The Cuban Regime Has Redoubled Its Assault On The Private Sector / Iván García

Police raids against private vendors are common in Havana.

Ivan Garcia, 24 February 2017 — Marino Murillo, the presumptive tsar of economic reforms in Cuba, a prime minister with broad powers, passed up a seat in the first row next to the senior staff of a long-lived revolution governed by an exclusive club of elders who, as a group, have lived almost 500 years, to take a seat in the third row, far from the spotlight and the cameras.

In closed societies, where rumors are more truthful than the information offered by the State press, you have to learn to read between the lines. Lacking a government office that offers public information to its citizens, academics, journalists and political scientists, you must look with a magnifying glass at the most insignificant signs. continue reading

That morning in December 2015, when the autocrat Raúl Castro feigned indignation before the more than 600 deputies of the monotone national parliament about the abusive prices of agricultural products, was the beginning of the end for Marino Murillo.

Castro II requested that measures be applied. And not very consistently, alleging the law of supply and demand that governs the produce markets, Murillo mumbled that he would try to implement different regulations to try to curb the increase in prices.

Apparently this wasn’t sufficient. The previous super-minister fell into disgrace, and now not even his photo appears in the official media, although theoretically he continues at the front of the agenda, charged with implementing the economic guidelines, a kind of commandment that moves at a snail’s pace and with serious delays: In six years, only a little more than 20 percent of the guidelines have been implemented.

With the fading-out of fatso Murillo, the dynamic of timid economic reforms — together with openings in the obsessive defense of Fidel Castro, who transformed Cubans into third-class citizens — the game began to be directed by the most rancid and conservative of the military leadership.

It was essential to open to the world and repeal the feudal exit permit needed to travel outside the island, to permit Cubans to rent hotel rooms and to buy or sell houses, among other normal regulations in any country in the 21st century.

There is no doubt that this was a leap forward, with barriers, absurd prices and spite for people who make money. Yes, in Cuba they sell cars, but a Peugeot 508 is worth more than a Ferrari, and you must pay cash.

The Internet and cell phones are not exactly tools of science fiction, but the price for service is insane for a country where the average salary is 25 dollars a month.

The supposed reforms were always incomplete. They were left halfway. Cubans cannot invest in large businesses; professionals don’t have authorization to work for themselves, and the State claims the right to establish a ridiculous list of jobs that are or are not permitted.

Of the 201 authorized jobs, there are at least 10 or 15 enterprises where, with creativity and effort, you can make large sums of money, always taking into account the Cuban context, where anyone who earns 10,000 Cuban pesos a month (about $400) is considered “rich.” This is a country where for almost 60 years, the average citizen is sponsored by the State.

Of course the regulations, excessive taxes, harassment by State inspectors and a deadly clause in the Government’s economic bible, which prohibits persons or groups from accumulating large sums of capital, hinder prosperity and the boom in private work.

In a nation where the Government has been in charge of clothing, shoeing, rewarding or punishing its citizens, a margin of liberalism, as small as it is, was an oasis for a half million entrepreneurs who now live on the margins of the State.

The starting shot that would put the handbrake on the reforms began on December 17, 2014, when President Barack Obama and General Raúl Castro, of mutual accord, put an end to the incredible Cold War between Cuba and the United States.

Once out of the trenches, Obama began to launch packets of measures with the marked intention of favoring private workers. The Regime didn’t like that.

They wanted to do business with the gringos but with their own State enterprises, not to empower the private ones. Then, progressively, the Castro autocracy started to slow down the dynamic sector, probably the only one that was growing on the Island, that paid salaries from three to five times more than the State, and which gave employment to some 20 percent of the work force.

In autumn of 2015, a negative dynamic began. Presently only 30 percent of the supply-and-demand produce markets are functioning. The State harasses and penalizes the cart vendors who sell meat, fruit and vegetables, and they have declined by 50 percent. The State closed the largest produce market in Trigal, south of Havana, and the Taliban juggernaut expects to increase with regulations and taxes on all the buoyant businesses in gastronomy, transport and hotel services.

What’s this new “revolutionary offensive” about? I don’t think it has the reach of the confiscations of french fry stands and shoeshine stalls of 1968, or the counter-reforms for certain openings in the 1980s and ’90s.

But it’s undeniable that the Regime doesn’t want the train to derail. Presently there’s a small segment of Cubans, between 60,000 and 100,000 persons, who have amassed small fortunes thanks to their taste and talent for business.

We’re talking about 100,000 dollars going forward, an insignificant figure in any First World country, but extraordinary in a country impoverished by the poor management of the Castro brothers.

In addition to pleasure and social status, money engenders power. While Castroism functions in Cuba, private businesses will not be able to prosper. This is the reason for the brakes put on the private owners.

A word of advice to the olive green Regime: Be careful with excesses. In December 2010, an abusive fine on the owner of a food stand, Mohammed Buazisi, who out of contempt immolated himself, put a final end to the Tunisian dictatorship of Ben Ali and unchained the Arab Spring.

In its present offensive against the private taxi drivers, the Cuban authorities shouldn’t forget what happened in Tunisia a little more than six years ago. In societies of order and control, the devil is always in the details.

 

Translated by Regina Anavy

Do We Have to Wait for the Government to Sell the Peugeot 508s to Improve Public Transport? / Iván García

Havanans boarding a the bus. From OnCuba magazine

Ivan Garcia, 18 February 2017 — Seven in the morning at the bus stop at Acosta Avenue and Poey Street, in the dense La Vibora neighborhood in southern Havana. Almost a hundred people are waiting for the No. 174 bus to Vedado.

While waiting for the bus, some take the opportunity to have a coffee from the roving coffee-seller. Others breakfast on bread with croquette or an egg sandwich from a private cantina, continually looking at the bus stop, in case a ‘guagua’ (bus) shows up. continue reading

Also at Acosta and Poey, some 40 people are in a line waiting for their turn to catch a shared-taxi to Vedado. Jaime, a maintenance worker in a polyclinic, can’t give himself the luxury of taking taxis.

“In the morning the taxi driver charges twenty “reeds” (Cuban pesos, CUP) to Vedado. Since I work in Playa, I have to take a second taxi for another 20 pesos. The return is the same. Eighty ‘coconuts’ to come and go from work, and I only get paid 20 a day. If I take a taxi I can make the trip in an hour, and if I wait for the bus, it’s three hours coming and going. Many documentaries, books and recorded chats about the life and work of Fidel Castro, but the government spent 60 years without being able to solve the transport problem. This is crap, brother,” says Jaime, notably angry.

If you want to meet a Cuban ruminating on the horrors of Castroism, visit him at home during a blackout, or ask him about the supposed benefits of socialism at the bus stop crammed with people.

At best, he relaxes at a popular pachanga (party) with some cheap beer and infamous rum, with reggaeton or aggressive timba in the background. But when it comes from moving from one place to other in Havana, they put on a whole other face.

Like Mireya’s face right now. She’s a kitchen helper at a school. “Oh mother. I leave at 6:30 in the morning to catch a bus. And at 8:00 I’m still at the stop. And when you do manage to get on, you have to keep your wits about you because at least opportunity the pickpockets will lift your wallet. And don’t even talk about the perverts. They shove themselves up against your ‘package’ from behind like you’re their wife. The other day some shameless guy was so hot he took it out and masturbated in plain sight,” said Mireya, talking openly to everyone around her.

The lines at the butcher shop to buy “chicken for fish,” or to do legal paperwork, or to wait for public transport, have become a kind of people’s plaza where a journalist, politician or specialist in social topics could take the pulse of a nation. Two years ago, the president of Finland disguised himself as a taxi driver to learn his compatriot’s opinions about his management of the state. That would be a good example for the Cuban authorities to follow.

Managing efficient public transport, be it land, air, rail or sea, is something the olive green junta that governs Cuban can’t get done.

Fidel Castro, today feted for his extensive anti-imperialist discourse and his role in the decolonization struggle of Africa, was never able to design a working transportation system for the island.

Havana, with its million and a half inhabitants, and a million foreign tourists and illegal visitors from other provinces, probably features among the worst cities of the world to get from one place or another quickly and cheaply.

In the 1960s, Fidel Castro acquired three thousand Leyland buses in Great Britain for urban and interprovincial transport. But it wasn’t like that. In the following decades, they were bought in Spain, Japan, Hungary, Brazil and China.

In Havana it has always been an odyssey to travel by bus. At its best, there were more than 100 bus routes in the capital and 2,500 buses plus a fleet of 4,000 taxis, bought from the Argentina military dictatorship, although they never finished paying for them.

With the coming of the Special Period in 1990, the closest thing to a war without bombs, public transport experienced its real death throes. The “camels” — a monster patented by some sadistic engineer — were container trailers outfitted with seats and pulled by a semi-truck tractor unit that could carry 300 people each, packed like sardines in a can.

Havanans still remember the memorable brawls inside the “camels,” worthy of an Olympic boxing match. Those steel boxes were saunas in the tropical heat and according to street legends they served to procreate dozens of kids of unknown fathers.

If every Cuban state official had to pay a penny for every revealed lie, believe me, there would be a legion of new rich on the island. Many thought it was a bad joke, but in 2014, the government, in complete seriousness, after authorizing the sale of Peugeots at Ferrari prices, announced that they were going to use the profits to create a fund to buy buses to improve urban transport.

Three years later not a single Peugeot 508 has been sold. Logically, you don’t have to have a Nobel in economics to know that no one is going to pay the equivalent of 300,000 dollars for a touring car. And in cash.

Thus, ordinary Cubans like the worker Jaime and the cook Mireya, are still waiting two hours to board a city bus. Until all those lovely Peugeots are sold.

Private Taxi Drivers Feel Harassed By The Cuban Government / Iván García

Taken from Habana Live.

