The National Capitol and Future Political Reforms in Cuba / Iván García

The National Capitol, closed for restoration

Ivan Garcia, 28 June 2016 — The northern end of the “Capitolio,” Cuba’s National Capitol, is already completely restored. Scaffolding has now been erected at the southern end of the colossal building

Some of he beautiful gardens and wrought iron lampposts surrounding it have been rescued. The hustle and bustle of construction workers and technicians is constant.

Sections of the Paseo del Prado surrounding the Capitolio have been restored. The avenue’s new pavement is made from cast concrete and parking has been banned. Dozens of palm trees have also been planted and streetlights installed.

Three months ago the state-run Cuban News Agency reported that, beginning in April of 2016, the National Assembly of People’s Power would occupy the north end of the building, though this has not been confirmed.

Ileana Mulet, head of the Office of the Historian’s Prado Investment Group, was quoted by the official press as saying that air conditioning had been installed in part of the lower floor and well as on the third and fourth floors, noting that the work would not affect the chambers’ aesthetics.

Mulet confirmed that security systems appropriate to a building of this type were being installed, including technology to detect explosives and break-ins as well as closed circuit television.

The investment specialist added that each seat in the semi-circular legislative chamber — the space where National Assembly deputies will meet only twice a year — will offer simultaneous translation, electronic voting, a telephone and internet access.

Some 90% of the materials used in the restoration are imported, mainly marble from Italy, which she notes “has on many occasions impacted the speed at which the restoration is being carried out.”

The restoration project is supposed to be completed by 2018, though Mulet acknowledges that the work “is far behind schedule.” The city’s Office of the Historian will be responsible for maintenance and conservation of the building.

A cabinetmaker working on the project estimates that, in the best case scenario, the Capitolio’s completion date “could be the middle of 2019 or even the beginning of 2020.”

Cuba’s National Capitol was built in four years under the direction of architect Eugenio Raynieri Piedra, who was appointed by Cuba’s president at the time, Gerardo Machado. It was inaugurated in 1929 and housed both chambers of Congress, the Republic of Cuba’s legislative body.

Inspired by the US Capitol, the building has a neo-classical facade and a dome which measures 91.73 meters at its highest point. Situated in the center of the capital and bordered by Prado, Dragones, Industria and San Jose streets, the Capitolio marks the official starting point of the 1,139-kilometer-long Central Highway, built between 1927 and 1931.

After Fidel Castro took power in January 1959, Congress was dissolved and the building became the headquarters of the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment as well as the Academy of Sciences.

For some analysts, the future home of the well-trained one-note parliament raises some interesting issues.

In 1958 legislative power on the island was held by two chambers: the House of Representatives and the Senate, which was made up of fifty-four senators, nine for each of the then six provinces (Pinar del Rio, Havana, Matanzas, Las Villas, Camagüey and Oriente). The House of Representatives had one delegate for every 35,000 constituents or fractions thereof larger than 17,500 constituents. Both chambers combined had a total 220 members (for a population of six million).

The current National Assembly has 612 members for a population of slightly over eleven million. But the numbers do not add up.

The chamber of the House of Representatives contains only two-hundred seats. If — as specialists from the Office of the Historian insist — physical changes to the Capitolio are being carried out without violating its original design, the million-dollar question is: How will it work if 412 members do not have a place to sit?

It is clear the current National Assembly is bloated. It is proportionally larger than the legislature of China, a country with more than 1.3 billion people.

A new election law has been brewing in the sewers of power for the last three years. Presumably, it will reduce the number of delegates while expanding their privileges and autonomy.

For now, everything is speculation. Another interesting question is how sessions of the National Assembly will be conducted. When the Capitolio was the legislative seat of the Cuban republic, its meetings were open to the public.

Even Cuba’s 1976 constitution — a carbon copy of the Soviet constitution — anticipated sessions would be open the public, something that has never occurred.

These are not the only questions. Moving to the Capitolio will involve reforms to the constitution, of which there have been many rumors.

