Cuba: Not Everyone Sympathizes with Trump / Iván García

Cartoon published in Did Donald Trump's Executives Violate the Cuban Embargo? Bloomberg, July 28, 2016.
Cartoon published in Did Donald Trump’s Executives Violate the Cuban Embargo? Bloomberg, July 28, 2016.

Iván García, 25 November 2016 — After sweeping a park that spans entire block in the Vibora neighborhood of Havana, Silvio sits on a wooden bench and, in the shade of a carob tree and a fresh autumn breeze, guzzles a liter of cold water.

As for many Cubans, politics aren’t his forte. He’s serving a year of detention for hitting his ex-wife, and sweeping parks or weeding flower beds is part of his punishment.

“Things in Cuba are really bad. There’s no money, and it’s very hard to buy food. At the rate we’re going, we’ll soon be starving even more than during the Special Period. I don’t know how Trump could help make things better for Cubans. These scoundrels (of the Cuban regime) are the ones that have to do that. And they don’t. They steal all the money and then entertain us with their long speeches. Trump seems like an S.O.B., but the sitution in Cuba isn’t his fault. The solution is to sell the country in an auction. Can’t that be done?” asks Silvio in the warm, morning sun. Continue reading “Cuba: Not Everyone Sympathizes with Trump / Iván García”

Cubans don’t really like to make predictions. They don’t do them any good.

“They’ve deceived us so many times that people prefer to live day to day. The future seems like a fairy tale. From Fidel Castro’s unfulfilled promises to produce as much milk or meat as Holland, to a quality of life comparable to that of New York.They’ve always sold us the theory that the U.S. blockade (embargo) is responsible for Cuba’s misfortunes. Then a guy like Obama arrives at the White House, who wants to change strategies and whom Cubans on the island love, and they keep blaming their problems on the Americans. That’s why a lot of people don’t care who’s governing in Washington. The solution to our problems depends on Cuban leaders,” says Carlos, a sociologist.

Cuba is hurting. The streets are destroyed, the people are tired of speeches and slogans, low salaries and decades of shortages. To escape the daily drama, people cope by settling into a recliner or an arm chair in front of the TV for hours, watching Mexican soap operas or game shows and reality shows made in Miami.

Orlando earns a living stuffing matchboxes on 10 de Octubre Avenue. He would have liked Hillary Clinton to win the election. “Forget the story that she would have continued the Cuba policies put forth by Obama. I wanted her to win because she would have become the first woman president of the United States. I think the world is lacking in female governance.”

Although polls seem unreliable after the resounding failure of Brexit in Great Britain, peace talks in Colombia, or Trump’s unexpected victory in the United States—where citizens hid their intentions in the voting booth—in Cuba an overwhelming majority preferred Hillary in the White House.

Influenced by Trump’s bad press on the island, the continuation of Obama’s legacy, and other diverse reasons—from our mixed races to empathizing with a black head of state—the average Cuban was for Clinton.

Cubans didn’t really care about Hillary’s email scandals or the accusations made against her husband by a campaign volunteer. Nor did they care about news reports accusing the Clinton family and their political dynasty of corruption.

For Delio Benítez, who has a degree in Political Science, there’s a strange phenomenon in Cuba. “In general, when Cubans are on the island, they lean toward Democrats in the U.S. elections; but once they’re living in North America, a large portion of them vote for Republicans.”

Benítez doesn’t know why. “I can’t prove it with scientific studies. Maybe it’s the prevailing anti-imperialism in Latin America, or the aggressive discourse of the Cuban regime. But in the Cuban subconscious, Democrats are, politically speaking, more reasonable than Republicans, with their tendencies toward war and their anti-immigration stance.”

For Josuán, a vegetable and fruit seller in an open-air market in Havana, Hillary was a better option because “she may not have abolished the Cuban Adjustment Act. For me, and for many who plan to emigrate, Clinton was our candidate. Trump is going to repeal that law. And those of us who planned to leave will have to speed up our trip.”

The majority of citizens that have coffee without cream for breakfast also don’t expect a disaster from the Trump administration. “He’s a businessman.  Maybe he’ll fit in better with Castro than Obama. Hillary would have been perfect, but (Cuba-U.S.) relations won’t be broken with Trump. One thing for sure, things are going to be bad for us Cubans regardless of who wins in the United States. The blame for our misfortunes lies here at home,” claims Emilio, a personal barber, in a soft voice.

If you want to meet a sector of Cubans that applaud the election of Donald Trump, please visit the dissident, Antonio Rodiles, in the Miramar neighborhood in east Havana, or Berta Soler at the Damas de Blanco headquarters in Lawton on the south end of the capital.

That branch of the opposition, under the umbrella “Forum on Rights and Freedoms,” practically held a party over Trump’s victory. According to their statements, they believe that as repressed dissidents they will get more backing and financial assistance from the White House.

But it just so happens that, in Fidel Castro’s Cuba, anyone who has survived eleven U.S. administrations had an equal chance of being imprisoned or executed during a democratic era as they did a republican era.

Autocracies thrive and survive regardless of any major or minor international condemnation. Ending autocracy is Cuba’s business. No one else’s.

Translated by: Kathy Fox

The Death of Fidel Castro: What Awaits Us Now? / Iván García

One of the many billboards that went up all over Cuba after Fidel's death. Source: Infobae
One of the many billboards that went up all over Cuba after Fidel’s death. Source: Infobae

Iván García, 28 November 2016 — It was half past ten at night in the privately-owned Perla Negra bar in Havana’s populous La Viñora neighborhood and thirty minutes by car from the center of the city, where the locals were drinking mojitos, caipirinhas and even stout. No one had yet learned of the death of the Fidel Castro.

The dominant sounds were salsa music, reggaeton and Marc Anthony ballads along with the clinking of glasses, the shuffle of canapés and the whispers of couples in love.

No one thought to interrupt the party to announce the death of the old guerrilla leader. At midnight, Oscar Lopez —an engineer who was celebrating his birthday with his wife — was walking the nine blocks to his apartment in the Lawton neighborhood. He did not notice anything out of the ordinary other than a short line of four or five people waiting to buy ground pork patties for their children’s breakfasts. Continue reading “The Death of Fidel Castro: What Awaits Us Now? / Iván García”

As is customary at this time of the morning, sales clerks at small food service businesses were yawning in front of shelves of confections and cold-cut sandwiches, drunkards were lying on the covered sidewalks of Tenth of October Avenue, and a few gay and transvestite prostitutes were trolling for customers.

“I swear, nobody was talking a about the news. I didn’t even notice any extra police deployments. The night that Fidel Castro died was a night like any other. I found out about his death at two o’clock in the morning when my brother, who lives in Miami, phoned to tell me,” says Oscar as he waits in the line to purchase bread, which Cubans have bought from the state using their ration books since 1962.

When you ask ordinary Havana residents what they were doing when they heard the news of Castro’s death, they respond without any hint of drama. More than a few of them found out through text messages sent from Miami. This is not surprising given that a large segment of the Cuban population does not typically watch state television.

Most people watch TV through illegal satellite antennae or they rent a compendium of programming known as the Packet, which offers melodramatic Mexican soap operas and mediocre audience participation programs from the other side of the Florida Straits.

Unlike Miami, where Castro’s death took place on the day after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, and hundreds of people celebrated with bottles of rum and roast pork, the news here was received here with little notice or fanfare.

For Cubans, Fidel Castro essentially died on July 31, 2006, when an unexpected illness forced him to give up power. By the time his passing was announced on a cool autumn night ten years later, his death had been long expected.

Sahily Téllez, a sixteen-year-old high school sophomore, says Fidel was a distant figure to her. “Unlike my parents, I did not grow up seeing him as a dominant figure in my life. To me, he was old news, a man who led a revolution and built a society that barely works. Fidel and other elderly officials like him seem anachronistic, conservative. Among people of my age, Fidel and Raúl are not very popular. It’s just that many of us aspire to live in a consumer capitalist society. We associate Fidel with poverty and his speeches were full of ideology.”

What most worries Daniel Pereda, a self-employed taxi driver who drives a dilapidated 1954 Chevrolet, is what could come after the death of Fidel Castro.

“The situation isn’t pretty. There’s the crisis in Venezuela. If Nicolás Maduro loses power because he is shipping oil to Cuba at rock-bottom prices, it will impact Cuba and our lives. Then there is the victory of Donald Trump in the United States. He is an unpredictable guy who will probably not continue Obama’s friendly policies towards Cuba. This must be giving quite a few people in the Palace of the Revolution (the seat of government) anxiety attacks,” he says as he swerves to avoid potholes in Cerro Avenue.

Already the state press has begun broadcasting extensive special programming eulogizing the life and work of Fidel Castro. The funeral planning committee has announced that on November 28 and 29 people will be able to visit the José Martí Memorial in the Plaza of Revolution to pay their well-deserved respects.

People are also being called upon to do something that seems mind-boggling: “Sign the solemn oath to fulfill the concept of Revolution as expressed by our historic leader on May 1, 2000 as an expression of the will to give continuity to his ideas and our socialism.”

At 7:00 P.M. on November 29, a commemorative rally will be held in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. The transfer of Castro’s ashes will begin the following day, retracing the route that The Caravan of Freedom followed in January 1959. The journey will end with another rally in Santiago de Cuba on December 3, this time in the city’s Antonio Maceo Plaza.

The internment is scheduled for 07:00 A.M. on December 4 at Santa Ifigenia Cemetery in Santiago de Cuba. It was also reported that the Military Review and Combatants March, which commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Granma landing (December 2, 1956), and Revolutionary Armed Forces Day are being postponed until January 2, 2017.

