent tragedy.

The appalling hygiene and sanitation conditions of the capital influence the contamination levels (photo by the author)
The appalling hygiene and sanitation conditions of the capital influence the contamination levels (photo by the author)

Tables and info-graphics from several studies of the aquifers of Havana and the San Juan and Cobre rivers in Santiago de Cuba, among others, show the accumulation levels of heavy metals comparable to heavily industrialized areas of Europe. Chemical contaminants have also been found in species captured in the Guancanayabo Gulf and at the Hanabanilla dam in Villa Clara. Investigations by the Metallurgical Mining Institute of Holguin also have detected elevated concentrations of sulfates, nickel, chromium, manganese and iron in the groundwater of Moa.

http://www.revistaaquatic.com/aquatic/art.asp?t=p&c=231
Antillana de Acero and other industries near the dam do not comply with environmental regulations (photo by the author)
Graph from one of the studies showing levels of contamination in Havana’s water
Graph from one of the studies showing levels of contamination in Havana’s water
Oil stains line the Ejercito Rebelde dam in Havana (photo by the author)
Oil stains line the Ejercito Rebelde dam in Havana (photo by the author)
Small dumps skirt the dam (photo by the author)
Small dumps skirt the dam (photo by the author)
Drivers wash trucks and cars in the reservoir (photo by the author)
Drivers wash trucks and cars in the reservoir (photo by the author)

EPC448.thumbnail (1)Ernest Perez Chang

 

 

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Official Writers: The Good Life is Over / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Miguel Barnet and Abel Prieto may be exempt, but what will happen to others like Pablo Armando Fernandez? (photo taken from the Internet)
Miguel Barnet and Abel Prieto may be exempt, but what will happen to others like Pablo Armando Fernandez? (photo taken from the Internet)

Now that the slogan is economic profitability, what will happen to all the mediocre but loyal intellectuals?

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 20 July 2015 – In that “without haste but without pause”* race to impose a new economic model that might alleviate the ravages of Fidel Castro’s despotism, in Cuba some are wondering if the changes will positively or negatively affect the forms of cultural management to which a majority of writers and artists have been accustomed.

I am referring to the model that has permitted many of them to live, sometimes well, sometimes not, but “without breaking a sweat,” meaning publishing books that no one reads and that will never be sold; receiving prizes and distinctions for a lifetime of submissive work; manipulating competitions; plundering travel allowances or missions to Venezuela; haggling over, in the offices of the Culture Ministry, frequent departures to fairs and events abroad; being the official lapdog who paves the way to court, and turning himself into a character that is half rogue and half leftist intellectual who says he has renounced international success due to his “revolutionary commitment.”

Many questions arise now that all those who have lived off of – and even thrived from – the “profitability” of those false loyalties are on a leaky boat in the middle of a stormy sea. continue reading

However, the need that absolutely everything on the island be economically profitable has placed writers as well as the government at a crossroads, breaking an old loyalty pact in which political power ensured the feeding of the ego of that other party, bothersome, who mastered words, all in exchange for complicity.

Under that convention, real writers fled, joined the internal resistance or adapted to the circumstances while, out of the mediocrity there were born hordes of producers of texts without conflicts that only would have served as a backdrop to that illusory cultural conformity environment, of a gilded world, that seems to exist only in bookstores and book fairs.

But now, when the deal has been broken and entrepreneurial profitability is sought, will Cuban writers continue publishing according to that “quota system” established by the island’s publishers and magazines under which the single fact of being a member of the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists, UNEAC, or feigning political obedience ensures that you remain in the publishing plans at least once a year?

What even will be the fate of UNEAC or the Cuban Book Institute? Will their true roles as thought “managers” be revealed?

What even will be UNEAC’s fate! (photo courtesy of the author)
What even will be UNEAC’s fate! (photo courtesy of the author)

What will happen to the thousands of mediocre but faithful “intellectuals” whom the government will have to ignore if it does not want to continue maintaining a no longer useful claque, especially in an era when the touch screen of a tablet or a cell phone is more attractive than a rough paper surface in black and white?

The new official discourse, no longer based on the egalitarianism of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto but on the life raft that are Marino Murillo’s “Economic Guidelines,” is repetitive with respect to the total elimination of gratuities and quite insistent on the rapid transformation of state-subsidized entities into businesses forced to be profitable in order to be able to continue existing.

However, everything works as a trap. Statutes governing self employment do not allow the creation of publishing cooperatives or those initiatives that encourage a cultural environment alternative to that other one controlled, supervised, censored by the Communist Party and State Security.

Writers, if they want to be profitable, that is, if they want to avoid starving to death, will be obliged, much more than before, to write what they are asked to write, to adhere to the margins of tolerance, to feign greater fidelity or, on the other hand, to try their luck abroad or, simply, to change jobs to something much more promising in the Port of Mariel Special Development Zone. After all, the “general president” has already said it; the first thing is the economy while the term “culture,” in the official discourse, has gotten divorced from utopia in order to marry trade. “Economic culture,” “market culture,” “entrepreneurial culture” are the seasonal pairings.

“We writers are screwed,” say several friends who accept the uncertainty of the times. Managing to enter the international publishing market is a true feat for any writer, Cuban or not. The negligible likelihood of something like that happening increases fear, and analyzing the few opportunities for survival without sacrificing the writing trade, the only path to choose is to continue with the pact of silence as long as the storm lasts.