There are several events that happen to coincide. Raul Castro will retire in 2018, probably before the Capitolio becomes fully operational.

The outlines of the Cuban political scene is becoming a conundrum due to a lack of transparency.

What is evident is that the island’s autocratic system of government might endure long after the Castro brothers are gone.

With the Capitolio or without the Capitolio.

Venezuela and the Years of Fidel Castro’s Hysteria / Iván García

Caricature from the Mexican caricaturist Fernando Llera, taken from his blog.
Caricature from the Mexican caricaturist Fernando Llera, taken from his blog.

Ivan Garcia, 16 June 2016 — It was a winter morning in 1978. The director of Antonio Maceo secondary school — housed in the old Teachers’ Normal School in the Havana burough of Cerro — announced in melodramatic tones that students at the campus must prepare for an imminent attack by the United States.

His harangue went, more or less, something like this: “The imperialist enemy never ceases in its efforts to prevent us from building socialism and practicing proletarian internationalism with our brothers in Africa. Therefore, we must be prepared to defend the victories of the Revolution. Everyone, from the young to the old, must know how to fire a gun.” Continue reading “Venezuela and the Years of Fidel Castro’s Hysteria / Iván García”

Habaneros Comment on "The Wonder" of Their City / Iván García

“The Wonder” Source: Deviant Art

City of Havana – One of the New7Wonder Cities of the World.

Ivan Garcia, 6 June 2016 — From Miraflores, south of Havana, Sergio comes twice a week with his wheelbarrow to the dump on Calle 100 in Marianao to pick up old junk that he later sells for a few pesos in a traveling fair in the slums of La Víbora.

Among the things he has for sale are a book with a red cover about the external debt signed by Fidel Castro, a crumpled police novel by Daniel Chavarría, three faded blouses, two cut-up pairs of jeans and some carpentry tools. Continue reading “Habaneros Comment on "The Wonder" of Their City / Iván García”

In Cuba You Eat What You Can / Iván García

Chayote stuffed with tuna, tomato, onion and cheese. From Bimbo Nutrition Group.
Chayote stuffed with tuna, tomato, onion and cheese. From Bimbo Nutrition Group.

Ivan Garcia, 13 June 2016 — After making the rounds at the farmers’ market and complaining about the paltry assortment of meat, fruits and vegetables, Mercedes, a seventy-nine-year-old retiree, is standing in front of a stall selling fresh and smoked pork.

She is buying ten pounds of pork chops for forty pesos a pound and two kilograms of pale, tasteless ham for thirty pesos. “It is all they had,” says Mercedes on her way home. “And I am lucky because, thanks to my daughter who sends me money from the United States, at least I can eat meat and buy enough vegetables to have two meals a day. Some of the neighbors on my block don’t even have breakfast and only eat once a day.” Continue reading “In Cuba You Eat What You Can / Iván García”

Why Military Service Should Be Abolished in Cuba / Iván García

Servicio-Militar-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 23 April 2016 — They work as a pair. Raciel, a black man almost six feet tall, with long arms and legs and a pock-marked complexion, is in charge of the fumigation equipment, while Yilsander, a light-skinned, pudgy man, carries a black bag and a clipboard, where he writes down the houses that have already been disinfected in the search ordered by Raúl Castro to minimize the presence of the mosquito that transmits dengue, chikungunya and zika.

Below a torrid sun, the two go house by house in the Havana neighborhood of Víbora. They wear olive-green pants, caps and shirts, the uniform designed by some sadistic tailor who ignored the tropical temperature of the island. And they have on horrifyingly heavy boots with steel tips on the toes. Continue reading “Why Military Service Should Be Abolished in Cuba / Iván García”

Cuban Alternative Journalism: Challenges and Commitments / Iván García

In the homage that the Club of Independent Cuban Writers paid the poet, Rafael Alcides, January 26, 2016, among other independent journalists were Luis Cino (shirt with blue and white stripes), Iván García (dark red shirt) and Jorge Olivera (black jacket), who was a political prisoner during the Black Spring of 2003.
In the homage that the Club of Independent Cuban Writers paid the poet, Rafael Alcides, January 26, 2016, among other independent journalists were Luis Cino (shirt with blue and white stripes), Iván García (dark red shirt) and Jorge Olivera (black jacket), who was a political prisoner during the Black Spring of 2003.