Iván García, 15 February 2017 — Decidedly, equanimity isn’t one of Pastor’s strong points. He’s an industrial engineer transformed into a private taxi driver, and six days a week he drives a 1954 Dodge with a body from a Detroit factory, patched up a couple of times in a Havana workshop and improved with a German engine from a Mercedes Benz, a South Korean transmission and a steering wheel from a Lada of the Soviet era. With this car he operates on a fixed-route as a shared-taxi.

This mechanical Frankenstein is the livelihood of Pastor, his wife, four children and two grandchildren. “When I stop driving, it’s felt in the house. So I have to be driving 12 or 13 hours daily. My family and even my in-laws live from my almendrón (old American car). The government considers us taxi drivers as tycoons, newly rich. But that’s not true,” says Pastor, while he drives his taxi through the narrow Monte Street in the direction of the Parque de la Fraternidad. continue reading

At the end of the trip, he parks very close to the Saratoga Hotel and enumerates details of the collective taxi business in Havana. “There are two types of taxi drivers. Those who own their car, like me, and those who lease it to someone who owns five or six cars and makes money renting them out. We all pay the same tax, which the State raises each year, by using some ruse,” he comments, and he adds:

“The study that ONAT, the National Tax Office, did, which controls private work on the Island, is very elementary. Its calculations are removed from reality. The deductions for the time we aren’t working are erroneous. Sometimes the car has to be in the shop for two or more months.

But the transportation problem, which the government tries to blame us for, is something that they haven’t resolved. If my business is one of supply and demand, then no one should stick their nose into my prices. It doesn’t concern the State. If they want to improve public transportation let them buy hundreds of busses and taxis, so they can see how low prices have fallen,” says Pastor, who, as we’re chatting, becomes impassioned, and more than a few swear words sprinkle the conversation.

“This can only happen in a dictatorship. If they really want things to get better they would have had a dialogue with us, the taxi drivers, who in the capital alone number more than 10,000. Compadre, the State doesn’t give a shit about helping us. They don’t give us so much as a single screw. We pay them everything. What would have been a good solution? To sell us gas, which now costs 1.10 Cuban convertible pesos (roughly $1.10 US) in the government filling stations, at 10 or 15 Cuban pesos (roughly $0.40 to $0.60 US), and then require us to have fixed prices on a route,” says Pastor, indignant.

If you talk with any of the private taxi drivers in Havana, you will note their barely-contained irritation. “It’s simple: If the government continues fucking with me, I’ll surrender my State license tomorrow and work under the table. Actually, there’s a ton of people who are doing that. They don’t have enough police to be going after 15,000 illegal taxi drivers,” says a taxi driver who drives the Havana-Playa route.

Eliecer, a driver on the Lisa-Parque Central route, explains his accounting. “I drive for a lady who owns the auto. I pay her 25 CUC daily. But I have to pay for repairs and gasoline. After the 600 Cuban pesos that I turn over to the owner, I earn between 400 and 500 Cuban pesos daily. But I don’t have any rest. I kill myself working.”

What especially bothers Osvel, a retired soldier, is the arrogance of the authorities. “What would it cost the government to meet with us and negotiate a good agreement? But no, they do it as they see fit. It’s true that you can earn 10 times what you would working for the State, but you always have to put money aside in case of breakdowns, because the cars are old and need frequent repairs. The easiest way is to force it on people, an old government custom.”

In a note published in the government newspaper Granma on February 8, the authorities divided the city into 30 routes and determined the prices that they think should be charged from one stretch or destination to another in the city.

The other side of the problem is the customers. Eight out of 12 people interviewed said they were upset by the increase in taxi prices in Havana. “The taxi drivers have some nerve. Because they’ve had the balls to double and triple their prices. If they think the government is abusing them, then let them have a strike in the Plaza de la Revolución, but don’t try to get out of it by raising prices and fucking the passenger,” comments Daniel, who says he spent an hour waiting for a taxi on Calzada de Diez de Octubre.

In July 2016, the Regime decreed that prices were going up, and they opened a telephone line for complaints from the population. Many taxi drivers stopped driving for several days, and the majority decided to split the routes. For example, the route from La Palma to the Parque de la Fraternidad, which cost 10 pesos, was divided into two: 10 pesos up to Toyo and Calzada de Luyanó, and another 10 pesos up to the Parque de la Fraternidad.

“The problem is that before, you could get gas on the black market. But since last spring, the government began controlling the fuel that was being stolen from State businesses. Now you have to buy it in CUCs, and it costs more than double than it did under the table. And then they raise the prices, explained a taxi driver.

All those interviewed agree, taxi drivers as well as users, that with these populist measures the government is trying to disguise who’s really guilty and their proven inefficiency and incapacity to design a functional model of transport.

Pastor, angry, goes further. “It’s an undeclared war on private workers. Why don’t they raise the prices for taxis rented from the State? They work almost without using the taximeter and then charge twice or three times as much as they did two years ago. And in CUCs.”

The fleet of modern autos painted yellow that circulate in the city, for use by tourists or citizens with deep pockets, pay 55 CUC daily to the State as a leasing fee.

The government isn’t stupid. They’re not going to start a battle with taxi drivers who report their income. And in CUCs.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Trump, Rodiles and the Cuban Opposition / Juan Orlando Perez

Antonio Rodiles speaking at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on December 14, 2016, by McClatchy DC

Juan Orlando Pérez, 1 February 2017, (re-published in Ivan Garcia’s blog on 7 February 2017) — Antonio Rodiles, one of the Cuban government’s most tireless enemies, or at least one of its most eloquent, has said that the arrival of Donald Trump at the White House is “good news for Cuba.”

It is difficult to criticize Rodiles, who every day faces the danger of State Security agents, or his own neighbors, breaking his nose — they have already done this once with exquisite precision — or of being accused of some monstrosity such as contempt of court, assault, incitement to violence or failure to attend Fidel Castro’s funeral, resulting in him being cast into a windowless dungeon without light or justice. continue reading

Every Sunday, Rodiles leaves his house Havana to protest against a government that he considers illegitimate. While not comparable to the battles of Peralejo or Las Guásimas, much less the crossing of the Trocha de Mariel to Majana, this action is one that does require more political and personal courage than all the deputies of the National Assembly together could muster to change a single comma in a decree from Raul Castro’s government, should they even notice a comma misplaced.

Unlike other leaders of the Cuban opposition and most deputies of the National Assembly, Rodiles knows how to speak correctly, in proper Spanish. Perhaps that is why foreign journalists prefer to talk to him rather than to others whom they can barely understand. But what he told the Spanish newspaper El País is dangerous nonsense.

In no way can Trump be “good news” for Cuba when he is so bad for all the other countries of the world, including those whose leaders — Vladimir Putin, Theresa May, Benjamin Netanyahu — selfishly hope to benefit from the ascent of a thug to the presidency of the United States. At least Rodiles does not contend Trump is not a thug.

Rodiles declined to say if Trump’s victory was also good news for the United States. “I don’t want to get into that,” he said flatly. “It’s not my problem.”

Perhaps Rodiles thinks that if personnel at the American Embassy in Havana or at the State Department in Washington hear him criticizing Trump’s character, skills or intentions, even if the criticism is so mild it might almost be considered a kind remark, he will no longer be invited to the embassy or to conferences, congresses and seminars — one takes place every month in Miami, Madrid or Washington — where the participants ardently debate the future of Cuba, condemn Castro’s wickedness and lament Barack Obama’s faintheartedness.

Rodiles’ discretion — his refusal to express an opinion about the domestic issues of another country — is admirable, especially because it stands in contrast to foreign politicians who talk about issues in his own. In late December, Rodiles participated in a panel organized by the right-wing Heritage Foundation in Washington along with two former George W. Bush administration officials: the former under-secretaries of state Roger Noriega and Otto Reich. As reported by Diario de Cuba, he took the opportunity to explain that “the new Administration has the opportunity to reorient US policy towards the human rights and freedom for the Cuban people.”

Noriega and Reich are co-authors of the infamous Helms-Burton Act of 1996. More than a law, it is the list of relentless conditions that the United States would impose on the Cuban government if it were to capitulate, which one can easily imagine these two former officials recommending to the Trump Administration provided someone in the White House still remembers who they are and asks them what to do about Cuba.

Noriega and Reich may express any opinion about Cuba, or about Jupiter, if they so choose. That is their right. No one in Washington is going to end up with a nose out of joint if they do so.

But it is not clear why Rodiles should not in turn be able to say with more or less the same degree of tact what so many other political leaders around the world have said: that Donald Trump’s brand of vicious, racist and ignorant populism is a very serious threat to international security, to the rights of other nations, to Americans’ civil liberties and, of course, to Cuba.

Perhaps Rodiles thinks Trump is as innocuous as Tian Tian, the giant panda at Washington’s National Zoo. If so, he might as well say so. For the moment, Rodiles has refrained from criticizing Trump, though not from criticizing Obama. He believes, as he told El País, that Obama’s legacy in Cuba can be described in two words: indifference and fantasy.

In a video released by the Forum for Human Rights and Freedoms, Rodiles appears next to others celebrating Trump’s victory on November 8 and criticizing Obama’s Cuban strategy.

“It was very frustrating,” explains Rodiles in the video, “to see how the Obama administration was allowing the regime to gain advantage, to gain political advantage, to gain economic advantage, while leaving the Cuban people and their demands on the sidelines.”

He added, “Unfortunately, the legacy of President Obama on Cuba is not positive… His policy has been counterproductive. His policy has led the regime to feel much more secure and to behave more violently.”

