Luis Felipe Rojas, 1 February 2016 — This list is not intended to be a “Top Ten,” as is so common on internet publications. The list of names that follows carries the history of the men and women who believe in words and images as a tool of liberation.
The independent journalists that appear below do their work in Cuba under the microscope of the apparatus of repression that we know as State Security.
Most of them suffer arbitrary arrests, they have spent long years in prison, they are violently detained, vilified and — paradoxically — are non-persons in government media. In the case of Jorge Olivera Castillo, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison in the “2003 Black Spring,” but he continues, unrepentant, to do alternative journalism. Continue reading →
Ivan Garcia, 21 January 2016 — Seven in the morning on a weekday. After a frugal breakfast of bread and mayonnaise and an instant powdered drink, Yamilka Santana, fourteen years old, puts on her backpack, weighing a little over 12 kilos.
She isn’t going on a trip, nor is she going camping. She is going off to her junior high school, Eugenio María de Hostos, in la Víbora district, a thirty minute drive south of Havana.
“I am taking all my books and exercise books in my backpack, as we don’t yet have a timetable for our classes. There are about twenty notebooks. Also, a snack, a lunchbox, and a sunshade. It looks as if I am going on a journey abroad”, Yamilka says, smiling. Continue reading →
Ivan Garcia, 13 January 2016 — There were more than seven thousand arrests of dissidents in 2015, with most detentions lasting several hours. Beatings, harassment, acts of repudiation and degrading treatment by police are common in Cuba. Political reforms are not part of General Raúl Castro’s agenda.
Despite the repression in Havana there is one city block where democracy is respected. It was not a gift from the regime. It was a victory achieved by the Ladies in White in the spring of 2010. In this area you can protest and march without being brutally assaulted. Continue reading →
Ivan Garcia, 10 January 2016 — One month before their trip, José María, his wife and two sons from Valencia Spain made reservations through the internet for two rooms at the Hotel Riviera, which faces Havana’s seaside drive, the Malecón.
“There was no way to rent a car,” says José María as he sips papaya juice in the cafe of the Inglaterra hotel in the heart of Havana. “Our plan was to spend six days in the capital and a weekend in Varadero. Family friends had told us all about the island’s climate, its natural beauty and especially the people. But the reality was quite different.” Continue reading →
Ivan Garcia, 8 January 2016 — When Fidel Castro came to power in January 1959, one of the first things he proposed was doing away with the legend of the Three Wise Men. The government tried replacing the tradition, which originated in Spain, by offering rationed toys through its shops. Now it does not even do that. If you do not have hard currency, your children do not get toys.
Fifty-six years later, the tradition has returned, although not to all Cuban homes. On the eve of Three King’s Day, eight-year-old Lemay gets out of bed early. January 6 is probably the most important date in his life. He has revised his letter to Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar three times.
Whenever Lemay saw a new toy, he would erase one toy from his list and add another. Last week he became angry with a friend in the neighborhood who joked that the Magi were his parents. Continue reading →
Ivan Garcia, 2 January 2016 — Joel Castillo, 19, passed from expectation to frustration in 12 months. After graduating in 2014 in electronics from a technology school south of Havana, he still hasn’t been able to work in his specialty.
“With the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, I thought there would be better options for people. But things remain the same. And I haven’t gotten a job that fits my profile,” says Castillo.
It’s precisely the youngest who are the most disillusioned with the inertia of the olive-green Regime. A government with almost six decades in power and an executive faction whose combined age adds up to more than 300 years should have better policies for its youth. Continue reading →
Ivan Garcia, 4 January 2016 — José Manual Cordoví keeps his savings in a rusty cookie tin. He runs a business forging windows, doors and iron in a suburb of low hovels in Arroyo Naranjo, a municipality 40 minutes by car from the heart of Havana.
Cordoví has no relatives or friends who are close to the olive-green mandarins who could give him information. But incessant rumors have encouraged him to change his savings in convertible pesos (CUCs) into U.S. dollars.
“I think that in December or January, those people (the Government) will unify the money and the Cuban convertible will disppear into thin air. They say they’ll respect the money that people have deposited in the bank. But those of us who do business under the table or keep our money under our mattresses could be screwed with a unification of money if it’s accompanied by a depreciation of the CUC,” says José Manuel. Continue reading →
Ivan Garcia, 14 December 2015 — In a basement blackened by humidity and soot, Leonardo Santizo and two workers make cookies, candy and peanut nougat, as a private enterprise.
At the back of the room, piled up in nylon sacks, are hundreds of kilograms of unroasted peanuts, bottles of vegetable oil and all-purpose flour. On a damaged and dirty table, a thermos of recently-made coffee. While they work, they chain-smoke.
“We’ve been on our feet since five in the morning and we work until four in the afternoon. Every day we make 600 cakes, 100 packages of biscuits and 400 tablets of ground peanuts. The average pay is some 400 pesos daily. Sometimes a little more. We sell the cookies and sweets for the most part to private retail businesses,” says Leonardo. Continue reading →
Ivan Garcia, 16 December 2015 — Laying the blame on “Yankee imperialism” or the “perverse and criminal” Cuban Adjustment Act will not stem the flow of people escaping poverty and bleak futures.
