Cuba: Skepticism Beats Hope / Iván García

Havana cafe. From Juan Suárez’ photo journal entitled La Habana Profunda, Havana Times, September 9, 2016

Ivan Garcia, 4 January 2017 — Like a metaphorical invisible hand, moving to place a ouija or bet on Russian roulette, David, a young writer, considers that the coming year will be unpredictable for the island.

In the hope that the Ifá priests (Yoruba mystics) will spread around their Letters of the Year, the necromancers predict the future, and a woman dressed as a gipsy, furiously blowing out cheap tobacco smoke, turns up various clues after tossing a pack of cards on the table. David suspects that 2017 will throw up more bad news than good. Continue reading “Cuba: Skepticism Beats Hope / Iván García”

“Forecasting is a maddening activity. All sorts of things can happen, but few of them will help the Cuban in the street. The economy is getting worse, Venezuela, which gave us free oil, is holding out the begging bowl, and now we have a weirdo like Donald Trump at the White House. In this situation, I don’t think anything good is going to happen for our country,” is David’s sceptical comment.

People in Havana said the same kind of thing when polled by the Diario Las Américas.

Sergio, an economist “sees the future as grey with black stitches. The countries which gave us credit for nothing, like Brazil and Venezuela, are swamped by their own internal crises. Cuba’s finances are in the red and have far less purchasing power.

“Insufficient exports and imports which are almost doubling the balance of payments. In most areas of production, whether agricultural or industrial, we are either stuck, or going backwards. Forced cutbacks on fuel are affecting and paralysing a variety of development plans, as well as infrastructure, highways, railway lines, and ports which are in urgent need of investment.

“All we have left is tourism and the export of medical services, which, because of domestic conditions in Venezuela and Brazil, may fall by 40 per cent. And, of course, family remittances, which, although the government will not publicise it, are now the second national industry and the country’s biggest contributor of new money.”

Rubén, a social researcher, sees three possible scenarios, but makes it clear that there could be other variants. “First scenario: Donald Trump tears up all the agreements reached with Cuba. If you then factored in the difficult economic situations in Brazil and Venezuela, the best allies the government had, and Putin looking for a rapprochement with the White House, the economic reversal would be serious. I don’t think as bad as the Special Period, but nearly.

Second scenario: If Trump does not move the counters about, there would still be effects for Cuba, which is crying out for investments and credits from anywhere in the world, but, because of geography and history, the United States is the most appropriate. Third scenario: Trump negotiates a major agreement with the government. But, in order to achieve this, Raúl Castro has to give ground in political and human rights terms. It is a complicated context”. To that he adds that Raúl and the historic generation has only one more year to govern.

For most people, the future is a dirty word. It’s senseless and not worth giving yourself a headache thinking about it. “Put simply, we have to live from day to day here.  Try to make four pesos, look up girls’ skirts, and think how you can get away from Cuba”, says an internet user in Mónaco Park, in the south of Cuba.

People usually shrug their shoulders, smile nervously, and churn out rehashed remarks they have learned through many years of media and ideological indoctrination.

“I hope our leaders have some answers, because things look grim”, says a woman queueing to buy oranges in the Mónaco farmers’ market.

“If they”ve planned what’s going to happen in 2017, up to now they’ve said nothing. I think they’re just like the rest of us — no way out and shit scared. Like they’ve always said, “No one can bury it, but no one can fix it either,” says a man in the same line at the market.

And, on the question of what would be the best options for riding out the probable economic storm, Yandy, a high school graduate, is unequivocal. “Get the hell out of Cuba. Or, have a business, making lots of money, so that you can dodge the economic crisis which will be with us for decades”.

Lisandra, a prostitute, is more optimistic “As long as the American tourists come, you can make money. And if there aren’t many of those, the only thing to do is to make out with Cuban wheeler-dealers. But the best choice is get out of Cuba.”

But most Cubans, drinking their breakfast coffee black instead of with milk as they would prefer it, don’t bother themselves too much about the future.

José, a street sweeper, takes the view that “in Cuba things don’t change. Hardly ever up and and nearly always down.  The people who need to worry are the bosses in government. If things go badly, they are the ones with most to lose.”

Translated by GH

Cuba 2016: The Visit of Barack Obama and Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García

Watching Obama on TV in Havana. Getty Images, taken from the BBC.

Ivan Garcia, 2 January 2017 — A spring rainstorm with light gusts of wind fell over metropolitan Havana on Sunday, March 20th, when at 4:30 PM Air Force One landed at the first terminal of the José Martí International Airport carrying President Barack Obama to one of the final redoubts of communism in the world.

While a Secret Service agent opened Obama’s umbrella at the foot of the airplane stairs as he greeted Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, two hours earlier in Miramar, west of Havana, State security agents had fiercely repressed a group of forty women and two dozen men who were demanding democracy and freedom for political prisoners.

The dissident movement Ladies in White was instrumental in the olive-green autocracy’s calculated political reforms before the international gallery. Continue reading “Cuba 2016: The Visit of Barack Obama and Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García”

Raúl Castro, hand-picked for the presidency in the summer of 2006 by his brother Fidel, took the brunt of the escalating violence, and in three way negotiations with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos and the National Catholic Church in 2010, he freed 75 dissidents and sent the majority into exile.

Castro II changed the rules of the game. The repressive modus operandi of the regime began using brief detentions and returned, in a worrisome way, to beatings, death threats, and verbal attacks on its opposition.

The afternoon that The Beast rolled into Old Havana, where Obama ate dinner with his family in a private restaurant, the regime sent a message back to Washington: the reforms — if they can be called reforms — would be made at the convenience of the Palace of the Revolution, not the White House.

On December 17, 2014, Raúl Castro and Barack Obama decided to reestablish diplomatic relations and to turn around the anachronistic policies of the Cold War.

The strategy of Obama proved indecipherable to the Taliban of Castroism. He did not threaten to deploy gunboats nor subvert the state of affairs.

In his memorable speech at the Grand Theater of Havana on the 22nd of March, he simply offered things that the majority of Cubans desire, and of course did not renounce the doctrines that sustain American democracy, of supporting private businesses and political rights.

Obama said what he thought looking into the eyes of Raúl Castro, squatted in an armchair on the second balcony of the theater and surrounded by the military junta that has administered Cuba for almost 60 years.

The 48 hours of his visit shook Havana. Neither the strong security measures nor the Communist Party’s strategy for minimizing the impact of Obama’s speech prevented the spontaneous reception of the people of Havana that greeted the president wherever Cadillac One passed.

But official reactions to the visit were not long in coming. Fidel Castro, retired from power, sick and waiting for death in his residential complex of Punto Cero, opined that Obama’s outstretched hand was poisoned candy.

The propaganda machinery of the regime began to corrode, and some signs of economic backlash against intermediaries and private sellers of agriculture products, which began in early January, were reinforced in the following months.

Obama’s visit entrenched the hard-core of the island’s totalitarianism. The gang closed ranks, they returned to the spent Soviet language, and began to render to Castro I a cult of personality modeled on a North Korean manual.

It was assumed that the arrival of the president to Havana would be the event of 2016 in Cuba, but at 10 PM on the night of November 25th, according to the government, Fidel Castro died.

His death was no surprise. With 90 years and various ailments, the death of the ex-guerilla was imminent. For better or for worse, he placed Cuba on the world political map, confronting it with strategies of subversion against the United States.