It is not clear, however, what exactly Rodiles and his colleagues at the Forum hope Trump will do. “It seems to me that the new administration under President Donald Trump will give much more attention to the Cuban opposition. It will give much more attention to the subject of fundamental rights and freedoms, and the Cuban people will be able to express themselves more openly, though the regime will, of course, do everything possible to prevent that.”

It is likely that on May 20 — if the world lasts until then — a committee of Cuban opposition figures, including perhaps Rodiles himself, will visit the White House, as always happened before Obama, after which the president of the United States might write a Twitter message in jovial Spanglish condemning Raúl Castro and his minions.

But it is unclear how tweets by the lunatic that Americans have chosen as their commander-in-chief are going to get Cubans out onto the streets. Nor is it easy to imagine the Cuban government agreeing to sit down with Rodiles or any other opposition figure just because the president of the United States demands it, even if he makes it a condition of maintaining diplomatic relations; or of continuing to allow Cuban-Americans to send money to their families on the island; or of allowing them visit their relatives whenever they want.

If the members of the Forum for Human Rights and Freedoms believe that these are conditions that the Trump Administration should impose, they should say so clearly and run the risk that Trump or one of his underlings might hear and pay attention to them. An even greater risk is that Cubans might hear them.

It is perfectly legitimate for some members of the Cuban opposition to disapprove of Obama’s policy of normalizing relations between the United States and Cuba, at least to the degree that it is possible to normalize something that will never be normal. No one should be surprised that those who would like to see the immediate overthrow of Raúl Castro have no confidence in a plan that acknowledges the unlikelihood that the Cuban government will be overthrown in a domestic revolt.

Raúl has been accepted — with indifference or resignation — as the legitimate president of Cuba by almost all the nations of the world. The plan addresses the political and intellectual weakness of opposition groups, counting instead on the slow but inexorable growth of a new post-Castro civil society that will one day reclaim political and economic rights that Raúl or his successors will never be willing to grant.

It is true this plan pays no particular importance to the Forum for Human Rights and Freedoms, or to other groups with equally florid names, whose members feel they have been abruptly and unceremoniously abandoned by their old patron. But not all opposition groups have judged Obama’s decisions regarding Cuba as negatively as Rodiles and his cohorts.

With bitter pragmatism, others have warned that it is foolish to oppose head-on a policy that is viewed favorably on both sides of the Florida Straits. While it has, of course, benefited the Cuban government, it has also benefitted millions of plain and simple ordinary men and women. If nothing else, it means that, after two short years, Raúl can no longer blame his problems on an enemy ever ready to wipe Cuba off the map in a single, brutal blow.

There was nothing fanciful about Obama’s strategy, though there is in the illusion that the Cuban government would have agreed to sit down with Rodiles and other opposition leaders if Obama had insisted on it. And he will do so if Trump makes that demand with his characteristic coarseness. After so many years and so many body blows, Rodiles still has not met Raúl Castro.

Before falling in line with Trump and conspiring with the most reactionary elements of the new administration — its more conservative faction, in particular, wants to break off the truce between the United States and Cuba — the Cuban opposition should take a few weeks to consider whether it would be wiser to avoid allying itself with those who have come to power with a program that not only causes a great deal of alarm within the international community but which should also disgust any person of integrity, whether one’s integrity be of the right-wing or left-wing kind.

The Cuban opposition would do well to maintain a relative independence from the United States, a benevolent gift from Obama, and if they are so inclined, to keep their distance from an administration which, in two short weeks, has led its country to the brink of a pernicious political and perhaps constitutional crisis.

That is unless one sees nothing particularly reprehensible in what Trump says and does, or believe that his vandalism is justified because he got ten thousand votes more in Michigan and fifteen thousand more votes in Wisconsin than Hillary Clinton. It would be very bad news if opportunism led a segment of the Cuban population, even a very small one, to become pro-Trump out of foolhardiness, ignorance, a misguided sense of self-preservation or, even worse, by a genuine ideological affinity with a government that resembles a social democratic Nixon, Reagan or Bush administration.

But even more troubling is the Cuban opposition’s hope that the United States, Barack Obama or Donald Trump and not the island’s plain and simple ordinary men and women might grant them the right to discuss Cuba’s future with Raúl Castro or whatever petty tyrant happens to come after. Trump will just disappoint them. And should he fall, which is likely to happen, he will drag with him all those who have not taken great care or had the decency to maintain a safe distance.

Juan Orlando Pérez

Published in El Estornudo on February 1, 2017 under the title “Bad News.”

 

Informers Approved by the Cuban Government / Iván García

CDR Billboard: In Every Neighborhood, CDR 8th Congress. United, Vigilant and Fighting

Ivan Garcia, 10 February 2017 — Seven years ago, when the roar of the winds of a hurricane devastated Havana and the water filtered through the unglazed living room door of Lisvan, a private worker living in an apartment of blackened walls which urgently needed comprehensive repairs, his housing conditions did not interest the snitches on the block where he lives.

“When I began to be successful in my business and I could renovate the apartment, from doing the electrical system, plumbing, new flooring, painting the rooms to putting grills on the windows and the balcony, the complaints began. What is, in any other country, a source of pride that a citizen can leave his poverty behind and improve his quality of life, is, in Cuba, something that, for more than a few neighbours, arouses both resentment and envy so that it leads them to make anonymous denunciations”, says Lisvan. continue reading

So many years of social control by the regime has transformed some Cubans into hung-up people with double standards. “And shameless too,” adds Lisvan. And he tells me that “two years ago, when I was putting in a new floor, my wife brought me the ceramic tiles in a truck from her work, authorized by her boss. But a neighbor, now in a wheelchair and almost blind, called the DTI to denounce me, accusing me of trafficking in construction materials.”

Luckily, Lisvan had the documents for the tiles, bought in convertible pesos at a state “hard currency collection store” — as such establishments are formally called. But the complaint led to them taking away the car his wife was driving. In the last few days, while he was having railings put across his balcony, to guard against robberies, a neighbor called Servilio complained to the Housing Office that he was altering the façade of the building, and to the electric company for allegedly using the public electricity supply. Lisvan ended by telling me that “It all backfired on him, because everything was in order, and the inspectors involved gave me the phone number of the complainant, who, being a coward, had done it anonymously.”

According to Fernando, a police instructor, anonymous complaints are common in the investigation department where he works. “Thanks to these allegations we started to embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars in the United States.

“People report anything — a party that seems lavish, someone who bought beef on the black market or a person who drinks beer every day and doesn’t work. It’s crazy. Snitching in Cuba is sometimes taken to extremes.”

When you ask him what is behind the reports, he avoids the question.

“Because of envy or just a habit of denouncing. These people are almost always resentful and frustrated and tend to be hard up and short of lots of things. And not infrequently the complainant also commits illegal acts,” admits the police instructor.

Carlos, a sociologist, believes that large scale reporting, as has happened for decades in Cuba, is a good subject for specialist study. “But lately, with widespread apathy because of the inefficiency of the system, the long drawn-out economic crisis and the lack of economic and political freedoms, as compared to the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, informing has decreased.”

And he adds. “It’s true that in the beginning the Revolution was the source of law. But it also smashed to pieces deep-rooted traditions and social norms. Fidel Castro justified launching the practice of informing on people by reference to Yankee Imperialism, class enemies, and as a way of protecting the Revolution.”

In Cuba, the CDR (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution) are the basis of collective vigilance in the blocks and neighborhoods of 168 municipalities on the island. Those same committees provide information to the State Security Department about dissidents, that elevates unfounded gossip and marital infidelities to the category of ‘secret reports’.

“In the 21st century, when inequalities have increased, the most diehard Fidelistas, who are still to be found in blocks and neighborhoods, continue with their complaints. It’s a mixture of several things, from base instincts to failure to adapt to new circumstances. It will take years for this dreadful habit to disappear,” concludes the Havana sociologist.

Diana, an engineer, recalls the time when the State granted a week’s holiday on the beach, a TV, a fan or a coffee. “The ancient squabbles in the union meetings to decide who should get the prizes were a theatrical spectacle. It was embarrassing. Yesterday’s shit gave us today’s smell.”

It is likely that in Cuba, if we bet on democracy and are lucky enough to choose good rulers, we will make progress in economic terms, and the country will start to develop and progress.

But the damage caused to Cuban society by informants, as approved by the olive green autocracy, is anthropological. Recovering a basket of interpersonal values will take time. Perhaps ten years. Or more.

Translated by GH

Cubans Wanting To Emigrate See The United States As First Option / Ivan garcia

Cubans who want to emigrate prefer to go to the US

Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2017 — There are few things that spontaneously bring Cubans on the island together. For example, if the provincial team is crowned champion in the national baseball series, where, in between the infamous beer and a noisy reggaeton, in Communist Party-arranged pachangas, people celebrate at the tops of their voices.

It’s also a desire to live as well as possible in a country with the lowest salary in the third world and things for sale at the same price as in Qatar. And, God willing, to be able to travel abroad.

It’s all the same if it is for business, or a government mission, or an invitation from a relative, a friend, or a future fiancé or fiancée living in Europe. To emigrate for a fixed period of time or permanently, is an almost permanent plan on the part of many unmotivated young people or professionals who earn less than a hotel porter. continue reading

A wide cross-section of the Cuban population has it stuck in their imagination, like a postage stamp, that some foreign country ought to sort out their national disaster.

Instinctively and shamelessly, the government, Cubans in the street, trained intellectuals and dissidents, act the victim, and blame the mess on the trade embargo, the global crisis, tropical hurricanes, or the lack of help from the United States.

Any situation is held responsible for the economy not growing, not enough houses being built, the disaster area that is urban transport and waste collection and that the internet is not available everywhere.