That fear of being on the outside and on their own can only partly explain why, in contrast with musicians and filmmakers, Cuban writers avoid disobedience and feign living outside of politics; however, they are naïve to ignore that now their former role as vassals is not useful in a world where money has completely displaced the word. Now, clearly, the government is not prepared to invest money and time in breeding what it has always seen as a caste of spongers and would-be traitors.

Although always committed to not publishing writers opposed to the Revolution or works that could unleash the demons among the mob, publishers and other Cuban cultural institutions, which until yesterday functioned under an impression of art for art’s sake where the official resolution of “art for socialist ideology” was disguised, now have been forced to redesign their profiles and undertake the race for survival, an eventuality that suits the government perfectly and that will serve to sweep away all the poets and narrators who offer nothing substantial to the building of that rare socialism financed with capital from the Empire.

That rare socialism financed with capital from the Empire! (photo courtesy of the author)
That rare socialism financed with capital from the Empire! (photo courtesy of the author)

The total elimination of state subsidies, the reduction in publishing plans, the cutbacks in author copyright payments, the massive layoffs from publishers, the assumption of business strategies that take them further from their foundational principles and that transform the editorial element, that is to say, the true reason for a business to exist, into a secondary matter, has been a true earthquake for those who trusted that, for culture, any future time would have to be better.

Now it means speaking and writing less and working more, is what the Cuban government says, which also has replaced its traditional “fleet” of literati for a torrent of ideologues capable of providing to the people that “Revolutionary” literature indispensable for pretending that nothing falls apart: military officers with too much free time and turned into historians, State Security agents turned novelists and poets, historians feeding the revolutionary epic, children of Raul and Fidel occupying the printers with their manias and cravings, all the Book Fairs revolving around them, while the writers attend the end of times, their own extinctions, with the calmness of cattle led to slaughter, just for fear of breaking the silence.

*Translator’s note: Words from a 2014 speech by Raul Castro to the National Assembly about “updating the Cuban economic model.”

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

About the Author

EPC448.thumbnailErnest Perez Chang: a bio is here

 

Killing for a Dwelling / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

A usual scene in Reparto Electrico, whether Holy Week or not
A usual scene in Reparto Electrico, whether Holy Week or not

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 1 July 2015 – A daughter killed her mother, dismembered her with the help of her boyfriend and then reported her missing in order to be able to inherit her humble apartment in a slum where they both lived. It may seem the plot of a horror movie but it is a real story that barely a year ago shook the community of Reparto Electrico.

It was not the first time I heard such chilling news as that; but more than the blood relationship between the victim and the murderer, the motive of the killer was what accentuated the absurdity, the insanity, especially when in the streets, while the crime was being talked about, equally disturbing stories emerged about family conflicts related to the difficulties in wrangling a place to live.

Before and after that bloody episode, I learned of other similar scenarios, and, according to Orlando Asdrubal, a lawyer who has followed several cases in the Arroyo Naranjo township, the bloody events within families are increasing, all related to housing property rights. continue reading

Although they do not always yield fatal outcomes, this kind of litigation accounts for almost half the cases heard in the courts: “Brother against brother, children against parents, and always it is because of a room, to inherit a shack, a little piece of land, four pesos. Too much violence, that is what poverty brings when there is hopelessness and desperation. That is one of the main attractions of the Cuban courts. Four cases out of ten have to do with housing,” says Orlando.

Amado Ibanez, resident of Centro Habana, illustrates for us with dozens of anecdotes how increasingly frequent are the bloody events related to housing and involving family members who have shared the same space for years: “Right here, on this street, every day there is a brawl and they have nothing to do with gangs or drugs or machismo, those are less frequent. The majority are because of one brother who wants to bounce another from the house or a child who wants to divide a room that is his father’s or uncle’s, and all that is sometimes with machetes.”

Violent events like these to which Amado refers are those that everyone hears about because they are frightening. However, there exist others that go unnoticed due to their everyday nature, more so in the current political-economic environment in which old people are classified as a social burden, an obstacle to development, although, paradoxically, that subliminal rhetoric comes from the discourse of our ruling elders.

Through the testimony one can hear on the street, from the mouths of neighbors, friends and work colleagues, one can sense that in Cuba many old people, whose only heritable property is the humble family home, die as victims of what could be considered “stealth killings,” most of the time at the hands of their own offspring.

Recently while riding on a bus, I could hear the conversation of two women. One was telling the other about how turbulent it was to share the home with her elderly father who suffered very advanced diabetes and episodes of senile dementia.

When one detailed the things that she did or left undone in order to hasten the death of the sick man (she left him alone at night, fed him a bad diet and even stopped administering his medicine to him), the other fearlessly advised her about the steps she should take to declare him incompetent, admit him to a health institution and inherit the property that was simply a small apartment with only one room. The gruesome plan was discussed aloud as if it had to do with an inoffensive plan to exterminate cockroaches.

On a more personal level, I have known neighbors who have died in the cruelest abandonment by their families without any governmental institution bothering to investigate in depth what happened and without any legal mechanism for reporting these cases in which one senses that, behind the supposed negligence, there are hidden true instances of premeditated murder.

A doctor from a clinic in Reparto Electrico, whose identity we withhold, says that in recent years instances of old or sick people dying because of the apathy of their relatives have increased and that, due to the lack of interest demonstrated by the institutions who should attend to this phenomenon, it is very difficult to prevent these tragedies.

