No Other Country Has Treated us Like Costa Rica / Ivan Garcia

Sanitarios-de-la-Cruz-Roja-costarricense-atienden-a-una-cubana-_ab-620x330Iván García, Costa Rica, 29 November 2015 — In the last two weeks, the authorities in Costa Rica have been forced to open new shelters to care for the more than 3,000 Cubans trying to reach the U.S. who are stranded on the border with Nicaragua.

Since November 15, thousands of Cubans have been sleeping in temporary shelters because of the decision by Daniel Ortega’s government to deny passage to Cubans, after an outbreak of violence between the Cuban “land rafters” and riot forces from Nicaragua.

In spite of this measure, the number of Cubans arriving in Costa Rica through Panama continues to increase. In general they arrive at night, in groups of 50 or 100 people, in a village named Paso Canoas, more than 600 kilometers south of San José. Continue reading

A Night in Paso Canoas on the Border with Panama / Ivan Garcia

Cubans at the Panama/Costa Rica border

Ivan Garcia, Costa Rica, 25 November 2015 — When Alex Sigler, 22, landed in the Quito airport in an African heat with thunderclouds that presaged a tropical shower this past November 11, he began his own journey to achieve the American dream.

In five days of passing through the Colombian jungle, Alex encountered hitmen of few words and with twitchy trigger fingers.

“The police, who supposedly are there to preserve citizen order, are the first to rob us. Almost all Cubans have been fleeced at Colombian checkpoints. The coyotes are frightening. They traffic cocaine the same as people. They talk about their criminal exploits like a group of friends in the neighborhood commenting on football and a penalty,” explains Alex, lying on top of some tattered cardboard in an inter-provincial bus terminal in the Costa Rican town of Paso Canoas, a stone’s throw from the border with Panama. Continue reading

Press Workshop with Raul Rivero / Ivan Garcia

Photo: Raúl Rivero in his house in Havana.

Ivan Garcia, 23 November 2015 — On these hot nights in Havana, when nostalgia, that silent thief that robs you of strength, strikes without warning, Raúl Rivero, the poet, sneaks through my window and offers me a workshop specifically on the latest news from modern journalism.

The art of teaching still doesn’t accept journalistic lectures by telepathy. But I confess that I have grown as a reporter by brushing up on the lessons of the poet from Morón, Ciego de Ávila.

I met him one day before Christmas in 1995. There was an unusual cold spell in Havana. The sun didn’t poke out, and the greyness made the streets simmer with grime. Continue reading

Eight Years of the Cuban Independent Writers Club / Ivan Garcia

 Photo: Members of the Cuban Independent Writers Club at a meeting in Havana in 2011. From the Cuba blog.

Iván García, 16 November 2015 — In the depths of the peeling, unpainted building where the journalist and independent writer Víctor Manuel Domínguez lives, a lady, who is waiting for customers behind a display counter of cheap Chinese jewelry, is reading a well-used copy of a book by Corín Tellado.

On a rusty, narrow vertigo-inducing staircase, a dirty abandoned dog urinates hastily and without pause. Dominguez has lived in that ruinous building, in the very heart of Havana, for thirty years.

In the living room there are more books than furniture. With some music of Gal Costa in the background, Victor Manuel looks over dozens of manuscripts which will compete in the Vista-Puente de Letras competition [ed. note: for Cuban writers resident in Cuba] which it is anticipated will in the future be divided between Havana and Miami. Continue reading

The Shipwreck of Havana / Ivan Garcia


Ivan Garcia, 19 November 2015 — One hour before noon, the bus stops on Calzada 10 de Octubre are flooded with irritated people who want to transfer to other neighborhoods in the capital.

Hundreds of old cars reconverted into collective taxis full of passengers roll in the direction of Vedado or Centro Habana. The autumn heat and sense of urgency cause those waiting to despair.

Public transport continues to be a popular subject in a magical and flirtatious  city, which, in spite of its grime and ruins, will be 496 years old on November 16.