Ivan Garcia, 3 May 2016 — One morning in 1996, the poet and journalist, Raúl Rivero, Director of the press agency Independent Cuba Press, called me at home in Víbora, to ask me to cover the trial of a dissident in a municipal court in Cerro.

The reporter, Ariel de Castro Tapia, (presently living in Turkey) and I were to write up a statement after the judicial ruling and read it on the Radio Martí news broadcast at noon. Continue reading “Cuban Alternative Journalism: Challenges and Commitments / Iván García”

Radio and Television Marti: Notes from Havana / Iván García

Radio and Television Marti (El Pais)
Radio and Television Marti (El Pais)

Ivan Garcia, 28 May 2016 — Thirty-one years after its founding, the government annoyingly continues to jam broadcasts by Radio Marti and its television signal still cannot be picked up in Cuba.

Its website is censored and this media empire was a point of contention in negotiations with the Havana government to normalize relations with the United States.

As I am a one of its regular contributors, I find it difficult to be both judge and jury. I will try to be objective and focus on two different personal perspectives: first as was young listener and now as a content provider. Continue reading “Radio and Television Marti: Notes from Havana / Iván García”

Havana, Where Businesspeople Make Money So They Can Emigrate / Iván García

Cafe in the Sevillano neighborhood in the Tenth of October district. From Blog de Cuba
Cafe in the Sevillano neighborhood in the Tenth of October district. From Blog de Cuba

Ivan Garcia, 2 June 2016 — While it is still dark outside, Nelson gets up, turns on the light and quickly gets dressed. He then goes to the kitchen, makes a cup of coffee and with his calculator starts balancing his books.

Yesterday he had a bad day at work. Two months ago he opened a cafe that sells Italian food and yesterday sales were flat. “I make on average two thousand pesos (about ninety dollars) a day. My goal is to raise all the money I can to get my family out of Cuba,” says the fifty-two-year-old entrepreneur. Continue reading “Havana, Where Businesspeople Make Money So They Can Emigrate / Iván García”

The Castros Will Miss Obama / Iván García

President Obama on Cuba's favorite comedy show (see details below)
President Obama on Cuba’s favorite comedy show (see details below)

Ivan Garcia, 23 May 2016 — It was a warm autumn night in 2015. The Mikasuki casino, in a swamp in the Everglades, thirty minutes from downtown Miami, was crammed full of anxious people, frantically pressing buttons on the slot-machine screen.

The cushioned floor absorbed the footsteps of good-natured assistants who manoeuvred about like the captain of a drifting gondola, carrying their trays of drinks. Continue reading “The Castros Will Miss Obama / Iván García”

Hollywood Conquers Havana with a Fistful of Dollars / Ivan Garcia

Filming during Fast & Furious 8 in Havana. From Mundo Motorizado.
Filming during Fast & Furious 8 in Havana. From Mundo Motorizado.

Ivan Garcia, 7 May 2016 — A black helicopter hovers at low altitude over Havana Bay. Meanwhile, dozens of pedestrians on the streets below wave and try to capture the image on their mobile phones.

The aircraft makes an acrobatic turn and flies back towards the port. “Mijail, hurry up and try to get a photo now,” yells a girl almost hysterically to her boyfriend, who wastes no time activating the camera from his old Motorola phone. Continue reading “Hollywood Conquers Havana with a Fistful of Dollars / Ivan Garcia”

Cuba: The Return of the Power Cuts / Ivan Garcia

Black out in Cuba (Cubanet)
Black out in Cuba (Cubanet)

Ivan Garcia, 27 May 2016 — As of three weeks ago there have been power cuts of up to three hours in different parts of Havana. Sometimes longer.