“There is no way of knowing if the relative is acting out of ignorance or if the lack of attention is on purpose. I always am inclined to the latter. If, as a relative, you take responsibility for a sick person, you must do things just as the doctor indicates, but in the end you cannot complain about them for anything because neither the hospitals nor the nursing homes are capable of offering better attention. (…) I have had several cases where it is evident that there has been a murder. But how can I prove it? And not only that, how do I know that the police will pay attention to me?

“And worse, I am asking for them to come and stab me four times in the back for something that I cannot prove outright. (…) I have had many experiences but I don’t need to be a doctor to live them daily. For example, in the same building where I live. A neighbor, not very old, was partially paralyzed after a stroke so that she could not walk. With some physical therapy sessions and some more or less good care the woman was up, but her daughter did nothing. She had her thrown in bed and did not worry about feeding her. She died after a few months.

“I live here, and I know that every day there were fights about the apartment, I know that they left the woman to die, that they saw the opportunity to resolve the matter that way, finally, no one investigates. (…) For the government it is one less old person and another housing problem solved.”

The difficulties of getting housing in Cuba are not comparable to any other reality and it has been creating quite complex phenomena where official corruption, astronomic sale prices or political conditions for getting an assignment for a place to live are practically not problems in comparison with the tragedies that have occurred within families or with the loss of moral values and the degradation of human feelings to monstrous levels.

About the Author: Ernesto Perez Chang 

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Domestic Tourism, the Faces of Deceit / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Cuban guests can only observe foreigners enjoy yachting trips.  They are prohibited from this activity (photo by the author)
Cuban guests can only observe foreigners enjoy yachting trips. They are prohibited from this activity (photo by the author)

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 16 June 2015 — To judge by the avalanche of television programs that in recent weeks have been dedicated to so-called “domestic tourism,” in Cuba all families have adequate income to become a major market for the island’s hotel groups and resorts.

Several Round Tables with the participation of ministers, vice-ministers, and company heads, all tied to the tourism sector, plus extensive reports on the Cuban Television National News detail the offers for this summer, present promotional campaigns in hotels and shopping centers and exhort the “Cuban family” to make reservations as soon as possible due to high demand.

The propagandistic marathon gives the sense that the economies within our homes are booming and that this country, replete with multitudes living below the poverty line, only exists in “enemy propaganda.” continue reading

As anyone can find out if he wants to, within those same tourist centers “open to everyone,” it is difficult to find guests from our own backyard. Nevertheless, at the doors of the hotels one can collect statements from people who not even in their dreams are permitted the fantasy of “vacationing” on equal terms with foreigners.

Although many may seem to be indigent or to owe their poverty to a slight entrepreneurial spirit, talking with any of those vendors and hustlers who abound in the streets of Cuba can reveal to us that it is those same men and women, workers and professionals, who once believed in that perennial “sacrifice for the future” demanded by those same government officials who today, when speaking of vacations and complete availability in the midst of the daily miseries, inoculate them with a sense of personal failure.

Manolo, a street vendor with whom we spoke on a corner of Paseo del Prado tells us: “I worked my whole life, I was at the sugar harvest when needed, I was in all the mobilizations and I was in the vanguard for many years, and I have nothing. (…) My pension does not cover my needs, like almost everyone. How am I going to plan a vacation? Only one time, in 1983, could I go to a house on the beach in Guanabo, a week, and now I don’t even remember why it was. Vacations are for the rich, and in this country almost everyone is poor, so I don’t know what they’re talking about on television. Well, there they say anything. My son tells me that if I want to consume everything they talk about on the television, I have to put a basket underneath it, because they only exist on the news.”

Manolo’s experience is similar to that of thousands, maybe millions, of Cubans. Collecting testimony about the matter is not hard, and this makes it much more dramatic.

German, another old retiree who sells plastic bags in the streets of Old Havana, could give the impression that he wasted his time when young and that he did not exert himself to achieve greater welfare in his old age; however, like any decent Cuban he believed in work as the only source of prosperity and currently he feels cheated. Vacation in one of the tourist facilities promoted as a vacation destination by the government itself is a true luxury: “What do I do then? It is better not to even think of those things. (…) I never pay attention to what they say on television. They have their country and we, ours,” German tells me.

In cahoots with the journalists who lend themselves to hiding the true reality in a country where the word “vacation” has become empty of all meaning, government officials have the audacity to speak of “affordable prices,” of “overbooking” and “high demand” in a scenario where the entire year’s salary from an honest professional’s job is not high enough to even provide the enjoyment of one day in hotel in Cayo Coco or Varadero, two of the destinations that, according to the official press and the highest tourism authorities in Cuba, “are among the most in demand by the domestic tourist for the coming months of July and August, a time when Cubans comprise 45 percent of those vacationing.” The statistics from MINTUR, contrasted with Cubans’ hard day-to-day reality, are offensive.

A brief visit to any of the internet pages where businesses like Cubanacan or Islazul promote their summer products, aimed at the “domestic market,” show how “cheap” the offers can be even for those same official reporters who barely receive more than 20 dollars for their work.

A basic room in a low or medium level hotel costs, for only one person, between 25 and 70 dollars per night, without counting that the so-called “domestic tourist” does not receive the same treatment as a foreign visitor so that there exist payment and service options totally closed to Cubans. For example, outings on yachts or any motor boat are off limits for even the few Cubans with enough purchasing power (and who, of course, are not relatives of high military officers or leaders); so are those vacation packages that include underwater fishing or big game hunting in preserves devoted only to the country’s upper echelons.

