“We’ve Been Investigating Ivan Garcia for Five Years” / Iván García

Ivan Garcia (l.) and Raul Rivero (r.) in a Miami cafeteria on September 17, 2016

Iván García Quintero, Havana, 19 March 2017 — When the summons arrived for an interview with a police official, the girl’s puzzled family thought it was a mistake.

Let’s call them Kenia, Pedro, and Camila. They are neighbors of mine and prefer to remain anonymous.

Kenia was summoned to a police station on Finlay street, in the Sevillano District, near the State Security barracks known as Villa Marista.

“When I arrived, the man started harassing and threatening me, saying that I hung around with foreigners. Then he wanted to get information about Ivan García, ’a known counterrevolutionary that we’ve been investigating for five years.’ He wanted to know details about his private life, about where he got the money to repair his house. He also asked my opinion about his work as an independent journalist. At one point he described him as a ’terrorist’ and said that both he and his mother were ’conspirators.’ continue reading

“I was in a state of shock. I told him that he is a friend of mine and my family, and that if what he said is true, why didn’t he arrest him. The officer who interviewed me— young, hostile, and with a military haircut — replied that for now they had no evidence, but they were contacting people like me to collaborate with them and give them more information. I refused to be an informant,” says Kenya.

They were more direct with Pedro. “They accused me of giving confidential information to Ivan Garcia. I told them that I had been retired for four years. They threatened to open a file on me for collaborating on some of the news stories written by Ivan. At the end of the meeting, they warned me to be careful not to say anything to Ivan, because ’he might get off scot-free, but you, Pedro, old as you are, you could die in jail.’”

Without providing any evidence, they issued Camila a warning for harassing tourists and prostitution. “I didn’t sign it. But they told me that if I keep associating with Ivan I will be prosecuted for prostitution. I was accused of pimping and, together with Ivan, of controlling several prostitutes who, in return for money, offered information about their work. All that is a scandalous lie. Out of fear, I promised to delete Ivan’s phone from my contact list. ”

All three were warned that they would soon be summoned again. I told them that when they were, to let me know so I could go with them. If you want to know about me, cite me; it is despicable to intimidate innocent people.

In March 1991, four years before I began writing as an independent journalist at Cuba Press, I was detained for two weeks in a cell at Villa Marista, the headquarters of the State Security Department. They accused me of “enemy propaganda.” I was never tried, but beginning in 1991, for whatever reason, I was detained.

Then there was a period of less harassment until October 22, 2008, when at the intersection of Prado and Teniente Rey, a Colombian colleague handed me some books sent by Ernesto McCausland, a prestigious Colombian journalist, writer, and filmmaker (deceased in 2012). The Colombian and I were arrested by the police and placed in a patrol car. He was released immediately, but they took me to the station at Zanja and Lealtad and kept me in solitary confinement for 11 hours. I recounted this in State of Siege.

Two years later, August 2010, brought the first harassment by Military Counterintelligence. I was then writing for El Mundo.es/América, which published three denunciations, the first titled Citación oficial. Three years later, I would again be harassed by the secret police. On February 18, 2013, Diario Las Américas published, on its front page, “Las Américas Journalist harassed by the Cuban government.” Continuing evidence of this remains posted on the blogsite Desde La Habana.

State Security knows where to find me. They have my phone number and the address where I live. I wait for them.

 Translated by Tomás A.

Cuba: To Live As Third Class Citizens / Iván García

A Cuban market. Photo Credit: Libre Mercado

Iván García, 17 March 2017 — On a wooden shelf are displayed two bottles of liquid detergent, a dozen packs of Populares cigarettes, a packet of coffee, and, on a hastily-drawn poster, a quotation from the deceased Fidel Castro.

Past 10:30 am, the hot bodega [in this case a store where rationed items are sold] is like a steam oven. Luisa, the saleswoman, seated on a plastic chair, tries to start up a rusty residential fan. In the background can be heard the baritone voice of an announcer narrating a soap opera scene.

In the bodega’s storeroom, stacked in random heaps, are 10 or 12 bags of rice, a half-empty container of vegetable oil, and several bags of powdered milk that the State provides exclusively for children younger than 7 years of age and for individuals who possess medical documentation of having cancer or some other grave illness. continue reading

Sitting on the stoop at the store’s entrance, two dirty guys knock back mouthfuls of rum from a small jug while a stray dog, old and ragged, urinates on the door. The monotony of the surreal panorama is broken when the saleswoman hurls a piece of hose at the dog to frighten it away.

After a while, customers begin arriving, nylon bags dangling from their forearms and ration books in their hands.

To all who were born in Cuba, the regime sells 7 pounds of rice, 20 ounces of black beans, a pouch of coffee blended with peas, a half-pound of vegetable oil, and 1 pound of chicken per month–and on a daily basis one bread roll, almost always poorly made.

This subsidized market basket, if consumed in small portions at lunch or dinner, will probably last 10 or 12 days. After that, for the remainder of the month, people are on their own. Housewives and mothers who, after getting home from work, must turn on the stove should be given prizes for creativity.

To feed a family requires 90 percent of the household income. Those who make a low salary (which is the majority of the population) have no choice but to purchase average to low-quality merchandise offered by the State. Those who receive remittances from family or friends abroad in hard currency can purchase higher-quality products.

The ration book, which was implemented in March 1962, is the reason that thousands of Cubans have not died of hunger. Although what they eat remains a mystery.

Luisa the saleswoman says that “for four months now, the rice we get at the bodega is dreadful. Nobody can eat it. Not even the best cook could make it better. It sticks, forming a sludge, and it tastes like hell. And don’t even mention the beans. They’ve been taken from the state reserves, where they’ve been stored for ages. They have a terrible smell. And you could try cooking them for four or five hours and they still wouldn’t soften. This is rice and beans that pigs would not eat.”

But Diego and María, a couple of pensioners who between the two of them take in the equivalent of 25 dollars a month, cannot afford the luxury of discarding the subsidized rice.

“I mix it with the rice that’s sold at 4 Cuban pesos per pound; it’s pretty good, and this way we can eat it. If you live in Cuba you can’t be picky. You have to eat what they give you, or what you can find,” María emphasizes.

If you go around inside any state-run cafeteria, you will note that hygienic standards are nonexistent: stacks of cold-cut sandwiches, fritters or portions of fried fish on aluminum trays surrounded by a chorus of flies.

The elderly, those great losers in Raúl Castro’s timid economic reforms, tend to eat foods of low nutritional value and worse preparation, just to lessen their hunger.

There is a chain of state-run dining halls on the Island that serve lunch and dinner to more than a half-million people who are in extreme poverty.

One of these facilities can be found in the old bar Diana, located on the busy and dirty Calzada Diez de Octubre street. The rations cost 1 Cuban peso. According to a Social Security roster provided to the administrator, about 100 Havana residents–almost all low-income elderly people–are served there daily.

At two steel tables covered with cheap cloths, three women and four men, holding their old metal bowls, await the day’s rations. “The food isn’t worth mentioning. A bit of rice, often hard, watery beans, and a croquette or a boiled egg. Sometimes they give you a little piece of chicken,” says Eusebio, a retired railway engineer who lives by himself.

A dozen people interviewed complain more about their bad luck, about having no money and being dirt-poor, than about the bad cooking. “Yes, it’s bad, but at least in these dining rooms we can count on getting lunch and dinner,” notes Gladys, a single mother of four daughters who receives Social Security.

A staff member admits that “it’s very difficult to cook well without seasonings and condiments. Nor do we get vegetables and fruits. On top of that, the administrator and the cooks make off with the oil and the chicken when we get them.”

In Cuba, what is bad, unpleasant and incorrect goes beyond food preparation. You can find it in the dirty stands that hold vegetables and fruits, in the sale of unwrapped goods, or the adulteration of standards for making sausages and weighing them appropriately at the point of sale.

“It shows a lack of respect towards the population. Anything that you buy in Cuban pesos is of horrible quality. It’s the same for clothing, hardware items or household items. In general, what is sold to the people is shit. Look at these bags of watery yogurt,” Mildred points out while standing in line at a state store to buy whipped yogurt at 15 Cuban pesos per bag.

Even when purchases are made with convertible pesos*, it is hard in Cuba to buy items of assured quality.

But Cubans, who must eat, dress and enjoy their leisure time by paying for it with the national currency– the Cuban peso–must make do with devalued merchandise. They are third-class citizens in their own country.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

*Translator’s note: Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, worth about 4 cents US, and Cuban Convertible pesos, each worth 25 Cuban pesos, or about one dollar US. It has been a longstanding, but as yet unfulfilled, promise of the government to move to a single currency.

Cuba: Renting Out Medical Specialists / Iván García

Cuban doctors who deserted in Venezuela have settled in Colombia, where they have undertaken numerous protests. Some of them managed to get to the United States. Taken by Martí News

Ivan Garcia, 4 March 2017 — Twenty years later, Nivaldo (names changed), 43, an orthopedist, still remembers the hot morning when his parents said goodbye to him in the old train station in a small village in the depths of Cuba.

The economy of his native village, with narrow streets of cracked asphalt and the small of cane juice, revolved around the sugar mill and the usual thing was that grandfathers, fathers and grandsons worked in the sugar industry.

It was a sugar mill town like many others. Squat brick houses half plastered, a handful of white wood houses, guarded by five or six grungy prefabricated buildings, built after Fidel Castro’s Revolution.

The present and future of the village was to drink alcohol distilled from cane, playing baseball on scrub ground and taming some lost mare around some stinking green creek. continue reading

But Nivaldo wasn’t a cane cutter nor a worker at the mill. He graduated as a doctor on a rainy night in 1997 and after completing his social service in a mountainous area of Santiago de Cuba, specialized in orthopedics.