His revolution was more political than economic. He could never erect a robust economy, and the architecture and textile factories during his extensive rule, only produced things of shoddy and bad taste. Any reasonable person should analyze the benefits and prejudices of the regime of Fidel Castro. Sovereignty powered by cheap nationalism. Division of families. Polarization of society. Relentless with its enemies and local opposition.

Agriculture declined, he buried the sugar industry and it is difficult to find any economic, sports or social sector that has not gone downhill. There was no political honesty in recognizing his failures. On the contrary, the regime entrenched itself in what it knows best: odes, panegyrics and trying to enshrine its absurdities in gothic lettering.

And then, 2016 was the year of Raul Castro’s diplomatic apparatus, the most outstanding in his decade as president of the republic. In the last five years he has reaped success. The secret negotiations for the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba. The intermediation of peace in Colombia, with the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. The cancellation of financial debts and negotiation of a new deal with the Paris Club. And he even managed to blow up the Common Position of the European Union. Unobjectionable triumphs of Castro’s advisers in international relations.

But those same advisers misjudged their strategy against the United States. Like the American media and pollsters, they failed to discern the Donald Trump phenomenon. They may now regret that they have not made enough progress during Obama’s term.

Trump is unpredictable. He repeals the agreements reached with the United States saying he will make a better one. But something is clear to the regime. To negotiate benefits you have to make concessions. No more gifts.

In 2016 there was much more. Mick Jagger unfolded his unusual physical energy in a mega-concert, scenes of the movie Fast and Furious were filmed in Cuba, and almost every day a celebrity landed in Havana.

In May, Chanel offered a haute couture show in the Paseo del Prado in a country where the majority of inhabitants earn $25 a month and not everyone can see Chanel models in fashion magazines.

Cruises began arriving from Miami as did regular flights from the United States. There were more than 1,200 cultural and academic exchanges, and the visits by weighty figures of both governments have been numerous.

The meetings and negotiations have been constant; as constant as the repression. According to the National Commission of Human Rights and Reconciliation, in the month of November there were 359 arbitrary detentions of dissidents, activists, and independent journalists.

The détente is not about to land on the Cuban table. Markets continue to be out of stock, two meals a day is still a luxury, and one hour of surfing the internet is equivalent to the wages of a day and a half of work by a professional.

The year 2017 will be a key year. Barack Obama, the conciliator, will not be in the White House, and in Cuba the old leader Fidel Castro will not be there either.

Cubans on the Island are Concerned Trump Will Appeal Cuban Adjustment Act / Iván García

Rafters arriving on a beach in Miami in September of 2015. The arrival of Cubans to the US by sea, land or air has grown in the last year. Source: El Nuevo Herald.

Note: This post was published the day before Obama announced the end of the “wet foot-dry foot” policy.

Ivan Garcia, 12 January 2017 — Seated in front of a computer and surrounded by wooden shelves filled with DVDs pirated from US channels, Marcos, who earned a degree in biology three years ago, has half a dozen clients who are reviewing an extensive list, including CDs, flash memories, TC shows, novels and films.

To mitigate the heat of an unusually tropical winter, a noisy Chinese fan in a fixed position expels a stream of air that the customers appreciate.  In his stall you can find the latest audio-visual material produced in the United States. Continue reading “Cubans on the Island are Concerned Trump Will Appeal Cuban Adjustment Act / Iván García”

“Whatever you want, Quantico, Designated President, Black List and others that are on US TV right now. I also copy 2015 movies, documentaries and under the table I sell ‘skin’,” says Marcos, referring to pornography, in high demand in Cuba.

In the little stands that sell DVDs, in barber shops, bus stops and in the old fixed-route shared taxis, they talk about baseball, football, the bad economic situation of the country and, at times, Donald Trump.

By chance, a client who wants to buy the four seasons of House of Cards, compares Claire, the wife of the fictional president Frank Underwood in the serial, with the Clinton marriage in real life.

“That witch looks like Hillary. To my taste, Fired and House of Cards are the best serials on American television,” Marcos says and then launches into a spontaneous discussion of the man who is expected to be the next inmate of the White House.

“Forget about what his policies will be like toward Cuba. Trump could be the worst thing that could happen in the United States in a long time. It’s true that la yuma (the USA) is more a business than a country. But politics is not a business. The guy is silly, egotistical, and supports an outdated isolationism. The United States is going to be set back ten years in strategic matters and geopolitics due to his intentions to ally himself with Russia and weaken NATO,” analyzes Hiram, who often travels to Miami to visit his children.

“We Cubans are going to have to bite the bullet. This year the Cuban Adjustment Act is going to disappear. Those who want to go, better hurry up and leave,” says Marcos.

Due to the bad international press, which usually beats up on Donald Trump, a wide segment of Cubans sense that hard times are coming for Cuba, Latin America and the rest of the world.

“May God have mercy on our souls. But this guy (Trump) is not squeaky clean. I remember a reality show he had called The Apprentice. The program was stupid. In reality, the guy has a screw loose. I don’t know why the Americans voted for this nut,” asked Felicia, a clerk in a store in the west of Havana.

Curiously, the state press still has not exploded with its extensive repertoire of analysis and vitriolic profiles written by its “star” amanuenses, like Iroel Sánchez or Sergio Gómez.

“The gringo is kissing Putin on the lips, like the little Ruskie is a pal of the government, there is a waiting period, to see what Trump-boy is going to do,” comments a pedicab driver in the old part of the city.

For Gregory, a political science graduate, it’s incomprehensible that the official media rails against Obama with extreme rudeness and maintain complicit silence about “the endless crap that comes out of the mouth of Trump. An erratic guy if there is one. In the name of the working class he talks about making America great again, but the team he he has assembled comes from the world of finance and business. The Americans who voted for him, he sold them a mirage. The past never comes back. Globalization, whether we like it or not, is a fact. If Trump were president of a banana republic in Africa or Latin America, there would be a coup for sure,” says Gregory.

Of course, the ordinary Cubans who are most worried are those with plans to emigrate or travel frequently to the United States.

“I have to hurry up my exit, because when Trump is installed in Washington the Cuban Adjustment Act’s days are numbered. According to my family in Miami, almost all the members of congress of Cuban origin, from Marco Rubio to Carlos Curbelo, want to repeal it. If I don’t leave in 2017, I’ll grow roots in Cuba,” emphasizes Daniel, 24 and unemployed.

Very close to the agricultural market in Red Square in La Vibora, Carmelo insists that “this guy is going to screw up everything. The government is going to regret not resolving everything with Obama. Look what he’s doing with the Mexicans. If Trump decides to take on Cuba, no one is going to save us from a new Special Period,” he says.

Like everything fashionable, people like to opine about the Trump phenomenon. But the truth is that many Havanans are indifferent to the tinkerings of US policy and its likely harmful effects on the island.

“It makes no difference to me who’s in. With Bush, Obama and Trump, we Cubans are equally fucked. What benefit has there been for the people with the reestablishment of relations with the United States?” asks Jorge, a grocer in a bakery in Central Havana, and he answers himself, “None, we haven’t benefitted in any way.”

And the thing is, aside from their opinions, Cubans who breakfast on coffee without milk understand that the problems in Cuba pass through the Palace of the Revolution and respond to one name: Raul Castro.

Castro II is the one who has the key to offer solutions to the country’s citizens. If he proposes it, fine. But for now, the general-president is in a state of hibernation.

Goodbye to Illusion and Spontaneity in Cuba / Iván García

Wild flowers on a Havana balcony

Ivan Garcia, 9 January 2017 — The sun’s rays were not yet peeking over the horizon, when Danier, 10, a fifth grade student at an elementary school in southeast Havana, with a small backpack and two plastic bottles of frozen water, went with his parents to the Plaza of the Revolution to participate in the “march of the fighting people” and afterwards to see the military parade for the 60th anniversary of  the founding of the armed forces.