The national debate should be of a different nature. A responsible and reasonable government would ask itself what went wrong. Seeing Cuban migrants within the broader context of third-world emigration would amount to de facto recognition that the island’s vaunted economic and social model had failed.
Ask a Mexican or a Syrian fleeing the civil war if he approves of the government of Enrique Peña Nieto or Bashar al-Assad. Continue reading →
Ivan Garcia, 21 December 2015 — December is a month of summing up and partying. And of opening the purse. Yusmel, a private entrepreneur, believes that the tropical winter and the holidays lend a different air to Havana.
“It’s not so hot as in the summer, and the atmosphere smells different. After the government authorized the celebration of Nochebuena [Christmas Eve], decorations are put up in many homes, shops, private businesses and hotels. The capital is in a deplorable physical state, but the decorations and the lights in the Christmas trees beautify it somewhat,” says Yusmel while he drinks a Presidente beer in the cafeteria of the Carlos III Shopping Center.
Esther, a housewife, received US$250 via Western Union from a daughter who lives in Miami. “Thanks to that money, I will be able to have milk, fish and beef, and prepare a feast on 24 December. But the dollars buy less all the time.” Continue reading →
Ivan García, Costa Rica, 11 December 2015 — One summer night in a private bar in Havana the deal was done. Miladis, 25, together with her boyfriend, would be responsible for travelling to Quito and Guayaquil to buy hundreds of kilograms of cheap clothes, knocked-off cell phones and domestic appliances to be resold later in Cuba.
Already in Ecuador the trouble started. “My boyfriend lost a lot of money in Ecuador gambling at cards and cockfighting. To settle the debt I was the payment. A coyote living in the neighbourhood of San Bartolo in Quito kept me from leaving until I paid $1,500. The option was to prostitute myself for $40 for two hours. After paying him I left with a group of eleven Cubans for the United States. Continue reading →
Iván García, Diario de las Américas, 8 December 2015 — Just past midnight, when Cuba’s military bigwigs heard the president of the Venezuelan electoral college, Tibisay Lucena, confirm the loss of Nicolas Maduro’s PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) in the December 6 parliamentary elections, alarm bells went off in the offices of Cuba’s Palace of the Revolution.
The epicenter of the Venezuelan political earthquake shook official Cuba, the one made up of timid statesmen, irresponsible officials and radical ideologues who try to govern a nation by adding one plus zero.
The virtual country designed by Raul Castro’s advisors — those who have hidden Cuba’s structural, political, economic and social problems — is a double-edged sword.
Maintaining an iron fisted-control over the island’s media has allowed them to present to the world the image of a society made up of a pleasant, committed people by means of a publicity stunt called the Cuban Revolution. Continue reading →
Ivan Garcia, Costa Rica, 9 December 2015 — Following the guide dictated by a relative who in the Spring of 2015 pointed out the Central American route of eight countries up to the frontier of Laredo in United States, Norberto Fumero, 34-year-old truck driver in Cuba, since his departure from Ecuador has always traveled in small groups.
But now in Puerto Obaldía, in Panama, or en route through Costa Rica – considered by Fumero as “a truce from all the extortion by the police, the ‘coyotes’ and the murderers” – acted with more liberty of movement. Continue reading →
Ivan Garcia, Costa Rica, 7 December 2015 — For Jorge Echevarria, 25, it all started one morning in La Vibora, a neighborhood in south Havana, when a woman friend, through a telephone connection via the internet, put him in contact with an Ecuadorian coyote.
“For six years I had been trying to leave Cuba. Three times I jumped on a raft. I was always caught by the US Coast Guard. It was then that I decided to travel to Ecuador and try the route through several Central American countries,” said Echevarria, while waiting for the bus to take him to a shelter in San Ramon, an hour from the Costa Rican capital.
According to Jorge, in Colombia he was stripped of the money he was carrying. “Around $4,000. I hid it in different places on my body and in the lining of a backpack. They left me without a cent. When I got to Paso Canoas, I hadn’t eaten for three days. Just some water and fruit I found along the road.” Continue reading →
Ivan Garcia, Costa Rica, 2 December 2015 — Just after 5:30 in the afternoon, night falls on the Costa Rican village of La Cruz, some 12 miles from the Nicaraguan border.
It is a neighborhood of gentle slopes, clean streets and an agreeable climate. Architecturally there’s not much that stands out. One or two-story houses and a central park right in the heart of the settlement.
Just to see the spectacular view from the restaurant-viewpoint of La Cruz is worth the 160 mile trip from San Jose, the capital, to a town where the news is the coming of more than 2,000 Cubans since the beginning of November; Cubans who are camping out in half a dozen shelters, hostels and private homes that rent their rooms to the recently arrived. Continue reading →