“Friday, April 29 in Altahabana (a neighbourhood in the southeast of the city), the power was cut off from eleven at night until four-thirty in the morning. Because of the heat, I spent the whole night waving a fan over my eight-month-old baby. Two days earlier, there was a three-hour outage in the afternoon,” I was told by Magda,  who works at Comercio Interior.

In the central and eastern provinces, the power cuts started in the middle of March. According to Reinaldo, who lives in San Pedrito in Santiago de Cuba, 550 miles east of Havana, the blackouts aren’t the only problem. Continue reading “Cuba: The Return of the Power Cuts / Ivan Garcia”

Why Cuban Agriculture Is Inefficient / Iván García

Plowing in Cuba with oxen. (From On Cuba)
Plowing in Cuba with oxen. (From On Cuba Magazine)

Ivan Garcia, 19 May 2016 — The raindrops tinkle on the zinc roof of a greasy hut used to store sacks of fertilizer, agricultural tools, and the various ancient contraptions that are always be a nuisance to keep in the house.

Osvaldo, the sixty-five-year-old owner of a farm southeast of Havana, calmly takes a drag on a cigarette butt, scratches his head with his thick fingers, which look like twisted meat hooks, and asks his son, “Where the hell have you left the wrench to open the water pump?” Then, once the engine has been started, he runs through the rain back to the entrance of his house. Continue reading “Why Cuban Agriculture Is Inefficient / Iván García”

Cuba: Capitalism From Afar / Iván García

Golf Course in Cuba
Golf Course in Cuba

Ivan Garcia, 14 May 2016 — Eight months haven’t been enough for the state-owned employer in the tourism sector to hire Yasmani, 23, a black guy nearly six feet talk who is perfecting his English in a private academy in Havana and who has wasted time and money learning the secrets of golf at a club south of the city.

Almost a year ago, on a night of drinking and reggaeton, Yasmani, with a degree in tourism, met a British businessman who wants to do business in Cuba in high class tourism.

“Do you know golf?” the man asked me. “I told him a remembered reading somewhere about Tiger Woods, little more. He said to try to learn the sport, with my command of English and the education I have, maybe I could get a job as a caddy,” said Yasmani, speaking from the doorway of his house. Continue reading “Cuba: Capitalism From Afar / Iván García”

The Enemies of Modern Democracy / Iván García

North Korea (Source: BBC Mundo)
North Korea (Source: BBC Mundo)

Ivan Garcia, 28 April 2016 — What do the autocratic Castro brothers, the solemn Vatican, Islamic fundamentalists and the madhouse that is North Korea have in common? The answer is simple: devotion to dogma, lack of transparency and unchecked caste-based power.

In theory communism should be music to the ears of a laborer who works eight hours a day and is not paid until the end of the month. Imagine it: a world without class distinctions or the need for money or budgets to maintain standing armies. Continue reading “The Enemies of Modern Democracy / Iván García”

State Security Tactics in Cuba / Iván García

Daniel Llorente talking to the foreign press on Monday, May 2, 2016, the Port of Havana. Taken from CubaNet.
Daniel Llorente talking to the foreign press on Monday, May 2, 2016, the Port of Havana. Taken from CubaNet.

Ivan Garcia, 11 May 2016 — Daniel Llorente Miranda, 52, is a spontaneous dissident. He doesn’t belong to any opposition party, nor is he an un-gagged journalist. He is on his own.

Last 22 March, with the stars and stripes on his shoulders, Llorente found himself in the area of the United State Embassy, waiting to greet President Barack Obama, after he met with a group of opponents, activists and alternative journalists.

Mixed race, a little overweight and short, Daniel defends authentic democracy, believes in freedom of expression and is openly anti-Castro. He shares his narrative peacefully. Continue reading “State Security Tactics in Cuba / Iván García”