With new measures adopted jointly by the White House and the Palace of the Revolution, abolishing the wet-foot/dry-foot policy, an inconsistent policy that Clinton enacted in 1994 which allowed Cubans who “touched dry ground” in the US to stay, the majority of Cubans have vented their anger at Barack Obama.

Let’s analyse it. Obama is a liar. He cannot publicly announce that certain migration laws exclusive to Cubans will not be changed, and then eight days before the end of his mandate, changed them.

And it isn’t that Barack is mistaken. No. He is right. Each sovereign nation designs its immigration regulations as it sees fit. The privileges for Cubans were at the very least counterproductive.

If being born in a country with a dictatorial communist government, where founding other political parties and the freedom of the press are prohibited, is a force majeure for the state which is the world’s greatest receiver of immigrants to offer an opportunity to Cubans, then it should not take any half-measures, and should defend its enacted legislation according to its ethical principles.

Democracy, opportunity and human rights are part of the pillars of American society. They should not find it difficult to safeguard them. Although, in the case of migration, it should be monitored.

A terrorist is not going to arrive from Cuba, and dangerous criminals rarely land. But sometimes there are scammers of Federal programs, people who bet on making money with the sale of drugs, or lazy intellectuals, accustomed to living in a parasitic state where natural human ambition is labelled as suspected delinquency, who abuse the support of the American government.

The wet-foot/dry-foot policy was a dangerous and badly implemented program. If you are going to receive immigrants, then receive them. Don’t make them go on a marathon by sea or land to reach the United States’ border.

That double standard of the American executive was absurd. If you want to help the hundreds of thousands, probably a million or two, who dream of emigrating, do it by safe routes.

Lotteries for visas, or, after analyzing the labour needs of different production and service areas, grant work permits. If you want to find out how many Cubans are fed up with the Castro military junta, I suggest that the White House grant a three-month extension and issue a visa to any Cuban who wants it and has no criminal history. The queues outside the embassy in Havana would be miles-long.

Sloppy regulations create a reckless mirage. Because what the letter of the law doesn’t prohibit is presumed to be permissible. That’s what happened to the policy repealed by Obama.

It’s a pity for his administration, which was certainly the most highly-regarded by the Cuban people, until it annulled the wet-foot/dry-foot policy. If you spoil a child, it will not behave reasonably later.

The United States federal government should allow the two or three thousand Cubans scattered throughout Central America and Mexico, to enter the US. Most of them burnt their boats. They sold their homes and valuable possessions. They cannot look back. They have nothing left.

The greatness of the United States is not its force, but its magnanimity. Those professionals, athletes and technicians, among others, who want to work hard to get on, should have a chance to emigrate safely from Cuba.

Some dissidents and exiles believe that after closing the immigration doors, many fellow countrymen would begin street protests demanding their rights.

It would be ideal. But I’m afraid that’s not going happen. Totalitarian States are whimsically different. If four generations of Cubans have left or have been expelled from their homeland, they can’t ask the rest to be heroes.

Most Cubans are peaceful people. They want the best for their family and to live in dignity. The Castro autocracy will fail because of its own inefficiency. But it has strength and will not hesitate to use it.

The silent mass of Cubans, who pretend to have loyalty to the regime and also yearn to emigrate, do not want to be cannon fodder. Patriotism and defence of their rights are not going to bring them together to challenge the regime.

It’s hard to accept, but it’s the way it is. They only want to emigrate. And to the United States as their first option.

Translated by GH

Cordoba Park: Internet, History and Business / Iván García

Córdoba Park, before it was a wifi zone. In the background, the statue of Emilia de Cordova, made by the Italian sculptor Ettore Salvatori. From Radio Rebelde website.e

Ivan Garcia, 27 January 2017 — As soon as the sun warms this frigid tropical autumn, Cordoba Park, located at San Miguel, Revolucion, Lagueruela and Gelanert, in the Havana neighborhood of La Vibora, resembles a picnic and leisure area.

Young people sit on the lawn and some families spread large towels as if they were at a pool or on the shore. Others bring folding chairs or armchairs so that the elderly, through the IMO application, can converse comfortably with their relatives across the Straits of Florida.

Also the hustlers arrive, the ones that survive from what falls off the back of the trucks, with a special nose to detect when, in certain environments, theycan make money. This is the case of Ricardo, who on the side of the park’s main gazebo, blows up a red and blue inflatable and charges five Cuban pesos (about 20 cents US) per child. continue reading

“It’s only for children under ten or whose weight is less than sixty pounds,” he tells a heavy girl who wants to jump on the inflatable with two friends. But they insist and Ricardo tells them that the inflatable “is not made for young people or adults. And I have to take care of it, because it supports me, it’s how I feed my children. You will have to entertain yourselves with something else.”

In Córdoba Park, more than 1,300 feet across, there is one of the two Wi-Fi zones in the municipality of 10 de Octubre, which are a part of the 34 open zones in Havana and the 200 operating throughout the Island. Since the Wi-Fi zone opened, on March 30, 2016, the place has become an open air locutorium, where we learn about the lives and miracles of people.

But those who come daily, to connect to the Internet, do not know that the park was located in front of the house of Emilia de Cordoba y Rubio, born on 28 November 1853 in San Nicolás de Bari, the first woman mambisa (independence fighter), who had an extraordinary desire to serve Cuba.

When Emilia de Cordoba died, on 20 January 1920, neighbors and friends, including journalist and the patriot Juan Gualberto Gómez (1854-1933), asked that her memory be perpetuated. In addition to putting her surname to the park, on 20 May 1928, a marble statue by the Italian sculptor Ettore Salvatori was unveiled, considered the first monument in the capital of the Republic dedicated to a Cuban woman.

A young woman talking in Portuguese with a Brazilian friend knows nothing of this history as she shamelessly asks for “a hundred or two hundred dollars, or whatever you can, because we are at the gates of the end of the year and I’m broke, without a single cent.”

Nor does the family that is trying to crowd around the screen of a Smartphone, to see their relatives in Hialeah and ask them about hourly wages or rents in Miami, know who Emilia de Cordoba was, though they know what kind of car their family bought and whether or not they already bought the iPhone 7 they asked them for.

Mi’jo, this place is a mess. After the death of you-know-who things look ugly. Look, see if when you get yourself settled you can send us more money and start working on getting us out of this shit,” asks the older woman.

It is common to see women and men kissing their lovers or wives by sticking their mouths on the screen of the tablet or cell phone. A slender mixed-race woman, who wears shorts that show more than they hide, runs the phone up and down her body with no timidity and, smiling, tells her presumed partner, “So you can see a sample.”

In a corner of the park, the one that borders Gelabert Street, a group of boys, at full volume, have mounted their particular recital of reggaeton, with two portable speakers that work through the Bluetooth of their phones.

Music is a good pretext for attracting customers. “Hey old man, Connectify a caña (one convertible peso or twenty five Cuban pesos)”. They promote the application that makes the internet connection cheap, but slows the speed in an unbearable way.

Others lurk around the park, and in a low voice they proclaim, “Wow, your card, three bars.” It is one of the most common businesses in public places with wifi. “The business is simple. You buy the internet cards in an ETECSA center at two chavitos (CUC) and then resell them for three. For each card I sell I earn 1 CUC. In one day I can earn 20 or 30 fulas (another slang term for CUCs),” confesses a kinky-haired white guy wearing a shirt with Luis Suarez, a forward for Barcelona.

On Monday, December 12, the good news was the announcement of an agreement between the multinational Google and ETECSA, the inefficient state telecommunications company, to improve the Internet connectivity of Cubans. According to Deborah, the company’s engineer, “this does not mean that the transmission speed will improve dramatically, but those using Google will have a noticeable improvement, like from the sky to the moon.”

Since 4 June 2013, when ETECSA opened the first 118 internet rooms throughout the country, and despite the high cost (one hour costs the equivalent of two days of salary of a professional), today about 250,000 people access the information highway in different provinces, either from an internet room or a Wi-Fi zone, every day.

Although most are not exactly searching for information. “Some 80 percent of those who connect use the Internet as a communications tool or to access social networks,” says an ETECSA engineer who works in a network traffic office.

For three and a half years now, the Internet has been an event in Cuba. You can use it to ask for money, find lovers or make friends. And those who want to inform themselves can do so on uncensored national or international sites. But as for websites considered “counterrevolutionary” by the regime, they cannot be accessed from the Greater Antilles. This is the case with Diario de Cuba, Cubanet, Cubaencuentro and Martí Noticias, among others.

Connecting to the internet on the Island has become all the rage. It is synonymous with modernity. Or a weekend getaway with the wife and children to a park with wireless connection, to talk with family and friends in Miami or Madrid.

It is the closest thing to what happened three decades ago, when people in their free time stood in long lines at Coppelia to have an ice cream, or walked along La Rampa or sat down to converse or to take in the fresh air along the wall of the Malecon.

The Internet In Cuba: Strict Control And Excessive Prices / Iván García

The wifi hotspot outside the old El Cerro Stadium is one of the few where you can calmly and comfortably connect to the internet, due to the park they put up because of the presence of Barack Obama at a baseball game, when the US ex-president visited Havana on 20, 21 and 22 March, 2016. Taken by the New Herald.

Iván García, 30 January 2017 — Five or six abstract oil paintings are tastelessly jumbled together in the living room of a house in the west of Havana, next to  a collection of laptops and ancient computers waiting to be repaired. We can call the owner Reinaldo.

A clean-shaven chap, who has fixed computers, tablets and laptops for twenty years and also, quietly, provided an internet service on the side.