Seated on the curb of the sidewalk on Paseo Street, they breakfasted on egg sandwiches that were already dry and a glass of soda pop. Although the authorities have not offered an estimate of the people who attended, to Danier it seemed like hundreds of thousands. “I imagined a military parade with tanks, rockets, airplanes and helicopters. But there were only soldiers, militia members and people,” he says, disappointed. Continue reading “Goodbye to Illusion and Spontaneity in Cuba / Iván García”

His parents, like the rest of those present, were not summoned at gunpoint or forced to attend. The methods of Raul Castro’s Cuba are more subtle. “Before leaving for the end of year holidays, the teacher at my son’s school asked them to write a composition about their experience at the parade. If we hadn’t brought him, there was no way he could have done the assignment,” says Julian, the kid’s father.

Julian was not forced to attend, nor did he go out of loyalty to Fidel Castro. He probably would have preferred to sleep in until nine in the morning. “But I have an important job at Labiofam. And if I didn’t attend without a good reason, you know how it is,” he says, shrugging his shoulders.

Less and less, businesses and schools pressure their employees and students to attend public gatherings. In the years of Soviet Cuba, listening to all of a four-and-a-half hour speech by Fidel Castro, cutting cane, or participating in voluntary work, as well as receiving a diploma or a tin medal, was all worth it to enter your name into the state drawing for when they doled out fans, washing machines, Russian televisions or a microbrigade-built apartment.

Now the handouts are other things. A snack, in the case of the state phone company, ETECSA, which later you can sell for twenty Cuban pesos, or people go simply because an important share of Cubans act like zombies and prefer to fake support for the government, which in the last twenty-seven years has bot been able to benefit the workers.

In Cuba, the people who work for the state without stealing or embezzling are, along with pensioners, those who live the worst. Deadly inflation makes their ridiculous salaries disappear when they buy a string of onions and ten pounds of pork.

But on the island, the Revolutionary symbols still weigh heavily. The official media cling to them to camouflage the disaster. Celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas is considered a ’petty bourgeois’ custom. There is only room for the olive-green narrative.

These and other Christian celebrations of the Western world are allowed by the regime, but with a frown. Their legend is different. If God exists, then the Cuban Revolution has Fidel Castro.

They don’t need museums, streets with his name, nor running the risk that in difficult times his statues would be torn down by his adversaries. Fidel is in the ether. He is omnipresent.

He was the architect of the ranch, he taught us to read, write and think. The sportsman in chief. He was like Santa Claus, when he distributed five boxes of beer or a can of deviled ham on the ration book for parties or weddings, like one of the Three Wise Men when he moved Christmas to July and offered children under twelve three toys.

Fidel Castro tried to bury the traditions. Proscribe the dreams. Danier, 10, is an example. He never believed in the fable of the Three Wise Men. His parents, on the eve of Epiphany, never put toys under the bed.

“When I want a toy, if my parents have money, we go to the Carlos III shopping center or the Comodor and buy it. There are children in my school who are my age and still believe in the Three Wise Men. But I don’t,” says Danier, back from the Plaza of the Revolution.

The anthropological damage that the government of Fidel Castro has done to Cubans is incalculable. When at some moment we objectively evaluate its effects, we will observe and realize its dimension.

We should not have feelings of guilt or believe we were idiots. The leaders of the masses are expert manipulators, snake charmers. Citizens as rational as the Germans also applauded a devious man. In his delirium and self-centeredness, Fidel Castro sought to demolish the cultural foundations and traditions of the nation.

One morning in January of 1960, from a small plane, the Rebel Army threw candies and toys to poor children of the mountains who had never had them. On another occasion, in the basement of the old Radiocentro — today the Yara move theater, in the heart of Vedado — along with Ernesto Che Guevara and Juan Almeida, they dressed as the Three Wise Men and distributed toys.

The message was timely: now the traditions are ours. Fidel Castro hijacked customs and changed dates of festivities like the carnivals of Havana. In his eagerness to take over everything, he ruined the country.

He killed illusion and spontaneity in children and adults. It’s unthinkable one person can cause so much damage. Fidel could.

Cubans Don’t Have Big Plans For 2017 / Iván García

Photo: Taken from One Step 4 Ward.

Iván García, 6 January 2017 — When you live on the edge of an abyss, you lose your capacity to think about the future. Just ask Giraldo, who works as a plumber for Aguas de La Habana, what his plans are for 2017, and you’ll see an expression of surprise on his face.

He takes off his faded New York Yankees cap, which once was blue, and takes a few seconds to think. Before I tell you his answer, I’ll give you some details about his every-day existence.

Giraldo lives in a tiny, one-room apartment, but because of overcrowding, he had to enlarge it with a “barbecue” — the name Cubans have given to a makeshift platform built in existing room between the floor and the ceiling (see page 7 of this document). Now seven people of three different generations live together. Continue reading “Cubans Don’t Have Big Plans For 2017 / Iván García”

They have coffee for breakfast, when there is some, and spread a mixture of cooking oil, crushed garlic and salt on a 2.8 ounce bread roll, which, for the price of five centavos, the ration book gives by right to all Cuban-born citizens.

In the living room you see an outdated, cathode-tube Chinese television, and on a wood and glass shelf, a half-dozen empty bottles of rum and whisky serve as decoration.

The Haier refrigerator, also Chinese, granted to them 11 years ago, has still not been paid off. “And we’re not going to pay it,” says Giraldo’s mother, calmly, while she rocks on a chair of springs.

The apartment needs work. But the money is only enough to give it one coat of paint. They don’t have money in the bank, they don’t dream about having a modern car with GPS, and they have never thought about spending their vacation in Varadero or Cayo Coco.

Their lives are made up of working eight hours a day for the adults, studying Monday to Friday for the kids and, after they have dinner, sitting in a patched armchair to watch the current soap opera or a national-series baseball game.

Probably, like in a movie, these images passed through Giraldo’s mind before answering a question that any other person would find easy. Now, with his speech armed, he answers, without drama:

“For people like us who count their money by the centavo, every year is more or less the same. Some less bad than others. But none are good. I think it’s unfair that the Government doesn’t resolve the problems of working people and fucks us over. My only plan is to get enough money to fix the roof, which is full of holes. It’s been that way for over three years, and I haven’t been able to get enough money.”

You should walk in his shoes before judging. I suppose that right now in Aleppo, Syria, or in a stronghold in Yemen being overrun by warlords, a crust of bread or not hearing the howl of mortars is a good sign that you’ll still be alive the next day.

But Cuba isn’t in a civil war. The plans of Julio, a Cuban who arrived recently in the United States, are different. He was put in prison on the Island for embezzlement when he was the manager of a State cafeteria. Then alcohol and a lack of future sent him into a self-destructive cycle. But when he crossed the El Paso international bridge in Laredo, he swore that he was going to start anew.

Now he lives in Kentucky, where it’s unbearably cold. Two times a week, by instant message, Julio communicates with his friends in Havana, who wait for a connection from a wifi zone. And he tells them how things are going in la yuma, and that, really, you have to work hard in the United States to move forward.

Cubans are emigrating precisely in order to move forward. They know the difficulties, what it costs to adapt to other customs and to learn a new language.