When he stepped in Havana for the first time, like almost all the country people, he took a photo at the base of the Capitol, and used a finger to count the number of floors in the Habana Libre Hotel or the Fosca Building.

“My dream was to be a doctor. Have a family and live according to my professional status. I’m a specialist, I have a marvelous family, but in order to maintain it I do things I’m not proud of.”

“I have been on international missions in South Africa, Pakistan and Venezuela. Not out of conviction but simply to earn money and repair and furnish my house. In Cuba it’s hard to find a doctor who hasn’t violated the Hippocratic oath, and accepted gifts or money to maintain his family. In the countries where I have worked, I’ve seen patients under the table who have paid me. In Cuba I have groups of patients who’ve given me gifts, a box of beer that costs sixty Cuban convertible pesos, according to the seriousness of their suffering.”

On the Castro brother’s island a lot of things don’t work. You can wait an hour and a half to get from one part of town to another because the chaos that is public transport.

From the time you get up in the morning the problems accumulate. There’s no water in the tank. There’s no money to buy a pair of shoes for the kids. Or you have to eat whatever there is, not what you need or desire.

Let’s not even talk about other things, also important for human beings, like freedom of expression, the right to join a party other than the communist party, or to elect the president of the Republic.

But healthcare, universal coverage, was the pride of the autocrat Fidel Castro. It worked well as long as the former USSR was sending checks worth millions and connected a pipeline of petroleum coming from the Caucasus.

Later with the fall of Soviet Communism the deficit came. Ruined hospitals, nurses looking like police agents and missing medical specialists. The Raul Castro regime tried to keep the the flagship of the Revolution afloat, but it was taking on water everywhere.

The first ones who become fed up are the doctors. If not all of them, at least a broad segment. The causes vary, but the keys are the low salaries and the lack of recognition for their work.

Migdalia, a dermatologist points out that “for six years I earned 700 Cuban pesos — about 35 dollars — and the salary was barely enough for me to buy fruits and vegetables at the market. Now I get 1,600 Cuban pesos — almost 75 dollars — and it’s not enough either. So I accept patients who give me bread and ham, or a piece of clothing, or money in cash, and I give them personalized attention.”

Joel, an allergist, wonders why, if what the international media says is true and the government gets between 7 and 8 billion dollars from the sale of medical services, “they don’t pay us salaries consistent with the inflation in the country. I was in Venezuela two years. The neighbors gave me food and gave me gifts of clothing and things. Rather than a doctor, I looked like a merchant buying stuff to sell when I came back. I got to Cuba, after three years on a mission, between business and the money I saved I had some four thousand dollars, not even enough to rebuild my house. Now I’m chasing a mission in Trinidad and Tobago or Qatar, but to get it you have to pay some official at the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) some 400 or 500 bucks for them to put you on the list. For these reasons, among others, many doctors decide to emigrate.”

If we credit the statistics, a little more than three thousand doctors have deserted in the last seven years. Venezuela is a destination that puts their lives at risk. The delirious criminality in the South American country has provoked, according to a statistic from 2010, the deaths of 67 Cuban health professionals.

The lack of high-quality specialists makes it difficult to care for patients in Cuba. Daniel has been looking for an ear specialist for six months to diagnose and treat a problem.

“They only treat you as am emergency in a hospital if you’re dying. Diseases and symptoms that require lab tests, exams with equipment such as cat scans or x-rays. can only be obtained quickly by paying with money or gifts. Preventive medicine on the island is in crisis,” Daniel affirms.

Twice a month, Marta pays 10 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) to the dentist who sees her daughter. “It’s the only way to get high quality care. If you don’t pay, and try to work through the system, they don’t fix your mouth or they do it badly.”

Aida, who works for a bank, waited almost a year to get an appointment with an allergist. “Her appointment at the polyclinic was once a month. But she never went. With two little bites of ham, two soft drinks and 5 CUC I was able to get an allergist to see me. Then, if they see that you have resources, then they stretch out the attention to get more money out of you. Some doctors have become hucksters. It’s painful.”

When you go to appointments at hospitals, you see that the majority of patients are bringing gifts for the doctor. But it can be a gift in kind. Though many prefer cash.

Havana Taxi Drivers Up In Arms / Iván García

Almendrones, as vintage American cars in Cuba are called. Almost all of them travelling between 23rd and G streets in Havana’s Vedado district, as shown here, now operate as privately-owned taxis or boteros. From the blog Habana por Dentro.

Ivan Garcia, 27 February 2017 — After working twelve hours driving a vintage 1957 Chevrolet for a collective taxi company on the Cotorro-Central Park route, twenty-nine year old Osdiel sits down to have a beer at a dark bar in the south end of Havana, where he unleashes his frustration over new measures Cuban authorities have adopted.

Without a leader or a labor union looking out for their interests, a large faction of Havana taxi drivers is organizing to overturn what they consider to be arbitrary regulations imposed by the regime of Raúl Castro. continue reading

This report will be concise. Havana is a densely populated metropolitan area of more than two and a half million residents with a road network routinely in disrepair and a mass transit system in chaos. In the summer of 2016 the city began regulating prices for private taxi services.

In the Cuban capital there are about thirty designated taxi corridors. These are fixed routes costing between 10 and 20 pesos per ride based on travel distance. The current fleet of taxis, which is operated by licensed drivers as well as individuals who work clandestinely on the sidelines, is estimated at between 10,000 and 12,000 automobiles.

“Sometimes there are more because drivers from nearby provinces such as Artemisa, Mayabeque, Pinar del River and Matanzas come to Havana. That’s in addition to the hundreds of drivers working for state-owned companies who pick up passengers during and after normal working hours to earn extra money,” says Francisco, an official with ONAT (National Office of Tax Administration), an institution that regulates private sector work in Cuba.

Beginning in 2016, along with a rollback of the autocratic regime’s timid economic reforms, the government began meddling in prices that had been determined by supply and demand.

In January of last year the government began a policy of regulating prices for produce. In the last twelve months it has closed 60% of independent farmers’ markets.

The state does not sell fuel or spare parts at wholesale prices to private-sector taxi drivers in spite of the public benefit they provide.

Eliecer, who drives a Soviet-era Lada along the Vibora-Vedado route, explains, “In no paragraph of our contract does it say that the government can regulate prices. We set them based upon supply and demand.”

Before 1959 public transportation in Cuba was efficient but that all ended once Fidel Castro and his bearded men came to power. For almost six decades since then, it has been a pressing issue for the regime. Bus, taxi, rail, shipping and air transportation have been plagued with shortages that have impacted the time and ways it takes to transport millions of people from one place to another within a city or across the country.

Though Havana should ideally have have a fleet of 3,000 buses, there are only about 900 operating. Along the busiest routes such as the P6, P7, P11 and P14, buses should arrive every three minutes during peak hours but only come along once every ten or fifteen minutes. And there is no subway or suburban rail network serving the city.

Three decades ago, the state operated 4,000 taxis and charged modest prices. The fleet of state-run taxis now numbers less than 200 and often are used to provide services to hospitals and funeral homes. These taxis are also rented out, at market rates, to drivers who have finished their shifts.

There is a fleet of some 800 modern, air-conditioned cars which charge in convertible pesos and are used primarily by tourists, foreign visitors and affluent Cubans.

The regime has discreetly launched a small enterprise called Cubataxis, a network of taxis with fares priced in hard currency. Three years ago it began leasing them to drivers. “You get 500 CUCs (convertible pesos) as a loan and every day you have to hand over 55 CUCs to the government. The authorities give us twenty liters of fuel; we have to buy the rest. To meet the guidelines, we have to clock up to thirteen hours a day. We get to keep the car at home and we set the fares,” explains Dagoberto, who drives of a Chinese-made Geely.

For private-sector taxi drivers like Erasmo, this difference matters. “Why don’t they regulate Cubataxis’ prices? Oh, because the government makes money off this business. We fulfill a need in society. We transport hundreds of thousands of people a day. We are doing the work the government should be doing,” he complains.

For a long time drivers who work for state-run businesses have sold fuel at prices lower than those at gas stations. “On the black market a liter of gasoline costs between twelve and fifteen pesos. The government sells it for 28 pesos,” says a private sector taxi driver.

According to reports, the reduction of petroleum imports from Venezuela — deliveries fell from 100,000 barrels a day to 55,000 — is what led to the Cuban government to begin charging its business operations for fuel.

This led to a shortage on the black market, forcing most private-sector taxi drivers to raise prices. A trip that normally would have cost ten pesos was soon up to twenty.

When authorities in Havana ordered a cap on cab fares in July 2016, the response from a large number of taxi drivers was to break up the rides into smaller segments. For example, if a trip from La Palma to Brotherhood Park cost ten pesos, they would split it into two and increase their profit.

Such subterfuge along with the price hikes have irritated large numbers of customers who rely on shared taxis on a daily basis to get around.

“The government took advantage of a bad situation to adopt populist measures that favor passengers. But they didn’t take into account the fact that taxi drivers are the owners of their vehicles and can determine prices. Now that there is a lid on prices, God help you if you are trying to catch a taxi,” says Lisván.

For Osdiel, the owner of a 1957 Chevrolet, the problem is one of negotiation. “The government wants us to do what it wants us to do. But this is not the era of slavery. Most taxi drivers want to sit down and talk, then come to an agreement. My proposal would be for the authorities to sell us a certain amount of fuel at a subsidized price in exchange for them being able to set prices.”

Manuel, a slow talking kind of guy, believes, “The targets of this offensive are the owners of small fleets of cars, jeeps and trucks. They want to screw us over because we make a lot of money. And that’s a crime in this system. Sixty percent of private-sector taxi drivers in Havana don’t own their vehicles. They are salaried workers. I estimate that a hundred or two hundred people own at least four or five cars each and have ten to twelve employees working for them. I own six cars, five jeeps and three trucks. The purpose of these measures is to wipe us off the map.”