“I have two options. Dial-up internet at 50 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC – roughly $50 US) a month. And via ADSL at 130 CUC. The transmission speed of the modem is between fifty and seventy kilobytes a second.  With ADSL, the speed is two megabytes. It has the advantage of being free (i.e. unlimited), as it is rumoured that two MB connections will be marketed by ETECSA, the government-owned telecoms company, at 115 cuc for 30 hours,” Reinaldo explains. continue reading

No-one is surprised by anything in Cuba. Clandestine businesses are always two steps ahead of what the state comes up with. Many years before the olive green people legalised private restaurants and lodgings, people had been taking the chance of running such businesses anyway.

And something similar is happening with internet business. The spokesmen for the ETECSA monopoly — the state run telephone and communications company — strongly deny it.

When, on 4 June 2013, the government opened 118 internet rooms all over the country, Tania Velázquez, an executive in the organisation, announced that “by the middle of 2014, we will start to market the internet for cellphones and, by December, at home.”

It was a bluff. While we are waiting for ETECSA to get the internet for cell phones started, what we have now is ETECSA’s Nauta email for cell phones, running on out-of-date 2G technology, too many technical problems, and initially they were charging 1 CUC a MB.

Just over a month ago, they lowered the price to 1.50 CUC for five MB, calling it Bolsa Nauta. But the service is dreadful. “You wait five or six hours to send an email, and the message never leaves the outbox. They are robbing you, as they sometimes charge your account without having offered any service. My advice is to disconnect Nauta from your cell phones as quickly as possible,” says Marlén, who opened an account two years ago.

Marketing the internet at home service is two years behind what Tania Velázquez promised. Just after Christmas 2016, ETECSA started to provide free internet via ADSL to two thousand families with fixed residential phones around the Plaza Vieja, in Havana’s colonial quarter, as a pilot, until the month of March.

“The connection is better than the wifi hotspots. Although it sometimes runs slowly. You need to have a conventional phone to receive the internet service. It isn’t true that you have to belong to the CDR, or Committee for the Defence of the Revolution, or be working. I don’t know if dissidents will be able to opt for the service when they start to sell it. Although the prices will be “thank you and goodnight.”

An ETECSA engineer, working in an internet distribution centre in the capital states that “the prices for internet at home are bollocks. Saying that they will charge 30, 70 and 115 CUC, the dearest tariff, for 30 hours, and depending on the bandwidth, is unofficial. They are looking at setting up a flat charge and also a charge per hour. The prices will be high, but not what the foreign press claims, because an hour at two MB would cost nearly three CUC, and users of half that would prefer to connect to a wifi point. There will be various speed options. The highest will be two MB,” says the engineer.

The military dictatorship has designed a structure capable of controlling the internet. Before the internet landed in the island, where previously the finca rusa, a Russian-built electronic spying base, known as the Base Lourdes, operated. Fidel Castro inaugurated the University of Information Science on the San Antonio de los Baños highway on 23 September 2002. In addition to exporting software, its functions include the rigorous monitoring of internet traffic in the country.

The internet started to operate in Cuba in September 1996. One of the first public internet rooms was located in the National Capitol building, charging $5 an hour. The connection was painfully slow and was not provided by ETECSA, but by CITMA, the present Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment.

The internet was also offered in four and five star hotels, at between $6 and $10 an hour. In the winter of 2011, the coaxial network on the island was connected to a submarine cable, at a cost of $70 million, and jointly planned with Venezuela and Jamaica.

“The cable was quite a story. It had everything. Embezzlement, poor work quality, various company officials jumping ship. Leonardo, one of the people implicated in the misappropriation of funds, stayed in Panama. The Obama administration authorised a Florida-based company to negotiate with ETECSA. The proposal was to renovate an old underwater cable. The project cost about $18 million. But the government, citing digital sovereignty, opted to do the cable with Venezuela. It is that cable which is providing the present service,” explains an engineer who worked on the ALBA-1 project.

The Cuban secret services have tools for hacking into opposition accounts and spying on the emails of the embassies in the island, including the US one.

“You must not under-estimate the technical capacity of the counter-intelligence. Almost nothing works in Cuba, but they have the latest technology for their work. Since the time of the EICISOFT (Centre of Robotics and Software) at the end of the ’80’s, the Ministry of the Interior has had specialists in new technologies. Maybe they can’t get into Apple systems, but the rest is easy peasy. They now have advice from Russia and China, which is amongst the best in the world when it comes to hacking,” says an ETECSA specialist who prefers to remain anonymous.

According to our informant, “Nothing gets past them. They have a complete arsenal of spy programs and an army of information analysts to crack dissidents’ accounts and keep an eye on social networks like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Everybody who travels the information highway is under their microscope.  Whenever ETECSA opens a new internet service, the State Security monitoring tools are already in place.”

For Cubans whose breakfast is just a coffee, account privacy doesn’t matter much. It’s normal for people to lend their cellphones to strangers. Or to give out their passwords to show how to work their emails. “I don’t care if the State Security is watching me. What interests me is getting off with girls on Facebook,  arranging to get out with the help of workmates who have already got to the US, and finding out stuff about CR7, as Cristiano Ronaldo is known, and Real Madrid,” says Saúl, undergraduate.

The thing is, in Cuba, the internet is, with few exceptions, a means of communicating with your family “across the Pond” (i.e. in Florida). You will see that when you go to any wifi hotspot. “Hey guys, look at the new car Luisito’s just bought,” a kid shouts to a group of friends in the Parque Córdoba hotspot in La Vibora.

“Look, what matters for most people is asking for money by email, talking to family and friends by IMO, the Cuban equivalent to WhatsApp, using the internet to read about famous artists and sport personalities, and other unimportant stuff like that. Not serious media or websites published abroad about Cuban issues,” is the realistic view taken by Carlos, a sociologist.

You can read periodicals from Florida, the New York Times in Spanish, and dailies like El País and El Mundo, without any problems. But not sites like Martí Noticias, Cubanet, Diario de Cuba, Cubaencuentro or 14yMedio.

“But you can reach them with a simply proxy,” says Reinaldo, who, as well as repairing computers, sells internet service on the side. And he takes the opportunity to explain the technical features of a gadget he has for sale, which lets you connect to the internet via satellite, without using ETECSA’s servers.

How do such gadgets get to Cuba? I ask him. “Through the ports and airports. The government controls the state economy and also the black market”, he tells me. And I believe it.

Photo: The wifi hotspot outside the old El Cerro Stadium is one of the few where you can calmly and comfortably connect to the internet, due to the park they put up because of the presence of Barack Obama at a baseball game, when the US ex-president visited Havana on 20, 21 and 22nd of March, 2016. Taken by the New Herald.

Translated by GH

Everyone in Cuba Wants to Learn English / Iván García

Sign for an English School in Havana

Ivan Garcia, 3 February 2017 — It’s raining cats and dogs in Havana and the Weather Institute announces a moderate cold front on the west of the island. Like any weekend, after lunch people gather in front of the TV to watch a Spanish football game, a Hollywood film pirated by the Cuban state, or a soporific Mexican soap opera offered by the semi-clandestine “weekly packet.”

On Sunday, a day of general boredom, many Havanans sleep in or kill the boredom drinking the cheapest rum. But Sheila doesn’t allow herself this “luxury.” She looks at the overcast sky and curses her bad luck. continue reading

“I have an appointment in the afternoon with a Chinese customer who invited me to dinner and later we’ll have a drink. The guy “looks like a flower pot” (has money). The bad weather makes me want to say ’fuck it’,” comments Sheila, a hooker, while looking at her watch.

How do you talk to a Chinese man? “In English of course, throwing in a little Italian and six of seven phrases in Mandarin that I learned on the internet. In the end, I say a hundred dollars a night, or I love you, and it’s not very complicated in any language,” she adds, laughing.

Like Sheila, thousands of Cuban prostitutes learn the basics of foreign languages. In particular English, which in the last ten years has grown spectacularly in Cuba.

English schools, private or state-run, are multiplying in Havana. In the municipality of Diez de Octubre alone, one of the most populated on the island, there are around 60 English schools.

There is English a la carte. For every taste. From classes in state institutions that cost 20 Cuban pesos to sign up, to private air-conditioned schools with the newest methods of teaching children, young people and adults.

In some of them, like Britannia or America, you learn to speak the language of Shakespeare in the British or US version. “Including turns of phrase frequently sued in New York or the Spanglish spoken in Miami,” says Diana, a teacher at the America school.

Enrollment in the best private schools costs between 20 and 30 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), the entire monthly salary of a professional. And each class is between 10 and 18 CUC.

Increasingly, children between 5 and 12 are registered by their parents. “Mastering English is imperative for the future that is coming our way. In my case, our family is thinking of emigrating. And if my children speak English the way is already paved for them,” says Carlos, father of two children who are studying English.

Technical, intensive or personalized English classes are also offered. Betty, 32, is waiting for a work permit for Canada. “Twice a week I take intensive classes, the teacher teaches me personally and it’s very helpful, I pay 35 CUC a month, but if I go to his house it’s a little cheaper.”

Havana’s marginal fauna, of course, doesn’t want to be left behind. With the increase in visitors and tourists, especially in the capital — a little more than 4 million in 2016 — there is an opportunity for hookers, informal guides, and illegal or clandestine sellers of handicrafts, works of art and tobacco.

Even those who sell cocaine, marijuana or psychotropic drugs need basic english, because “a little Italian or French, sure, but if you don’t speak any foreign language, you’re out of luck in this business,” says a guy who sells melca in the old part of the city.

Let’s call him Josuan, a sturdy guy, not very tall, who considers himself a perfect joker. “I go all the way. I sell tobacco, work as a guide, go to bed with the ladies. The problem, man, is getting some money. And if you have your wits about you and the tourists like you, you get it. But you have to know how to start a conversation in English or some other language. This creates empathy with your customer.”