“The problem is that to hold onto an option, it has to be achievable, however distant it is. That when you pass by a store or a car dealership, you can say, ’Look at that car; if I work hard, I’ll be able to buy it. If I make an effort, I can improve my quality of life.’ Everything good that can happen in your life depends on you. Here things don’t depend on you,” says Sergio, who clandestinely sells clothing he imports from Panama out of his home.

It would be very pretentious to paint a picture of Cuba as monolithic. There are too many realities superimposed on the Island. But if anything remains clear it’s that people have lost the capacity to think big.

“Every New Year’s Eve we set goals. And we tell our relatives and friends,’May you fulfill your dreams in the New Year.’ But what are our dreams? To get a better salary at work, to be able to become sainted (in the Yoruba religion), to win a big sum in the numbers game or leave the country. Very few have plans to increase their business or to buy a better house or modern car. Our goals are not big. To make a little more money and eat more meals. The Government has killed our hopes with ideology, anti-imperialist speeches and odes to Fidel Castro,” says Rachel, a lawyer.

When you ask Cubans, their aspirations for 2017 are not at all ambitious. Quite the contrary. Antonio, retired at 79 years, wishes for this year that “there won’t be blackouts, the quality of bread gets better, the State repairs the multi-family buildings and they increase my pension by 1,000 pesos.”

He says this with a joking tone, but it makes you sad and compassionate. And among the average Cuban citizens you perceive a skepticism, fatigue, unease and apathy that doesn’t seem to have a cure.

It’s not that they don’t aspire to live better. It’s that they don’t find the way to do so.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuba: Christmas for Rich People and for Poor People / Iván García

A typical Cuban Christmas Eve meal for 24th December, is some variation on pork, whether it’s roast, as in the picture, or a suckling pig, and fritters.

Ivan Garcia, 24 November 2016 — Two trucks with trailers, full of reddish-brown earth, park in a narrow street, next to the agricultural market in Mónaco, a neighbourhood thirty minutes from the centre of Havana.

Four men with teeshirts and dirty overalls lug sacks of yucas and sweet potatoes, and boxes of tomatoes to a store with a door made of metal bars. A chap with an enormous stomach cups his hands to his mouth and shouts “Get your yucas here! A peso a pound. Three-cane tomatoes, knock-down prices.”

In a few minutes, in the hot sun, a queue was formed of twenty or thirty people, each with their own basket. A few yards away from the agricultural market, in a state market, there is an even longer queue, to buy pork. Continue reading “Cuba: Christmas for Rich People and for Poor People / Iván García”

Rubén, a retired chap, joined the queue at five in the morning. And by mid-day, “I still haven’t  bought two legs of pork, one for the 24th and the other for December 31st. It’s because pork is cheaper in the government markets. They sell loin of pork at 21 (Cuban) pesos a pound, and it’s 25 pesos in the private ones.”

You can hear murmuring and complaints. The legs have an odd colour. A lady said, “They don’t look like pork. It’s because they keep it for so many months in the fridge that the meat gets a strange colour.  They say when you eat it, it tastes like fish or game. Maybe it isn’t even pork. You never know with those people (the government). They sell coffee thickened with chickpeas, cigarettes sold in Cuban pesos with bits of wood in them.”

But it’s the cheapest option for Cubans who have coffee without milk and bread without butter for breakfast. Diana, a housewife, is optimistic. “At least tomatoes were much cheaper this year, 3 pesos a pound. Last year at this time they were going for 25 baros (one of many terms for Cuban Convertible pesos (CUC))” she recalls, and adds:

“Cubans are born to work. Three days before New Year’s Eve, many families have not yet bought their pork. And not very many can buy nougat. Look at those prices”, she adds, indicating a selection of nougats displayed in the counter of a foreign currency shop.

Prices may be cheaper than in Miami. Jijona soft nougat costs the equivalent of four dollars. Ones with fruit, nuts, almonds or chocolate, around five dollars. “Yes, but in ’Mayami’ people get eight dollars an hour, while in Cuba, people earn 20 dollars a month. And the average pension is 12 CUC.  There’s no comparison”, replies a man waiting angrily in the government market queue.

Let’s take the Rodriguez family as a microcosm. Six people live in a two-bedroom apartment in La Víbora. “My wife, daughter and I sleep in one bedroom. My in-laws and our son sleep in the other one,” says Rodriguez. His wife and he are professionals and together earn the equivalent of 2,500 Cuban pesos, if you add in the 25 CUC she is paid as a salary incentive.

“My parents’ pension is 570 Cuban pesos. We have a total of 3,070 Cuban pesos coming into the house, which converts to 125 CUC” (about the same in dollars), notes Mrs Rodriguez, as she goes over their expenses once more. “Ninety per cent of the money goes on food. The rest on electricity, telephone and other services. Buying clothes, going anywhere or celebrating Christmas means inventing stuff.”

All Cubans know what “inventing” means. Pinching things from where they work, or running a business on the side which provides some extra cash.

Christmas Eve dinner at the Rodriguez house will include a leg of pork, four fricasseed turkey thighs, rice, black beans, lettuce, cabbage and tomato salad, yuca with mojo sauce, Jijona nougat, cut into twelve pieces, two for each one of the six family members.

The kids drink pop and the adults half a dozen canned Cristal beers and a bottle of red wine. As well as the nougat, the dessert also includes doughnuts prepared by grandma. “We eat and drink the same at New Year’s, except that, instead of red wine, we drink rum. The cost of the dinners for the 24th and 31st of December adds up to around 120 or 130 CUC, which is about the same as what we both earn in a month. Cuba is a crazy country, don’t you think?” asks Sr. Rodríguez.

Quite a lot of Cubans don’t celebrate Christmas. Not because of Fidel Castro’s death, but because they can’t afford to. “If all the butcher has is chicken, because fish is hard to come by, I get annoyed and buy two boxes of cheap Planchao rum to celebrate Christmas Eve. Right now, I don’t have any plans for parties,” says René, a construction worker.

But a small minority, between 7 and 10 per cent of the population, have enough cash. Augusto, a musician, has already bought a frozen turkey for 60 CUC, six different nougats, three crates of beer, and six bottles of mature rum. For the 31st, he plans to buy El Gaitero cider and some bunches of grapes (traditionally eaten at New Year’s). And he has put up an enormous Christmas tree in his living room, covered in balls and lights.

Mario, an independent furniture designer, is planning to spend 60 CUC a head for his wife and himself on 24th December at Meliá Habana, a hotel in Miramar, which also offers lunch at 25-27 CUC for adults and 15 CUC for children up to 12 years old, and evening meals on the 31st for 145 CUC for adults and 55 for children up to 12.

The generals, ministers and government officials with sufficient seniority receive a basket with a turkey, fruit, bottles of rum and wines, nougats and other delicacies. Even during the hard times, when Fidel Castro prohibited parties at Christmas and Three Kings Day, the olive green middle class never failed to celebrate Christmas Eve.

“The first time I saw so much food was in the house of Enrique Lusson, who was then Minister of Transport. There were tables overflowing with meat, seafood and drink”, recalls a MININT (Ministry of the Interior) security guard.

The story of having to scrimp and save is about the other people, the ones lower down. The higher-ups are different. Their lives are hardly affected by the rules. Although, maybe, this 31st December, they will see in 2017 with moderation, since they should show discreet mourning for the death of their commander-in-chief.

Photo: A typical Cuban Christmas Eve meal for 24th December, is some variation on pork, whether it’s roast, as in the picture, or a suckling pig, and fritters.