For the time being, more than four thousand drivers have decided not to go to work next Monday, February 27. “We will say that our cars are busted or we are sick. We will go on strike. Let’s see what they’ll do then,” says Osdiel defiantly.

The battle between private-sector taxi drivers and the government of Raúl Castro has become like a serialized novel. We will see what the next installment brings.

Undercover American Tourists in Cuba / Iván García

AFP photo taken from Vivelo Hoy

Ivan Garcia, 23 January 2017 — Miami Airport is almost a city. And the American Airlines’ departures area is a labyrinth, with dozens of corridors and passages. That’s why Noahn, an American living in Michigan, arrived five hours before his flight’s scheduled departure time to Varadero.

He was travelling with his wife, his eight-month-old son carried in an arm-sling, and a dog with long floppy ears. In his luggage, professional diving equipment and an electric skateboard. The couple speak in carefully enunciated Spanish, with a hint of a Colombian accent. “It’s because I worked for an American company in Bogotá,” explains Noahn. continue reading

To everyone who wants to listen to him, he describes his experiences as a tourist in Cuba. He knows the Coco and Santa Maria Keys, located to the north of Ciego de Avila and Villa Clara and Maria La Gorda, in the western province of Pinar del Rio.

“But I was enchanted by Varadero. It’s the third time in two years I’ve been there since the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States. Neither Miami Beach nor Malibu can compare with Varadero, with its fine white sandy beach. The water is warm and there are hardly any waves. Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro and The Bahamas may have just as good or better natural conditions,” he adds, while his wife gives the child some milk in a bottle.

Despite the prohibitions on tourism in Cuba, Americans such as Noahn travelled to the island by way of a third country. “Before December 17, 2014, I travelled to Cuba via Mexico. After that date it’s been easier. There are twelve quite flexible categories, which they call the twelve lies. You declare whichever pretext, and travel in a group or individually. “In theory you can’t go as a tourist, but I bet that’s what half of the American travellers are doing.”

Out of more than 200 passengers on the flight heading to Varadero, only six were Cubans going back to their country permanently or to visit relatives on the island.

Judith, a biologist living in Georgia, is going to Cuba for the second time this year. Why? “Half for professional experience, half tourism.” I’m interested in gathering information on the varieties of Cuban vegetation. Once I finish my research, I’m going to stay a week in a hotel full-board in Camaguey or in Holguin.”

Asked if she felt any harassment or if any federal institution has opened a file on her for violating the country’s regulations, she replies: “Not at all. Seems to me the wisest thing to do would be to openly permit tourism in Cuba, because that’s what in reality people are doing.”

After the re-establishment of relations between two countries that were living in a cold war climate, many more Americans are travelling to the Greater Antilles. In January 11, 2016, Josefina Vidal, an official working in the Cuban Foreign Ministry, and responsible for relations with the United States, reported on Twitter that, in 2016, the island received a total of 614,433 visitors from United States (Americans and Cuban Americans), 34% more than in 2015.

Although on paper the Americans arriving are recorded as being part of a religious or journalistic or a people-to-people exchange, it isn’t difficult to spot well-built blonds or redheads downing quantities of mojitos in a bar in Old Havana or enjoying the warm autumn sun on a Cuban beach.

When at 8:30 in the evening, the American Airlines plane landed at the Juan Gualberto Gómez international airport in Varadero, after a quick check, half a dozen air-conditioned buses were waiting for the “undercover” tourists to take them to four and five star hotels along the Hicacos Peninsula coast.

“Yes, the Americans are tourists.” Many of them go to Havana, others pass the time in Varadero. They prefer to stay in hotels. About 400 or 500 come every week. And many more are expected at New Year’s,” said an official of the Gaviota chain, balancing on the stairway of a bus.

Private taxi drivers and those who lease vehicles from the state hang around the terminal. “There are gringos who come as individual tourists. I charge them the equivalent of $40 for the trip to Varadero, about 20 kilometers from the airport. Almost all give good tips. Unlike the Spaniards and Mexicans, who are complete tightwads,” says Joan, a private taxi driver.

The majority of Cubans are convinced that Americans are rich. And have more money than they know what to do with. They try to milk them as if they were cows.

At the currency exchange outside the airport, they exchange dollars for 86 centavos, less than the official rate of 87. “The rate goes down at weekends,” he says.

An employee in the terminal, says “Here everyone is doing business. “The lavatory cleaner charges, the café sells stuff on the side, and the customs people get things off the passengers.”

Tourism in Cuba is like a harvest. Everyone wants to squeeze the sugar cane. And you can extract plenty of juice from the sneaky tourists

Translated by GH

The Cuban Regime Has Redoubled Its Assault On The Private Sector / Iván García

Police raids against private vendors are common in Havana.

Ivan Garcia, 24 February 2017 — Marino Murillo, the presumptive tsar of economic reforms in Cuba, a prime minister with broad powers, passed up a seat in the first row next to the senior staff of a long-lived revolution governed by an exclusive club of elders who, as a group, have lived almost 500 years, to take a seat in the third row, far from the spotlight and the cameras.

In closed societies, where rumors are more truthful than the information offered by the State press, you have to learn to read between the lines. Lacking a government office that offers public information to its citizens, academics, journalists and political scientists, you must look with a magnifying glass at the most insignificant signs. continue reading

That morning in December 2015, when the autocrat Raúl Castro feigned indignation before the more than 600 deputies of the monotone national parliament about the abusive prices of agricultural products, was the beginning of the end for Marino Murillo.

Castro II requested that measures be applied. And not very consistently, alleging the law of supply and demand that governs the produce markets, Murillo mumbled that he would try to implement different regulations to try to curb the increase in prices.

Apparently this wasn’t sufficient. The previous super-minister fell into disgrace, and now not even his photo appears in the official media, although theoretically he continues at the front of the agenda, charged with implementing the economic guidelines, a kind of commandment that moves at a snail’s pace and with serious delays: In six years, only a little more than 20 percent of the guidelines have been implemented.

With the fading-out of fatso Murillo, the dynamic of timid economic reforms — together with openings in the obsessive defense of Fidel Castro, who transformed Cubans into third-class citizens — the game began to be directed by the most rancid and conservative of the military leadership.

It was essential to open to the world and repeal the feudal exit permit needed to travel outside the island, to permit Cubans to rent hotel rooms and to buy or sell houses, among other normal regulations in any country in the 21st century.

There is no doubt that this was a leap forward, with barriers, absurd prices and spite for people who make money. Yes, in Cuba they sell cars, but a Peugeot 508 is worth more than a Ferrari, and you must pay cash.

The Internet and cell phones are not exactly tools of science fiction, but the price for service is insane for a country where the average salary is 25 dollars a month.

The supposed reforms were always incomplete. They were left halfway. Cubans cannot invest in large businesses; professionals don’t have authorization to work for themselves, and the State claims the right to establish a ridiculous list of jobs that are or are not permitted.

Of the 201 authorized jobs, there are at least 10 or 15 enterprises where, with creativity and effort, you can make large sums of money, always taking into account the Cuban context, where anyone who earns 10,000 Cuban pesos a month (about $400) is considered “rich.” This is a country where for almost 60 years, the average citizen is sponsored by the State.

Of course the regulations, excessive taxes, harassment by State inspectors and a deadly clause in the Government’s economic bible, which prohibits persons or groups from accumulating large sums of capital, hinder prosperity and the boom in private work.

In a nation where the Government has been in charge of clothing, shoeing, rewarding or punishing its citizens, a margin of liberalism, as small as it is, was an oasis for a half million entrepreneurs who now live on the margins of the State.

The starting shot that would put the handbrake on the reforms began on December 17, 2014, when President Barack Obama and General Raúl Castro, of mutual accord, put an end to the incredible Cold War between Cuba and the United States.

Once out of the trenches, Obama began to launch packets of measures with the marked intention of favoring private workers. The Regime didn’t like that.

They wanted to do business with the gringos but with their own State enterprises, not to empower the private ones. Then, progressively, the Castro autocracy started to slow down the dynamic sector, probably the only one that was growing on the Island, that paid salaries from three to five times more than the State, and which gave employment to some 20 percent of the work force.

In autumn of 2015, a negative dynamic began. Presently only 30 percent of the supply-and-demand produce markets are functioning. The State harasses and penalizes the cart vendors who sell meat, fruit and vegetables, and they have declined by 50 percent. The State closed the largest produce market in Trigal, south of Havana, and the Taliban juggernaut expects to increase with regulations and taxes on all the buoyant businesses in gastronomy, transport and hotel services.

What’s this new “revolutionary offensive” about? I don’t think it has the reach of the confiscations of french fry stands and shoeshine stalls of 1968, or the counter-reforms for certain openings in the 1980s and ’90s.

But it’s undeniable that the Regime doesn’t want the train to derail. Presently there’s a small segment of Cubans, between 60,000 and 100,000 persons, who have amassed small fortunes thanks to their taste and talent for business.

We’re talking about 100,000 dollars going forward, an insignificant figure in any First World country, but extraordinary in a country impoverished by the poor management of the Castro brothers.

In addition to pleasure and social status, money engenders power. While Castroism functions in Cuba, private businesses will not be able to prosper. This is the reason for the brakes put on the private owners.

A word of advice to the olive green Regime: Be careful with excesses. In December 2010, an abusive fine on the owner of a food stand, Mohammed Buazisi, who out of contempt immolated himself, put a final end to the Tunisian dictatorship of Ben Ali and unchained the Arab Spring.

In its present offensive against the private taxi drivers, the Cuban authorities shouldn’t forget what happened in Tunisia a little more than six years ago. In societies of order and control, the devil is always in the details.