Learning English is all the rage in Cuba. The military junta that governs the island has recognized it as a priority of the state. In an article on the changes in higher education in Cuba, published in Weekly Progress, the journalist Nery Ferreria wrote, “One of the most disturbing measures for many is the requirement to demonstrate a mastery of English, as an ’independent user’ before graduating from the university.”

And she mentions that Rodolfo Alarcon, in his time, before he was ousted at Minister of Higher Education in July of 2016, said that there had to be a resolution to “the problem that the Cuban professional is not capable of expressing themselves in the universal language of our times.”

In her article, Ferreira includes two comments left on the official Cubadebate website. “Start with English from elementary school and solve the deficit of teachers in this subject and then the mastery of the second language will be a done deal,” said a reader. While another added, “Why ask for what hasn’t been taught all these year. Now we want to demand it without having a base, or worse, that the parents have to pay for private lessons, which are very expensive.”

English is well-received in Cuba, especially now that the regime sighs about doing business with the Yankees. It doesn’t matter if the interlocutor is a caveman Donald Trump-style. “Business if business, man. Whoever the person. If you have the ticket, let the dog dance,” stresses René, who sells Cuban cigars on the black market.

And this is the Cuba of the 21st century, blurring ideology. From Socialism or Death to the death of Fidel Castro to Welcome Yankees as the national slogan.

No one wants to be left behind. Not the state businesses, nor the private ones nor the underworld. Everyone wants to speak English! [in English in the original]

 Translated by Jim

Cubans Dismiss Obama as Persona Non Grata / Iván García

Caricature by Pinilla taken from Diario Las Américas.

Ivan Garcia, 19 January 2017 — As if by magic, the irreverent and prosaic Donald Trump is the man of the hour for Cubans who have plans to emigrate. “He’s the guy; there’s no one else. If he orders it, the United States will open its doors,” says Miguel, emphatically, while he drives a ramshackle collective taxi down Infanta Avenue.

His comment intensifies the polemic of five passengers who shout above the odor of gasoline that filters through the old car’s patched-up exhaust pipe and the unbearably loud music.

“Obama is a real son-of-a-bitch. If Cubans allow their Government to step all over them it’s because they have the possibility of hauling ass out of Cuba. Tell me who here doesn’t have a family member in the States?” asks a corpulent mulatto. continue reading

Everyone wants to talk at once and give their opinion on the subject. Some analyses are puerile; others border on political science fiction, like that of Magda, a primary school teacher, who, from the back seat of the taxi, advises Trump to “accept all the Cubans who want to leave. Most will work at anything. You think there isn’t space in the U.S. for 11 million Cubans?” she says, and the other passengers smile.

Right now, the fashionable subject in Havana is the repeal of the wet foot-dry foot policy. A collection of sad, crushed people react to the announcement as if they received a direct blow to the chin by a heavyweight.

“Listen, brother, I sold my house to go to Guyana. My plan was to cross the Mexican border and enter the U.S. Now it’s impossible. But I’m going to get out anyway I can. Even through Haiti, I’m telling you,” says Jean Carlos, a veterinarian.

At Christmas time, Diego flew to Uruguay with his wife to travel to Laredo and cross the border into El Paso. “I’m devastated. I didn’t leave with much money. Now I’ll look for a job in Uruguay and see later where to go. But I’m not returning to Cuba. I have nothing there. I sold everything. If I’m going to start all over let it be in any other country,” he says by Internet.

The same thing happened to Yosvani and his wife, Mildred. The couple flew to Rome in November, on a tourist package. With a one-month visa they crossed the border and settled in Spain.

“Here we’re together with a group of illegal Cubans. My wife found a job taking care of an old man. I worked for a week cleaning a bar, but the owner paid me only four euros. My mother already sold my apartment in Havana and sent me the money that I wanted to use to go to Cancun, Mexico. But now with this news I have to stay here. My hope is that Trump will reverse the measures that Obama approved,” he says, through Instant Messenger.

The new panorama, presumably, will not put the brakes on those who have plans to emigrate. “It can change everything. But then people will try their luck in another country or will come to the U.S. through marriage or by other tricks. I have my eye on Panama. I liked the city and the people when I went to buy junk to sell in Havana. The one place I can’t be is Cuba. You can’t do anything here. You can’t move. The last person who leaves, please turn off the lights in El Morro,” (the castle fortress at the entrance to Havana Bay) confesses Maikel in a wifi park in Vedado.

Even those who have relatives in the U.S. don’t think they have enough patience to get there by family reunification. “My father has been in Miami for five months and is already working. When he has his residence papers he’s going to claim me. But how long will all this paperwork take? Three, four years can go by. If I can, I’ll leave before. Here in Cuba I have no future,” comments Germán, a university student.

Obama has passed from being a hero to being a villain. From that president, who 10 months ago in Havana gave a memorable speech, saying that Cuba should change and bet on democracy, to being persona non grata.

It’s the opposite with Donald Trump. The Cuban who drinks only coffee for breakfast, indoctrinated by the international press, always saw the wealthy New York businessman as an extravagant weirdo. A rich guy who by pure caprice got into the world of politics.

“The guy’s a time bomb. When he explodes, no one knows what’s going to happen. Trump thinks that politics is a reality show. It would be a miracle if in the next four years the world equilibrium doesn’t change. He’s poorly educated, an egomaniac with the soul of a tyrant; and thousands of Cubans who are thinking of emigrating are placing their faith in him,” says Norge, a political science graduate.

Like in an Agatha Christie crime novel or a suspense film, the roles have been reversed. Goodbye Barack Trump. Welcome Donald Obama. The world has been turned upside down, and not only for Cuban emigrants.

Translated by Regina Anavy

In Cuba Everyone Expects Favors From Trump / Iván García

In Cuba everyone expects favors from Trump

Ivan Garcia, 28 January 2017 — Betting political capital or relying on such an erratic guy as Donald Trump is not good business. Only the desperate, shameless and amoral could argue that the New York magnate is a convinced altruist or humanist.

Expecting the enraged Trump to negotiate strategies that address the inefficient Cuban economy, or open doors to unstoppable emigration, or give a blank check to the local opposition, is like throwing dice in a casino to get national prosperity.

Until Wednesday, 25 January, when Raul Castro spoke at the 5th CELAC Summit in the Dominican Republic, and said he was willing to maintain a respectful dialog with Donald Trump, “but without making concessions,” no official statement had been released in Cuba about the attitude of the new president of the United States. continue reading

The silence of the state media and government spokespeople in the face of Trump’s insane projects was already embarrassing.

That a president, like the unpresentable Maduro or grizzly Castro, who present themselves as socialists and communists, as a political strategy would shut up or celebrate (in the case of Venezuela when Trump took possession) the most retrograde and conservative of US presidents in the last 30 years, was a contradiction.

On the other hand, where is the so-called “Latin America solidarity” towards a nation like Mexico, at this moment when it is experiencing an authentic low-intensity war, unfounded accusations and threats on the part of Donald Trump.

Much of the current Latin America Left now in power is a fraud with no more ideology or convictions that those emanating from its corrupt power and the looting of the public treasury. Which is why they remain silent. They prefer to establish a friendship with Trump to please their ally Vladimir Putin, with an imperial strategy without dissembling, that defends his fake doctrines of “humanism and social justice.”

The new tenant of the White House has overturned the world order. He has discredited many institutions, in his own country and internationally, except those of the Kremlin. He is a threat to everyone. For the establishment, the Republican Party and for liberal trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Trump is not a Democrat. He is him. A great manipulator who has conquered half of the American people with half truths and lies without fundamentals. With his isolationism and protectionism, if he manages to do it, the United States will regress to the level of Spain, at least. His journey into the past is suicide.

People and societies grow. We no longer live in the stage of the industrial revolution. The world has become a global village. Whether Mr. Trump likes it or not.

A friend of mine who resides in Miami, a homeowner in the south of the city, told me that she voted for Trump so that the clothing and toy factories that once employed thousands would return to Florida.

To exemplify the horror of the new times, she mentioned that even the fruit cocktail sold at Publix Supermarket is made in China. I am afraid that this segment of deep America is rightly observing with dismay the decapitalization of its cities and low wages.

But when the iPhone comes to be assembled in Cupertino, Apple’s California headquarters, and Fords are built in Detroit, then do not complain about the skyrocketing prices. Global industries and brands move to other countries because of the low costs.

Let’s hope Trump solves the problem. Concerned as he is about fixing the world in his own way and making America great again, he won’t have much room on his agenda for the Cuban issue.

Cuba is no longer a problem. Fidel Castro died and for decades the regime has not subverted central America or Africa with arms and guerrillas. The main ruling clan, five or six elders, who together have been alive almost five hundred years, continue to hate “Yankee imperialism” and bet on the end of modern capitalism.

They are by the book dictators. But power, money, family and the biological factor have called them to change or come up with new strategies. For one simple reason: if Cuba is still stranded between the invasive marabou weed and lack of productivity, at some point social conflicts will begin.

To pull the car forward you need a locomotive. Once it was Russia. Then it was Chavez’s petrodollars. Now they sigh for the green cash of the former American enemy.

Meanwhile, on the Island, a wing of dissent is celebrating with the arrival of Trump. With their political naivety they think that the new president will increase the flow of dollars to the opposition and gain them international recognition.

A serious error of not a few opponents: to believe that the problems in Cuba can be solved by the United States. I tell you one thing: if we are not able to conquer our universal rights, no one will do it for us.

Dependence always creates compromises. The fate of Cuba is a matter for Cubans. Those of the diaspora and those of the island. No one else’s. It would be good for Trump to understand this.

Havana ’Paladares’, Between Glamor and Poverty / Iván García

Madonna celebrated her 58th birthday, on 16 August 2016, at the paladar La Guarida, at 418 Concordia between Gervasio and Escobar streets, located in one of the poorest and roughest neighborhoods of Central Havana. Screen capture from Youtube video.