Translated by GH

So Did Havana Go Back To Laughing, Singing, Dancing? / Iván García

Acosta Danza company, directed by the Cuban, Carlos Acosta – See details below (Source Ana León from Cubanet)

Iván García, 13 December 2016 — The heat returned to the city along with the Reggaeton, the bustle and the alcohol. There’s nothing that bothers Danay, 26 years old, more than the drops of sweat running down her cheeks, mixed with the unbearable smell of kerosene of the old cars used as taxis in Havana, and the scandalous Reggaeton of Micha booming in her ears.

“Turn yourself around, tight and on your toes,” echoes the husky voice of Micha, an ex-slum dweller converted into a singer, coming from the audio equipment of Luis Alberto, 56, a self-employed taxi driver who drives a hybrid racing car 12 hours a day. It has a 1948 Chevrolet body, a German Mercedes Benz motor, a Japanese band-brake and a South Korean Hyundai gear box. Continue reading “So Did Havana Go Back To Laughing, Singing, Dancing? / Iván García”

“I really missed the noise and the sandunga (a type of dance) of Cubans. Those nine days of mourning made Havana into one big funeral parlor. A magic trick. Rum wasn’t being sold, and if they saw you drinking a beer, you were pigeon-holed as a counterrevolutionary,” says Luis Alberto, while he tries to swerve around the collection of potholes on the streets of the capital.

Of the five passengers, no one mentions Fidel Castro. Nor the national mourning. Zulema says she got some bags of chicken at 24 fulas (Cuban Convertible pesos/dollars) each in a market at Carlos III and tells how she rations them out to her family.

“If I put them in the freezer, my children and my husband, who eat like pigs, will devour them in a week. I put five pieces of chicken in a little container inside the fridge. I keep the rest in a freezer under lock and key,” she explains to the passenger at her side, a sporty-looking black man who rides with his head shrunken into the back of the car and only knows how to nod, without commenting.

A young man with a bizarre hairstyle is living in another dimension. He listens to Jay Z with wireless headphones at elevated decibels. He doesn’t participate in the daily debate of the habaneros about the lack of money, food and a future.

He only looks out the car window and occasionally wipes the screen of his shiny Samsung Galaxy 7 with a cloth. Twenty minutes into the trip, Danay explodes.

The heat, the drops of sweat that are spoiling her makeup, the Reggaeton at high volume and the driver’s cigarette smoke, one cigarette after the other, like Marlon Brando in the Godfather saga, have gotten to her: “Please, can you turn down that music and stop smoking?”

The taxi driver looks are her like she’s an extra-terrestrial and answers, “Baby, although it doesn’t look like it, the car is mine. If you’re in a bad mood, you can get out. I bet anything that your boyfriend has left you,” and everybody laughs.

I’m left with this image. The laughing. In the last nine days, just to smile was suspicious. The habaneros were walking around like zombies, solemn and crestfallen.

When people talked about Fidel Castro, they threw out that automatic reproduction that many Cubans carry inside: “The greatest statesman of the twentieth century, the undefeated comandante, the man who escaped more than 600 attempts on his life by the CIA.” Something in that style. The commentaries were replicas of the official jargon.

People drank rum on the sly, the noise died down and a silence that brought more fear than calm spread throughout the whole city. Those who liked to tell tales about Pepito — the little boy who stars in so many Cuban jokes — in the corners, where Fidel Castro was the center of the joke, postponed the pleasantry until new notice.

The private bars sold only soft drinks, malt, fruit shakes and hamburgers. Neither mojitos nor wine. “You’re crazy, brother, if you think I’ll let the inspectors take away my license,” whispers the bar owner to a client. But before closing, he looks from one side to the other, and to those who remain in the bar he offers of drink of aged rum: “This is on the house, so you can celebrate what you want to celebrate.”

And so Fidel Castro’s death suddenly switched off the local customs, the proclamations in the street and that juicy and casual language of the Cubans. But Cuba is a game of mirrors.

Below ground they were betting on the numbers game and playing cards or baccarat in the clandestine casinos known as burles. The hookers worked exclusively door-to-door.

“In those nine days of national mourning it wasn’t wise to prowl around the outskirts of the private bars and discotheques,” says Zaida, who on Monday returned “to the fire.” “The clients were hungry. The mourning ended at 12 midnight on Sunday the 4th, and right away I began to have requests. Because the men were tense.”

Twenty-four hours after Fidel Castro’s ashes were placed by his brother, Raúl, inside an enormous rock that supposedly was brought from the Sierra Maestra to the Santiago cemetery of Santa Ifigenia, 900 kilometers from Havana, the chatting and the noise returned to the capital, and the drunks came back to uncork their bottles.

And the Reggaeton at high volume couldn’t be far behind.

Diarío Las Américas, December 9, 2016

Photo: Once the nine days of official mourning for Fidel Castro’s death was over, the habaneros not only went back to laughing, singing, dancing and making jokes, they also resumed their cultural life. On the night of December 7, many attended the Gran Teatro de La Habana to enjoy the premiere of four works from the Acosta Danza company, directed by the Cuban, Carlos Acosta, who, in addition to the National Ballet of Cuba, has been a dancer in the Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theater and The Royal Ballet, among other important companies. One of the works premiered that night, taken by Ana León, from Cubanet.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Prohibition on Christmas Celebrations Disgusts Havanans / Iván García

Santa Claus in Havana

Ivan Garcia, 23 December 2016 — Every time Christmas approaches the private restaurant managed by Leonel, south of Havana, overflows with decorations and lights on the facade and over the door.

The staff don red caps threaded with white and the music resonates in the doorway. The smell of turkey and roasted pig awaken the appetite and invite you to come in and have a look at the menu. The relaxed atmosphere reminds us that the end of the year is approaching.

December is the most anticipated month in Cuba. People relax and even say good morning when riding in a collective taxi. Retirees and housewives are starting to line up at the state markets, to see if they can buy the pound of pork a little cheaper. Citizen criticisms increase because of food prices. And a large segment of the population can only look at the nougats, ciders and clusters of grapes in the “shoppings” — a word Cubans use in English — or in the hard currency stores. Continue reading “Prohibition on Christmas Celebrations Disgusts Havanans / Iván García”

But if there is a month when the city becomes a cornucopia it is in December. Reggaeton, timba and the lilt of salsa is heard wherever you go.

This year is different. By official decree, public festivities are suspended until further notice. Fidel Castro is not here, but his shadow remains, regulating the national life as if he were a traffic light.

The families with full pockets, who normally celebrate with Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve and during the days of Christmas drink a collection of drinks and beer between the din of music and mutual congratulations, have had to change their plans.

“We have to be quiet. We can not show jubilation even on December 31st. It’s shut down. Fidel couldn’t die another time?” asks Raidel, an artisan, who along with his family likes to welcome the coming of the New Year in grand style.

According to Eladio, manager of a nightclub west of the capital, “We received a circular that clarifies that we should stop the sale of alcoholic beverages and music on those dates. When Fidel died, on November 25, we were closed for nine days. That affects the pocket of employees, because the profits depend on sales. They even have scheduled inspections without warning, to see if they can catch us off base. If there are no drinks or cash, you can forget about it.”

An official from the Young Communist Union said, “People on the street are exaggerating. There’s no ban on parties, it’s because of the pain our people are feeling for the death of the comandante, that we ask them to be discreet about the celebrations. It’s true that the state establishments won’t have any parties, there won’t be any orchestras or dancing. People can celebrate at home, but with the music turned down low.”