Doctors and health specialists who return from missions abroad where they are paid in dollars, people who live on considerable remittances from relatives in exile, prostitutes, smugglers and corrupt leaders make up that mass of citizens favored by the changes in the policy of access to tourist facilities. A minority that the Cuban government insists on turning into the best face of that capitalist-socialism and into a shield in order to hide the accumulation of lies that constitutes that old populist discourse that, in current circumstances, no longer is suitable but that constituted that sad and skinny losing horse called the “Cuban Revolution” on which they obliged us to bet in a race they always knew was lost.

Click here for the author page for Ernesto Perez Chang

Translated by MLK

State Inefficiency, Convenient Business / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Selling yields no benefits (photo by the author)
Selling yields no benefits (photo by the author)

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 22 May 2015 — Attestations about poor or non-existent attention in Cuban state businesses are so abundant that few pay attention to them. In order to offer a response to the indignant, the island’s official press searches for causes of such abuse not in the inefficiency of the state enterprise but in other absurd factors like poor education or lack of professionalism, which do not reveal the corrupt essence of a system that, in spite of the proof of its uselessness, will be kept in place by government will, as is expressed in the Guidelines of the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party.

Why do we receive better treatment in a private restaurant or cafeteria? Why do customer demands bother the clerk and managers of a state eatery and why do they not improve the quality of their offerings? Why do they hide behind any justification in order to remain closed or to reduce their public service hours to the minimum?

According to Vladimir Rodriguez, owner of a busy little restaurant in downtown Vedado, the problem is in the objectives of each:

“As the owner of my business I seek to attract more customers, to offer more variety. I listen to the opinions of the people, the suggestions, I serve them like they were kings because it winds up as earnings. In a state restaurant the earnings do not come from the clients’ consumption and satisfaction but in that quite miserable thing that happens in the warehouse, in the sale to the black market of everything that arrives to be produced and sold to the customers, who turn into a nuisance. What little gets to the table is only to justify the work in case an inspector comes, but the clerks as well as the manager live on the black market. continue reading

“That is something everyone knows. (…) I worked for years in restaurants in Havana, even in luxury hotels in Varadero, and what I saw in the kitchens is nasty. (…) Rice that customers leave on their plates went back in the casseroles, a bit of meat, salads, the olives, everything that people leave on the plates is served again. That is way of dealing with leftovers. That’s why I left and opened my own business. I would not be caught dead in a State restaurant; God only knows what they are serving you.”

For Iraida, a clerk in a private cafeteria in Arroyo Naranjo, the matter is more complicated: “It is a secret to no one that in the stores as well as in all the state enterprises the people do not work, they are going, as they say, to struggle, that is to say, to steal. And the worst is that the government knows it and “plays the silly goat” [pretends not to know]. (…) Why? Because it is convenient for them. If they attack the black market the people will rebel because everyone lives off that, even them. There, yes, the revolution is over. They promised to create a wholesale market for the self-employed and even now we continue in the same way, buying on the black market because there is nothing in the stores or if there is, it is hidden in the warehouses, so that you have to buy from a warehouseman, who has a fix with the manager, and so forth and so on. There you realize that the government is involved in that mess (…) if it does not benefit with money, at least it does by leaving it to the people ‘to struggle’ so that they see the ‘blessings of socialism.’ In troubled waters, fishermen gain.”

Marta Li, owner of a café in Vedado, illustrates for us with her own examples what she considers the superiority of private enterprise. “In a State café no one worries about serving the customer well because it does not end up as earnings. They sell or not, the salary is the same for the manager as well as for the sales clerk. They care about what is left from a liter of oil and the chicken, to resell the cheese and the spaghetti; they are not sold because no one would buy them. I, on the other hand, have to constantly create sales strategies; my objective is that nothing is left, not in the pots or in the freezers, to sell everything because what I have paid is quite a lot. (…) Since I am close to the university, I make offers to the students who present their student ID, I discount the price. Sometimes for someone who buys more than one pizza or for a repeat customer I give them a free drink. People come because they know that they will receive good attention. It is not about lowering prices but giving good service.”

Customers do not matter; what’s good is what happens in the warehouse (photo by the author)
Customers do not matter; what’s good is what happens in the warehouse (photo by the author)

A former civil servant of a business enterprise in Havana, who wishes to remain anonymous because she is currently the owner of a restaurant, tells us of her experiences in a state business:

“Satisfying the customer is the last of the priorities [of a state enterprise]. Whatever it may be. They all work in order to steal everything that can be stolen and in the least time possible. One enters with good intentions and ends up coming to terms with the corruption because there is no other path. (…) The socialist economy has neither feet nor head. When I studied [economics] at the university the professors themselves said that there is no way to explain the Cuban economy. And when you try to apply any model you realize that they all fail. (…) It is not that you propose to steal, it’s that you have to do it because everyone is out for himself. It didn’t matter to me or to any of the workers in all the stores where I worked, which were more than twenty; it didn’t matter if the wages were low or not, not even the bonus, the salary was a formality, the true earnings are not even on the counter as many think. Where the money comes from (…) is not the counter. And be careful with making yourself the conscious one [honest] because you wind up blaming yourself for everything.”

Will they be able someday to prove the efficiency of the socialist state enterprise, as Cuban leaders claim, based on a couple of suspicious exceptions? According to the recent statements by Miguel Diaz-Canel, this “demonstrative work” is one of the main undertakings of “the country’s leadership with the Cuban people.” As if half a century of failures that we Cubans currently suffer did not matter, the government pushes to prolong an economic experiment behind which is hidden a vast fabric of corruption.