14ymedio biggerIvan Garcia 25 January 2017 — In the poor and mostly black neighborhood of San Leopoldo, cradle of the picaresque, clandestine businesses and the sex trade in Havana, is found La Guarida, probably the best private restaurant in Cuba — which are known as “paladares.

The business is run by Enrique Nunez, a telecommunications engineer converted into an empresario of the ovens, and dinner for four people, wine included, is no less than 160 dollars, from the wallets of some tourists dazzled by the opening of small family businesses on the part of the Communist regime.

Folklore, poverty and glamor at times click. La Guarida is flanked by a rundown tenement of narrow rooms and an ostentatious central staircase with hints of art deco. continue reading

On the same street, where the neighbors sit in iron armchairs and on little wooden benches in the doorways of their houses, brand new cars with diplomatic plates park, with tourists or government heavyweights.

Romello, 65, born and raised on Virtudes Street, very close to the prestigious paladar, remembers when “the Queen of Spain, Maradona and a ton of famous people have come here to eat.”

But asked if he has ever dined or had some drinks in La Guarida, the guy smiles and shakes his head. “What it is man, this paladar is for millionaires. They tell me a beer costs five bucks and a plate of shrimp is no less than 15,” he says, while walking over to the wall of the Malecon with an improvised fishing pole.

Reservations at La Guardia can be made on the internet. “But it’s a hassle to book a table. It’s always full,” says a Spaniard. In paladares like San Cristóbal, La Guarida or La Fontana, recommended by international haute cuisine magazines, and where a family dinner can cost more than 200 dollars, it is almost mission impossible to reserve a table the same day.

There is a route in Havana, inserted into the usual tourist itineraries, whether it is the area of the old city, El Vedado or Miramar, where lunch in a private restaurant is at least 25 dollars a person.

The success of the paladares on the island is a combination of the tenacity and creativity of their owners. Despite the scarcity of supplies, traditional or international cuisine is given a touch of the gourmet with a certain level of quality.

They have been catapulted to success thanks to the thunderous failure of the state food service, full of idlers and thieves who are profiting from the food they can steal from the diners.

Thomas, a Swiss tourist, says that in the Parque Central Hotel restaurant, supposedly five stars, “a dinner for four people, with tomato soup and sirloin steak which did not stand out in its presentation, cost me 120 dollars. So when I visit Cuba I prefer to eat in the paladares. Although the prices go up every year and sometimes the quality doesn’t. But it is always preferable to the state restaurants.”

According to information published on 20 October 2016 in the state newspaper Granma, in Havana there are more than 500 private restaurants. But around 150 of them would be classified in the category of most demanding and successful paladares.

And it is precisely in this category where the prices have increased by 30 percent in the last six years. “And if we compare the prices to 15 or 20 years ago, then it’s an increase of 50 percent. In 2000, a person could eat in a good quality paladar for 8 or 10 dollars. Now there’s nothing under 20 or 25,” says an Italian married to a Cuban.

If a segment of tourists, businessmen and diplomats complain about the rise in prices in the private restaurants of the capital, imagine the Havanans. Most have never sat at a table in a five-star paladar. Many can’t even go to the smallest cafe. In Havana there are private food businesses in classes A, B and C, depending on one’s wallet.

Anselmo, retired, sells loose cigarettes in a nursing home just a stone’s throw from Villa Hernandez, a paladar next to Parque Córdoba, in the populous neighborhood of La Viñora. “I’ve never bothered to look at that paladar. What for, with my shitty pension I could never eat there. What remains for us old people and those who earn miserable wages is eating bread with a speck of fish or death-like pizzas from the little stands run by the state.”

In state coffee shops, almost always dirty, with poor service and poorly prepared food, a pizza costs five Cuban pesos (about 20 cents US) and it’s fifteen pesos for a serving of congrí rice with a chicken thigh. “That’s the food bought by beggars, alcoholics, the old and retired. Quality leaves a lot to be desired,” says Mildred, a high schoo student.

In the food businesses further away from Old Havana, Vedado or Miramar, the areas most visited by tourists, the menu is usually cheaper but the choices are very limited.

In general, plates are based on smoked chicken and pork. “But it is common that the waiter, taking your order, tells you that ‘off the menu’ there is seafood, beef, good fish, lamb and even loggerhead,” says Dianelis, a hairdresser, who usually eats at paladares in Santos Suarez, Lyuano and Lawton — Havana neighborhoods farther from the center.

And there is a wide sector of private businesses, who, to improve their profits, use double bookkeeping or financial tricks as a way to avoid taxes.

To eat even medium quality food in Cuba it is recommended you visit a private restaurant. At special dates — birthdays, weddings, quinceañeras, families go to paladares to celebrate. If they are short of money they go to the cheapest ones or places that serve more food.

“Gourmet food is for foreigners. When we Cubans have to eat on the street, we want to fill our bellies,” says Ignacio. But there are not many who can afford to do so.

Cuba: Skepticism Beats Hope / Iván García

Havana cafe. From Juan Suárez’ photo journal entitled La Habana Profunda, Havana Times, September 9, 2016

Ivan Garcia, 4 January 2017 — Like a metaphorical invisible hand, moving to place a ouija or bet on Russian roulette, David, a young writer, considers that the coming year will be unpredictable for the island.

In the hope that the Ifá priests (Yoruba mystics) will spread around their Letters of the Year, the necromancers predict the future, and a woman dressed as a gipsy, furiously blowing out cheap tobacco smoke, turns up various clues after tossing a pack of cards on the table. David suspects that 2017 will throw up more bad news than good. continue reading

“Forecasting is a maddening activity. All sorts of things can happen, but few of them will help the Cuban in the street. The economy is getting worse, Venezuela, which gave us free oil, is holding out the begging bowl, and now we have a weirdo like Donald Trump at the White House. In this situation, I don’t think anything good is going to happen for our country,” is David’s sceptical comment.

People in Havana said the same kind of thing when polled by the Diario Las Américas.

Sergio, an economist “sees the future as grey with black stitches. The countries which gave us credit for nothing, like Brazil and Venezuela, are swamped by their own internal crises. Cuba’s finances are in the red and have far less purchasing power.

“Insufficient exports and imports which are almost doubling the balance of payments. In most areas of production, whether agricultural or industrial, we are either stuck, or going backwards. Forced cutbacks on fuel are affecting and paralysing a variety of development plans, as well as infrastructure, highways, railway lines, and ports which are in urgent need of investment.

“All we have left is tourism and the export of medical services, which, because of domestic conditions in Venezuela and Brazil, may fall by 40 per cent. And, of course, family remittances, which, although the government will not publicise it, are now the second national industry and the country’s biggest contributor of new money.”

Rubén, a social researcher, sees three possible scenarios, but makes it clear that there could be other variants. “First scenario: Donald Trump tears up all the agreements reached with Cuba. If you then factored in the difficult economic situations in Brazil and Venezuela, the best allies the government had, and Putin looking for a rapprochement with the White House, the economic reversal would be serious. I don’t think as bad as the Special Period, but nearly.

Second scenario: If Trump does not move the counters about, there would still be effects for Cuba, which is crying out for investments and credits from anywhere in the world, but, because of geography and history, the United States is the most appropriate. Third scenario: Trump negotiates a major agreement with the government. But, in order to achieve this, Raúl Castro has to give ground in political and human rights terms. It is a complicated context”. To that he adds that Raúl and the historic generation has only one more year to govern.

For most people, the future is a dirty word. It’s senseless and not worth giving yourself a headache thinking about it. “Put simply, we have to live from day to day here.  Try to make four pesos, look up girls’ skirts, and think how you can get away from Cuba”, says an internet user in Mónaco Park, in the south of Cuba.

People usually shrug their shoulders, smile nervously, and churn out rehashed remarks they have learned through many years of media and ideological indoctrination.

“I hope our leaders have some answers, because things look grim”, says a woman queueing to buy oranges in the Mónaco farmers’ market.

“If they”ve planned what’s going to happen in 2017, up to now they’ve said nothing. I think they’re just like the rest of us — no way out and shit scared. Like they’ve always said, “No one can bury it, but no one can fix it either,” says a man in the same line at the market.

And, on the question of what would be the best options for riding out the probable economic storm, Yandy, a high school graduate, is unequivocal. “Get the hell out of Cuba. Or, have a business, making lots of money, so that you can dodge the economic crisis which will be with us for decades”.

Lisandra, a prostitute, is more optimistic “As long as the American tourists come, you can make money. And if there aren’t many of those, the only thing to do is to make out with Cuban wheeler-dealers. But the best choice is get out of Cuba.”

But most Cubans, drinking their breakfast coffee black instead of with milk as they would prefer it, don’t bother themselves too much about the future.

José, a street sweeper, takes the view that “in Cuba things don’t change. Hardly ever up and and nearly always down.  The people who need to worry are the bosses in government. If things go badly, they are the ones with most to lose.”

Translated by GH

Cuba 2016: The Visit of Barack Obama and Death of Fidel Castro / Iván García

Watching Obama on TV in Havana. Getty Images, taken from the BBC.

Ivan Garcia, 2 January 2017 — A spring rainstorm with light gusts of wind fell over metropolitan Havana on Sunday, March 20th, when at 4:30 PM Air Force One landed at the first terminal of the José Martí International Airport carrying President Barack Obama to one of the final redoubts of communism in the world.

While a Secret Service agent opened Obama’s umbrella at the foot of the airplane stairs as he greeted Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez, two hours earlier in Miramar, west of Havana, State security agents had fiercely repressed a group of forty women and two dozen men who were demanding democracy and freedom for political prisoners.