“I would really miss it if I couldn’t celebrate Christmas Eve, Christmas and could see in 2017. Mourning for Fidel was nine days, people said their goodbyes, some cried, others didn’t. But now we must turn the page. I hope that now the police, the extremists and the intransigents of old don’t get into a big drama over people having fun and they feel they have to repress them,” says Oscar, a resident of the Lawton neighborhood.

If we give credit to the state ukase, each provincial government has the power to regulate the prohibitions according to the peculiarities of its municipalities. “It is not the same as it is in neighborhoods like Plaza de la Revolución, Playa or Old Havana, where thousands of tourists and foreigners circulate. In neighborhoods like San Miguel del Padrón, Arroyo Naranjo or Diez de Octubre there are no hotels or resorts. In any case, the music that will be heard in state-owned hotels, cafes and restaurants will be patriotic, symphonic or peasant music,” says Yadira, a worker at the headquarters of a municipal party.

In an attempt to silence the discomfort, the rumors of prohibitions and a supposed “extended mourning” for the passing of Fidel Castro, the Granma and Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) newspapers, in separate articles dedicated to praising the upcoming 58th anniversary of the Triumph of the Revolution, clarified that Cubans could celebrate New Year’s, but ’in moderation’. Neither text referred to the celebrations for Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Popular festivities with more than a century of tradition, such as the Parrandas de Remedios and Charangas de Bejucal, which have always been held in December, have been moved to the month of January.

“In Cuba, when it doesn’t come, it’s over. It’s hard for a Cuban not to celebrate the end of the year. I put on music in my house and at midnight on 31 December I go out with my wheeled suitcase and walk around the block, to see if 2017 will give me a foreign trip and I just take off. No one can stand this. This mourning imposed by others,” says Liudmila, a prostitute.

José Antonio, a construction worker, is more sarcastic. “Didn’t people chant ’I’m Fidel’? Because they already have it, they continue being Fidel.”

What Fidel Castro Left Us (Part 2) / Iván García

Volunteer teachers (see longer description at end of post).

Ivan Garcia, 19 December 2016 — According to Luisa, 76, a former prostitute, the first time she collected money for sex, she bathed herself three times trying to remove the smell of an old man who sweated over her body.

“I was once young and pretty. The dawn that Batista fled from Cuba, I was in bed with an businessman who was my lover. Then everything changed. The Revolution made plans to integrate the prostitutes into society. I was in a school for women in Marianao. Several of my friends had courses on cutting and sewing, others to be taxi drivers,” says Luisa, while she eats a ration of rice, peas, and boiled egg in a horrible state-run restaurant that sells food to low-income people. Continue reading “What Fidel Castro Left Us (Part 2) / Iván García”

But necessity obliged her again to barter of sex for favors. “They say that the bird always returns to the mountain. The fact is that in 1970, after the Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest, with three children and divorced, I went to bed with a FAR officer who in exchange gave me cans of Russian meat and condensed milk, among other canned food, and gave me money to support the children. Fidel Castro did not encourage prostitution, but mi’jo, the country has never worked, and when it is not one problem it’s another. People cannot live on speeches or promises,” says Luisa.

One of her daughters was a jinetera — a prostitute — at the end of the ’80s. The oldest granddaughter inherited the “office.” When night falls, she goes to a bar south of Havana and hunts for customers.

“It seems we carry being hookers in our blood,” emphasizes Luisa with a grimace that pretends to be a smile, but reflects shame. The olive green autocracy tried to change the customs of society, to dignify women and those who never had anything and to build a New Man immune to the vices of consumerism.

The goal was to achieve a citizen loyal to the Revolution. Atomic bomb proof. Who was circumspect, almost a saint, who drank little, did not practice sex too much and was able to recite from memory excerpts from important speeches of the Maximum Leader.

Like their efforts in crossing cattle breeds or experimenting in a laboratory with guinea pigs, Fidel Castro and Ernesto Guevara set to work. The first thing was to create a political commitment and a culture of hatred of Yankee imperialism.

The state propaganda apparatus and the party commissars were in charge of carrying out the task. It was an ideological war of high intensity on radio, television and in literature.

The shelves of Cuban bookstores overflowed with classics of socialist realism. The novels of Corín Tellado were forbidden. The directions for being a future communist passed through “No One is a Solldier at Birth,” “August of ’44” and “Panfilov’s Men,” among other works of Soviet war literature.

At that time, control over the media was absolute. Internet sounded like science fiction, a shortwave radio was something subversive and don’t even dream about a computer, something very large at that time.

The regime dominated the information flow at will. This allowed it to easily rule. In the 1970s, says Gerardo, an ex-combatant in the Angolan civil war, “We Cubans all believed that the Ku-Kux-Klan lynched blacks in every corner of the United States and that that nation’s days were numbered. Our mission was to build socialism first and communism later. The future belonged to us.”

Gerardo still remembers the litany of slogans they repeated every morning in the military camps. “Many believed that we were breeding a new future. We did not learn about, or we looked away from the abuses of power against those who thought differently. I came to know of the harassment of opponents and homosexuals and the creation of UMAP — internment camps for homosexuals, religious, dissidents and other “inconvenients — in the 90’s thanks to the internet. We lived in a bubble.”

Thousands of men and women were separated from their families with the mission of evangelizing Castroism. The journalist Tania Quintero, 74, says that in 1960, after listening to Fidel Castro talking about the creation of volunteer teachers, who would prepare in the mountains of the Sierra Maestra and later would be destined to rural schools, she decided to leave her job as a typist in the People’s Socialist Party offices, and become a teacher.

“I enrolled in the third and final contingent of volunteer teachers. From March to June of 1961 I was in La Magdalena, in Las Minas del Frio. Along with elementary notions of pedagogy we received classes in political indoctrination. We did not have a radio and every day the press came to us, that’s how I heard about the Bay of Pigs invasion,” Quintero recalls, adding:

“We young women who had better records were selected to take a course in revolutionary instructors, newly created by Fidel Castro and the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). It was a one year study and work plan. From Monday to Friday we lived in residences in the old Havana Biltmore, renamed Reparto Siboney by the Revolution. The professors were University of Havana graduates in teaching, but the subjects were not limited to mathematics, Spanish, history, geography … We also had to study Marxism-Leninism and its creators: Marx, Engels and Lenin.”

Tania studied in the morning and afternoon and at night gave classes in “revolutionary instruction” — that is, in commenting and discussing Fidel Castro’s speeches — to former maids, prostitutes and housewives. “Fidel spoke almost daily, but it was not easy for those students of low academic and cultural level to express themselves freely. And I confess that I succeeded because I ignored the dense paragraphs of his speeches. At that time, one of his mono-themes was artificial insemination and that allowed me to give animated classes. I remember one student saying to me: ‘I do not know why Fidel wants to do away with the zebu cows, if those are the ones we have always had and until 1959 they gave us a lot of meat and lots of milk.’ ”

Carlos, a sociologist, can not demonstrate that the new social essay, including the plan of study and work created in 1961 by Fidel Castro and the FMC was scientific. “I think that it was an empirical plan and gave its results, because, if I am not mistaken, it spoke to thousands of women, old maids and peasants. But there were well-defined codes with regard to the evangelization of Castroism and the creation of a new Cuban. It was a well-structured protocol for achieving the purpose of transforming the human being into a zombie. The result of designing a laboratory man is now being collected. Simulator, liar and generally rude.”

The great adversary of the regime of Fidel Castro, first, and of his brother Raúl later, has been the new information technologies. What the anti-Castro insurrectionist strategy in the 1960s could not achieve, and what the subsequent peaceful activism of dissent also failed to achieve, the Internet and social networks are achieving now.