Suspicions and rumors are spreading throughout Havana. Marino Ruiz, a grocery store worker, believes that “Fidel Castro died days ago. Everything fits perfectly. A weekend that correlates with December 2, the 60th anniversary of the armed forces and a month and six days after the 58th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution,” he observes. But the truth is that Fidel Castro met with the president of Viet Nam, Tran Dai Quang, at his home on November 15. And photos of the meeting were taken by his son, Alex Castro, and his personal photographer.

According to Ignacio Gonzalez, a nurse, the memorial events will be a nine-day nuisance. “There will be dozens of programs on radio and television eulogizing the ’maximum leader.’ And all this racket will no doubt go on for one or two months. You have to wonder what awaits us. If only I could fly to the moon.”

With no power to rally supporters or a message that resonates with the average Cuban, Castro’s death has caught the divided dissident community off guard.

“Difficult days lie ahead,” according to Carlos Díaz, an independed sociologist.” I would not want to be in Raúl Castro’s shoes. He is faced with an ongoing economic crisis, a system that does not work, a very erratic Donald Trump as president of the United States and the impending fall of Chavismo in Venezuela. He will have to move very carefully to avoid being the one who brought down the revolution his brother Fidel led. I believe the government will accelerate new and more significant economic reforms. But the political process will remain closed and they will continue exerting iron-fisted social control as long as they can.”

Julio Aleaga — head of the opposition group Candidates for Change, which advocates nominating dissidents for the few elected offices for which private citizens can compete — believes that “the death of Fidel Castro, a very negative figure, can be the catalyst for profound change. The conservative wing of the ruling party has lost a powerful symbol. And in medium term change is unstoppable.”

Diana Armenteros, a political science graduate, is not so optimistic. “Castroism has a lot of life left in it. They won’t be able to bury Fidel just yet. Let’s not forget that the military controls 80% of the national economy. Untangling this mess won’t be so easy,” she claims.

At the moment it is too soon to analyze what effect the death of Fidel Castro will have on the current situation. The funeral ceremonies have only just begun.

The legendary Plaza of the Revolution is being prepared to receive millions of Cubans who will pay their last respects to Fidel. And the Communist Party propaganda machine will continue to run at full throttle.

For a few days — probably for a couple of months — the place Cuba will most closely resemble is North Korea.

 

The "Dry Law" After the Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García

"Sale of alcoholic beverages prohibited" says a sign in a hard-currency shop in Holguín. Taken from 14ymedio.
“Sale of alcoholic beverages prohibited” says a sign in a hard-currency shop in Holguín. Taken from 14ymedio.

Ivan Garcia, 29 November 2016 — Cintia will never forget the day Fidel Castro died. Not because she had affection for the old guerrilla or felt devoted to the figure of the ex-comandante in chief.

One month ago, Cintia’s parents had reserved a room, paid for sessions of photography and makeup, and invited some 100 people to a party to celebrate her 15th birthday.

No expense was spared. More than 2,000 convertible pesos, some 2,400 dollars, four years’ salary for a professional. The adolescent’s birthday coincided with the nine days of official mourning that the Regime decreed for the death of Fidel Castro. Continue reading “The "Dry Law" After the Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García”

In accordance with the provincial government’s regulations, bars, night clubs, shops and markets were prohibited from selling alcoholic beverages.

Cintia’s parents had already invested around 500 convertible pesos in clothing and 400 in photo sessions and videos. The date of the birthday celebration, with plans for a dance group, a professional presenter and a bottle of aged rum on each table, was to take place on Sunday, November 27.

As a precaution, Cintia’s family, preparing for a shortage of beer, had already bought 15 cases of Cristal. But they figured they could buy the rum, which was always available on the shelves of the hard-currency stores, the day before the party.

The first problem came with the renting of the salon, a State center that was used at night as a discotheque. On Saturday morning the administrator returned their money, explaining that “because of the national mourning after the death of Fidel, recreational and cultural activities were suspended.”

Cintia’s family understood the reasons. “Look, here almost all the businesses are State property. So we decided to rent a private house. The trouble happened later, when we went to buy rum, red wine and champagne,” the mother says.

They went to dozens of markets and saw that black nylon had been put over the alcoholic beverages on the shelves, as a sign of mourning. “Señora, I’m sorry, I can’t do anything for you. If they catch me selling alcohol I’ll lose my job,” a clerk told her.

When asked where this regulation came from, they pointed toward the roof. “From above, from the Government.” As always happens in Cuba, when you want to know the name of the officer or minister who approved an absurd law, the web of bureaucracy conceals the one who implemented it.

Telephoning departments of the Ministry of Interior Commerce, which administers the hard-currency shops, the answers were the same: “We’re in national mourning for the death of the comandante.”

So what do you do with those who wanted to celebrate their birthdays or their weddings between November 26 and December 3? Or the devotees of Santa Barbara who always celebrate on December 4?

Although the official press hasn’t announced it, the Dry Law is extended to the whole Island. The journalist Lourdes Gómez, in Diario de Cuba, reported that “strangely, you don’t see anyone drinking alcohol. A cafeteria worker said that they received a directive prohibiting the sale of alcohol for the next nine days, the period decreed by the Council of State for national mourning.”

We Cubans are used to getting silence for an answer. Right now, Fidel’s death is the priority. He’s a genius and an important figure up to the grave, after his death, built up with a gibberish worthy of a Cantinflas comedy.

The celebrated tenor, Placido Domingo, who was going to make his Cuban debut in the Gran Teatro de La Habana, on Saturday, November 26, had to pack his bags and leave until further notice. Those who love baseball or football in the European leagues have to spend the equivalent of two days wages to get on the Internet to find out the results, since the official press and other media like radio and television are only giving news about the trajectory of the Maximum Leader.

By State decree, the army of drunkards in Havana, Santiago de Cuba and the rest of the provinces can’t drink beer or rum. “This would be in poor taste, to have people drinking and partying in the middle of national mourning. Where’s the pleasure in that? After December 4 they will have plenty of time to booze it up,” answers a police officer.

Those not suffering from the unexpected tropical Prohibition are the usual drunks. “Those people will even drink dog piss. The ones selling “chispa de tren“* are making a fortune now, since it’s not easy to spend nine days of this fuss without having a drink,” says the owner of a cafe on the outskirts of Mónaco, south of the Capital.

Private bars, restaurants and cafeterias can’t serve or sell alcohol either, but under the table, rum and beer are sold for consumption on the premises.

Coming back to Cintia’s family: At the last minute they were able to buy several bottles of rum and red wine. Of course they paid dearly for them. Finally they could celebrate her birthday, with the music at low volume. So as not to offend Fidel Castro in his national mourning.

*Translator’s note: Literally, “train spark,” referring to the sound made by train wheels on the tracks. A cheap, homemade rum, distilled from sugar and mixed mainly with kerosene or residue from petroleum refining. The toxic rum of the poor.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Fidel Castro Dies for Real / Iván García

Fidel Castro with his wife and the president of Vietnam shortly before his death. See details at end of article.
Fidel Castro with his wife and the president of Vietnam shortly before his death. See details at end of article. (El Nuevo Herald)

Ivan Garcia, 26 November 2016 — At midnight no one was talking about the biggest news story of the year along crowded Tenth of October Avenue. A group of drunks was downing white rum from little cardboard cartons, cheap hookers were plying their trade in a tiny park in Santa Catalina, and four transvestites in high heels were on the hunt for clients right across from La Vibora’s Red Square.

Ten minutes after a shaken Raúl Castro announced the death of his brother Fidel on state television, the event had barely registered in the darkened streets of Tenth of October, one of the island’s most densely populated areas.

No extra police were seen being deployed. Dozens of young people were climbing up steep Patrocinio Street to El Túnel nightclub next to the Los Chivos Park, intent on dancing to reggaetón music and drinking Cristal beer. Continue reading “Fidel Castro Dies for Real / Iván García”

Two bored employees at a state-run coffeehouse near the old La Víbora bus stop were talking about the the latest soap opera. People first heard the news only when asked about it.

The reaction was low-key, without any drama: “Is Fidel really dead? He has been killed off so many times before.” And the responses from those who had already heard the news were along the lines of “He’s had a long life” and “We all have to die sometime.”

Eduardo, a driver on the P-10 bus from Vibora to Playa de Marianao does not believe things will change much after the death of Fidel Castro. “The government has everything locked up. There may be some economic changes but, as usual, ordinary people like us won’t see them. It’s not just Fidel Castro that is the problem; it’s his cronies in the ruling class who don’t want to open things up so Cubans can make some money.”

Sometime after eight o’clock on Saturday morning, November 26, a number of people are standing on the corner Acosta and Tenth of October, speculating about what Castro’s death might mean for the future.

Lidice, who sells pirated DVDs, believes that, “with Fidel’s death, Raul can lay one era to rest. This gives him free reign to carry out real economic reform, not the band-aid solutions he has been using. Otherwise, the country is going to fall apart. If he wants to hold onto power, he has to let private businesses prosper.”

Diego, an information technology worker, is more cautious. “It would be easy to say that everything bad in Cuba is because of Fidel. The problem now is with the system, which is worn out, and the gang of corrupt officials who live off it. Castroism is not going to die with Fidel. The best option is to head for Miami, Madrid or Canada. It doesn’t matter where. The main thing is to leave here before it all goes to hell,” he says.

Denise, who has a degree in history, worries about the future after the death of Castro I. “After the funeral services are over, after the televsion channels have aired all their old footage extolling Fidel, then we will ask ourselves what will happen in Cuba. The country will not put up with any more lies. People want change that will affect their daily lives. Fidel was a guy with an outsize personality. His death has left a huge leadership vacuum. Have you noticed that the current leaders don’t have a political message to sell? They don’t express themselves well and don’t even know how to laugh. The worst thing that can happen to a politician is to not be able to offer his constituents any ideas,” she observes.