Orestes, a bus inspector, receives a spout of critical resentment from citizens who are disgusted with the precarious urban transport. Continue reading

Why the Dissidence is Irrelevant for Ordinary Cubans / Ivan Garcia

Disidentes-cubanos-de-la-Mesa-de-Unidad-de-Acción-Democrática-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 5 November 201 5 — Daniela Sarmiento, 61, has exhausted all the legal options with State institutions to complete the process for a new home She lives with her three children in a house cracked because of a partial collapse or roofs and walls, putting their lives in danger.

“Since 1988, following the construction of a bomb shelter built by the government near my house, they damaged the foundations. Specialists of all kinds have come by here. They evaluated the housing as uninhabitable but no one resolved anything. I have written letters to the president of the country, the national assembly, the armed forces. But by case has no solution,” she says. Continue reading

The Havana Fair: Hookers, Heat and Beer / Ivan Garcia

Cuba-Feria-de-La-Habana-_ab-620x330Iván García, 12 November 2015 — Liudmila and Sheila are prostitutes and they don’t know about business or cutting-edge technology. But a colleague sent them a text message telling them, “Come here, the yumas (foreigners) are wild.”

They put on stunning high heels, tight clothing and perfume with an anesthetizing fragrance. Their plan was simple: to prowl around the stands for Canada, South Korea, France and Germany, and see how the fishing was at the International Fair of Havana.

“I can speak pretty good English. Let’s go to each pavilion and ask about the products on display or the possibility of working in a company. When we see some foreigner checking us out, we can go on the attack,” says Sheila, who has seven years of experience in prostitution. Continue reading

Cuba: Waiting and Hoping for the Cruise Ships / Ivan Garcia

Crucero-académico-M.V-_ab-620x330Iván García, 9 November 2015 — One warm evening in September, a scrapping brigade arrived from Habaguanex* and, in a little more than two hours, dismantled the aluminum tubes and awnings of three open-air bars on the Avenida del Puerto, where habaneros and tourists drank beer or ate fried chicken among the ambling musicians and prostitutes on the hunt.

The smell of fritanga** combined with the street-sellers’ cries and the nauseating odors from the contaminated Havana Bay. The spillage of waste matter was the pretext for the mandarins, who control the strongbox in the old part of the city, to disassemble the gastronomic shed, a couple of outhouses and, in passing, put some three dozen workers out of work. But the real reasons were something else. Continue reading

Santeria is Big Business in Cuba / Ivan Garcia

Store selling religious objects. Photo from the blog Memorias de un cubano.

Ivan Garcia, 28 October 2015 — The smell of pine and varnish permeates the narrow building where Idelfonso and his three assistants sculpt a collection of bowls, amulets and gadgets used in Santeria initiations rituals

The studio is air-conditioned and the high quality of his work has allowed Idelfonso to renovate his house and buy a fourteen-thousand-dollar Soviet-era car with a diesel engine and German automatic transmission.

And he has no shortage of clients. “I have  Russian, Swiss, Cuban-American and even Japanese buyers. Santeria is expanding all over the world. And it has given rise to an industry to satisfy locals and foreigners who want to be initiated,” he says as he places a recently varnished figure of San Lazaro (St. Lazarus) in a closet next to other religious objects to be sold wholesale to an intermediary. Continue reading

Cuban Journalists are in No-Man’s Land / Ivan Garcia

Foto-de-Elaine-Díaz-tomada-de-Periodismo-de-Barrio-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 31 October 2015 — It seems much time has passed since the ’80s, when a stern official from State Security, dressed in civilian clothing, solemnly intimidated us, a group of fresh youngsters, who were studying at La Vibora’s pre-university.

I was 16 years old. I don’t remember having felt more fear in my life than that afternoon, when the agent showed us his document with a red stamp and green lettering: DSE. The initials of the feared Department of State Security.