Against that piece of nonsense, for years it has been very common to hear on the street a phrase that sums up the inefficiency of state enterprises: “The government pretends to pay us, and we pretend to work.”

Outside the businesses, in the doorways, people resell products on the black market, in view of everyone (photo by the author).
Outside the businesses, in the doorways, people resell products on the black market, in view of everyone (photo by the author).
Iniciativas-a-favor-del-cliente.-Una-paladar-privada-en-el-Vedado.-Foto-P.-Chang-722x505
Initiatives in support of the customer. A private restaurant in El Vedado (photo by author)
This snack bar gives students 5% off (photo by author)
This snack bar gives students 5% off (photo by author)
Satisfying the customer is the objective of private business. There are more menu items than in State companies. This snack bar gives students 5% off (photo by author)
Satisfying the customer is the objective of private business. There are more menu items than in State companies. This snack bar gives students 5% off (photo by author)
Guarapera-estatal-cerrada-en-horario-laboral.-Foto-P.-Chang-722x505
A State business closed during working hours (Photo by author)

About the Author
448.thumbnailErnest Perez Chang (El Cerro, Havana, 15 June 1971). Writer, graduate in philology from the University of Havana. He studied Galician Language and Culture in the University of Santiago de Compostela. He has published the novels: Your Eyes Are in front of Nothing (2006) and Alicia under Her Own Shadow (2012). At the end of 2014, the publisher Silueta, in Miami, will publish his most recent novel: Food. He is also the author of books of stories: Last Photos of Mama Nude (2000); Sade’s Ghosts (2002); Stories of Silk (2003); Variations for the Preliterate (2007), The Art of Dying Alone (2011) and One Hundred Deadly Stories (2014). His narrative work has been recognized with prizes: David de Cuento of the Cuban Gazette twice, 1998 and 2008; Julio Cortazar Latin American Story prize on its first call in 2002; National Critics Prize in 2007; Alejo Carpentier Story Prize in 2011, among others. He has worked as editor for numerous Cuban cultural institutions like the House of the Americas (1997-2008), Art and Literature Publisher, the Center for Research and Development of Cuban Music. He was Chief Editor for the magazine Union (2008-11).

Translated by MLK

The Internet: A Space for Diversity and Freedom of Expression / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Young people are indifferent to politics.  Cell phones, video games and television series are their priorities (photo by the author)
Young people are indifferent to politics. Cell phones, video games and television series are their priorities (photo by the author)

We have to wonder how much the Cuban government invests in restricting this essential information tool in our time, blocking it and even minimizing the “harmful effects” of its free and generalized use

cubanet square logoCubanet.org, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 24 April 2015 – Faced with the problem of the limits on access to the internet in Cuba, one would have to wonder not how much the Cuban government invests in expanding the reach of this information tool, essential in our time, but how high the costs will rise in order to restrict it, block it and even to minimize the “harmful effects” of its free and generalized use.

It is known that every state enterprise, institute and agency has an information department charged with not only managing the internet but monitoring the navigation of every user, censoring it and reporting any “suspicious maneuver.”  The specialists do not work of their own will but must carry out to the letter the rigorous instructions provided by the national Information Security team strongly tied to the Ministry of the Interior. continue reading

A great portion of State resources are tied up in the strict control of information and in filtering the communications of absolutely every email account that is hosted on Cuban servers or that uses them, according to a worker for the network Infomed, who prefers to remain anonymous.  According to this person, who makes a living from offering email service on the black market, all messages that pass through the server are rigorously investigated.  Through specialized programs, customers are studied, words and key names are marked, elements are deleted as a routine practice.

A review of ads on the Revolico.com classified ads page reveals immediately how exhaustively internet connections and email accounts are monitored.  Almost all who seek services from clandestine providers advise that they will only employ them for “family” or “serious” purposes.  Although they sell on the black market, the vendors of hours of connection forbid doing “problematic” searches or sending content “contrary to the Revolution.”  Thus, any opponent in Cuba finds it very difficult to make a deal for the purchase of an internet or email account with an international outlet.  The computer experts who take risks with such clients are very few, and when they do it, they double their prices due to the danger they may run.

Disguised censorship

On the threshold of a new millennium, the creation in Cuba of the University of Computer Sciences (UCI) and the increase in software development centers were not linked to a willingness to update our knowledge in those new areas of the scientific universe but as a defensive strategy in the face of the “penetration of information,” the most feared of all the ghosts in a totalitarian environment.

Nevertheless, all the projects of cyber defense have become a double-edged sword due to the fact that a work of computer censorship so huge and in a country sunk in misery must mobilize thousands of people to whom access must be given to that which will have to be prohibited, and these will use their “power” not to exercise it fully but in order to find the cracks in the system that will permit them to personally profit.

Although the University of Computer Sciences is the study center most monitored and controlled by the Cuban government, as much there as in any of the  country’s other computer departments, there are many students and specialists who live not on their stipends and salaries but by clandestinely providing services related to the internet.  Those who review all the speeches by Fidel Castro where he addressed the topic of the internet will be able to recognize his insistence, if not to say his desperation, to create a cyber shield in order to hide the world and continue his disinformation maneuvers.