Julio Aleaga — head of the opposition group Candidates for Change, which advocates nominating dissidents for the few public offices open to citizen participation — believes that “the death of Fidel Castro, a very negative figure, can be the catalyst for profound change. The conservative wing of the ruling party has lost a powerful symbol. And over the medium term change is unstoppable.”

The death of Fidel Castro has come as a blow to the dissident community, which is clearly feeling disoriented. Without a popular base of support and unable to summon more than a hundred people for a public march, Victor Manuel Domínguez, a journalist and freelance writer, feels that there may be tough times ahead for the opposition.

“The current situation is frightening. Venezuela, the teat providing us with petroleum, is experiencing a ferocious economic, political and social crisis. Chavismo has an expiration date. Cuba lives in almost perpetual economic crisis and with a system that is a failure. The looming demographic time bomb, with a third of the population over sixty, is troubling. Emigration has led to the exodus of a quarter of a million Cubans over the last four years and the figure is likely to double. And now we have the election of someone as unpredictable as Donald Trump in the United States. The regime has already used up all its political time. It did not take advantage of the outreach from Barack Obama. Either Raul Castro takes on profound economic reform or the country collapses,” predicts the journalist.

Domínguez also believes repression will increase. “The regime has lost its greatest symbol. I believe that the physical attacks on opponents at the barricades will worsen. They’re going to play hardball.”

So begins a waiting period to see if the physical absence of Fidel Castro will lead to major reforms or will provoke greater retrenchment by the most conservative wing of the military dictatorship. But that is a story yet to be told.

Photo: On December 15, ten days before his death, Fidel Castro met with Vietnam’s President Tran Dai Quang (third from left) and a Vietnamese delegation. The woman behind Castro is his wife, Dalia Soto del Valle. The photo was arranged by Castro’s son Alex and his personal photographer, and is probably one of the last public images of the elderly leader. From El Nuevo Herald.

Cuban Emigration: All Roads Lead to the United States / Iván García

The line outside the US embassy in Havana can be seen Monday through Friday. Source: Faro Trimestral blog.
The line outside the US embassy in Havana can be seen Monday through Friday. Source: Faro Trimestral blog.

Ivan Garcia, 17 November 2016 — Yoandry, 29, vowed that he would emigrate fromCuba in 2016. The best strategy was not to put all his eggs in one basket.

Last year he sent in a form to participate in the global lottery offered annually by the United States government. “To have an American visa is like winning the lottery. But in the end I chose other paths,” commented Alvarez on leaving an airline reservation office.

Yoandry and his wife ruled out the maritime route. Crossing the dangerous Straits of Florida with its unpredictably ocean currents and sharks, is not exactly an agreeable adventure.

The couple looked at three possibility. A marathon through a South American country and Central America, crossing frontiers led by coyotes; paying a sum that could vary between seven and ten thousand dollars to a corrupt Mexican immigration official, or traveling through Europe to get to the longed-for ’American dream.’ Continue reading “Cuban Emigration: All Roads Lead to the United States / Iván García”

“We didn’t rule out giving ten to twelve thousand dollars to a human trafficker with a powerful boat that goes to the Florida keys. But in a religious consultation, the [orisha] Itá said don’t go by sea. With the closing of the borders in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, with people stranded in Ecuador and Colombia, and the extradition agreements between the Cuban government and Mexico, it is hard to pay through that region,” said Yoandry, adding:

“So we chose a tourist route via Italy. It was the embassy that informed us about tourist visas and, incredibly, we had no problems. After filling out the various forms, we bought two tickets to Rome.”

For two years now, a Cuban tourist agency had offered a nine-day package tour to several Italian cities. It costs the equivalent of four thousand dollars per person, with stays in two and three star hotels with breakfast included.

“But, and this was important for us, the embassy gave us a visa for a month, good for the rest of the European Union countries. After the nine days, a friend living in Germany bought us two tickets on a train to Barcelona and from there we traveled to Madrid. Through social networks I men Cubans who are helping me to get work under the table. Then I hope to contact a guy who has connections with Mexican officials and get a tourist visa to Cancun,” says Yoandry, who together with his wife traveled with 11 thousand dollars and ten boxes of cigars to sell in Spain.

Consuelo, 35, explored a longer journey. “I filled out the form for the 2017 United States visa lottery. I don’t have family in that country and it is an excellent possibility. But you have to have a lot of luck to win a visa. And when people decide to emigrate they are desperate and they can’t wait for good luck.”

In the summer of 2015, Consuelo traveled to Russia, one of the few countries that doesn’t demand a visa from Cubans. In Moscow she bought printed fabric to resell in Havana.

“In Moscow there is a network of Cubans who take you to the cheapest stores. I looked into the possibility of buying a trans-Siberian train ticket that would take me to a point close to the Russian border with Alaska. But this is heavily guarded and even in the summer terribly cold. You have to have several strategies to leave. Now, thanks to a religious project, I am going to Canada soon. And from there I’ll hop over the border with a single step,” says Consuelo.

It is incredible how Cubans have done detailed research, created networks and designed protocols for emigration plans with the objective of leaving Cuba. According to some official statistics in the last 20 years 660,000 Cubans have emigrated from their country.

For Diana, a demographer, the data isn’t correct. “Don’t play with the ticket list. Just for family reunification, since the 1994 migration agreements with Bill Clinton, the US consulate in Havana has awarded at least 20,000 visas a year, which gives us a figure of 440,000 people at a minimum. And only in the last two years, almost 100,000 people have gone to the United States via underground routes.”

Diana believes that the real figures approach or exceed a million people. An authentic human drama in a nation where there is no civil war nor huge natural disasters as in Haiti.

Fermin, 41, has no one in the United States and no money for a foreign trip. He makes a living under the table, eats poorly and drinks too much cheap rum. With a friend, last week he was outside the US embassy in Havana. “I paid 20 Cuban convertible pesos to one of those guys who works filling out the paperwork. Then you wait. Luck is crazy and it can touch anyone,” he said, sitting in a Havana park.

US embassy officials in Havana clarify that the lottery program is not exclusive to Cuba. “It awards 500 visas on the island the person doesn’t necessarily have relatives in the United States,” said an official who said he didn’t know the number of Cubans signed up for the lottery.

The timeframe for the new lottery is 1 October to 7 November 2016. Like previous lotteries it has a global character, is administered by the Department of State and offers permanent resident visas to those citizens who meet the simple, but strict, requirements to qualify.

The requirements for participation are simple: be born in Cuba and, at a minimum, have a high school diploma or two years of work experience. The candidates are chosen at random by computer draws. The registration for the 2017 Diversity Visa is made only through the E-DV website: www.dvlottery.state.gov. On 2 May 2017, confirmed applicants must go back to the site and check if their application was accepted.

But, as they say, Cubans who decide to emigrate do not put all their eggs in one basket. They try through Central America, South America, Europe or the visa lottery. They throw themselves into the sea in a rubber boat.

The ultimate goal is to reach the United States.

 

Cuba, Getting On-line to be Informed: This is the Dilemma / Iván García

Connecting to wifi in a park in Cuba. Source: Cubanet
Connecting to wifi in a park in Cuba. Source: Cubanet

Iván García, 27 October 2015 — Roberto, age 47, is a balding athletic type who usually has earphones hanging around his neck, he’s an engineer, an expert in bridge construction. For a decade now, twice a year he goes to Miami where his children live.

Four hours before his most recent trip to the Sun City, Roberto went first to a wifi point in Central Havana, to upload photos and chat on Facebook. At the end, he inserted this message: See you in Miami.

The war against ISIS, the fifteen years since the terrorist attack against the Twin Towers in New York, or the intense debate now taking place in Cuba, with regard to the role of the national media, are not topics of interest to Roberto, a hyperactive man who, before boarding the plane to Florida, constantly looks at his watch. Continue reading “Cuba, Getting On-line to be Informed: This is the Dilemma / Iván García”

And, believe me: his case in no exception on the island. According to a specialist in internet data traffic who works for ETECSA, the Cuban communications monopoly, through which, in way or another, more than half a million people connect with some frequency.

“Between some 15% and 20% of the population accesses the internet occasionally and some 80% do it two to three times a week, and in some cases daily. But their principle interest is to speak with their family and friends living abroad, to manage the process of emigrating, or to navigate the social networks,” said the specialist.

On September 12 and 13, numerous of us journalists, academics, and human rights activists traveled from Havana to Miami to attend the Internet Freedom Conference, organized by the United States Office of Broadcasts for Cuba, and we have been attacked in the official media — and also by a former State Security agent — as Talibans.

In the two days of sessions, we debated, not without a dose of passion, the present and future of the internet on the island. I recall a phrase of Norge Rodriguez, a swarthy looking basketball forward, with a degree in telecommunications engineering, who said:

“In the 19th century, Cuba was the 6th most advanced nation in railroads. But in the 21st century, we are last in line in internet access. What needs to be understood, is that the internet is about much more than communications or information. It is a vital part of the development of the country. This backwardness is caused by the Cuban government, and we will pay the bill for that,” said Norge at the event, held at an art school in a Miami neighborhood where the walls are covered with graffiti.

Those of us who came from Cuba to participate in the conference had a flood of ideas in our heads. How to use the internet without internet, or how to strengthen the wifi signal through nano devices. Because if there is something that we are convinced of it is that sooner or later the network of networks will land on the island of Cuba.