The guy manipulated our youthful fear like an expert. Perhaps he learned that in a KGB counterintelligence academy, or in the STASI of Marcus Wolf. Continue reading

U.S.-Cuba: Obama 3, Castro 0 / Ivan Garcia

Castro-y-Obama-en-Nueva-York-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 7 October 2015 — According to Francisco Valido González, 47, a dissident who works in a transit bus cooperative, his association, in theory, can ask for credit from a U.S. bank in order to acquire new buses.

His cooperative’s buses have more than 200,000 kilometers on them, and 15 years of use. In his narrow apartment, a stone’s throw from Calzada de Güines, in the municipality of San Miguel del Patrón in the southeast of Havana, he keeps the auto parts he bought in the informal market under the bed where he sleeps.

From overuse of the buses, breakdowns are constant. “Almost always, between 10 to 12 days a month, I have to stop because of a breakdown,” he told me in December 2014. Continue reading

How Have Cubans Benefited Since December 17? / Ivan Garcia

"Now you are a saint"

“Now you are a saint” (Still from the video below)

Note from The video is not translated into English. The gist of message (other than what is obvious from the images) is that things in Cuba haven’t changed for ordinary people since the announcement of the reestablishment of US-Cuba relations.

Ivan Garcia, 16 October 2015 — Seated at the helm of his polished 1958 Impala convertible, Eduardo Colón, a private taxi driver, listens to Adele’s concert on his player, while he waits for the marriage of an American couple outside the Saratoga Hotel, very close to the National Capitol in the heart of Havana.

The couple arrives with relaxed tourist faces, wide-brimmed sombreros, video camera in hand, and before climbing aboard the ancient Chevrolet, they take a selfie with the car in the background. Continue reading

The Day Castro and Khrushchev Led the World to the Brink of Nuclear War / Ivan Garcia

Fidel-Castro-y-Nikita-Kruschov-en-las-Naciones-Unidas-septiembre-de-1961-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 25 October 2015 — The eyes of eighty-four-year-old Roman Galvan come alive as he remembers the dark days of October 1962 when it seemed that Cuba would be erased from the map following what appeared to be an impending nuclear conflagration between the United States and the former Soviet Union.

Fifty-three years later, Galvan lives in a dilapidated state-run nursing home in La Vibora, a neighborhood half-an-hour’s drive from downtown Havana.

“In 1962 I was a militiaman. In October I was called to serve in a military unit in the east. Like a lot of Cubans, I had no idea what a nuclear war was. I was willing to die for what I believed to be a just cause. We were young and immature. What Fidel said was law,” recalls Roman. Continue reading

Having a Garage in Havana / Ivan Garcia

Garaje-en-casa-a-la-venta-en-Lawton-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 2 October 2015 — While waiting for the intermittent autumn drizzle to stop, Cecilio, a housing-swap* broker in Havana, watches the re-broadcast on a local sports channel of a bio about Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan on his 42-inch flat screen TV.

He glances at his watch from time to time and peers out the shutters to see if the rain has stopped. “I’m waiting for a client who wants to sell a two-bedroom apartment with a garage. We have a four o’clock appointment to look at it, but the rail will cause a delay,” he says, annoyed.

Cecilio has been engaged in buying and selling homes for 23 years. “This business works if you are serious and businesslike. And you can earn good money. When it was illegal I looked for one or two thousand dollars for every sale. Now less, but I have enough clients to never stop. The sale of homes in Havana is an irregular market. There are fat times and thin times,” he confesses. Continue reading

Cuba’s “New Man” Steals in Miami and Spends in Havana / Ivan Garcia

Gilbert-Man-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 20 October 2015 — In Guanabacoa, a town southeast of Havana, you still hear stories about Gilberto Martinez Suarez, alias Gilbert Man. Though told with a pinch of exaggeration and myth, they are largely true.

This mediocre reggaeton musician was known in Guanabacoa with his frequent parties in a villa renovated in record time, generous tips in bars and private restaurants, monumental orgies and flashy cars.

“To tell the truth, he wasn’t much of a singer. But all the girls’ jaws dropped when he drove by in cars we had only seen in American movies. The man seemed to be from another planet, what with all the gold chains and necklaces he wore,” says Giselle, a university student. Continue reading