The dissident movement Ladies in White was instrumental in the olive-green autocracy’s calculated political reforms before the international gallery. continue reading

Raúl Castro, hand-picked for the presidency in the summer of 2006 by his brother Fidel, took the brunt of the escalating violence, and in three way negotiations with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos and the National Catholic Church in 2010, he freed 75 dissidents and sent the majority into exile.

Castro II changed the rules of the game. The repressive modus operandi of the regime began using brief detentions and returned, in a worrisome way, to beatings, death threats, and verbal attacks on its opposition.

The afternoon that The Beast rolled into Old Havana, where Obama ate dinner with his family in a private restaurant, the regime sent a message back to Washington: the reforms — if they can be called reforms — would be made at the convenience of the Palace of the Revolution, not the White House.

On December 17, 2014, Raúl Castro and Barack Obama decided to reestablish diplomatic relations and to turn around the anachronistic policies of the Cold War.

The strategy of Obama proved indecipherable to the Taliban of Castroism. He did not threaten to deploy gunboats nor subvert the state of affairs.

In his memorable speech at the Grand Theater of Havana on the 22nd of March, he simply offered things that the majority of Cubans desire, and of course did not renounce the doctrines that sustain American democracy, of supporting private businesses and political rights.

Obama said what he thought looking into the eyes of Raúl Castro, squatted in an armchair on the second balcony of the theater and surrounded by the military junta that has administered Cuba for almost 60 years.

The 48 hours of his visit shook Havana. Neither the strong security measures nor the Communist Party’s strategy for minimizing the impact of Obama’s speech prevented the spontaneous reception of the people of Havana that greeted the president wherever Cadillac One passed.

But official reactions to the visit were not long in coming. Fidel Castro, retired from power, sick and waiting for death in his residential complex of Punto Cero, opined that Obama’s outstretched hand was poisoned candy.

The propaganda machinery of the regime began to corrode, and some signs of economic backlash against intermediaries and private sellers of agriculture products, which began in early January, were reinforced in the following months.

Obama’s visit entrenched the hard-core of the island’s totalitarianism. The gang closed ranks, they returned to the spent Soviet language, and began to render to Castro I a cult of personality modeled on a North Korean manual.

It was assumed that the arrival of the president to Havana would be the event of 2016 in Cuba, but at 10 PM on the night of November 25th, according to the government, Fidel Castro died.

His death was no surprise. With 90 years and various ailments, the death of the ex-guerilla was imminent. For better or for worse, he placed Cuba on the world political map, confronting it with strategies of subversion against the United States.

His revolution was more political than economic. He could never erect a robust economy, and the architecture and textile factories during his extensive rule, only produced things of shoddy and bad taste. Any reasonable person should analyze the benefits and prejudices of the regime of Fidel Castro. Sovereignty powered by cheap nationalism. Division of families. Polarization of society. Relentless with its enemies and local opposition.

Agriculture declined, he buried the sugar industry and it is difficult to find any economic, sports or social sector that has not gone downhill. There was no political honesty in recognizing his failures. On the contrary, the regime entrenched itself in what it knows best: odes, panegyrics and trying to enshrine its absurdities in gothic lettering.

And then, 2016 was the year of Raul Castro’s diplomatic apparatus, the most outstanding in his decade as president of the republic. In the last five years he has reaped success. The secret negotiations for the reestablishment of relations between the United States and Cuba. The intermediation of peace in Colombia, with the Roman Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church. The cancellation of financial debts and negotiation of a new deal with the Paris Club. And he even managed to blow up the Common Position of the European Union. Unobjectionable triumphs of Castro’s advisers in international relations.

But those same advisers misjudged their strategy against the United States. Like the American media and pollsters, they failed to discern the Donald Trump phenomenon. They may now regret that they have not made enough progress during Obama’s term.

Trump is unpredictable. He repeals the agreements reached with the United States saying he will make a better one. But something is clear to the regime. To negotiate benefits you have to make concessions. No more gifts.

In 2016 there was much more. Mick Jagger unfolded his unusual physical energy in a mega-concert, scenes of the movie Fast and Furious were filmed in Cuba, and almost every day a celebrity landed in Havana.

In May, Chanel offered a haute couture show in the Paseo del Prado in a country where the majority of inhabitants earn $25 a month and not everyone can see Chanel models in fashion magazines.

Cruises began arriving from Miami as did regular flights from the United States. There were more than 1,200 cultural and academic exchanges, and the visits by weighty figures of both governments have been numerous.

The meetings and negotiations have been constant; as constant as the repression. According to the National Commission of Human Rights and Reconciliation, in the month of November there were 359 arbitrary detentions of dissidents, activists, and independent journalists.

The détente is not about to land on the Cuban table. Markets continue to be out of stock, two meals a day is still a luxury, and one hour of surfing the internet is equivalent to the wages of a day and a half of work by a professional.

The year 2017 will be a key year. Barack Obama, the conciliator, will not be in the White House, and in Cuba the old leader Fidel Castro will not be there either.

Cubans on the Island are Concerned Trump Will Appeal Cuban Adjustment Act / Iván García

Rafters arriving on a beach in Miami in September of 2015. The arrival of Cubans to the US by sea, land or air has grown in the last year. Source: El Nuevo Herald.

Note: This post was published the day before Obama announced the end of the “wet foot-dry foot” policy.

Ivan Garcia, 12 January 2017 — Seated in front of a computer and surrounded by wooden shelves filled with DVDs pirated from US channels, Marcos, who earned a degree in biology three years ago, has half a dozen clients who are reviewing an extensive list, including CDs, flash memories, TC shows, novels and films.

To mitigate the heat of an unusually tropical winter, a noisy Chinese fan in a fixed position expels a stream of air that the customers appreciate.  In his stall you can find the latest audio-visual material produced in the United States. continue reading

“Whatever you want, Quantico, Designated President, Black List and others that are on US TV right now. I also copy 2015 movies, documentaries and under the table I sell ‘skin’,” says Marcos, referring to pornography, in high demand in Cuba.

In the little stands that sell DVDs, in barber shops, bus stops and in the old fixed-route shared taxis, they talk about baseball, football, the bad economic situation of the country and, at times, Donald Trump.

By chance, a client who wants to buy the four seasons of House of Cards, compares Claire, the wife of the fictional president Frank Underwood in the serial, with the Clinton marriage in real life.

“That witch looks like Hillary. To my taste, Fired and House of Cards are the best serials on American television,” Marcos says and then launches into a spontaneous discussion of the man who is expected to be the next inmate of the White House.

“Forget about what his policies will be like toward Cuba. Trump could be the worst thing that could happen in the United States in a long time. It’s true that la yuma (the USA) is more a business than a country. But politics is not a business. The guy is silly, egotistical, and supports an outdated isolationism. The United States is going to be set back ten years in strategic matters and geopolitics due to his intentions to ally himself with Russia and weaken NATO,” analyzes Hiram, who often travels to Miami to visit his children.

“We Cubans are going to have to bite the bullet. This year the Cuban Adjustment Act is going to disappear. Those who want to go, better hurry up and leave,” says Marcos.

Due to the bad international press, which usually beats up on Donald Trump, a wide segment of Cubans sense that hard times are coming for Cuba, Latin America and the rest of the world.

“May God have mercy on our souls. But this guy (Trump) is not squeaky clean. I remember a reality show he had called The Apprentice. The program was stupid. In reality, the guy has a screw loose. I don’t know why the Americans voted for this nut,” asked Felicia, a clerk in a store in the west of Havana.

Curiously, the state press still has not exploded with its extensive repertoire of analysis and vitriolic profiles written by its “star” amanuenses, like Iroel Sánchez or Sergio Gómez.

“The gringo is kissing Putin on the lips, like the little Ruskie is a pal of the government, there is a waiting period, to see what Trump-boy is going to do,” comments a pedicab driver in the old part of the city.

For Gregory, a political science graduate, it’s incomprehensible that the official media rails against Obama with extreme rudeness and maintain complicit silence about “the endless crap that comes out of the mouth of Trump. An erratic guy if there is one. In the name of the working class he talks about making America great again, but the team he he has assembled comes from the world of finance and business. The Americans who voted for him, he sold them a mirage. The past never comes back. Globalization, whether we like it or not, is a fact. If Trump were president of a banana republic in Africa or Latin America, there would be a coup for sure,” says Gregory.

Of course, the ordinary Cubans who are most worried are those with plans to emigrate or travel frequently to the United States.

“I have to hurry up my exit, because when Trump is installed in Washington the Cuban Adjustment Act’s days are numbered. According to my family in Miami, almost all the members of congress of Cuban origin, from Marco Rubio to Carlos Curbelo, want to repeal it. If I don’t leave in 2017, I’ll grow roots in Cuba,” emphasizes Daniel, 24 and unemployed.

Very close to the agricultural market in Red Square in La Vibora, Carmelo insists that “this guy is going to screw up everything. The government is going to regret not resolving everything with Obama. Look what he’s doing with the Mexicans. If Trump decides to take on Cuba, no one is going to save us from a new Special Period,” he says.

Like everything fashionable, people like to opine about the Trump phenomenon. But the truth is that many Havanans are indifferent to the tinkerings of US policy and its likely harmful effects on the island.

“It makes no difference to me who’s in. With Bush, Obama and Trump, we Cubans are equally fucked. What benefit has there been for the people with the reestablishment of relations with the United States?” asks Jorge, a grocer in a bakery in Central Havana, and he answers himself, “None, we haven’t benefitted in any way.”

And the thing is, aside from their opinions, Cubans who breakfast on coffee without milk understand that the problems in Cuba pass through the Palace of the Revolution and respond to one name: Raul Castro.

Castro II is the one who has the key to offer solutions to the country’s citizens. If he proposes it, fine. But for now, the general-president is in a state of hibernation.