But what we also discussed, among the attendees, is what the priority will be for Cubans who want to have full access to the internet, taking into account the perennial economic crists and the hardships suffered by the population for half a century, above all the scarcity of food, drinking water, housing, public transport…

Having the latest technology in hand does not necessarily make a citizenry modern and well informed. In Miami I met compatriots who only use the internet to learn about sales in the stores, put up photos, or make snappy jokes on Facebook.

In the most connected nation in the world, I met several people who are atrociously uninformed, who barely know the work of the independent or alternative press, nor the work of the Cuban dissidence.

I fear that the Cuba of the future will follow this weedy path. A little intellectual segment interested in promoting the best tools on the internet and the new technology. And a majority who prefer to consume frivolities. Just like the rest of the world.

Translated by Jim

Villa Clara: Poverty, Wifi and Monotony / Iván García

In Santa Clara, as in the other cities and villages in the interior of the island, the horse and cart has become one of the main means of transport. Taken from Carol Kieker's blog.
In Santa Clara, as in the other cities and villages in the interior of the island, the horse and cart has become one of the main means of transport. Taken from Carol Kieker’s blog.

Iván García , 3 November 2016 — Situated between sugar cane fields and with the Escambray mountain chain visible in the distance, at the side of the old Central Highway is the village of La Esperanza, part of Ranchuelo, one of the 13 towns of Villa Clara province, some 290 km east of Havana.

It’s an unpretentious village, similar to thousands of hamlets and little groups of outbuildings deep in the heart of Cuba. Smelling of molasses at sugar harvest time, a parish with commercial and neighbourhood life going on in the village park. A place where everybody knows everyone else. They know every family’s ins and outs, and outsiders live the life of Riley. Continue reading “Villa Clara: Poverty, Wifi and Monotony / Iván García”

“The smaller the town, the worse the gossip. When my husband and I want to drink a few beers, we go to Santa Clara, the province capital, 16km from La Esperanza, because otherwise the comments start up right away: ’Look at that, those guys have money’. Here, people just have enough to get by, says Dianeye, 36-year-old mother of two children and wife of Servando, who has a 1936 Harley Davidson and is probably one of the most important guys in the village.

In La Esperanza, people count their centavos. In the El Colonial restaurant, at the side of the park, a lunch of white rice, pork chops, red beans, plantain chips and seasonal salad for 2 people costs 34 pesos, less than two dollars.

The currency exchange shop is empty. Two bored assistants chat about the current TV soap and one shows the other one how to connect to the internet via wifi on her cellphone, in order to sign up to Facebook.

“So that I can make friends”, says the girl. “She’s trying to get a boyfriend”, says her friend with a smile. And in these villages, getting married always affects the family’s future.

Dianeye knows it only too well. When she was fifteen, she married Servando, the father of her children. Often she rides pillion on the old Harley Davidson to get to out of the way places on the island. “Yes, once I wanted to move to Santa Clara or Havana, but I got over it. My husband built a good sheet metal house. After spending so much money we’re not going to leave the village, which isn’t very entertaining, but it is peaceful”, says Dianeye.

Peaceful and boring. In La Esperanza, minutes seem like hours. The clock stands still. You can chatter forever, and only four minutes will have passed. And the time also passes slowly if you decide to walk the two kilometers round the village.

The kids who have finished with high school, give each other moral support in the park. The pensioners read their single-focus national newspapers and talk about baseball, while they yawn. The drunks share a litre of Ron de Caña (Flor de Caña rum, made in Nicaragua) and when they are completely pissed they sleep it off on the red-painted iron and wood benches.

The bus that takes you here and there passes at certain times. If you want to go a short distance, you take a small horse and cart. A noisy out-of-date Girón bus (a type of bus introduced in the ’70’s to alleviate the transport problems of the time, also known as “aspirinas” — aspirins, because they helped a bit but didn’t cure the problem ), which has Cuban-made bodywork and a Soviet-era engine, and an exposed roof showing the metal structure, takes you the 16 km separating La Esperanza and Santa Clara.

Santa Clara, capital of Villa Clara province, is something else. Although still nothing to write home about. But it’s Cuba’s third or fourth town. In the avenues, there are more than enough slogans commemorating Che Guevara, a cantankerous Argentinian who occupied the town on New Year’s Eve 1958, during Fidel Castro’s guerrilla war.

Santa Clara has impersonal architecture. Self-built houses, groups of Socialist Realism buildings, same and ugly and planned without parks or leisure facilities. Some were built with ancient Yugoslavian technology, which town planners should not hesitate to knock down some time in the future.

Just as in La Esperanza, but  occupying a larger space, you will find Leoncio Vidal Park, surrounded by baroque or classical-style buildings and a modernist-looking hotel, the Santa Clara Libre.

There are several excellent privately-owned restaurants. You can have a generous portion of prawns for 4 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC, about 4 dollars) and a medium size red snapper for 3 CUC. La Terraza is one of these eating places, located in a narrow alley close to Vidal Park. It’s always full of foreigners passing through Santa Clara.

There’s a wifi point in the park, where youngsters chat to their friends, suitors or family members, on their cellphones, using the IMO app. The older folk, with their portable radios, discuss the Villa Clara baseball team’s performance, play by play, in the National Series. The fans get their hopes up over their national team.

“It’s two years since Villa Clara qualified for the second round.  Now we have a chance to put up a good show. I’m sure Alexander Malleta, reinforcement for the Industriales (a successful Cuban baseball team) will perform well”, says Mario, a total baseball fanatic.

The young people in Santa Clara, just like in the rest of the country, prefer football. And in the afternoons they get together in a cafe on the ground floor of the Santa Clara Libre Hotel to watch the Real Madrid or Barcelona Champions League games.

You need to be comfortably-off to go to this cafe. A beer costs 25% more than in other bars and it has a satellite tv channel. Around 11 at night, a dirty and half-naked crazy man begs for money from the regulars.

A security guard throws him out into the street. The number of beggars in Santa Clara is rocketing, just like in Havana and Santiago de Cuba.  They are referred to as ’itinerants’ in government-speak.

There seem to be three things which can’t be dealt with in Cuba. The future, the invasive marabú weed, and poverty. Santa Clara is not exempt from any of these.

Translated by GH

Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique: Farewell to an Exemplary Dissident / Iván García

Photo: Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique. Taken from the Facebook page of Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello.
Photo: Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique. Taken from the Facebook page of Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello.

Ivan Garcia, 5 November 2016 — When I began writing in 1996 as an independent journalist for Cuba Press, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique was no longer working as an economist for Cuba’s Central Planning Agency (JUCEPLAN ) and had already become an opponent of the Castro regime.

In 1991, together with another economist, friend and colleague, Manuel Sánchez Herrero, he joined the Cuban Social-Democratic Party, directed by Vladimiro Roca Antúnez. Later, with Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, also an economist, the three participated in the founding of the Institute of Independent Economists of Cuba. Continue reading “Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique: Farewell to an Exemplary Dissident / Iván García”

The most well-known members of the Internal Dissidence Working Group were Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, Vladimiro Roca Antúnez, René Gómez Manzano and Félix Bonne Carcassés, and among their closest and most loyal collaborators were Sánchez Herrero and Ramos Lauzurique. These two also contributed their bit to the drafting of La Patria es de Todos — The Fatherland Belongs to Everybody — the document with the greatest national and international reach drafted by an opposition group on the Island.

La Patria de Todos was launched in June 1997, and barely one month later, four principal members were violently arrested (Martha, Vladimiro, René and Félix). On March 1, 1999, in the Marianao Court, the trial took place, one of those big, repressive shows mounted by Fidel Castro and the Department of State Security. The trial took place two weeks after the one-note Parliament, presided over by Ricardo Alarcón, approved the Law of Protection of National Independence and the Economy of Cuba, better known as the Gag Law, which, if violated, provides for a penalty of 20 years or more in prison.

The four were given different punishments, although the only one who served the whole five years of his sentence was Vladimiro (they gave him a stiffer penalty for being the son of the Communist leader Blas Roca Calderío, the ex-Secetary General of the Popular Socialist Party). Quietly, in their own discreet way, Arnaldo and Manuel continued the best they could with their efforts for the Internal Dissidence Working Group.

In those days, Arnaldo was living with his two children and wife, Lydia Lima Valdés, in a one-story house near the old Cerro stadium. Cuba was going through a “Special Period,” and Arnaldo, in order to survive, was buying raw peanuts in an agromarket, roasting them and packing them into paper cones. He went on foot, selling them on the outskirts of the Zoo on Avenida 26 in Nuevo Vedado. Manuel already was in very poor health, with prostate cancer. in 1985, when he still worked at JUCEPLAN, he spent a year under arrest, accused of insulting authority. The motive? A book that Sánchez Herrero wrote about the similarities between Benito Mussolini and Fidel Castro.

But the two (and I know this through my mother, the journalist Tania Quintero, who was a good friend of Arnaldo and Manual), in addition to continuing unabated in their opposition to the regime, often got together to analyze the economic, political and social panorama of Cuba in the international context. “Some afternoons, in 1998, I had the privilege of conversing and debating for a long time with Arnaldo and Manuel. We met in the house of Elena, the daughter of Martha Beatriz, on calle Neptuno. There were tremendous shortages, but Elena always managed to offer us a snack and coffee. And more than once she didn’t let us leave before she had offered us a plate of peas she had just made and a slice of bread, which was then a luxury.”

For lack of money, Arnaldo walked around Havana on foot; his health was good. Manuel was taken away by cancer on May 15, 1999. Because their pockets were empty, Arnaldo and Tania couldn’t send a wreath, but they went to his very modest service, in the Zanja funeral home, the funeral home of the poor. They sat on chairs that allowed them to see the entrance of the funeral home and detect the presence of officials of the political police dressed in civilian clothing.