 

Translated by Regina Anavy

Do We Have to Wait for the Government to Sell the Peugeot 508s to Improve Public Transport? / Iván García

Havanans boarding a the bus. From OnCuba magazine

Ivan Garcia, 18 February 2017 — Seven in the morning at the bus stop at Acosta Avenue and Poey Street, in the dense La Vibora neighborhood in southern Havana. Almost a hundred people are waiting for the No. 174 bus to Vedado.

While waiting for the bus, some take the opportunity to have a coffee from the roving coffee-seller. Others breakfast on bread with croquette or an egg sandwich from a private cantina, continually looking at the bus stop, in case a ‘guagua’ (bus) shows up. continue reading

Also at Acosta and Poey, some 40 people are in a line waiting for their turn to catch a shared-taxi to Vedado. Jaime, a maintenance worker in a polyclinic, can’t give himself the luxury of taking taxis.

“In the morning the taxi driver charges twenty “reeds” (Cuban pesos, CUP) to Vedado. Since I work in Playa, I have to take a second taxi for another 20 pesos. The return is the same. Eighty ‘coconuts’ to come and go from work, and I only get paid 20 a day. If I take a taxi I can make the trip in an hour, and if I wait for the bus, it’s three hours coming and going. Many documentaries, books and recorded chats about the life and work of Fidel Castro, but the government spent 60 years without being able to solve the transport problem. This is crap, brother,” says Jaime, notably angry.

If you want to meet a Cuban ruminating on the horrors of Castroism, visit him at home during a blackout, or ask him about the supposed benefits of socialism at the bus stop crammed with people.

At best, he relaxes at a popular pachanga (party) with some cheap beer and infamous rum, with reggaeton or aggressive timba in the background. But when it comes from moving from one place to other in Havana, they put on a whole other face.

Like Mireya’s face right now. She’s a kitchen helper at a school. “Oh mother. I leave at 6:30 in the morning to catch a bus. And at 8:00 I’m still at the stop. And when you do manage to get on, you have to keep your wits about you because at least opportunity the pickpockets will lift your wallet. And don’t even talk about the perverts. They shove themselves up against your ‘package’ from behind like you’re their wife. The other day some shameless guy was so hot he took it out and masturbated in plain sight,” said Mireya, talking openly to everyone around her.

The lines at the butcher shop to buy “chicken for fish,” or to do legal paperwork, or to wait for public transport, have become a kind of people’s plaza where a journalist, politician or specialist in social topics could take the pulse of a nation. Two years ago, the president of Finland disguised himself as a taxi driver to learn his compatriot’s opinions about his management of the state. That would be a good example for the Cuban authorities to follow.

Managing efficient public transport, be it land, air, rail or sea, is something the olive green junta that governs Cuban can’t get done.

Fidel Castro, today feted for his extensive anti-imperialist discourse and his role in the decolonization struggle of Africa, was never able to design a working transportation system for the island.

Havana, with its million and a half inhabitants, and a million foreign tourists and illegal visitors from other provinces, probably features among the worst cities of the world to get from one place or another quickly and cheaply.

In the 1960s, Fidel Castro acquired three thousand Leyland buses in Great Britain for urban and interprovincial transport. But it wasn’t like that. In the following decades, they were bought in Spain, Japan, Hungary, Brazil and China.

In Havana it has always been an odyssey to travel by bus. At its best, there were more than 100 bus routes in the capital and 2,500 buses plus a fleet of 4,000 taxis, bought from the Argentina military dictatorship, although they never finished paying for them.

With the coming of the Special Period in 1990, the closest thing to a war without bombs, public transport experienced its real death throes. The “camels” — a monster patented by some sadistic engineer — were container trailers outfitted with seats and pulled by a semi-truck tractor unit that could carry 300 people each, packed like sardines in a can.

Havanans still remember the memorable brawls inside the “camels,” worthy of an Olympic boxing match. Those steel boxes were saunas in the tropical heat and according to street legends they served to procreate dozens of kids of unknown fathers.

If every Cuban state official had to pay a penny for every revealed lie, believe me, there would be a legion of new rich on the island. Many thought it was a bad joke, but in 2014, the government, in complete seriousness, after authorizing the sale of Peugeots at Ferrari prices, announced that they were going to use the profits to create a fund to buy buses to improve urban transport.

Three years later not a single Peugeot 508 has been sold. Logically, you don’t have to have a Nobel in economics to know that no one is going to pay the equivalent of 300,000 dollars for a touring car. And in cash.

Thus, ordinary Cubans like the worker Jaime and the cook Mireya, are still waiting two hours to board a city bus. Until all those lovely Peugeots are sold.

Private Taxi Drivers Feel Harassed By The Cuban Government / Iván García

Taken from Habana Live.

Iván García, 15 February 2017 — Decidedly, equanimity isn’t one of Pastor’s strong points. He’s an industrial engineer transformed into a private taxi driver, and six days a week he drives a 1954 Dodge with a body from a Detroit factory, patched up a couple of times in a Havana workshop and improved with a German engine from a Mercedes Benz, a South Korean transmission and a steering wheel from a Lada of the Soviet era. With this car he operates on a fixed-route as a shared-taxi.

This mechanical Frankenstein is the livelihood of Pastor, his wife, four children and two grandchildren. “When I stop driving, it’s felt in the house. So I have to be driving 12 or 13 hours daily. My family and even my in-laws live from my almendrón (old American car). The government considers us taxi drivers as tycoons, newly rich. But that’s not true,” says Pastor, while he drives his taxi through the narrow Monte Street in the direction of the Parque de la Fraternidad. continue reading

At the end of the trip, he parks very close to the Saratoga Hotel and enumerates details of the collective taxi business in Havana. “There are two types of taxi drivers. Those who own their car, like me, and those who lease it to someone who owns five or six cars and makes money renting them out. We all pay the same tax, which the State raises each year, by using some ruse,” he comments, and he adds:

“The study that ONAT, the National Tax Office, did, which controls private work on the Island, is very elementary. Its calculations are removed from reality. The deductions for the time we aren’t working are erroneous. Sometimes the car has to be in the shop for two or more months.

But the transportation problem, which the government tries to blame us for, is something that they haven’t resolved. If my business is one of supply and demand, then no one should stick their nose into my prices. It doesn’t concern the State. If they want to improve public transportation let them buy hundreds of busses and taxis, so they can see how low prices have fallen,” says Pastor, who, as we’re chatting, becomes impassioned, and more than a few swear words sprinkle the conversation.

“This can only happen in a dictatorship. If they really want things to get better they would have had a dialogue with us, the taxi drivers, who in the capital alone number more than 10,000. Compadre, the State doesn’t give a shit about helping us. They don’t give us so much as a single screw. We pay them everything. What would have been a good solution? To sell us gas, which now costs 1.10 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $1.10 US) in the government filling stations, at 10 or 15 Cuban pesos (roughly $0.40 to $0.60 US), and then require us to have fixed prices on a route,” says Pastor, indignant.

If you talk with any of the private taxi drivers in Havana, you will note their barely-contained irritation. “It’s simple: If the government continues fucking with me, I’ll surrender my State license tomorrow and work under the table. Actually, there’s a ton of people who are doing that. They don’t have enough police to be going after 15,000 illegal taxi drivers,” says a taxi driver who drives the Havana-Playa route.

Eliecer, a driver on the Lisa-Parque Central route, explains his accounting. “I drive for a lady who owns the auto. I pay her 25 CUC daily. But I have to pay for repairs and gasoline. After the 600 Cuban pesos that I turn over to the owner, I earn between 400 and 500 Cuban pesos daily. But I don’t have any rest. I kill myself working.”

What especially bothers Osvel, a retired soldier, is the arrogance of the authorities. “What would it cost the government to meet with us and negotiate a good agreement? But no, they do it as they see fit. It’s true that you can earn 10 times what you would working for the State, but you always have to put money aside in case of breakdowns, because the cars are old and need frequent repairs. The easiest way is to force it on people, an old government custom.”

In a note published in the government newspaper Granma on February 8, the authorities divided the city into 30 routes and determined the prices that they think should be charged from one stretch or destination to another in the city.

The other side of the problem is the customers. Eight out of 12 people interviewed said they were upset by the increase in taxi prices in Havana. “The taxi drivers have some nerve. Because they’ve had the balls to double and triple their prices. If they think the government is abusing them, then let them have a strike in the Plaza de la Revolución, but don’t try to get out of it by raising prices and fucking the passenger,” comments Daniel, who says he spent an hour waiting for a taxi on Calzada de Diez de Octubre.

In July 2016, the Regime decreed that prices were going up, and they opened a telephone line for complaints from the population. Many taxi drivers stopped driving for several days, and the majority decided to split the routes. For example, the route from La Palma to the Parque de la Fraternidad, which cost 10 pesos, was divided into two: 10 pesos up to Toyo and Calzada de Luyanó, and another 10 pesos up to the Parque de la Fraternidad.

“The problem is that before, you could get gas on the black market. But since last spring, the government began controlling the fuel that was being stolen from State businesses. Now you have to buy it in CUCs, and it costs more than double than it did under the table. And then they raise the prices, explained a taxi driver.

All those interviewed agree, taxi drivers as well as users, that with these populist measures the government is trying to disguise who’s really guilty and their proven inefficiency and incapacity to design a functional model of transport.

Pastor, angry, goes further. “It’s an undeclared war on private workers. Why don’t they raise the prices for taxis rented from the State? They work almost without using the taximeter and then charge twice or three times as much as they did two years ago. And in CUCs.”

The fleet of modern autos painted yellow that circulate in the city, for use by tourists or citizens with deep pockets, pay 55 CUC daily to the State as a leasing fee.

