Ana Belen Montes, The Spy Unknown in Cuba / Ivan Garcia

Ivan Garcia, 30 June 2015 — In a maximum-security prison in Texas, more than 900 miles from Cuba, Ana Belén Montes, former Pentagon military-intelligence analyst, is serving 12 years, incarcerated with some of the most dangerous women in the United States.

She shares a cell with a disturbed housewife who strangled a pregnant women to take her baby, a nurse who killed four patients, and a follower of Charles Manson who tried to assassinate President Gerald Ford.

According to a report written in 2013 by Jim Popkin, life in a harsh Texas prison has not softened the aging child prodigy of the Defense Department. Years after she was caught spying for Cuba, Montes maintains a defiant attitude. “I don’t like being in prison, but certain things in life are worth the price of going to jail,” writes Montes in a 14-page letter to a relative. “Or are worth the price of committing suicide after doing them, in order not to have to spend all that time in jail.” Continue reading

Cuban Professionals do Business Under the Table / Ivan Garcia

La-visita-de-Rihanna-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 28 June 2015 — Already by noon, Óscar has downloaded two terabytes of audiovisual material from the Internet. Taking advantage of his lunch hour some place nearby, he hands over the flash drive to the person who is in charge of loading the “weekly packet,” a compendium of documentaries, serials, soap operas and sports, which later will circulate clandestinely throughout the Island at the speed of light.

Óscar has worked for a decade in a State organization where he can capture the television satellite signal. “They don’t only hack private businesses. The State is a big pirate; without paying for authors’ rights, under the pretext of the blockade (the embargo), it transmits U.S. programs on public television. I also take advantage of this and sell audiovisuals under the table, and a guy pays me 40 CUCs for two terabytes.” Continue reading

Cuba: Private Sector Entrepreneurs Feel Smothered by the Government / Ivan Garcia

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Iván García, 17 June 2015 — Amid spider webs and musty smells, in a corner of his garage where things that no longer work go to retire, Leonardo has stacked molds for making candies and desserts.

There are also three rolling pins, an electric oven outfitted with parts lifted from a state-owned factory, two chrome sandwich makers and a microwave still in its original box. Everything is now for sale.

“I didn’t realize what I was myself getting into. A relative of my wife who lives in Miami gave us $5,000 in 2012 to start a business selling pizzas, desserts and lunches on our front porch. We had to close last year because of losses. I still owe $1,500. I was never able to make the numbers add up,” says Leonardo. Continue reading

The Flight of Ballplayers Is Destroying Cuban Baseball / Ivan Garcia

Yasmany-Tomás-_ab-620x330Iván García, 15 June 2015 — One rainy fall afternoon in 2013, a children’s coach warned me that if apathy, corruption, and bad work continued, within five years baseball could become an exotic sport for collectors and the nostalgic.

Sitting in the concrete stands in the small baseball field at Thomas Alva Edison School, in the La Vibora neighborhood of Havana, the trainer made a prediction that I thought was exaggerated.

Baseball was his passion. From age ten he had been involved in the selection process for building national teams. A serious injury ended his playing career. He graduated with a degree in physical education, and had trained and coached school teams in the 10th of October neighborhood with remarkable success. But he didn’t like what he saw. Continue reading

Dissidents Have No Leadership Among Ordinary Cubans / Ivan Garcia

Emisora-Mil-Diez-La-Habana-años-40-1-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia,25 May 2015 — Cubans are not as uninformed as you think. Everyone knows that the Internet is a luxury. According to the latest report from the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), broadband is almost nonexistent, with a penetration of less than 1%, and only 3.4% of households had internet access in 2013.

Less than 15% of Cubans have computers. Although ETECSA recently announced that the number of mobile phone users had passed 3 million, Cuba remains behind in Latin America, with only 17.7 users per hundred inhabitants and no 3G technology or smart phones. Continue reading

Easterners in Havana: An Exodus Hushed Up by the Cuban Regime / Ivan Garcia

Terminal-de-Trenes-de-La-Habana-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 30 May 2015 — One hot and boring night, drinking a tear-inducing moonshine, Yosvany and a group of friends in a remote sugar-workers’ town in Yateras, Guantanamo province, more than a 600 miles east of Havana, made plans to relocate to the capital to try to change their future.

“The village where we lived isn’t even on the map. It’s in a mountainous region and there the routine for most young people is drinking alcohol, breaking horses, and going to bed early. The school dropout rate is high and many girls as young as 14 or 15 are already mothers. This hamlet is the closest thing to hell,” says Yosvany, seated on his bicycle-taxi.