Tania told me, “We saw Odilia Collazo come in, supposedly a dissident who led a pro-human rights party. She and a woman who accompanied her approached the row where Arnaldo and I were sitting and greeted us. We responded coldly and when they sat down next to us, Arnaldo and I immediately got up and left.”

Manuel, as well as Arnaldo and Tania (and also Raúl Rivero) always suspected that Lili, as they called her, was a snitch. And they weren’t wrong: in April 2003, State Security itself uncovered her as an agent infiltrated into the ranks of the dissidence. Collazo managed to fool several diplomats — among them some at the U.S. Interests Section — and also Cubans in exile in Miami, while she offered her house for meetings with dissidents and then later reported them.

In 2002, Martha Beatriz organized one of the opposition groups that, in my opinion, was more focused on people and their reality: the Assembly to Promote Civil Society in Cuba. It was supported by Gómez Manzano, Bonne Carcassés and Arnaldo Ramos, who always was a kind of right hand for Martha, because he was a disciplined and organized person, with great skill in researching information and extreme care when it came to drafting statistical tables, reports or articles.

The Assembly had a short life. They gave it the coup de grâce on March 20, 2003, when they detained Martha Beatriz and some 20 dissidents in the capital and provinces who passed several days fasting, among them a young black man named Orlando Zapata Tamayo. Seven years later, on February 23, 2010, Zapata Tamayo would die as a result of a prolonged hunger strike.

Arnaldo didn’t participate in the fast. His task, on that and other occasions, was organizational and logistical. On March 17, 2003, the day before Fidel Castro — taking advantage of the fact that the international meda gave priority to the U.S. invasion of Iraq — would decide to unleash the most brutal operation against the dissident movement and independent journalism on the Island, Arnaldo and Tania met in the little apartment of Jesús Yánez Pelletier, on Calle Humboldt, around the corner from the Vedado Hotel.

That morning they had come together for a press conference with hunger strikers, and among those present were two supposed dissidents who were part of the Assembly to Promote Civil Society: Aleida Godínez and Alicia Zamora, who, in April 2003, would be “outed” as agents of State Security.

That morning, Tania remembers, Arnaldo had bought a copy of the newspaper Granma from a vendor at Infanta and San Lázaro. “And he showed me an article or an editorial, I don’t remember exactly, and commented that it gave him chills, that the Regime was cooking up something huge against the dissidence.”

Twenty-four hours later, Castro began the ferocious wave of repression that is still known today as the Black Spring of 2003. Among the 75 detained was Arnaldo Ramos, who had just turned 61.

His body paid the price of the almost eight years that he passed unjustly and cruelly incarcerated. But not his strength of spirit as a citizen, economist and dissident. In the three prisons where he was — Sancti Spiritus, Holguín and the last six months in Havana — he went on hunger strikes and protests, with political as well as common prisoners. But the most important thing was that in all that time he didn’t stop reading, analyzing and writing.

On three or four occasions, through his wife or the families of other prisoners, he sent his writings to Tania Quintero, so she could type them and send them out. They weren’t simply hand-written sheets of school notebooks. They were analyses of the socio-economic and political situations in Cuba. Texts that were drafted in the gloom of the cell. Annotations that he made after reading the first and last pages of the official press, the only one permitted in Cuban prisons.

It was very important for Arnaldo that his family, as well as bringing him a bag of non-perishable food so he could survive in miserable conditions, also brought him, although they were back issues, the newspapers Granma, Juventud Rebelde, Trabajadores, and the magazine Bohemia.

In November 2010, Arnaldo Ramos was released from prison, and I interviewed him for the newspaper El Mundo. In the apartment where he now was living, I could see the boxes where for years he archived the newspapers and magazines that he knew how to read between the lines and extract data that allowed him to discover the true economic situation of the country.

“When they detained me, on March 19, 2003, it was around 9:00 in the morning, and State Security spent five hours requisitioning papers and documents,” he told me. I reproduce here the first two paragraphs of that interview:

“He returned home on a Saturday. After seven years and eight months behind the bars of a cell and the squeaking of Chinese padlocks, the economist Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, 68 years old, at 6:30 in the morning of his first Sunday in liberty, sat down in the park situated in front of the modest building where he lives, in the neighborhood of Centro Habana.

“He wanted to contemplate the dawn, breathe fresh air and see ordinary people carrying their bags to do their Sunday shopping. He wanted to feel like a free man. After two hours of meditation, the sun began to heat up the morning, and the noise of the kids with their bats, balls, roller skates and soccer balls broke his personal spell.

“Then he began what was always his daily routine. Standing in the tiresome line to buy the official press at a nearby kiosk. It’s one of his manias. Gathering the daily Cuban newspapers and archiving them in a box.”

This mulato was born May 27, 1942 and died on November 3, 2016 in Havana, his native city. He lived in a tenement and made something of himself, overcoming poverty and prejudice. He managed to become an economist, marry a woman who also studied and graduated as a doctor, specializing in radiology, had two children and grandchildren and formed a solid family. He stays with me in his writings, which can be found on the Internet and in numerous blogs and digital sites.

But, above all, I am left with knowing what an extraordinary human being Arnaldo Ramos was, with incredible memory, simplicity and modesty. He has more learning and talent than most of the dissidents who surrounded him, but he always stayed behind the scenes. He had a humility that the present dissident movement lacks, where there are so many who get off on selfies, headlines and having the title of “leader.”

Photo: Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique. Taken from the Facebook page of Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Public Services in Havana: Real Chaos / Iván García

Source: Misceláneas de Cuba.
Source: Misceláneas de Cuba.

Ivan Garcia, 27 October 2016 — The state aqueduct brigade came to La Vitoria neighborhood on Friday morning and using sledgehammers destroyed the sidewalks to install water meters on every home.

The October rains transformed the open ditches into quagmires. Many of the connections were gushing water. Six days later, after the complaints and phone calls from the residents, another brigade arrived from the capital city’s Water and Sewer Company in a rickety truck from the Soviet era, to repair the leaks and fill in the ditches.

The work was bungled. The cement patches on the sidewalks caved in and some of the water meters continued to leak. Leaks of sewage water and drinking water are nothing new in Cuba. Continue reading “Public Services in Havana: Real Chaos / Iván García”

According to reports from the official press, half the drinking water in Havana is lost through leaks in the pipes. Some 50% of the water and sanitation networks in the city are in fair or poor condition.

State media broadcasts commercials targeting the population, urging people to repair the own leaks. But a simple faucet costs a third of a worker’s monthly salary.

Fermín, an official from the Housing Institute, recognizes that between 40 and 60 percent of the multifamily buildings in Havana have problems in their water and sewer lines.

“From leaks to poor installation in the waste networks. For lack of maintenance, the majority of pipes have leaks. Many of the pumps [which pump the water up to tanks on the roofs] are old and are big users of electricity. The tanks of almost all the buildings in Havana haven’t been cleaned for years, which can cause outbreaks of illnesses. The repairs are on the residents. The state, for lack of money, doesn’t repair the city’s buildings,” says Fermín.

The infrastructure of the Cuban capital is lamentable. The trash collection services are insufficient and people throw out their garbage and even broken toilets on any corner. In the streets where tourists don’t generally walk cleaning is conspicuous by its absence.

Only the electricity networks have been repaired, so there is less loss of electricity and the voltage has improved. The same can’t be said about the telephone lines.

“When ETECSA [the state phone company] was a joint venture business with Italian capital repairs were routinely programmed. But now that the Army owns it, it’s painful to observe the working conditions of our technicians. They have to work tying together old wires and many of them are screaming for repairs to be done,” says Delia, an ETECSA engineer.

On a scale of one to ten, the assessment of public transport is a zero. Getting from one place in the city to another can take two or three hours.

In Havana there is a network of articulated buses designated with the letter P. There are 16 routes that, in theory, run every five to ten minutes during rush hour. But most of the time they don’t run any more often than every fifteen minutes and often it’s every hour. The six existing terminals should have a fleet of 540 buses.

“The ideal is that every one of the 16 routes would have 30 buses. But the terminals are outdated or incomplete. There are terminals like Calvario or Alamar, with three routes each and only 35 buses,” says a drive on the P-6 route.

Also planned was a network of buses circulating through the neighborhoods and secondary streets of the city. But there is also a deficit there. That’s the case with the routes 15 and 67, and now people don’t even wait for them, as it’s usually three or more hours between buses.

Taxi service in Cuban pesos is a calamity. In the ’80s Havana had a fleet of almost 3,000 taxies. Today there are fewer than 200. They have to serve the taxi stands at the hospitals, funeral homes and train terminals. Then, when they meet their quota, they run illegally and are more expensive than the private taxis.

There is a fleet of taxis in hard currency, but they are too expensive for most people on the island. They run modern air-conditioned cars. And the prices are at the discretion of the driver.

For three years the hard currency cars were rented to the drivers by the state. According to Manuel, “even though now I can earn 200 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $200) a month, we have to work like slaves for fourteen hours a day to pay the fee imposed by the government, 55 convertible pesos a day. That’s why you don’t see any of the taxis using the meter. The people are greatly affected. If, before, the ride from Vedado to La Vibora was 5 CUC, now it’s 10 or 15 CUC.”

The regime turned its heavy guns on the private taxi drivers, capping prices and threatening them with big fines or the confiscation of their licenses for any who violate the state decrees.

But the official media keeps its mouth shut when it’s time to criticize the prohibitive prices of the hard currency taxis. If getting around the city is a nightmare, having to deal with the bureaucratic red tape is worse.

In Cuba, for anything you want to do there is always the bureaucratic red tape. Since a change in direction, getting a passport or paying a phone bill. The lines are hours-long and the officials, with their crabbed faces, treat us like we’re criminals.