ETESCA Telepunto office.  Long lines to access email and internet service (Photo by the author)
ETESCA Telepunto office.  Long lines to access email and internet service (Photo by the author)

Much software and many applications created in official Cuban institutions are aimed at control of the web and its accessibility.  The so-called “initiatives” to carry information to all the people in Cuba are intended not to share free connectivity with all citizens or to end privileges but to create “monitored diversification” of the Cuban internet and sites with the .cu domain that function as substitutes for the true Worldwide Web, where the topic of “Cuba” is approached only from the regime’s perspective.

To diversify the Cuban platforms for blogs, continuing the history of censorship from the first, loyalty to the system will continue to be demanded along with abstention from free expression of opinion; it is known that the sites classified as tied to the official press, more than providing a service, are trying to displace the uncontrollable Revolico.com; the Cuban encyclopedias, out of date and ideological, badly imitate Wikipedia.  These are some of the “sterile” products that the government intends to fight the “dangerous internet.”

When I hear Cuban leaders put forth with such insistence the idea of “responsible use of information and the internet,” I feel that they are putting a patch over the immense information abyss that censorship will generate.  Undoubtedly, not being able to dominate the monster, they will continue generating laws much more absurd than the current ones in order to punish freedoms, so it will be as if someone said to me:  “They will allow all Cubans to set in front of a computer, but they will be prohibited from turning it on.”

It is surprising the number of computer students, particularly at the mid-levels, who do not know what it is to navigate the internet.  Some do not even have a computer at home.  In Cuban universities it is a real ordeal, both for students and professors, to get permission to freely access the internet.

Youth pass by worn out speeches

It is no longer news to assert that the great majority of Cuban youth shy away from political speeches, from commitments of loyalty to a regime and to its social model.  Television, radio, press, newsreels, round tables and all those devices of manipulation of the masses that between the 60’s and the 90’s were effective for the regime, now are distant worlds for the new generations who have learned, due to the bitter experiences of their parents, to nullify that which they find “bothersome” and to search for alternatives of escape, as much physical as spiritual.

Several young people confess to having absolutely no interest in anything related to the revolution and its leaders.  Many admit to never having read the newspaper Granma or having seen the newscast or the Round Table.  There are even those who have never heard or read a speech by Fidel Castro, much less by Raul, in spite of it being required study in all Cuban schools.

Demand by Connect Cuba on a Havana Street (photo by the author)
Demand by Connect Cuba on a Havana Street (photo by the author)

A young neighbor, a high school student, has told me:  “I’d like you to see the people in my school when the principal gets into those political talks. Everyone puts on headphones and it’s over. The same with the classroom. No one is interested in any of that. When they require work about Fidel or any of that trash, I tell my dad to do it or I pay the teacher but I am not wasting my time.  To make us read Granma, sometimes they ask us to talk about some news item but people invent anything about the Pope or the doctors in Venezuela or some gossip that came out on the dish and with that it’s dead.  In the end, on the television they always say the same thing, and the teacher doesn’t waste his time on that either.”

Nevertheless, with each passing year technology will be developing new means for information to reach everyone, and at the same time, get away from the domination of a few. In spite of knowing that they are fighting a losing battle, the Cuban leaders keep investing resources just to make the imminent collapse much slower. Mobile telephones, the internet, and the so-called “packet of the week” (international television programming and other content prohibited in Cuba that people transmit by digital media) have achieved in a few years what the regime’s opponents have not been able to manage in more than half a century.

The internet is delivering the coup de grace to the dictatorship and the most interesting thing about that is that it has not done it with political speeches or programs of action but by providing a space for diversity and freedom of expression, the most feared enemies.

448.thumbnailAbout the author

Ernesto Perez Chang (El Cerro, Havana, 15 June 1971).  Writer, graduate in philology from the University of Havana.  He studied Galician Language and Culture in the University of Santiago de Compostela.  He has published the novels:  Your Eyes Are in Front of Nothing (2006) and Alicia Under Her Own Shadow (2012).  At the end of 2014, the publisher Silueta, in Miami, will publish his most recent novel:  Food.  He is also the author of books of stories:  Last Photos of Mama Nude (2000); Sade’s Ghosts (2002); Stories of Silk (2003); Variations for the Preliterate (2007), The Art of Dying Alone (2011) and One Hundred Deadly Stories (2014).  His narrative work has been recognized with prizes:  David de Cuento of the Cuban Gazette twice, 1998 and 2008; Julio Cortazar Latin American Story prize on its first call in 2002; National Critics Prize in 2007; Alejo Carpentier Story Prize in 2011, among others.  He has worked as editor for numerous Cuban cultural institutions like the House of the Americas (1997-2008), Art and Literature Publisher, the Center for Research and Development of Cuban Music.  He was Chief Editor for the magazine Union (2008-11).

Translated by MLK

Antonio Rodiles interview: “Truth is on the side of the opposition” / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 12.26.11 PM
cubanet square logoCubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 9 April 2015 – The discussion parallel to the Panama Summit (Summit of the Americas) lacks the presence of Antonio G. Rodiles, because the Cuban government, very “opportunistically,” has retained his passport.

A recognized opposition activist and director of the Estado de Sats (State of Sats) civic project, this talkative, jovial, controversial man who was young athlete, doctor of science and professor at prestigious universities in the United States, one day decided to leave the comfort of academic life to return to Cuba and challenge the regime, building, in his own home, a space for public debate as an alternative to the stagnation that affects Cuban society. continue reading

The announcement of the conversations between the governments of the Cuba and the United States has generated different positions among the Cuban dissidence. The opinions of Antonio G. Rodiles in a certain way deviate from those of the rest of the opponents, calling attention to those things that should be paramount at the dialog table where many do not feel represented.

