Seven Hours with Jorge Luis Piloto in Miami / Ivan Garcia

Jorge Lis Piloto and Ivan Garcia in Miami

Iván García, 4 February 2015 — For the prolific and noteworthy Cuban composer, Jorge Luis Piloto Alsar, born in the winter of 1955 in Cárdenas in the town of Matanzas, some 145 kilometers north of Havana, not in his wildest dreams could he have imagined that his songs would achieve international fame.

Let’s get into the time machine. An ordinary day in the ’70’s. Culturally speaking, Cuba was going through a rough period. Writers, poets and composers are being administered by the state, following Fidel Castro’s decree.

The cinema, novels, la guaracha, and sound must highlight the exploits of the revolution. The government controls all of it. In your profile, you have to indicate how many marches you have been on and how much voluntary work you have participated in, if you want to pass the summer in a house on the beach, have a Russian fridge Continue reading

Do Cuba and the United States Need to Rebuild Trust? / Ivan Garcia

Nancy Pelosi and fellow US Congress Democrats at a press conference in Havana

Ivan Garcia, 20 February 2015 — Fifty Cuban and foreign journalists attended the press conference that a delegation of congressional Democrats headed by Nancy Pelosi held on the afternoon of Thursday, February 19 outside the residence of Lynn Roche, the U.S. Interest Section’s public affairs officer.

Nancy Pelosi, born in Maryland in 1940, traveled to Havana with representatives Eliot Engel, Nydia Velazquez and Steve Israel (New York), David Ciciline (Rhode Island), Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut), Collin Peterson (Minnesota), Anna Eshoo (California ) and Jim McGovern (Massachusetts). Pelosi and members of her delegation support removing Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and permanently lifting the U.S. embargo.

Other issues of mutual interest discussed at the conference included increased access to telecommunications, empowering small businesses, agricultural development and human rights. Continue reading

The Castro Brothers Pull the Emergency Brake / Ivan Garcia

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Ivan Garcia, 18 February 2015 — Fidel Castro appeared. The bearded old man spoke in an elliptical address that sowed fear of future relations between the two Cold War enemies.

The message was meant to cool the enthusiasm of the young. The old guerrilla, bellicose as ever, gummed up the works and dampened the festive atmosphere of a large segment of the island’s population who want to see an end to the longstanding dispute between Cuba and the United States.

You need not be a code breaker to decipher the meaning. It was a storm warning: The Yankees are still at the gate, only now with different weapons.

The hackneyed theory of ripe fruit. The gringos want to clog us with McDonald’s, broadband internet and smartphones. This time the Trojan horse is not a missile; it’s a computer. Continue reading

La Bolita, Cuba’s National Obsession? / Ivan Garcia

bolitas-de-lotería1-_mn-620x330Iván García, 2 February 2015 — It is half past noon and Saul is collecting bets for the clandestine Cuban lottery known as  bolita (little ball) or charada, (charade) which was legal before 1959 and has always been very popular.

Under a scorching sun that provides a tint of summer to what passes for winter on the island, he walks along the steep backstreets of La Víbora, a neighborhood south of Havana. At seventy-six he has found no better way of making money than as a bookie.

“It didn’t matter that I fought at the Bay of Pigs and Escambray. I retired with a monthly pension of 207 pesos (around eight dollars). I make twice that amount taking bets for the bolita every day,” he says as he records a wager by the manager of a farmers’ market in a school notebook.

Around noon he collects the bets of his best clients Continue reading

Jose Varela, the Cuban Charlie Hebdo / Ivan Garcia

josé-varela-_mn-620x330Ivan Garcia, Havana, 8 February 2015 — No one wants to know him except the readers of his blogs. Jose Varela is out there on his own. He is the type of humorist that public figures from both sides of the Florida Straits want to keep at a distance, the farther the better.

He is an outlaw squared. The Cuban regime has tried to co-opt his posts and cartoons when they ridicule dissidents. But when Varela trains his canons on the Palace of the Revolution, the curtain of censorship comes down.

Word has it he lives on a farm outside of Miami and that in 2006 — I do not know why — he broke into the offices of El Nuevo Herald, where he worked as a cartoonist, with a toy machine gun. Continue reading

Cubans of Milkless Coffee Put Their Feet on the Ground / Ivan Garcia

vendedor-de-periódico-La-habana-_mn-620x330Ivan Garcia, Havana, 14 December 2015 — “The truce ended,” bawled a newspaper vendor on the bustling central Calzada de 10 de Octubre, in south Havana.