Despite a fourth-world infrastructure, some absent-minded Swiss named Havana a “2016 Wonder City.” Of course its promoter lives in Switzerland.

Translated by Jim

Cuba: Journalists, That’s All / Iván García

Cuba Internet Freedom Panelists
Cuba Internet Freedom Panelists

Iván García, 25 October 2016 — Erasmo Calzadilla, a columnist for the Havana Times digital newspaper, is a controversial chap who listens to opposing arguments but but hangs on doggedly to his own opinions.

In a forum on Cuban journalism, organised by the IWPR (Institute for War and Peace Reporting) in Miami, Calzadilla ran into Luis Cino, an openly anti-Castro reporter, who lives very near to his house, in the the Eléctrico neighbourhood in south Havana.

In the panel discussion groups they came together with different political opinions,  but united by the same aim — to improve journalism in a country where the government tries to transform it into an exercise in loyalty and bending the knee. Continue reading “Cuba: Journalists, That’s All / Iván García”

The IWPR forum was a complete success, as much as the Cuba Internet Freedom conference was, which took place the week before, also in Miami, and which was attended by reporters, bloggers and communicators from the island.

Nothing new was said they nobody knew before at the two events. But it is always good to point to the closed and locked doors which exist in Cuba in order to exercise free expression and write away from state controls.

Elaine Díaz is a journalist of the people and former professor of the Communication Faculty of the University of Havana, and now Director of Periodismo de Barrio (Neighbourhood Journalism), a freelance project which tries to publicise the thousand and one environmental problems suffered by Cubans living in remote communities. In the IWPR forum she summed up the discussion about independent and alternative journalism in one phrase, coined by ex-official journalists: “Journalism is journalism, and that’s all.”

Elaine, along with Carla Gloria Colomé, reporter for El Estornudo (the Sneeze), a nearly-new digital medium on the internet with an entertaining and relaxed angle on the national reality, and Marita Pérez Díaz, the editor of the digital On Cuba Magazine, goes for refined reporting, with light literary touches, when she comes to describing the daily life of ordinary Cubans.

There is also talent on the other side of the street. Men and women born in different provinces, seasoned reporters from the barricades, with experience of reporting from the streets and writing op-eds. There were Ernesto Pérez Chang, Regina Coyula and Augusto César San Martín, politely greeting each other.

Standing on the periphery of the media they were representing,  the participants passionately defended their points of view and journalistic priorities. At the end of the debates, they chatted, took photos and talked about their future projects.

A newspaper column pointing out the repressive nature of the Castro brothers’ regime, can be as effective as an article or report written in the east of the island, particularly following the passage of Hurricane Matthew through Baracoa, Imías and Maisí, among other towns in Guantánamo.

Taking their different routes, each one transmits a message there and back. Cuba needs to change, depoliticising differences of judgement, accepting the rules of democracy, and respecting freedom of expression.

Of course, it isn’t a perfect objective, particularly when we look at the Latin American panorama with its dysfunctional “democracies”, galloping corruption, and governments coming and going, plundering public funds, and where democracy is sometimes a dirty word. It seems to me that one way or another the reporters present at the IWPR forum and at the Cuba Internet Freedom conference, were agreed about respect for differences.

Apart from the participation of prestigious journalists such as Verónica Calderón, who writes in Spanish in The New York Times, and the editor of Political Animal, who always provide interesting material for Cuban reporters, the most important thing, in terms of the meeting supported by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, was different writers getting together under the same roof, without any hysterics, or anyone being verbally attacked or being kicked out.

Nothing like the government’s stance of physical attacks or intolerant comments to those in opposition or reporters who speak out. Right now, there are bad times ahead for the profession in Cuba.

Opinion pieces from reporters writing under orders, and official ventriloquists, paint a dismal picture. They have gone back to frenzied attacks, some of them directed at colleagues from the state press, just because of a wish to depict Cuba in flesh and blood.

There are even reporters who have preferred to abandon their calling, before they become conspirators in carrying out their work in a way which they would find uncomfortable. That is what Yarislay García Montero did, who is now selling coffee and croquettes in Matanzas, where he was born. “Media analysis was going off in one direction while real life was going off in another. I think our journalism is merely partisan, working in an infantile manner, avoiding any conflict, in spite of the quantity of it which occurs on the street”, he says on the El Toque website.

The spiral of threats, malicious lies and repressive methods can put off many journalists from reporting the national reality with all its nuances. In a system like the Cuban one, the word is mightier than the bullet. That is why the regime is trying to silence them.

Photo:  Panel working on independent Cuban journalism, at the Cuba INternet Freedom conference on September 12th and 13th in Wynwood, Miami. Right to left: Miram Celaya, Ignacio González, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, Rachel Vázquez, Iván García and Luis Felipe Rojas. Taken from Babalú Blog.

Translated by GH

Nominated for Reporters Without Borders Prize / Iván García, Tania Quintera

Ivan Garcia (L.), Tania Quintera (C.) and Raul Rivero (R.) Summer 2000
Ivan Garcia (L.), Tania Quintera (C.) and Raul Rivero (R.) Summer 2000

Tania Quintero and Iván García, Lucerne and Havana, 25 October 2016 — To all our friends:

Thank you for the congratulatory emails to Ivan and me (Tania Quintera) for having been nominated by Reporters Without Borders for their Press Freedom Prize in the category of Citizen Journalists.

Thanks also for the notices published in Diario de CubaDiario Las Américas and Martí Noticias.

Let me dwell on the photo from Martí Noticias, the only one where Raul Rivero, Ivan and I all appear together. In the caption they say they we are in the press room of the Cuba Press agency, but as Raul Rivero used to say, Cuba Press was an “abstraction”: it never had a headquarters or a press room. Continue reading “Nominated for Reporters Without Borders Prize / Iván García, Tania Quintera”

Most of the time, the thirty some journalists of Cuba Press, climbed the three flights of stairs to the apartment of Raul and his wife Blanca Reyes, at 466 Penalver between Oquenda and Francos streets in Central Havana, and from its phone, a black apparatus with the number 79-5578, located on the hall table, we dictated our articles to people in Miami or Madrid and they posted them on the internet.  We’re talking about the years 1995-1998.

We had no internet and few Havana homes had cordless phones, which now are common. Then, we didn’t even dream of cellphones, texting, Twitter, Whatsapp, Facebook… If I remember rightly, it was in 199 when 2 or 3 of us from Cuba Press, among them Ivan and I, got some money and went to the Carlos III Mall and bought fax machines, and through them sent our work, a “luxury” in the midst of so much insecurity.

The photo from Marti Noticias, posted here, was taken in the summer of 2000 for a report on Cuban independent journalism, prepared by the Swiss journalists Ruedi Leuthold and Beat Bieri.

Raul in his only denim shirt, Ivan with his Sunday t-shirt, and me with my “coming and going” dress (in 2000 the island of the Castro’s was still living in “a special period in a time of peace”), we were ar Ricardo Gonzales Alfonso’s house, in 88th Street between 9th and 7th, in Miramar.

Three years later, on April 4, 2003, Ricardo and Raul would be tried together in the People’s Court of Diez de Octubre, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. For health reasons, Raul was released in late 2004 and April 1, 2005 came to Madrid as a political refugee.

Ricardo remained in prison until July 2010, when the negotiations between the Catholic Church, the Ladies in White, the Spanish government and Raul Castro, the political prisoners of the Group of 75 were freed and he was exiled to Spain. Ricardo continues to live in Spain, and in Cuba, it is worth remembering, was a correspondent for Reporters Without Borders.

Along with the two of us, Reporters Without Borders is also recognizing the hundreds of journalists, independent, alternative and unofficial today who in Cuba do or try to do journalism by and for Cubans.

But honestly, to be fair, that award should be given to those who are faring worse than we are: our colleagues Lu Li Yuyu Tingyu arrested in China; Ali Al-Mearay, arrested in Bahrain; Negad Roya Saberi, an Iranian-Britin sentenced to five years in prison in Tehran; the Brazilian of Japanese origin Leonardo Sakamoto; or the site SOS Média, of Burundi.

 

Cuba After a Hurricane / Iván García

Elderly married couple married in their house which was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Jesús Lores, El Marrón neighbourhood, Guantánamo. The photo, taken by Leonel Escalona Furones, was taken from the Venceremos newspaper.
Elderly married couple married in their house which was destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Jesús Lores, El Marrón neighbourhood, Guantánamo. The photo, taken by Leonel Escalona Furones, was taken from the Venceremos newspaper.

Iván García, 6 October 2016 — One week. Perhaps two. That’s the shelf-life of news in Cuba about the recovery process after a hurricane has passed through. You can read information, which has a slight smell of triumphalism, about  the various teams of linesmen who re-establish communications and power.

A gallery of moving photos of the disaster provoked by the hurricane in Baracoa. The account is always related in military terms. As if it were an epic battle. If you can believe the newspaper headlines, the olive green big cheeses and first secretaries of the Communist party in the eastern regions really got down and touched base with the people.

While they are inspecting the devastation, they promise to build strong new houses, and they ask the people in neighbouring areas for more work and sacrifice, and tell them they can be absolutely sure that “the revolution will never abandon them”. After that, the news focus fades. Continue reading “Cuba After a Hurricane / Iván García”

Then the state scribblers turn to concentrate on the starting of the new sugar harvest or in the “innumerable production successes”, which can only be effectively conveyed in the black ink of the national and provincial press.

The human drama starts up precisely on the day after a natural catastrophe terminates. Ask any of the 35 families who are surviving in precarious conditions in a big old dump of a place in the town of Cerro. The run-down development, number 208, is located way down in Domínguez Street.