“From my point of view,” warns Rodiles, “is very illogical to accept a path where there is no clear request to the regime in Havana. We all know that the principal objective of the regime is to maintain itself in power. They cannot maintain it much longer because this elite is going to die of natural causes and clearly they are working for the transfer of power to their family. (…)

“If the international community (…) allows them to make this transition without asking anything in return it is going to be happiness for them, and anguish for us Cubans (…). Our position has been made clear against a political process, we are peaceful fighters and we believe the solution for Cuba has to be a peaceful and a political one but this must be through a clearly defined process, there must be transparency, which was not what happened (…).

“It is clear that in a negotiation process not everything is going to be said, not all points are going to be put on the table, but at least the line and the logic of what you want to accomplish should be, and so far we have not seen that Cubans’ civil and political rights are the end point of this conversation, and this is what overwhelmingly concerns us.”

Although the constant dedication of the Estado de Sats project consumes a great part of his social and family life, Antonio G. Rodiles – who affirms that he grew up “hearing the Voice of America and Radio Marti,” and without hearing “that Fidel and Raul Castro were heroes,” despite being the nephew of one of Raul Castro’s trusted confidants – agreed to meet with us, for hours, to talk about what we wanted to know about his past, his obsessions, his personal perspectives on a democratic future, and even his daily life, shaped by a sense of commitment to his ideas and with respect for dialogue, qualities that have made him a true leader for a good part of the opposition within and outside Cuba.

Video below is in Spanish

Corruption, the Cancer of Cuban Public Transportation / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Photo by author
Photo by author

cubanet square logoCubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang, Havana, 7 February 2015 — More than a decade has passed since the first big purchase of busses from China and Russia was made in order to ameliorate the transportation problem in Cuba, and no improvement is in sight. Contrary to what was promised then, moving from one point to another becomes each day a greater agony for low-income citizens.

Although officials from the Ministry of Transportation continue blaming the economic embargo and the world crisis for all the difficulties they face, it is well known that there are other phenomena, many of them related to corruption.

In that sense, it is not surprising to encounter silence in the official media and in the statements by some officials in which they try to hide the million-dollar embezzlements that continue reading

the importing and transportation companies must confront every year such that what is invested on one side passes to the pockets of a few on the other.

Besides the negative figures supplied by Ricardo Chacon, Director of International Relations for the Ministry of Transportation (MITRANS), in the press conference held in 2014 in order to “denounce the embargo,” there were other data missing about the damages caused to the Cuban economy by the frauds and thefts committed by some of the senior leaders of strategic enterprises related to transportation.

According to what we could learn through an official from Havana’s Provincial Transportation Department, who for obvious reasons has asked our discretion as far as his identity, a great part of the economic losses that were suffered last year, as in years before, is due to the chaos and the embezzlement of great sums of money by senior leaders of enterprises like Transimport, whose director, Jesus Jose de Hombre, was arrested some months ago and is under investigation for an act of corruption that also involves the director of the company Autopartes, tied to the illicit sale of thousands of engines that were intended for public transportation.

Alternative transportation in Lido, Marianao
Alternative transportation in Lido, Marianao — The people ride in the backs of trucks

On the streets of Cuba it is common knowledge that the black market for parts and vehicles, as well as for all services related to the field, is supplied by a network of corruption that reaches the highest levels in government institutions. The inability to honestly administer all these enterprises that function as true mafias is obvious when the constant resignations by officials are taken into account, the frequent changes of high managers as well as of the ministers and vice-ministers related directly or indirectly to transportation but, also, when it is revealed to us the exaggerated price of a vacant position in any of the warehouses or offices related to the sale or import of automobiles and auto parts.

The lines for the bus
The lines for the bus

A worker – whom we do not identify for his safety – for one of the warehouses of the Gaviota enterprise group, in the capital, tells us about this particular:

“The job as assistant to the Warehouse Chief goes for a thousand dollars and those that have to do with marketing also are “nibbling close.” There are people here who have entered on the bus and left in a Hyundai. They enter without a peso in their pockets because of what they had they spent on buying the job but later they get twenty times what they invested. Here I have seen new cars being removed, just arrived through the port. Later old cars are put out to rent, as if they were the new ones.”

All of the old trucks and cars that circulate through the city, above all those dedicated to the particular business of transportation, are known to get their spare parts in mechanisms of the dark market due to the absence of legal providers. It might seem like a miracle that cars in use for more than half a century still continue rolling on the country’s highways but a glance inside of any of them would dispel such amazement.

The driver of an almendron (a 1950s American car for hire) says about the expenses that keeping those vehicles functioning implies that necessity has become part of the urban profile.

“You have to go out and look for all the parts. As there are none, they stab you with the prices. If you want to have it running at least eight hours, so that the business pays you, you know that in a year or two you are going to have to “re-motorize yourself.” Every week you have to give it maintenance so that it doesn’t die and adapt all kinds of parts. And none of it is legal, they all require papers and you pay this and that and the other so that everything comes out okay. Everyone who has a car rolling on the street has to make an arrangement if you don’t want to forget about the car. The State requires you to go to the black market because it doesn’t give you anything. They know what they are doing and they have seen a windfall in that. He who makes the law makes the trap.”