The government isn’t stupid. They’re not going to start a battle with taxi drivers who report their income. And in CUCs.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Trump, Rodiles and the Cuban Opposition / Juan Orlando Perez

Antonio Rodiles speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on December 14, 2016, by McClatchy DC

Juan Orlando Pérez, 1 February 2017, (re-published in Ivan Garcia’s blog on 7 February 2017) — Antonio Rodiles, one of the Cuban government’s most tireless enemies, or at least one of its most eloquent, has said that the arrival of Donald Trump at the White House is “good news for Cuba.”

It is difficult to criticize Rodiles, who every day faces the danger of State Security agents, or his own neighbors, breaking his nose — they have already done this once with exquisite precision — or of being accused of some monstrosity such as contempt of court, assault, incitement to violence or failure to attend Fidel Castro’s funeral, resulting in him being cast into a windowless dungeon without light or justice. continue reading

Every Sunday, Rodiles leaves his house Havana to protest against a government that he considers illegitimate. While not comparable to the battles of Peralejo or Las Guásimas, much less the crossing of the Trocha de Mariel to Majana, this action is one that does require more political and personal courage than all the deputies of the National Assembly together could muster to change a single comma in a decree from Raul Castro’s government, should they even notice a comma misplaced.

Unlike other leaders of the Cuban opposition and most deputies of the National Assembly, Rodiles knows how to speak correctly, in proper Spanish. Perhaps that is why foreign journalists prefer to talk to him rather than to others whom they can barely understand. But what he told the Spanish newspaper El País is dangerous nonsense.

In no way can Trump be “good news” for Cuba when he is so bad for all the other countries of the world, including those whose leaders — Vladimir Putin, Theresa May, Benjamin Netanyahu — selfishly hope to benefit from the ascent of a thug to the presidency of the United States. At least Rodiles does not contend Trump is not a thug.

Rodiles declined to say if Trump’s victory was also good news for the United States. “I don’t want to get into that,” he said flatly. “It’s not my problem.”

Perhaps Rodiles thinks that if personnel at the American Embassy in Havana or at the State Department in Washington hear him criticizing Trump’s character, skills or intentions, even if the criticism is so mild it might almost be considered a kind remark, he will no longer be invited to the embassy or to conferences, congresses and seminars — one takes place every month in Miami, Madrid or Washington — where the participants ardently debate the future of Cuba, condemn Castro’s wickedness and lament Barack Obama’s faintheartedness.

Rodiles’ discretion — his refusal to express an opinion about the domestic issues of another country — is admirable, especially because it stands in contrast to foreign politicians who talk about issues in his own. In late December, Rodiles participated in a panel organized by the right-wing Heritage Foundation in Washington along with two former George W. Bush administration officials: the former under-secretaries of state Roger Noriega and Otto Reich. As reported by Diario de Cuba, he took the opportunity to explain that “the new Administration has the opportunity to reorient US policy towards the human rights and freedom for the Cuban people.”

Noriega and Reich are co-authors of the infamous Helms-Burton Act of 1996. More than a law, it is the list of relentless conditions that the United States would impose on the Cuban government if it were to capitulate, which one can easily imagine these two former officials recommending to the Trump Administration provided someone in the White House still remembers who they are and asks them what to do about Cuba.

Noriega and Reich may express any opinion about Cuba, or about Jupiter, if they so choose. That is their right. No one in Washington is going to end up with a nose out of joint if they do so.

But it is not clear why Rodiles should not in turn be able to say with more or less the same degree of tact what so many other political leaders around the world have said: that Donald Trump’s brand of vicious, racist and ignorant populism is a very serious threat to international security, to the rights of other nations, to Americans’ civil liberties and, of course, to Cuba.

Perhaps Rodiles thinks Trump is as innocuous as Tian Tian, the giant panda at Washington’s National Zoo. If so, he might as well say so. For the moment, Rodiles has refrained from criticizing Trump, though not from criticizing Obama. He believes, as he told El País, that Obama’s legacy in Cuba can be described in two words: indifference and fantasy.

In a video released by the Forum for Human Rights and Freedoms, Rodiles appears next to others celebrating Trump’s victory on November 8 and criticizing Obama’s Cuban strategy.

“It was very frustrating,” explains Rodiles in the video, “to see how the Obama administration was allowing the regime to gain advantage, to gain political advantage, to gain economic advantage, while leaving the Cuban people and their demands on the sidelines.”

He added, “Unfortunately, the legacy of President Obama on Cuba is not positive… His policy has been counterproductive. His policy has led the regime to feel much more secure and to behave more violently.”

It is not clear, however, what exactly Rodiles and his colleagues at the Forum hope Trump will do. “It seems to me that the new administration under President Donald Trump will give much more attention to the Cuban opposition. It will give much more attention to the subject of fundamental rights and freedoms, and the Cuban people will be able to express themselves more openly, though the regime will, of course, do everything possible to prevent that.”

It is likely that on May 20 — if the world lasts until then — a committee of Cuban opposition figures, including perhaps Rodiles himself, will visit the White House, as always happened before Obama, after which the president of the United States might write a Twitter message in jovial Spanglish condemning Raúl Castro and his minions.

But it is unclear how tweets by the lunatic that Americans have chosen as their commander-in-chief are going to get Cubans out onto the streets. Nor is it easy to imagine the Cuban government agreeing to sit down with Rodiles or any other opposition figure just because the president of the United States demands it, even if he makes it a condition of maintaining diplomatic relations; or of continuing to allow Cuban-Americans to send money to their families on the island; or of allowing them visit their relatives whenever they want.

If the members of the Forum for Human Rights and Freedoms believe that these are conditions that the Trump Administration should impose, they should say so clearly and run the risk that Trump or one of his underlings might hear and pay attention to them. An even greater risk is that Cubans might hear them.

It is perfectly legitimate for some members of the Cuban opposition to disapprove of Obama’s policy of normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba, at least to the degree that it is possible to normalize something that will never be normal. No one should be surprised that those who would like to see the immediate overthrow of Raúl Castro have no confidence in a plan that acknowledges the unlikelihood that the Cuban government will be overthrown in a domestic revolt.

Raúl has been accepted — with indifference or resignation — as the legitimate president of Cuba by almost all the nations of the world. The plan addresses the political and intellectual weakness of opposition groups, counting instead on the slow but inexorable growth of a new post-Castro civil society that will one day reclaim political and economic rights that Raúl or his successors will never be willing to grant.

It is true this plan pays no particular importance to the Forum for Human Rights and Freedoms, or to other groups with equally florid names, whose members feel they have been abruptly and unceremoniously abandoned by their old patron. But not all opposition groups have judged Obama’s decisions regarding Cuba as negatively as Rodiles and his cohorts.

With bitter pragmatism, others have warned that it is foolish to oppose head-on a policy that is viewed favorably on both sides of the Florida Straits. While it has, of course, benefited the Cuban government, it has also benefitted millions of plain and simple ordinary men and women. If nothing else, it means that, after two short years, Raúl can no longer blame his problems on an enemy ever ready to wipe Cuba off the map in a single, brutal blow.

There was nothing fanciful about Obama’s strategy, though there is in the illusion that the Cuban government would have agreed to sit down with Rodiles and other opposition leaders if Obama had insisted on it. And he will do so if Trump makes that demand with his characteristic coarseness. After so many years and so many body blows, Rodiles still has not met Raúl Castro.

Before falling in line with Trump and conspiring with the most reactionary elements of the new administration — its more conservative faction, in particular, wants to break off the truce between the United States and Cuba — the Cuban opposition should take a few weeks to consider whether it would be wiser to avoid allying itself with those who have come to power with a program that not only causes a great deal of alarm within the international community but which should also disgust any person of integrity, whether one’s integrity be of the right-wing or left-wing kind.

The Cuban opposition would do well to maintain a relative independence from the United States, a benevolent gift from Obama, and if they are so inclined, to keep their distance from an administration which, in two short weeks, has led its country to the brink of a pernicious political and perhaps constitutional crisis.

That is unless one sees nothing particularly reprehensible in what Trump says and does, or believe that his vandalism is justified because he got ten thousand votes more in Michigan and fifteen thousand more votes in Wisconsin than Hillary Clinton. It would be very bad news if opportunism led a segment of the Cuban population, even a very small one, to become pro-Trump out of foolhardiness, ignorance, a misguided sense of self-preservation or, even worse, by a genuine ideological affinity with a government that resembles a social democratic Nixon, Reagan or Bush administration.

But even more troubling is the Cuban opposition’s hope that the United States, Barack Obama or Donald Trump and not the island’s plain and simple ordinary men and women might grant them the right to discuss Cuba’s future with Raúl Castro or whatever petty tyrant happens to come after. Trump will just disappoint them. And should he fall, which is likely to happen, he will drag with him all those who have not taken great care or had the decency to maintain a safe distance.

Juan Orlando Pérez

Published in El Estornudo on February 1, 2017 under the title “Bad News.”

 

Informers Approved by the Cuban Government / Iván García

CDR Billboard: In Every Neighborhood, CDR 8th Congress. United, Vigilant and Fighting

Ivan Garcia, 10 February 2017 — Seven years ago, when the roar of the winds of a hurricane devastated Havana and the water filtered through the unglazed living room door of Lisvan, a private worker living in an apartment of blackened walls which urgently needed comprehensive repairs, his housing conditions did not interest the snitches on the block where he lives.

“When I began to be successful in my business and I could renovate the apartment, from doing the electrical system, plumbing, new flooring, painting the rooms to putting grills on the windows and the balcony, the complaints began. What is, in any other country, a source of pride that a citizen can leave his poverty behind and improve his quality of life, is, in Cuba, something that, for more than a few neighbours, arouses both resentment and envy so that it leads them to make anonymous denunciations”, says Lisvan. continue reading

So many years of social control by the regime has transformed some Cubans into hung-up people with double standards. “And shameless too,” adds Lisvan. And he tells me that “two years ago, when I was putting in a new floor, my wife brought me the ceramic tiles in a truck from her work, authorized by her boss. But a neighbor, now in a wheelchair and almost blind, called the DTI to denounce me, accusing me of trafficking in construction materials.”