The authorities declared the building uninhabitable in 1969. Its occupants have seen a dozen hurricanes pass through. As a result of the floods of April 29, 2015, caused by torrential downpours, Raúl Fernández lost all the electrical appliances his wife brought from Venezuela. “I am 46 and I was born in this place. I have spent years asking for an apartment so I can leave here and, up to now, my requests have been in vain. The town council is well aware of the situation of the families here and they do nothing”.

Some tenants say that the only things they have received have been foam mattresses. “But, if we wanted them, we would have to pay, in cash or installments. It is 900 pesos for singles and 1,400 for the bigger ones. Government corruption. Because insurance doesn’t work, or works badly in Cuba, people have to pay for the fuck-all that they give you — a mattress, a rice cooker and a packet of spoons and cups, says Magaly, who has lived in Domínguez for 20 years.

In 2015, by way of Resolution no, 143, The Ministry of Finance and Prices put out a regulation containing the procedure for valuing, certifying, setting prices, accounts, finance, fees, and risk and damage management in cases of natural, health and technological disasters.

That’s to say a family which loses its possessions needs to pay for what the state can give it at the commercial retail price level. If it can’t, they authorise a credit which has to be repaid in accordance with the terms set out by the bank.

Also, based on analysis of the economic situation of the victim’s family, the Peoples’ Council, or Defence Zone, can propose to the Municipal Council or the Municipal Defence Council, if it considers appropriate, that the bank loan interest be partially or wholly assumed by the public purse.

Olga, aged 71, retired, and resident in a poor area of Havana, lost an ancient cathode ray tube television, refrigerator, saucepans, rice boiler and all her clothing.

“After an interminable paper-chase and standing in queues for hours, where I had to demonstrate that I only have my pension to live on, they gave me an airbed, some extra-large size used clothes, a half-broken rice boiler, a refrigerator motor, for which I had to pay a mechanic 500 pesos to install. For a year I have had to listen to TV soaps on the radio. And the number one item in the political propaganda is about Civil Defence performance, which is good for saving lives, but as for repairing the damage suffered by the victims, the government does nothing”, says Olga.

There are families like Jorge Castillo’s, who live in a shabby room in an old lodging house in the south of Havana, turned into a hostel for victims, who have put up there for fourteen years waiting for a home.

“That was the time of the tropical storm Edward in 2002. Imagine waiting until the people came from Santiago, having lost their homes in Cyclone Sandy in 2012 and now the people from Baracoa after Matthew passed”, says Jorge.

On 25 October, 2012, Barrio Rojo, in Mar Verde, Santiago de Cuba, nearly 1000 km east of Havana, was wiped off the map by the destructive 175 kph gusts of wind of Hurricane Sandy.

“Mar Verde is a community which has been officially recognised since 1981. It is located on the beach of the same name, forms part of the Agüero-Mar Verde Peoples’ Council, which covers 62.5 square kms and is District 47 out of the 277 which constitute the town of Santiago de Cuba. There is no postal service there, shops, farmers’ markets, pharmacies, schools or grocery stores. Only a family medical consultancy offering a basic service, reports the journalist Julio Batista in a shocking article published in Periodismo de Barrio last February.

Thirty one families, 85 persons in total, who lost their homes during Hurricane Sandy, live in little shacks in a poor old campsite where the water comes through the pipes only every 10 or 11 days.

The authorities have promised to let them have a group of new houses. But it’s a never-ending tale. First they said in December 2014 they would hand over the keys to 56 of the 250 homes. Then, in December 2015. Now, according to Julio Batista’s report, they are talking about finishing the works in December 2016.

But the people living in the Mar Verde campsite are sceptical. The people who lost their properties through natural disasters, whether in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo or Baracoa, feel they have been misled by the government. Or that it has not been frank with them. As if the tragedy they are living through is nothing much.

Diario Las Américas, 7 October 2016.

Translated by GH

Internet Access Remains a Luxury in Cuba / Iván García

Cuban state phone company internet room. Source: Asriran.
Cuban state phone company internet room. Source: Asriran.

Ivan Garcia, 11 October 2016 — Marcos, the fifty-six-year-old owner of an illegal gambling operation, went to Cordova Park in Havana’s La Vibora neighborhood to chat online with a friend who lives in Miami. When he got there, he wondered if he was dreaming.

Perhaps there are people in some remote corner of Africa or in the Amazon rain forest who are still surprised by the possibilities the internet provides. On a planet where there are as many mobile phones as people, access to cutting-edge technologies has spurred economic, cultural and scientific development in a number of countries.

The underutilization of worldwide web in Cuba is comparable to the rejection of motorized transportation, television and antibiotics by puritanical cults. Continue reading “Internet Access Remains a Luxury in Cuba / Iván García”

The regime is fond of saying that the island’s most valuable resource is its human capital. The country boasts of more than a million university graduates and the average person attends school through the twelfth grade. But what does it matter if in the twenty-first century countless Cubans are unaware of the unlimited powers of the internet.

In a country with stagnant economy in crisis due to government mismanagement, with no significant natural resources and with an infrastructure in serious disrepair, encouraging the adoption of start-up technologies that have the potential to unleash expansion of the tourism industry and domestic electronic commerce should be a priority.

But the autocratic regime has always looked upon the internet with suspicion, assuming it to be a CIA-designed Trojan horse. This fear has put the island at the tail end of countries with limited internet access and mortgaged the nation’s future.

There are not many entrepreneurs in Cuba like Reinaldo, the owner of a bar in southern Havana who saw his sales increase 25% after launching a website.

It has been private businesspeople, especially those based in the capital or in cities near tourist destinations, who have pioneered the use of the internet as something more than simply a information tool.

For roughly 90% of state-owned enterprises, the web is a mere formality. Visit their websites and you will see how poorly the internet is being used to attract potential buyers and investors.

Online commerce in Cuba is extremely limited and geared strictly to a foreign market. Even then, very few stores offer Cubans living overseas the option of purchasing food or home appliances online.

The service is also expensive, slow and inefficient. In theory, the Carlos III mall in downtown Havana offers e-commerce. “But it leaves a lot to be desired. They sometimes wait two or three weeks to ship purchases,” says Olga Lidia, a regular customer whose daughter lives in Canada and sends her merchandise this way.

According to a floor manager at Carlos III, transportation shortages and “the little fuel they allocate us are the reasons internet sales are bad or almost non-existent.”

Internet use in the national educational system is scandalously low. Primary, secondary and college preparatory schools do not have access to the information highway.

Universities do have internet facilities but the connection speeds are so slow that the ability of take full advantage of the web’s possibilities is limited, rendering its usefulness questionable.

“Every student gets a certain number of hours a month but the machines are old, broken or barely working. You can almost never use them to do a research paper or homework assignment. Generally, students use them to gossip on Facebook or to read about sports and celebrity gossip. Using internet proxies to access sites blocked by the government such as as Martí Noticias, Diario de Cuba and 14ymedio would be unthinkable. The fallout would be huge” says a telecommunications engineering student.

Infomed, a vast network for local medical professionals, has filters to detect access to websites that the regime considers counterrevolutionary and to “oligarchic [periodicals] that are part of the campaign of distortion against Cuba.” One doctor notes that, “even in emails you have to choose your words very carefully or they can cut off your access.”

Some workplaces have internet access but, before being able to use it, staff must sign a code of ethics agreement promising to “use it appropriately in accordance with the principles of the socialist revolution.”

“You have to be inventive. You cannot open international email accounts or send emails to relatives overseas. People do it but, if they catch you, they punish you. You lose your monthly hard currency bonus and they take away your internet access,” says an engineer with ETECSA, Cuba’s telecommunications monopoly.

After commercial wifi hotspots became available in June 2013, more than a million users opened Nauta accounts.

One hour of internet access initially cost 4.5 convertible pesos (CUC), the equivalent of one week’s salary for a working professional. But in 2015 the price fell to 2 CUC per hour, roughly three days’ salary for a construction worker.

A network traffic specialist notes that “80% of internet activity in Cuba involves using social media, looking for work overseas, registering for international immigration lotteries, talking to family members in other countries, shopping on sites with overseas servers or reading sports articles, especially those by ESPN and Marca. Only 20% of of internet users go online to do research or read Cuban blogs.”

In the various wifi hotspots around the country, most people use it strictly to chat with friends and relatives overseas.

Marcos, the owner of the illegal betting operation, is convinced that connecting online is like traveling from the past to the future with one click.

In Spite of Hurricanes, Easterners Manage to Survive / Iván García

Two men from the village of Paraguay, in Guantánamo, moving with their suitcases to a more secure place before the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. Taken from The Daily Times.
Two men from the village of Paraguay, in Guantánamo, moving with their suitcases to a more secure place before the arrival of Hurricane Matthew. Taken from The Daily Times.

Ivan Garcia, 5 October 2016 — Right now, it’s easier to get to Miami than to Santiago de Cuba. To visit the second largest city on the Island, there are two daily flights that are rarely on time; you have to take a train for around 20 hours, or buy a bus ticket, a whole adventure where you get a mix of satire, drama, and, of course, the chance to pay five or ten convertible pesos under the table as a bribe.

If anyone knows hardship, it’s the Cubans who live in the eastern regions. Living far away from the coasts of Florida, diplomatic headquarters and media focal points, their first step toward migration is to escape to Havana. Continue reading “In Spite of Hurricanes, Easterners Manage to Survive / Iván García”

Havana is a city where, to their misfortune, the Cuban Adjustment Act doesn’t exist. Long before Donald Trump tried to enter the White House, with his primitive isolationism and huge stupidity, Fidel Castro advanced a project to build a legal wall: Decree 217, or the Law of Internal Migratory Regulations, which, since April 22, 1997, restricts those born in the east of the Island from living in the capital, which supposedly belongs to all Cubans.