Alternatives in the transportation crisis (photo by author)
Alternatives in the transportation crisis (photo by author)

Even though for the foreign visitor it could all work wonderfully – given that they travel the best routes of the country in comfortable panoramic buses and not in horse drawn carriages or unsafe trucks like those at the Lido terminal in Mariano – the transportation outlook on the island is quite grim. There is no way to break that cycle of corruption that the government itself has created and not because of inability or innocence. So many years committing the same mistakes only points to something quite high, at the head of the State, someone knows how to finish that infallible refrain that seems the slogan of every social project: There’s good fishing in troubled waters.

About the author:

perez chang 448.thumbnailErnesto Pérez Chang (El Cerro, Havana, June 15, 1971) Writer. Graduate of Philology from the University of Havana. He studied Galician Language and Culture at the University of Santiago de Compostela. He has published these novels: Your Eyes Face Nothing (2006) and Alicia Under Her Own Shadow (2012). At the end of this year the outlet Silueta in Miami will publish his most recent novel, Food. He is also the author of books of stories: Last Pictures of Mama Nude (2000); The Ghosts of Sade (2002); Stories From Headquarters (2003); Variations on the Illiterate (2007), The Art Of Dying Alone (2011) and One Hundred Lethal Stories (2014). His narrative work has been recognized with the prizes: David de Cuento, the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), in 1999; Gazette Story Prize of Cuba on two occasions, 1998 and 2008; Julio Cortazar Latin American Story Prize in its first call in 2002; National Critic’s Prize in 2007, Alejo Carpentier Story Prize in 2011, among others. He has worked as editor for numerous Cuban cultural institutions such as the House of the Americas (1997-2008), Art and Literature Editorial, the Center for Research and Development of Cuban Music. He was Editor in Chief of the magazine Union (2008-2011).

Translated by MLK

Rebellion on the Walls / Cubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang

Down With Fidel (Photo by author)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Ernesto Perez Chang, 20 October 2014 — Contrary to the image of calm and stability that the Cuban government likes to project abroad, numerous posters are appearing with messages of protest and denunciations every morning around Havana streets and in the rest of the country, in spite of severe laws that prohibit expressing disagreements against official politics.

“Down with Fidel”, “Down with Raúl”, “Down with the dictatorship” or “Cuba is a corrupt country”, along with phrases of solidarity with Venezuela — where radicalized populist measures are taking place that have put democracy at risk — are some of the messages that proliferating in Cuba, despite the government sparing no expense to punish these acts of rebellion.

Sometimes written with regular pencils, and other times, simply scraping the wall with a piece of metal and with the haste of one who knows that, in Cuba, manifestly dissenting is a crime pursued with excessive fury, most of the graffiti only get to express in a direct manner the opposition to a system of government which very few people are betting on by now.

It is public knowledge that in Cuba just the appearance of a simple poster in the workplace, school or public place id enough to have all hell break loose, in the form of police investigations, harassment and arrests that not even a blood crime or a violent robbery can mobilize, since some forms of open opposition, even more so when they involve acts of association or are an enticement to rebellion, can be considered very serious crimes against “state security”, which is proof to the phrase “whoever sets the law, sets the trap”.

Nevertheless, men and women who cannot bear to continue to keep silent, assuming the risks, go out clandestinely at night to scribble their complaints, even knowing that in a few hours someone will make their messages disappear in the clumsiest manner.

Sometimes the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party is responsible for covering the messages using unsightly stockades covered in partisan slogans; Other times, a brigade of workers or students will cross off the graffiti with brushstrokes, fulfilling an urgent task of the syndicate or of the Union of Young Communists. This was described by a young man who has chosen to remain anonymous so as not to harm him at his place of employment. He used to be Secretary of the Youth of his class during his years as a university student:

“Since the university faculty is in an area without lighting at night, signs that read there ” Down with Fidel “and other things frequently appeared. My hair would stand up on ends because I knew that the problems would follow. The police would go crazy asking questions among students and teachers, They would treat everyone as if we were guilty. They treated us as if we were guilty, they looked at us with suspicion. Since I was in the Union of Young Communists, it became my job to put together a small brigade to paint over the signs to cover them up. The worst thing is that the painting appeared immediately, but when we would ask for paint for the classroom windows, they would tell us there was no money, but for covering the signs there was.

A worker at an automobile workshop in [the neighborhood of] El Cerro (where one can still see, even with the paint strokes, one of the signs by the Patriotic Union of Cuba UNPACU), comments:

“If you asked me, I would leave them, but if we don’t cover them up, there would be a big problem. The Party members gang up on us and the cops appear immediately as if someone had been killed. They fired the custodian because of that sign. They had to take it out on someone because it’s really impossible to know who scribbled it. Since the sign is on the walls of the workshop, then it’s our problem. They are about to paint the whole wall because what was written can still be seen.

Judging by the storm of official ideological propaganda that is invading the city, the Cuban people appear to be a homogeneous, monolithic mass, and, above all, happy with their status as a subdued herd. If we focus our eyes on those sloppy cover-ups and the paint stains on some other walls, then we will begin to understand that there is a silence that begins to break down.

Radio, television, web pages, the very few newspapers and magazines circulating all under the Communist Party baton, and even the boxes of matches and the covers of the school notebooks are, besides vehicles of manipulation of the popular masses, an expression of the paranoia of the main leaders in the most unsuspected places are a lesson in dignity and its persistence.

Translated by Norma Whiting