Luckily, Lisvan had the documents for the tiles, bought in convertible pesos at a state “hard currency collection store” — as such establishments are formally called. But the complaint led to them taking away the car his wife was driving. In the last few days, while he was having railings put across his balcony, to guard against robberies, a neighbor called Servilio complained to the Housing Office that he was altering the façade of the building, and to the electric company for allegedly using the public electricity supply. Lisvan ended by telling me that “It all backfired on him, because everything was in order, and the inspectors involved gave me the phone number of the complainant, who, being a coward, had done it anonymously.”

According to Fernando, a police instructor, anonymous complaints are common in the investigation department where he works. “Thanks to these allegations we started to embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars in the United States.

“People report anything — a party that seems lavish, someone who bought beef on the black market or a person who drinks beer every day and doesn’t work. It’s crazy. Snitching in Cuba is sometimes taken to extremes.”

When you ask him what is behind the reports, he avoids the question.

“Because of envy or just a habit of denouncing. These people are almost always resentful and frustrated and tend to be hard up and short of lots of things. And not infrequently the complainant also commits illegal acts,” admits the police instructor.

Carlos, a sociologist, believes that large scale reporting, as has happened for decades in Cuba, is a good subject for specialist study. “But lately, with widespread apathy because of the inefficiency of the system, the long drawn-out economic crisis and the lack of economic and political freedoms, as compared to the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, informing has decreased.”

And he adds. “It’s true that in the beginning the Revolution was the source of law. But it also smashed to pieces deep-rooted traditions and social norms. Fidel Castro justified launching the practice of informing on people by reference to Yankee Imperialism, class enemies, and as a way of protecting the Revolution.”

In Cuba, the CDR (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) are the basis of collective vigilance in the blocks and neighborhoods of 168 municipalities on the island. Those same committees provide information to the State Security Department about dissidents, that elevates unfounded gossip and marital infidelities to the category of ‘secret reports’.

“In the 21st century, when inequalities have increased, the most diehard Fidelistas, who are still to be found in blocks and neighborhoods, continue with their complaints. It’s a mixture of several things, from base instincts to failure to adapt to new circumstances. It will take years for this dreadful habit to disappear,” concludes the Havana sociologist.

Diana, an engineer, recalls the time when the State granted a week’s holiday on the beach, a TV, a fan or a coffee. “The ancient squabbles in the union meetings to decide who should get the prizes were a theatrical spectacle. It was embarrassing. Yesterday’s shit gave us today’s smell.”

It is likely that in Cuba, if we bet on democracy and are lucky enough to choose good rulers, we will make progress in economic terms, and the country will start to develop and progress.

But the damage caused to Cuban society by informants, as approved by the olive green autocracy, is anthropological. Recovering a basket of interpersonal values will take time. Perhaps ten years. Or more.

Translated by GH

Cubans Wanting To Emigrate See The United States As First Option / Ivan garcia

Cubans who want to emigrate prefer to go to the US

Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2017 — There are few things that spontaneously bring Cubans on the island together. For example, if the provincial team is crowned champion in the national baseball series, where, in between the infamous beer and a noisy reggaeton, in Communist Party-arranged pachangas, people celebrate at the tops of their voices.

It’s also a desire to live as well as possible in a country with the lowest salary in the third world and things for sale at the same price as in Qatar. And, God willing, to be able to travel abroad.

It’s all the same if it is for business, or a government mission, or an invitation from a relative, a friend, or a future fiancé or fiancée living in Europe. To emigrate for a fixed period of time or permanently, is an almost permanent plan on the part of many unmotivated young people or professionals who earn less than a hotel porter. continue reading

A wide cross-section of the Cuban population has it stuck in their imagination, like a postage stamp, that some foreign country ought to sort out their national disaster.

Instinctively and shamelessly, the government, Cubans in the street, trained intellectuals and dissidents, act the victim, and blame the mess on the trade embargo, the global crisis, tropical hurricanes, or the lack of help from the United States.

Any situation is held responsible for the economy not growing, not enough houses being built, the disaster area that is urban transport and waste collection and that the internet is not available everywhere.

With new measures adopted jointly by the White House and the Palace of the Revolution, abolishing the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, an inconsistent policy that Clinton enacted in 1994 which allowed Cubans who “touched dry ground” in the US to stay, the majority of Cubans have vented their anger at Barack Obama.

Let’s analyse it. Obama is a liar. He cannot publicly announce that certain migration laws exclusive to Cubans will not be changed, and then eight days before the end of his mandate, changed them.

And it isn’t that Barack is mistaken. No. He is right. Each sovereign nation designs its immigration regulations as it sees fit. The privileges for Cubans were at the very least counterproductive.

If being born in a country with a dictatorial communist government, where founding other political parties and the freedom of the press are prohibited, is a force majeure for the state which is the world’s greatest receiver of immigrants to offer an opportunity to Cubans, then it should not take any half-measures, and should defend its enacted legislation according to its ethical principles.

Democracy, opportunity and human rights are part of the pillars of American society. They should not find it difficult to safeguard them. Although, in the case of migration, it should be monitored.

A terrorist is not going to arrive from Cuba, and dangerous criminals rarely land. But sometimes there are scammers of Federal programs, people who bet on making money with the sale of drugs, or lazy intellectuals, accustomed to living in a parasitic state where natural human ambition is labelled as suspected delinquency, who abuse the support of the American government.

The wet-foot/dry-foot policy was a dangerous and badly implemented program. If you are going to receive immigrants, then receive them. Don’t make them go on a marathon by sea or land to reach the United States’ border.

That double standard of the American executive was absurd. If you want to help the hundreds of thousands, probably a million or two, who dream of emigrating, do it by safe routes.

Lotteries for visas, or, after analyzing the labour needs of different production and service areas, grant work permits. If you want to find out how many Cubans are fed up with the Castro military junta, I suggest that the White House grant a three-month extension and issue a visa to any Cuban who wants it and has no criminal history. The queues outside the embassy in Havana would be miles-long.

Sloppy regulations create a reckless mirage. Because what the letter of the law doesn’t prohibit is presumed to be permissible. That’s what happened to the policy repealed by Obama.

It’s a pity for his administration, which was certainly the most highly-regarded by the Cuban people, until it annulled the wet-foot/dry-foot policy. If you spoil a child, it will not behave reasonably later.

The United States federal government should allow the two or three thousand Cubans scattered throughout Central America and Mexico, to enter the US. Most of them burnt their boats. They sold their homes and valuable possessions. They cannot look back. They have nothing left.

The greatness of the United States is not its force, but its magnanimity. Those professionals, athletes and technicians, among others, who want to work hard to get on, should have a chance to emigrate safely from Cuba.

Some dissidents and exiles believe that after closing the immigration doors, many fellow countrymen would begin street protests demanding their rights.

It would be ideal. But I’m afraid that’s not going happen. Totalitarian States are whimsically different. If four generations of Cubans have left or have been expelled from their homeland, they can’t ask the rest to be heroes.

Most Cubans are peaceful people. They want the best for their family and to live in dignity. The Castro autocracy will fail because of its own inefficiency. But it has strength and will not hesitate to use it.

The silent mass of Cubans, who pretend to have loyalty to the regime and also yearn to emigrate, do not want to be cannon fodder. Patriotism and defence of their rights are not going to bring them together to challenge the regime.

It’s hard to accept, but it’s the way it is. They only want to emigrate. And to the United States as their first option.

Translated by GH

Cordoba Park: Internet, History and Business / Iván García

Córdoba Park, before it was a wifi zone. In the background, the statue of Emilia de Cordova, made by the Italian sculptor Ettore Salvatori. From Radio Rebelde website.e

Ivan Garcia, 27 January 2017 — As soon as the sun warms this frigid tropical autumn, Cordoba Park, located at San Miguel, Revolucion, Lagueruela and Gelanert, in the Havana neighborhood of La Vibora, resembles a picnic and leisure area.

Young people sit on the lawn and some families spread large towels as if they were at a pool or on the shore. Others bring folding chairs or armchairs so that the elderly, through the IMO application, can converse comfortably with their relatives across the Straits of Florida.

Also the hustlers arrive, the ones that survive from what falls off the back of the trucks, with a special nose to detect when, in certain environments, theycan make money. This is the case of Ricardo, who on the side of the park’s main gazebo, blows up a red and blue inflatable and charges five Cuban pesos (about 20 cents US) per child. continue reading

“It’s only for children under ten or whose weight is less than sixty pounds,” he tells a heavy girl who wants to jump on the inflatable with two friends. But they insist and Ricardo tells them that the inflatable “is not made for young people or adults. And I have to take care of it, because it supports me, it’s how I feed my children. You will have to entertain yourselves with something else.”

In Córdoba Park, more than 1,300 feet across, there is one of the two Wi-Fi zones in the municipality of 10 de Octubre, which are a part of the 34 open zones in Havana and the 200 operating throughout the Island. Since the Wi-Fi zone opened, on March 30, 2016, the place has become an open air locutorium, where we learn about the lives and miracles of people.

But those who come daily, to connect to the Internet, do not know that the park was located in front of the house of Emilia de Cordoba y Rubio, born on 28 November 1853 in San Nicolás de Bari, the first woman mambisa (independence fighter), who had an extraordinary desire to serve Cuba.

When Emilia de Cordoba died, on 20 January 1920, neighbors and friends, including journalist and the patriot Juan Gualberto Gómez (1854-1933), asked that her memory be perpetuated. In addition to putting her surname to the park, on 20 May 1928, a marble statue by the Italian sculptor Ettore Salvatori was unveiled, considered the first monument in the capital of the Republic dedicated to a Cuban woman.