Despite the fact that an hour of internet costs the equivalent of two-and-a-half days of a worker’s wages, facts can no longer be hidden. The information highway has made evident the failures and the proverbial manipulation of the state press.

The network of networks is the weapon that has destroyed the outlandish project of building the New Man on a Caribbean island. For the autocracy, the internet is a Trojan Horse. That is why they try to censor it.

Photo: Members of the Second Contingent of Volunteer Teachers who graduated in Havana on 23 January 1961. The first contingent graduated in April 1960 and the third and last in June 1961 in Holguin. About 10,000 young people from all over the country were trained as rural teachers in makeshift and rustic camps in the Sierra Maestra. As a culmination of each course, the young people climbed Pico Turquino, which at 1,974 meters is the highest mountain in Cuba. The photo was taken from the newspaper Granma (TQ).

Translated by Jim

What Fidel Castro Left Us (Part 1) / Iván García

Neighborhood Unit No. 1 of Camilo Cienfuegos City, Havana, 1961. From the Department of Disclosure of the National Institute of Savings and Housing, currently conserved in the National Photo Archive of Cuba.

Ivan Garcia, 17 December 2016 — At the exit of the Bay Tunnel, the P-11 bus is packed with passengers. While the riders enjoy the view of the sea, the odor of saltpeter fills their noses.

In this stretch of Havana’s geography, where Monumental Avenue runs, an eight-lane street inaugurated in 1958 by the dictator Fulgencio Batista, there were plans to build dozens of hotels, casinos, condominiums and suburban neighborhoods very close to the Bacunayagua Bridge, almost at the border of Matanzas province.

“It was a project of skyscrapers and daring designs to attract tourists and also for middle class professionals to rent or buy a house east of Havana. If the Revolution had triumphed in 2016, it would have found a wonderful city. In the style of Rio de Janeiro. And Miami wouldn’t even compete,” emphasized Roberto, a retired architect aged 75. Continue reading “What Fidel Castro Left Us (Part 1) / Iván García”

The son of a designer who worked for Govantes and Cabarrocas, an architecture firm dedicated to the design and construction of works that constitute the urban landmarks of Havana, Roberto says that Cuba needed to get democracy, stop the corruption and create government strategies to do away with poverty, particularly in the countryside.

“But apart from the political situation, Havana and other cities in the interior were a little piece of gold. The public transport services, the post office and the water system, among others, all worked efficiently. Without being chauvinistic: In Latin America, other than Buenos Aires, there was no other city with such architectural riches and functional neighborhoods,” said Robert, adding, “In the downtown and old part of the capital we find linear portals supported by Doric columns with original designs, one- or multi-story stores, restaurants, inns, bars, bookstores, banks, offices… Miami today is what Havana did not become.”

In 1940, Fulgencio Batista presented himself as candidate of the Socialist-Democratic Coalition in the elections of that year and won. He had great popular support and one of his first measures was to legalize the Communist Party.

In 1940, not only was a formidable Constitution approved in Cuba, but there also began the construction of public schools, technical institutes, clinics, hospitals and shelters. Avenues, buildings, neighborhoods and mansions were inaugurated.

Twelve years later, on March 10, 1952, Batista seized power at the barrel of a gun and became a bloody ruler. But even the most brutal dictators always seek to leave an urban legacy. Adolf Hitler inaugurated the best motorways in Europe. And Augusto Pinochet built a robust economy in Chile.

Fidel Castro did not murder millions like Hitler (although according to Maria Werlau, director of the Cuba Archive, the dead of the olive green revolution multiplied by five the crimes of Pinochet). Castro’s repressive resources were based on the formula “more fear and prison than blood.”

In politics, with regards to what his supporters boast about, his successes have been exaggerate. Fidel Castro, it’s true, was a political animal. Purebred. Astute, cynical, and capable of doing anything to achieve his objectives. He had an enormous ego and a sick need to call attention to himself. Manipulator, liar, charismatic and a laudable ability to lead.

He enchanted people with a masterful combination of extensive verbiage, seasoned with a dose of nationalism and social justice. He offered a blast of populism. He promised to lower rents and the cost of electricity, offer free college and enact agrarian reform. Almost all these promises were kept in the first years of his Revolution.

Then he became radicalized. He polarized society and ruled for his supporters. His adversaries were marked with a scarlet letter. They were not people: they were worms, scum, mercenaries.

Several of his deranged projects triumphed only in his head. From draining the Cienaga Swamp, to sowing thousands of coffee plants on the outskirts of Havana, to the constructions of a hundred thousand houses a year. His plans were Homeric. Let us focus, for a minute, on his urban projects.

In February of 1959, on doing away with the National Lottery, considered corrupt by Fidel Castro, one “the bearded ones” (as Castro’s guerrillas were called) named Pastorita Nunez, former tax collector for the insurrectional movement and former fighter in the Sierra Maestra, was the director of the National Institute of Savings and Housing (INAV). From that moment, Nunez decided to put all his energies into ensure that Cubans throughout the island had a decent house or apartment.

In East Havana, less than two miles from the center of the city, a stone’s throw from the Bay Tunnel on 80 acres of wasteland, bordered on the north by the shoreline and the Atlantic Ocean and on the south by Monumental Avenue, under the direction of Pastorita Nunez and UNAV, rose Camilo Cienfuegos City, the best residential complex built to date by Castroism, declared a National Monument in 1996.

For a population of 7,836 people 1,306 apartments were erected, distributed in 51 four-story buildings with twenty different models and 7 eleven-story buildings of three different models. The team of architects was made up of Roberto Carrazana, Hugo D’Acosta Calheiros, Mercedes Álvarez, Ana Vega, Manuel Rubio, Mario González Sedeño and Reinaldo Estévez. They were joined by several architecture students, among them Mario Coyula.

The City, or “Reparto Camilo Cienfuegos,” began construction in April of 1950 and was finished in November of 1961. In 667 days, at a rate of two houses per day, a balance was achieved between high and low buildings, green areas, pedestrian paths and vehicle circulation, commercial and recreation areas. And with an excellent quality of construction. The specialized labor came from Havana and other provinces. Among them was Angelito, a relative or ours who in his native Sancti Spiritus was a first-class mason.

Although the architects took into account the worldwide trends of the 1950s, and had studied international experiences such as the Clarence Perry neighborhood unit in the United States, British New Towns and the satellite cities of the Scandinavian countries, among others, it is clear that the design of the tallest buildings resemble the Focsa Building, at 17 and M in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana, inaugurated in 1956 and with its 36 floors — the highest in the country — which  is considered one of the seven marvels of Cuban civil engineering.

After the good work of Pastorita Núñez and the INAV came the architectural debacle. “I’m going to talk about Havana, which is what I know best. Without fear of being mistaken, after the Camilo Cienfuegos deal, nothing worthwhile has been built in the capital in the capital,” says Roberto, a retired architect.

And he lists the multiple absurdities. “At the triumph of the Revolution, in 1959, there were two large slum neighborhoods in Havana, Las Yaguas and Llega y Pon. In the municipalities there was no current overcrowding and no one had had the idea of constructing “barbacoas” — platforms referred to as “barbecues” — to make two rooms out of one. And 90% of the houses were in a state of good repair.”

And he adds, “Today there are hundreds of slum neighborhoods and 50% of the housing is in fair or poor condition. As in the former socialist countries of Eastern Europe, it will be necessary to demolish or rebuild dozens of bedroom cities like Alamar, San Agustín and Bahía, where there are buildings constructed with poor quality materials by neophytes. The microbrigades — made up of workers and professionals who became builders by necessity — caused a colossal architectural chaos in Havana. Placing the shabby microbrigade buildings next to other buildings or residential areas of quality construction is an urban crime,” says Roberto.