Leaning against a peeling wall in the lobby of an old neighborhood movie theater, the vendor offers the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) to passersby who read, while they walk, an article by the historian Elier Ramirez calling for Cubans to be cautious about the dark intentions of the United States.

At the door of a farmers market stained with reddish earth, and with stands overflowing with pineapples, sweet potatoes and yucas, Roman, a market clerk, reads Continue reading

Why Raul Castro Will Not Allow Political Discourse / Ivan Garcia

raul-castro-uniforme-de-general-620x330Ivan Garcia, Havana, 31 January 2015 — After secret negotiations with his lifelong enemy lasting a year and a half, General Raul Castro seems to have come out ahead early in the game. But Barack Obama has been shrewd.

He is playing for the long-term and has a different perspective and strategy. The United States thinks and acts in accordance with its geopolitical interests, always with its national security in mind.

Cuba is not as attractive a market as portrayed by some analysts. On the contrary. Its potential consumers have no money in their pockets and the government’s coffers Continue reading

Cuba: The Other Embargo / Ivan Garcia

Melia-Marina-Varadero-Cuba1-_mn-620x330Last summer, 48-year-old Lisván, owner of a small photographic studio in a neighbourhood in the east of Havana, personally suffered the consequences of the absurd prohibitions that the Castro regime imposes on its citizens.

With the profits made from his business and after saving a part of the money sent to his family from abroad, he stayed for five nights with his wife and daughter in the hotel Meliá Marina Varadero, for 822 pesos convertibles.

“On the beach I struck up a friendship Continue reading

Cuban Dissidents: Some in the Trenches, Others Applauding / Ivan Garcia

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Iván García, 27 January 2015 — The shifting political landscape of the Middle East is probably more complicated. No doubt it is. But given the spectacular diplomatic about-face on December 17 between Cuba and the United States — two sparring nations huddled in their respective trenches since the Cold War — the White House was not expecting a significant faction of the island’s dissident community to train its guns on the red carpet President Obama had rolled out for Cuba’s military strongmen.

Disagreements are healthy. Nothing is more harmful than fake Continue reading

The Cuban Adjustment Act and Future Emigrants / Ivan Garcia

cola-sección-de-intereses-de-eeu-en-cuba-FM-620x330One of the few Havanans not happy with the historic agreements of December 17th between President Obama and General Raul Castro was Dagoberto, a guy approaching forty who got out of jail six months ago after serving a six-year sentence for marijuana possession.

“I have family in la yuma (US), but because of my drug possession record I don’t qualify for the family reunification program. My only option is to throw myself into the sea and make it to the Mexican border,” he said while drinking a Corona beer in a Havana bar.

A couple of times in 2014, Dagoberto tried to reach the United States. “The first time the American Coast Guard intercepted me. I spent $3,000 to buy a motor and gas and with a group of friends we prepared a wooden boat. Continue reading

Obama and Castro Are Playing in Different Leagues / Ivan Garcia

Cartoon from El Legarto Verde. Thought bubble: "Mommy, will it be like the black man wants?"

Events are moving quickly. At least that is what Nivaldo, a private taxi driver who owns an outdated Moskovich car from the Soviet era, thinks. “Don’t slam the door or it will come loose,” he tells the passengers he drives from Playa to Brotherhood Park in the heart of Havana.

Nivaldo and a large segment of the Cuban population are trying to follow the latest news on emigration and the negotiations taking place in Havana’s main convention center.

“This (the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States) has been tremendous,” he says. “Before December 17 the United States was the evil empire and the cause of every malady afflicting the country. The first thing to  change was the tone of news coverage. It’s a healthy development that two women are leading the negotiations. Political machismo has caused a lot of harm in Cuba. People are tired of all the testosterone and the testicle-driven rhetoric.” Continue reading

New U.S. Measures on Cuba Not Featured in the Island’s Headlines / Ivan Garcia

cuba-mujer-bandera-FM-620x330On December 17 Noemi and her coworkers at the telecommunications company ETECSA were surprised to hear their boss hastily reading “the day’s top news story” to their entire workforce in a tone of voice that was intended to sound solemn.

“Comrades, after the conclusion of agreements with President Obama, three of the five heroic Cuban prisoners unjustly incarcerated by the Empire are today en route back to their homeland. They are returning as was promised by our undefeated Comandante,” he said the business manager, barely taking a breath.

At noon later that day all the employees gathered around an ancient Chinese television to listen to the speech by General Raul Castro and to hear the news about the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the United States after fifty-four years. Continue reading