A young woman talking in Portuguese with a Brazilian friend knows nothing of this history as she shamelessly asks for “a hundred or two hundred dollars, or whatever you can, because we are at the gates of the end of the year and I’m broke, without a single cent.”

Nor does the family that is trying to crowd around the screen of a Smartphone, to see their relatives in Hialeah and ask them about hourly wages or rents in Miami, know who Emilia de Cordoba was, though they know what kind of car their family bought and whether or not they already bought the iPhone 7 they asked them for.

Mi’jo, this place is a mess. After the death of you-know-who things look ugly. Look, see if when you get yourself settled you can send us more money and start working on getting us out of this shit,” asks the older woman.

It is common to see women and men kissing their lovers or wives by sticking their mouths on the screen of the tablet or cell phone. A slender mixed-race woman, who wears shorts that show more than they hide, runs the phone up and down her body with no timidity and, smiling, tells her presumed partner, “So you can see a sample.”

In a corner of the park, the one that borders Gelabert Street, a group of boys, at full volume, have mounted their particular recital of reggaeton, with two portable speakers that work through the Bluetooth of their phones.

Music is a good pretext for attracting customers. “Hey old man, Connectify a caña (one convertible peso or twenty five Cuban pesos)”. They promote the application that makes the internet connection cheap, but slows the speed in an unbearable way.

Others lurk around the park, and in a low voice they proclaim, “Wow, your card, three bars.” It is one of the most common businesses in public places with wifi. “The business is simple. You buy the internet cards in an ETECSA center at two chavitos (CUC) and then resell them for three. For each card I sell I earn 1 CUC. In one day I can earn 20 or 30 fulas (another slang term for CUCs),” confesses a kinky-haired white guy wearing a shirt with Luis Suarez, a forward for Barcelona.

On Monday, December 12, the good news was the announcement of an agreement between the multinational Google and ETECSA, the inefficient state telecommunications company, to improve the Internet connectivity of Cubans. According to Deborah, the company’s engineer, “this does not mean that the transmission speed will improve dramatically, but those using Google will have a noticeable improvement, like from the sky to the moon.”

Since 4 June 2013, when ETECSA opened the first 118 internet rooms throughout the country, and despite the high cost (one hour costs the equivalent of two days of salary of a professional), today about 250,000 people access the information highway in different provinces, either from an internet room or a Wi-Fi zone, every day.

Although most are not exactly searching for information. “Some 80 percent of those who connect use the Internet as a communications tool or to access social networks,” says an ETECSA engineer who works in a network traffic office.

For three and a half years now, the Internet has been an event in Cuba. You can use it to ask for money, find lovers or make friends. And those who want to inform themselves can do so on uncensored national or international sites. But as for websites considered “counterrevolutionary” by the regime, they cannot be accessed from the Greater Antilles. This is the case with Diario de Cuba, Cubanet, Cubaencuentro and Martí Noticias, among others.

Connecting to the internet on the Island has become all the rage. It is synonymous with modernity. Or a weekend getaway with the wife and children to a park with wireless connection, to talk with family and friends in Miami or Madrid.

It is the closest thing to what happened three decades ago, when people in their free time stood in long lines at Coppelia to have an ice cream, or walked along La Rampa or sat down to converse or to take in the fresh air along the wall of the Malecon.

The Internet In Cuba: Strict Control And Excessive Prices / Iván García

The wifi hotspot outside the old El Cerro Stadium is one of the few where you can calmly and comfortably connect to the internet, due to the park they put up because of the presence of Barack Obama at a baseball game, when the US ex-president visited Havana on 20, 21 and 22 March, 2016. Taken by the New Herald.

Iván García, 30 January 2017 — Five or six abstract oil paintings are tastelessly jumbled together in the living room of a house in the west of Havana, next to  a collection of laptops and ancient computers waiting to be repaired. We can call the owner Reinaldo.

A clean-shaven chap, who has fixed computers, tablets and laptops for twenty years and also, quietly, provided an internet service on the side.

“I have two options. Dial-up internet at 50 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC – roughly $50 US) a month. And via ADSL at 130 CUC. The transmission speed of the modem is between fifty and seventy kilobytes a second.  With ADSL, the speed is two megabytes. It has the advantage of being free (i.e. unlimited), as it is rumoured that two MB connections will be marketed by ETECSA, the government-owned telecoms company, at 115 cuc for 30 hours,” Reinaldo explains. continue reading

No-one is surprised by anything in Cuba. Clandestine businesses are always two steps ahead of what the state comes up with. Many years before the olive green people legalised private restaurants and lodgings, people had been taking the chance of running such businesses anyway.

And something similar is happening with internet business. The spokesmen for the ETECSA monopoly — the state run telephone and communications company — strongly deny it.

When, on 4 June 2013, the government opened 118 internet rooms all over the country, Tania Velázquez, an executive in the organisation, announced that “by the middle of 2014, we will start to market the internet for cellphones and, by December, at home.”

It was a bluff. While we are waiting for ETECSA to get the internet for cell phones started, what we have now is ETECSA’s Nauta email for cell phones, running on out-of-date 2G technology, too many technical problems, and initially they were charging 1 CUC a MB.

Just over a month ago, they lowered the price to 1.50 CUC for five MB, calling it Bolsa Nauta. But the service is dreadful. “You wait five or six hours to send an email, and the message never leaves the outbox. They are robbing you, as they sometimes charge your account without having offered any service. My advice is to disconnect Nauta from your cell phones as quickly as possible,” says Marlén, who opened an account two years ago.

Marketing the internet at home service is two years behind what Tania Velázquez promised. Just after Christmas 2016, ETECSA started to provide free internet via ADSL to two thousand families with fixed residential phones around the Plaza Vieja, in Havana’s colonial quarter, as a pilot, until the month of March.

“The connection is better than the wifi hotspots. Although it sometimes runs slowly. You need to have a conventional phone to receive the internet service. It isn’t true that you have to belong to the CDR, or Committee for the Defence of the Revolution, or be working. I don’t know if dissidents will be able to opt for the service when they start to sell it. Although the prices will be “thank you and goodnight.”

An ETECSA engineer, working in an internet distribution centre in the capital states that “the prices for internet at home are bollocks. Saying that they will charge 30, 70 and 115 CUC, the dearest tariff, for 30 hours, and depending on the bandwidth, is unofficial. They are looking at setting up a flat charge and also a charge per hour. The prices will be high, but not what the foreign press claims, because an hour at two MB would cost nearly three CUC, and users of half that would prefer to connect to a wifi point. There will be various speed options. The highest will be two MB,” says the engineer.

The military dictatorship has designed a structure capable of controlling the internet. Before the internet landed in the island, where previously the finca rusa, a Russian-built electronic spying base, known as the Base Lourdes, operated. Fidel Castro inaugurated the University of Information Science on the San Antonio de los Baños highway on 23 September 2002. In addition to exporting software, its functions include the rigorous monitoring of internet traffic in the country.

The internet started to operate in Cuba in September 1996. One of the first public internet rooms was located in the National Capitol building, charging $5 an hour. The connection was painfully slow and was not provided by ETECSA, but by CITMA, the present Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.

The internet was also offered in four and five star hotels, at between $6 and $10 an hour. In the winter of 2011, the coaxial network on the island was connected to a submarine cable, at a cost of $70 million, and jointly planned with Venezuela and Jamaica.

“The cable was quite a story. It had everything. Embezzlement, poor work quality, various company officials jumping ship. Leonardo, one of the people implicated in the misappropriation of funds, stayed in Panama. The Obama administration authorised a Florida-based company to negotiate with ETECSA. The proposal was to renovate an old underwater cable. The project cost about $18 million. But the government, citing digital sovereignty, opted to do the cable with Venezuela. It is that cable which is providing the present service,” explains an engineer who worked on the ALBA-1 project.

The Cuban secret services have tools for hacking into opposition accounts and spying on the emails of the embassies in the island, including the US one.

“You must not under-estimate the technical capacity of the counter-intelligence. Almost nothing works in Cuba, but they have the latest technology for their work. Since the time of the EICISOFT (Centre of Robotics and Software) at the end of the ’80’s, the Ministry of the Interior has had specialists in new technologies. Maybe they can’t get into Apple systems, but the rest is easy peasy. They now have advice from Russia and China, which is amongst the best in the world when it comes to hacking,” says an ETECSA specialist who prefers to remain anonymous.

According to our informant, “Nothing gets past them. They have a complete arsenal of spy programs and an army of information analysts to crack dissidents’ accounts and keep an eye on social networks like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Everybody who travels the information highway is under their microscope.  Whenever ETECSA opens a new internet service, the State Security monitoring tools are already in place.”

For Cubans whose breakfast is just a coffee, account privacy doesn’t matter much. It’s normal for people to lend their cellphones to strangers. Or to give out their passwords to show how to work their emails. “I don’t care if the State Security is watching me. What interests me is getting off with girls on Facebook,  arranging to get out with the help of workmates who have already got to the US, and finding out stuff about CR7, as Cristiano Ronaldo is known, and Real Madrid,” says Saúl, undergraduate.

The thing is, in Cuba, the internet is, with few exceptions, a means of communicating with your family “across the Pond” (i.e. in Florida). You will see that when you go to any wifi hotspot. “Hey guys, look at the new car Luisito’s just bought,” a kid shouts to a group of friends in the Parque Córdoba hotspot in La Vibora.

“Look, what matters for most people is asking for money by email, talking to family and friends by IMO, the Cuban equivalent to WhatsApp, using the internet to read about famous artists and sport personalities, and other unimportant stuff like that. Not serious media or websites published abroad about Cuban issues,” is the realistic view taken by Carlos, a sociologist.