Two days later, Yosvany and his partners took a train to the capital. After 22 hours of travel, including police checkpoints where they were searched for cheese, coffee or marijuana, they arrived at the supposed El Dorado. Continue reading

Castro’s Forgotten Ones / Ivan Garcia

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Ivan Garcia, 2 June 2015 — When he is lucid, Dubiel has a photographic memory. Nearly 30 years later, he still remembers the names of remote villages in the Angolan jungle and tells anecdotes of the civil war which involved more than 300 thousand Cuban soldiers and reservists between 1975 and 1991.

Dubiel came back traumatised. It was very hard for him to see the bodies of his friends flying through the air in a minefield, and the deaths of his comrades after making friends with them in the trenches.

For a while he received psychiatric treatment and tried to adapt himself to civil life. Didn’t do any good. Alcohol and psychotropic drugs did him in. Disorientated, he fell an easy prey to dementia. Continue reading

Cuba, Remittances, and Scrooge McDuck / Ivan Garcia

Rico-McPato-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, 10 June 2015 — A week before her Miami relatives landed in Havana, Milena hired a crew to paint the interior and the facade of her home in the bucolic Casino Deportivo neighborhood.

After two coats of paint and minor touch-ups on the walls, they did a thorough cleaning, and just above the door they placed a chain made of silver paper with a Welcome Home sign.

“My cousins haven’t come to Cuba for twenty years. We want to give them a reception in style. Thanks to the little money that they’ve sent us, we fixed up the entire house,” says Milena.

It’s understood in every other country that the host pays for the entertainment. But Cuba is a different story. For Gisela, a hairdresser, having relatives abroad is more than a blessing. Continue reading

Havana, Between the Scarcity of Water and the Rains / Ivan Garcia

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Iván García, 8 June 2015 — This is the current scenario. About 60,000 families receive their drinking water by tanker trucks. 60% of the water distributed is lost due to breakdowns in the hydraulic system. 20% of that water is wasted due to leaks within homes. Havana Water, the city’s water utility, and state industries are responsible for losing 80%.

Water is pumped in the neighborhoods on alternate days. In remote districts of the city, the supply may be provided every four days. Water scarcity causes many families to improvise to collect the precious liquid.

Substandard water storage is the leading cause of epidemics like dengue fever or chikungunya, which cause dozens of deaths every year. Or the outbreak of cholera, a disease that had been eradicated in Cuba since the early twentieth century. Continue reading

Cuba Tries to Constrict the Summit of the Americas / Ivan Garcia

ATLAPA1-_mn-620x330Ivan Garcia, 4 April 2015 — If the 56 years of the olive-green autocracy are analyzed using statistics or tangible results that demonstrate progress, the result can be bewildering.

An inventory of the Cuban economy in the last 25 years, and a serious analysis of comparative statistics, will confirm the thesis that the olive green regime has sold us smoke.

If we believe the official data on the growth of GDP, such as those obtained for three consecutive years (11.8% in 2005, 12.5% in 2006 and 7.3% in 2008), the economic indices of Cuba would be at the level of the Asian tigers (South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan). The supposed achievements can only be seen in the daily newspaper Granma and in EcuRed, the Cuban version of Wikipedia, where we retrieved those figures. Continue reading

The NBA Was Always a Reference Point in Cuba / Ivan Garcia

nash-nba-cuba-28014-_mn-620x330Miguel Frómeta, a light-skinned Afro-Cuban about six feet tall and around 50 years old, will have to follow the news about the basketball clinic to be taught in Cuba by former NBA players on April 23rd, from a dirty kitchen in Valle Grande prison on the outskirts of Havana.

30 years ago Frómeta emerged as one of the most promising small forwards in national basketball. He studied at a sports school west of the city and was a rabid fan of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the phenomenal center of the Los Angeles Lakers.

The NBA, just like the Beatles, was banned by the olive-green regime of Fidel Castro under the pretext of causing harmful ideological influences in a uniform and Marxist society. Continue reading

Between Joy and Sadness, Cubans Celebrate Mother’s Day

Madre-cubana-con-tres-hijo-_mn-620x330Ivan Garcia, 10 May 2015 — Although the cloudy afternoon threatened a downpour in the area south of Havana, Mark came downtown to shop for some things on the eve of Mother’s Day.

In a state-owned hard-currency store he bought clearance-priced food for 43 convertible pesos for his mother, leather sandals for his wife for 24.70, and a 16-gigabyte flash memory for his mother on the black market, paying $10 CUC.

“I spent about 80 dollars. The business of selling tamales is not going well, but I saw it coming, so a month before I began to save dollars (foreign exchange). With this money I bought plenty of postcards to send to mothers of friends and relatives, three bunches of yellow flowers for my mother, my mother-in-law, and my wife, and on Sunday May 10 between a grilled snapper, a case of beer, and two or three bottles of rum, the tab was around 100 ’chavitos’ (CUCs),” Mark says, while waiting for an old state-owned taxi. Continue reading