The worst things in Cuba happen to easterners. Regulations, laws to put the brakes on their internal migration, being exposed to earthquakes, drought, and, in 2012 to Hurricane Sandy, and now, with the imminent arrival of Hurricane Matthew, they suffer more devastation caused by natural phenomena than the central and western provinces.

Their sing-song accents, extended mania for throwing down rum and for living in subhuman conditions, are the stuff of jokes with racist and xenophobic overtones made by habaneros, residents of Havana, who call them palestinos, Palestinians.

If you visit any of a hundred illegal slums set up in the darkness of night and constructed with recyclable materials in different districts of Havana, you will see that most of the residents are orientales, easterners, who are fleeing from poverty in search of better salaries.

Néstor is one of them. For seven years he has lived in a hut made of poorly arranged bricks with a tile roof, in a foul-smelling and dingy field that is a stone’s throw from the landfill of Calle 100, in Havana’s Marianao district.

He lives from garbage. He earns money by collecting raw material that has apparently ended its useful life, like shoes, electric appliances and sports watches, which, after a process of repair, are sold at low prices in the traveling stalls that are set up in Havana.

“The eastern part of Cuba is at death’s door. There’s no money or food. I worked as a custodian in a school and earned 225 Cuban pesos a month — around eight dollars — and when I went to a shop to buy a pair of shoes, the price was from 500 to 600 pesos. Havana is dirty, many houses are held up by a miracle, but you can find money there,” says Néstor.

Luis, a santiaguero, resident of Santiago de Cuba, living for 10 years in Santos Suárez, a neighborhood south of the capital, sells tamales. While driving his tricycle-trailer, he hawks his hot tamales as soon as they’re made.

“Not even in the distant past was nature in favor of santiagueros. Earthquakes, drought, and now we’re also threatened by this powerful hurricane. There people are butting their heads against the wall trying to invent money. Recreation is dancing reggaeton and drinking homemade rum. Things in Cuba are bad, but in the east everything is much worse,” points out Luis.

With the arrival of Hurricane Matthew, thousands of easterners who are settled in Havana worry about the future of their relatives. “Every evening I call my mother and brothers, and I pray that the hurricane won’t carry away their little house. We are from San Pedrito — a neighborhood in Santiago de Cuba — and we have more trouble than a slave working under the sun. It’s pitiful. As soon as they get up, people start drinking alcohol and gossiping about the neighbors,” says Lucila, a worker in an agro-market in El Cerro.

The disgust of many people from Havana toward easterners is provoked a little by the myth and by the rude behavior toward the citizens by the police, composed mainly by natives of those regions*.

“Easterners are known for being informers, bums, and alcoholics. It’s all the same to me if the hurricane goes through Oriente, and if it does, the orientales can piss off,” sneers Octavio, a habanero who kills time by talking nonsense on street corners.

Carlos, a sociologist, considers that many people have a real problem with Cubans born in the east. “What bothers habaneros the most is the terrible treatment by the police – their lack of culture, bad manners and inferiority complex. Probably they’re not pleased that most of the State officials, headed by Fidel and Raúl, come from the eastern provinces. There is the false belief that cheap whores and hustlers arrive by train from the east to create more problems in the capital. The State, with Decree-Law 217, opened the door to xenophobic feelings that have always existed below the surface in a segment of the population born in Havana. I don’t think it’s a serious problem. But more attention should be paid to the frankly pejorative attitude towards easterners,” indicates the sociologist.

Like any group of Cubans, Havana is only the first step for the easterners. The next trip, if they get enough money or are claimed by their relatives on the other side of the pond, is to land in Miami.

Iván García

Hispanopost, October 3, 2016.

*Translator’s note: Easterners are recruited to be police officers in Havana with the incentive not only of a steady job but also of the nearly-impossible-to-obtain permit to live in the capital city.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Making a Living in Cuba on Gambling / Iván García

Betting on a cock fight in Cuba. Source
Betting on a cock fight in Cuba. Source: Cubanet

Iván García, 26 September 2016 — Although the bleachers of the old stadium in Cerro are deserted, the overcast sky promises rain and the poor quality of the baseball game between Industriales and Sancti Spiritus invites a siesta, a chubby mulato with arms tattooed in Chinese writing — let’s call him Óscar — sits on the left side in the bleachers to place bets.

“Some years before, betting on baseball had more followers. But present-day baseball is so depressing that people prefer to see a European-league football [soccer] match. But there’s always something that comes along,” he says, agreeing to a bet of 10 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) with a gray-haired man who smokes a mentholated cigarette.

There are various types of bets, explains Óscar. “There are bets that cover you, which are when you see you can lose, and then you opt for what we call rapid bets. An example: Ten pesos that some player is out or that the pitch is a strike. It’s really a booby trap, since in baseball there are more outs than hits or men on base, and the pitchers have to throw more strikes than balls.” Continue reading “Making a Living in Cuba on Gambling / Iván García”

Bets or gambling where money flows is an old passion in Cuba. In the Republican era, the average Cuban played the lottery and the bolita or charada.* And he bet on cock fights, baseball games, or a match of billiards or dominoes.

A sector of the wealthy class went to the casinos and the grand Havana hotels to play roulette, dice or cards, or they went to the Hippodrome, to bet on the best horses. After Fidel Castro came down from the Sierra Maestra and took power, betting was prohibited.

Opportunistic soldiers and diehard supporters of the bearded revolutionaries wrecked the billiard tables, slot machines and roulette tables in the casinos with baseball bats and meat cleavers.

The delusional aim of the Castro brothers and the Argentine, Che Guevara, to construct a laboratory man who would work for free without pay, obey the Regime and hate Yankee imperialism, would happen, among other things, by prohibiting betting.

Cuban laws punish, with prison sentences that range from three months to five years, those who facilitate or manage illegal casinos, lotteries or make bets.

But the prolonged economic crisis that has lasted for 27 years has postponed alienating social experiments and their corresponding punishments.

“Now the police don’t interfere with the betters or the fanatics who gamble for money. It has to be an operation in search of some criminal who goes to clandestine gambling houses. But when they get you, they give you a fine of 60 Cuban pesos (around three dollars); they confiscate the money and release you without opening a file,” says Mauricio, owner of a burle, an illegal gambling house in popular slang.

The burles sprout like flowers in Cuba. There are various classes. The authentic dens are set up in grimy quarters where poor people, pickpockets and rogues gamble a handful of pesos at cards or by throwing dice. But there are also comfortable residences where people go who have money from stealing in tourist centers or prostituting themselves with foreigners.

“In my burle, in order to sit down to gamble, you have to put 5,000 Cuban pesos or 200 Cuban convertible pesos on the table. We also accept dollars, euros, Swiss francs or pounds sterling,” indicates David, the owner of a clandestine casino in the old part of Havana.

According to Mauricio, the preferred games are “three with three, a Creole variation of poker, the longana, which is played with domino tiles, baccarat and Cee-lo, which came from the Orient and is played with dice.” And he says that Cee-lo as well as diverse variants of card games “surged in the prisons, where the prisoners, instead of betting with money, bet with sugar cubes, powdered milk or pornographic magazines.”

In some burles, they also hold cock fights, one of the oldest traditions in rural Cuba. After 1959, pens for fighting cocks were prohibited, but now they’re tolerated on the whole Island and involve a lot of money.

The furor for soccer has generated clubs that make discreet bets. In the absence of a betting game, Román notes in a school notebook the bets for the weekend matches in the European leagues.

“There are those who gamble 5 CUC. But there are bets of 500 CUC and more. It depends on the importance of the match. In the Madrid-Barcelona match, a lot of bills were flying around. People bet until someone gets a goal,” emphasizes Román.

New technologies have incentivized other forms of bets. “There are groups, above all of young people, who gamble in clandestine video-game networks and place big bets. It also pays to have five or six computers with video-games and rent them at one cuc an hour,” explains Ángel, who has set up an illegal business of video-games.

The owners of the burles earn 10 percent of the bets in every game. Films of car races, like The Fast and The Furious, brought to the destroyed Cuban roads the competition of cars and motorcycles for money.

There are no Ferraris, Toyotas or Lamborghinis in Cuba. The races are run, in general, with old U.S. autos, fabricated in the workshops of Detroit 70 years ago, and upgraded cars from the Soviet era. In the rural areas, they organize races of “spiders” or horse carts.

“In the car races, bets can go up to three or four thousand Cuban convertibles. They always choose the best stretch of the road. And every police patrol car is paid 20 CUC to ensure security for the area,” says an organizer of these races.

Other variants of prohibited games are dog fights and clandestine boxing. But the star game of betting in Cuba is the bolita, a local variant of the lottery.

Hundreds of thousands of people play it. From guys with bulging pockets to pensioners who earn nothing. For every peso bet, the bank pays between 80 or 90 pesos at a fixed number. Twenty-five pesos invested and 900 or 1,000 pesos in a trifecta or a combination of two numbers. You bet from one to 100, and every number has one or more meanings. The results come from the lottery in Miami, and there are two rounds of bets.

Any Cuban who hasn’t tried his luck in the bolita, raise your hand.

Iván García

Hispanost, September 8, 2016.

*Translator’s note: *”Little Ball” was a type of lottery which involved 100 small, numbered balls. The charada assigned names of animals to the numbers. This created a superstitious method for betting, often basing a choice on a dream or an animal seen during the day. The horse was number 1; this is why Fidel Castro was often referred to as el caballo.

Translated by Regina Anavy