You can read periodicals from Florida, the New York Times in Spanish, and dailies like El País and El Mundo, without any problems. But not sites like Martí Noticias, Cubanet, Diario de Cuba, Cubaencuentro or 14yMedio.

“But you can reach them with a simply proxy,” says Reinaldo, who, as well as repairing computers, sells internet service on the side. And he takes the opportunity to explain the technical features of a gadget he has for sale, which lets you connect to the internet via satellite, without using ETECSA’s servers.

How do such gadgets get to Cuba? I ask him. “Through the ports and airports. The government controls the state economy and also the black market”, he tells me. And I believe it.

Photo: The wifi hotspot outside the old El Cerro Stadium is one of the few where you can calmly and comfortably connect to the internet, due to the park they put up because of the presence of Barack Obama at a baseball game, when the US ex-president visited Havana on 20, 21 and 22nd of March, 2016. Taken by the New Herald.

Translated by GH

Everyone in Cuba Wants to Learn English / Iván García

Sign for an English School in Havana

Ivan Garcia, 3 February 2017 — It’s raining cats and dogs in Havana and the Weather Institute announces a moderate cold front on the west of the island. Like any weekend, after lunch people gather in front of the TV to watch a Spanish football game, a Hollywood film pirated by the Cuban state, or a soporific Mexican soap opera offered by the semi-clandestine “weekly packet.”

On Sunday, a day of general boredom, many Havanans sleep in or kill the boredom drinking the cheapest rum. But Sheila doesn’t allow herself this “luxury.” She looks at the overcast sky and curses her bad luck. continue reading

“I have an appointment in the afternoon with a Chinese customer who invited me to dinner and later we’ll have a drink. The guy “looks like a flower pot” (has money). The bad weather makes me want to say ’fuck it’,” comments Sheila, a hooker, while looking at her watch.

How do you talk to a Chinese man? “In English of course, throwing in a little Italian and six of seven phrases in Mandarin that I learned on the internet. In the end, I say a hundred dollars a night, or I love you, and it’s not very complicated in any language,” she adds, laughing.

Like Sheila, thousands of Cuban prostitutes learn the basics of foreign languages. In particular English, which in the last ten years has grown spectacularly in Cuba.

English schools, private or state-run, are multiplying in Havana. In the municipality of Diez de Octubre alone, one of the most populated on the island, there are around 60 English schools.

There is English a la carte. For every taste. From classes in state institutions that cost 20 Cuban pesos to sign up, to private air-conditioned schools with the newest methods of teaching children, young people and adults.

In some of them, like Britannia or America, you learn to speak the language of Shakespeare in the British or US version. “Including turns of phrase frequently sued in New York or the Spanglish spoken in Miami,” says Diana, a teacher at the America school.

Enrollment in the best private schools costs between 20 and 30 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), the entire monthly salary of a professional. And each class is between 10 and 18 CUC.

Increasingly, children between 5 and 12 are registered by their parents. “Mastering English is imperative for the future that is coming our way. In my case, our family is thinking of emigrating. And if my children speak English the way is already paved for them,” says Carlos, father of two children who are studying English.

Technical, intensive or personalized English classes are also offered. Betty, 32, is waiting for a work permit for Canada. “Twice a week I take intensive classes, the teacher teaches me personally and it’s very helpful, I pay 35 CUC a month, but if I go to his house it’s a little cheaper.”

Havana’s marginal fauna, of course, doesn’t want to be left behind. With the increase in visitors and tourists, especially in the capital — a little more than 4 million in 2016 — there is an opportunity for hookers, informal guides, and illegal or clandestine sellers of handicrafts, works of art and tobacco.

Even those who sell cocaine, marijuana or psychotropic drugs need basic english, because “a little Italian or French, sure, but if you don’t speak any foreign language, you’re out of luck in this business,” says a guy who sells melca in the old part of the city.

Let’s call him Josuan, a sturdy guy, not very tall, who considers himself a perfect joker. “I go all the way. I sell tobacco, work as a guide, go to bed with the ladies. The problem, man, is getting some money. And if you have your wits about you and the tourists like you, you get it. But you have to know how to start a conversation in English or some other language. This creates empathy with your customer.”

Learning English is all the rage in Cuba. The military junta that governs the island has recognized it as a priority of the state. In an article on the changes in higher education in Cuba, published in Weekly Progress, the journalist Nery Ferreria wrote, “One of the most disturbing measures for many is the requirement to demonstrate a mastery of English, as an ’independent user’ before graduating from the university.”

And she mentions that Rodolfo Alarcon, in his time, before he was ousted at Minister of Higher Education in July of 2016, said that there had to be a resolution to “the problem that the Cuban professional is not capable of expressing themselves in the universal language of our times.”

In her article, Ferreira includes two comments left on the official Cubadebate website. “Start with English from elementary school and solve the deficit of teachers in this subject and then the mastery of the second language will be a done deal,” said a reader. While another added, “Why ask for what hasn’t been taught all these year. Now we want to demand it without having a base, or worse, that the parents have to pay for private lessons, which are very expensive.”

English is well-received in Cuba, especially now that the regime sighs about doing business with the Yankees. It doesn’t matter if the interlocutor is a caveman Donald Trump-style. “Business if business, man. Whoever the person. If you have the ticket, let the dog dance,” stresses René, who sells Cuban cigars on the black market.

And this is the Cuba of the 21st century, blurring ideology. From Socialism or Death to the death of Fidel Castro to Welcome Yankees as the national slogan.

No one wants to be left behind. Not the state businesses, nor the private ones nor the underworld. Everyone wants to speak English! [in English in the original]

 Translated by Jim

Cubans Dismiss Obama as Persona Non Grata / Iván García

Caricature by Pinilla taken from Diario Las Américas.

Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2017 — As if by magic, the irreverent and prosaic Donald Trump is the man of the hour for Cubans who have plans to emigrate. “He’s the guy; there’s no one else. If he orders it, the United States will open its doors,” says Miguel, emphatically, while he drives a ramshackle collective taxi down Infanta Avenue.

His comment intensifies the polemic of five passengers who shout above the odor of gasoline that filters through the old car’s patched-up exhaust pipe and the unbearably loud music.

“Obama is a real son-of-a-bitch. If Cubans allow their Government to step all over them it’s because they have the possibility of hauling ass out of Cuba. Tell me who here doesn’t have a family member in the States?” asks a corpulent mulatto. continue reading

Everyone wants to talk at once and give their opinion on the subject. Some analyses are puerile; others border on political science fiction, like that of Magda, a primary school teacher, who, from the back seat of the taxi, advises Trump to “accept all the Cubans who want to leave. Most will work at anything. You think there isn’t space in the U.S. for 11 million Cubans?” she says, and the other passengers smile.

Right now, the fashionable subject in Havana is the repeal of the wet foot-dry foot policy. A collection of sad, crushed people react to the announcement as if they received a direct blow to the chin by a heavyweight.

“Listen, brother, I sold my house to go to Guyana. My plan was to cross the Mexican border and enter the U.S. Now it’s impossible. But I’m going to get out anyway I can. Even through Haiti, I’m telling you,” says Jean Carlos, a veterinarian.

At Christmas time, Diego flew to Uruguay with his wife to travel to Laredo and cross the border into El Paso. “I’m devastated. I didn’t leave with much money. Now I’ll look for a job in Uruguay and see later where to go. But I’m not returning to Cuba. I have nothing there. I sold everything. If I’m going to start all over let it be in any other country,” he says by Internet.

The same thing happened to Yosvani and his wife, Mildred. The couple flew to Rome in November, on a tourist package. With a one-month visa they crossed the border and settled in Spain.

“Here we’re together with a group of illegal Cubans. My wife found a job taking care of an old man. I worked for a week cleaning a bar, but the owner paid me only four euros. My mother already sold my apartment in Havana and sent me the money that I wanted to use to go to Cancun, Mexico. But now with this news I have to stay here. My hope is that Trump will reverse the measures that Obama approved,” he says, through Instant Messenger.

The new panorama, presumably, will not put the brakes on those who have plans to emigrate. “It can change everything. But then people will try their luck in another country or will come to the U.S. through marriage or by other tricks. I have my eye on Panama. I liked the city and the people when I went to buy junk to sell in Havana. The one place I can’t be is Cuba. You can’t do anything here. You can’t move. The last person who leaves, please turn off the lights in El Morro,” (the castle fortress at the entrance to Havana Bay) confesses Maikel in a wifi park in Vedado.

Even those who have relatives in the U.S. don’t think they have enough patience to get there by family reunification. “My father has been in Miami for five months and is already working. When he has his residence papers he’s going to claim me. But how long will all this paperwork take? Three, four years can go by. If I can, I’ll leave before. Here in Cuba I have no future,” comments Germán, a university student.

Obama has passed from being a hero to being a villain. From that president, who 10 months ago in Havana gave a memorable speech, saying that Cuba should change and bet on democracy, to being persona non grata.

It’s the opposite with Donald Trump. The Cuban who drinks only coffee for breakfast, indoctrinated by the international press, always saw the wealthy New York businessman as an extravagant weirdo. A rich guy who by pure caprice got into the world of politics.

“The guy’s a time bomb. When he explodes, no one knows what’s going to happen. Trump thinks that politics is a reality show. It would be a miracle if in the next four years the world equilibrium doesn’t change. He’s poorly educated, an egomaniac with the soul of a tyrant; and thousands of Cubans who are thinking of emigrating are placing their faith in him,” says Norge, a political science graduate.

Like in an Agatha Christie crime novel or a suspense film, the roles have been reversed. Goodbye Barack Trump. Welcome Donald Obama. The world has been turned upside down, and not only for Cuban emigrants.

Translated by Regina Anavy