For the retired architect, “the construction systems adopted were prefabricated and tasteless. Some imported from Yugoslavia, like the IMS. Others were designed in Cuba, but as a whole they were ugly and uniform. As they didn’t have the 100-yard blocks like the Spanish blocks, they put up buildings without sewers, parks, schools and other social works. An urban absurdity.”

In Roberto’s opinion, Fidel Castro’s legacy in architectural matters is rather poor. “The exceptions are Camilo Cienfuegos City, the Coppelia Ice Cream building by Julio Girona and the National Schools of Art by Ricardo Porro in collaboration with the Italian architects Roberto Gottardi and Vittorio Garatti. By Antonio Quintana I would mention The House of the Cosmonauts in Varadero, the Palace of Conventions in Cubanacan, Lenin Park and a twelve-story experimental building on Malecon and F, currently in a deplorable condition due to lack of maintenance. I may miss some other important work. But there are not many more. ”

It’s enough to tour Havana to see what an urban shipwreck it is. The majority of the 20th century buildings with any architectural value were built during the Republic Era (1902-1958).

A detail: The founders of Fidel Castro’s Revolution live today in houses built before 1959, expropriated from prosperous local bourgeoisie. The Fidelistas are not stupid and they don’t have bad taste.

The Seven Phases of Fidel Castro / Iván García

Waiting for the start of the funeral ceremony in the Plaza of the Revolution, Tuesday, November 29. Photo by Mauricio Lima for the Spanish language version of the New York Times.

Ivan Garcia, 10 December 2016 — In a country sculpted by slogans, intolerance and symbols, the departure of Fidel Castro — absolute ruler and founding father of the Cuban Revolution — changes the rules of the game.

Nothing will ever be the same again. No future autocrat will be able to summon a million people to a public square, call for enormous sugar harvests, tell huge lies or launch wars of emancipation far from our shores.

Fidel Castro’s death is the signature on the death certificate of his Revolution. Castro himself perverted it in 1976 when the country formally adopted a Soviet-style system. The whole process can be divided into seven different phases. Continue reading “The Seven Phases of Fidel Castro / Iván García”

The first phase was romantic. Fidel and his bearded soldiers were like the Three Wise Men bearing a simple political message: democracy, free elections and social justice.

Most people applauded the deception. Fidel deceived the public by appearing to distance himself from communism and seducing a large swath of the world’s intellectuals.

Then there was his own version of the Storming of the Bastille. Red tides, confrontations, executions of opponents, a phony civil war in the Bay of Pigs and seven years of uprisings in the Escambray Mountains.

Large industries were nationalized as an astute Fidel Castro entered into a strategic geopolitical alliance with the Soviet Union. It was the most violent phase of his rule, with 50,000 political prisoners. He governed the country as though it were his private estate and transformed Havana into the Mecca of anti-colonial guerrilla movements.

One day, when the secret archives of the state sanctum are opened and their contents are dispassionately examined, we will see how irresponsible Castro was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Urging Nikita Khrushchev to launch the first atomic missile strike, thus condemning his own people to extermination, was no small detail.

The years 1968 to 1976 marked Fidel Castro’s most radical phase. He confiscated small businesses, anesthetized art and culture, and accumulated total power.

From that date until 1991 he began building Soviet Cuba. The army grew to a million men, four thousand tanks and two-hundred-fifty MIG fighter jets.

Espionage became professionalized and social control began to be applied with scientific precision. Cuban intelligence services ultimately had agents operating in half the world’s countries and about five thousand in Florida alone.

The arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev in the Kremlin, along with his policies of perestroika and glasnost, heralded the decline of Castro’s personal empire. Already in the fifth phase, Cuba suddenly found itself face to face with reality. It was a nation that had been impoverished by economic delusions and Fidel’s wars in Africa and Latin America.

Thus began a painful period of deprivation. People fainted from hunger in the streets, oxen replaced tractors in the fields and daily blackouts lasted for twelve hours or more.

In spite of thousands of Cubans fleeing by air, land and sea, as well as an attempted popular uprising in 1994, Fidel Castro was able to govern without major disruption due to the efficiency of his propaganda and security apparatus.

The sixth phase was a gift from Santa Claus. Hugo Chavez — a former parachutist from the Venezuelan city of Barina, a man of disjointed speeches with the obsessions of a visionary hero — attempted to revive socialism by combining a handful of theoretical inanities by Heinz Dietrich with a bogus religiosity and odes to Simon Bolivar.

In his twilight years Fidel Castro achieved his crowning achievement: Venezuela. It was perhaps as significant as the victory at Cuito Cuanavale, a key battle against the South African army, which he had commanded from ten thousand kilometers away.

The Venezuelan case is worthy of study by political scientists and instructors in espionage. Castro conquered Caracas without firing a shot. His recipe? Ideology and backroom consultations.

Fidel remade himself into a kind of Caribbean Rasputin. Never in human history has a nation with an army of has-beens managed to colonize another nation with three times the population and four times the GDP.

The symbolism and message it offered were enough. Chavez opened the doors of his presidential palace to Cuban military advisers and the South American country got thirty thousand doctors and medical personnel.

Half of this aid was paid for with petroleum, the other half with dollars. The current Venezuelan crisis, a perfect storm, arose from the fall in petroleum prices but was aggravated by interference from Cuba.

The seventh and current stage began with the political death of Fidel Castro on July 31, 2006. His brother and hand-picked successor, Raul, is trying to dismantle the operation and get the machinery of production back in order.

In the international arena, Cuba put away the pistols and began the diplomatic dialogue. Raul Castro, always operating from behind the scenes, negotiated the release of a handful of political prisoners with the Catholic church and the Spanish government. Cuba held secret talks with the United States, which made possible the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with its old enemy. It helped mediate an end to the civil war in Colombia. It alleviated burdensome international financial debts and it allowed Cubans to be tourists in their own country. Believe me, all this was no small feat.

It did all this while still repressing dissenting voices. The repressive model of the Raul era is different and probably more efficient. Opponents can travel overseas and, if they are detained, it is often only for a few hours in police holding cells except in unusual circumstances.

By the time Fidel Castro had died — from causes still unknown — on the night of November 25, a quarter of a million Cubans had emigrated over the previous four years, the economy had run aground, corruption had become endemic, the country faced an eminent demographic time bomb, apathy and discontent were widespread and an amateurish dissident movement was as disorganized as it was distracted.

With the death of Fidel Castro, things are bound to change in Cuba. One cannot continue to expect good results from the same old economic, political and social recipes.

Fidel Castro was the past. When he came to power, there were no such things as cell phones, the internet or gay marriage. Some nations were still colonies and electronic commerce was something out of science fiction.

The European Union was but a dream in the head of the French president, General Charles de Gaulle, and no one foresaw the end of Russian communism. Raul Castro announced that he will retire in February 2018, a year and two months from now.

According to Cuba watchers, the possible subsequent scenarios range from neo-Castroism to state capitalism to a family dynasty. And any of the three, they predict, could lead to democracy in the not too distant future.

The reason is simple: we have already hit bottom.

Marti Noticias, December 7, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Diario Las Americas, December 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Jim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Diario Las Americas, December 2, 2016

 

Cuba: Not Everyone Sympathizes with Trump / Iván García

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by: Kathy Fox