Cuba 2017: Waiting for a Miracle / Iván García

Source: Remezcla

Ivan Garcia, 2 January 2018 — When the old Soviet-era truck was parked in front of a pharmacy in Havana’s La Víbora neighborhood, a line of more than thirty people soon formed to acquire some of the medicines unloaded. Nearby, at the entrance of a produce market, dozens of retirees and housewives waited to buy tomatoes.

In the last week of the year, on the busy Calzada Diez de Octubre, a crowd walked with elbows out loaded down with food. If you ask any of these people about the 1.6% economic growth announced by the regime in 2017, future strategies or their assessment of the rulers, you will find a wide range of responses, from disappointment in the state of affairs to indifference and frustration because nobody listens to them.

“What? The economy grew? That’s a story, partner. It grew for them. Where is that growth hidden that nobody sees it? There are lines everywhere, a total lack of some medicines and others where there’s not enough. Everything is a balloon,” says Armando, a carpenter, who has been waiting for an hour to buy Enalapril for his medical treatment. continue reading

The year 2017 started with bad news. In 2016, the Cuban economy had contracted, with GDP shrinking 0.9%, announced Ricardo Cabrisas, Minister of Economy and Planning. And the international scene looked ugly. Against all odds, Donald Trump, won the elections in the United States and the pact between President Barack Obama and the Cuban authorities began to take on water. In Venezuela’s Miraflores Palace, the brotherhood of ’Bolivarian’ compadres was clearly governing like a dictatorship. But the state oil company PDVSA is unable to produce higher oil shares and has had to make cuts that affect the Island.

“That is the key reason why Cuba is facing a dead end. The honorable thing is to throw all that nonsense of five-year plans and triumphalist speeches in the trash and undertake a deep economic reform. Communist nations like Vietnam and China initiated it and achieved an economic miracle,” says Ernesto, a scholar of the Cuban economy.

For his part, Carlos, a sociologist, believes that “one of the country’s biggest problems is its extravagant double currency system that transforms wages into a joke. That financial absurdity causes a flat screen TV to cost twenty times the salary of a professional; it means that agricultural production does not take off; it deforms the state accounting and causes a million people or more to dream of leaving their homeland for good.”

On Thursday, January 12, 2017, Obama repealed the wet foot/dry foot policy and the special program granted to Cuban doctors who could settle in the US any time they wanted. The possibility of stepping on American soil and starting a better life was cut off. In the fiscal year 2016, more than 50 thousand Cubans arrived in the United States, but in 2017 the migratory flow suffered a considerable decrease, according to Marti Noticias.

Heriberto, a retired university professor, thinks that “in response to Obama’s initiatives, the government reacted defensively. In the Palace of the Revolution they are already missing him. The dynamic could be different.”

But Castro’s Cuba responded with the usual petulance, believing that all these concessions were a debt owed by the White House after decades of “imperial aggressions.” And they let the train go by. They refused to develop solid economic foundations, invigorate a broad opening to small and medium-sized private companies and begin to rehearse an authentic and democratic social model.

They bet on stupid political stubbornness, putting their heads in the sand. They paralyzed economic reforms, stopped private work and continued to control and repress those who think differently. They temporarily closed the issuing of business licenses to individuals in many endeavors, and continued to arrest their opponents and seize the equipment of independent journalists.

With the whole country burning down, Raul Castro wrote a letter to Vladimir Putin asking for oil aid. Speaking clearly: he suggested Putin act as the relay pitcher for Nicolás Maduro in energy matters.

“The old KGB fox is still checking accounts. Putin is nationalistic, authoritarian and likes to bang on the table and show that Russia is a center of world power. I think one of the possible scenarios could be to reuse Cuba as a source of conflicts with the United States. Whether reopening an espionage base in the style of Lourdes or a base for nuclear submarines,” argues a former official.

At the moment, the picture is black for Moscow. The US special services have reasonable evidence that the Kremlin manipulated the US election in favor of Trump, a matter investigated by a special commission led by Robert Mueller, former director of the FBI. The sale of state-of-the-art US weapons to Ukraine and a sanctions packages against Russia could be used by Putin to design his next move.

In that game of world chess, Cuba, as on previous occasions, is only a sacrificial piece. The regime knows in advance what it means to ally with Moscow. Raul Castro and his substitute (handpicked by the olive green autocracy), should handle relations with the Russian bear with subtlety.

In the summer, while it became more expensive and difficult to get food in Cuba, the AP agency unveiled a story that seemed to come out of the annals of the Cold War. In installments, AP published that more than twenty officials of the Embassy of the United States in Havana were victims of an alleged acoustic attack: stealth soundwaves that affected their hearing..

It was also learned that in February 2017, Raúl Castro had talked with US chargé d’affaires Jeffrey DeLaurentis and assured him that Cuba was not behind that sonic aggression. For the first time, the authorities allowed the FBI and other US intelligence agencies to investigate in Havana.

Although the White House has not directly accused Cuba, nor has it presented evidence of a hypothetical culprit, the affair resulted in the removal of 50 percent of the diplomatic corps accredited on the Island, and in turn, the regime had to withdraw the same amount of officials from its embassy in Washington.

This brought about a paralysis, until further notice, in the issuing of the 20,000 visas planned for family reunification. Now, those interested must travel to Colombia or Mexico and carry out the procedures there, which means a considerable increase in costs to obtain the stamp of entry to the United States. An official from the State Department, with whom I met at a Miami event, told me that the matter could be delayed for more than a year, “because every six months is when the situation of the Embassy in Havana is evaluated.”

In September, Cuba was affected by the very powerful Hurricane Irma, which for several hours sailed along the north coast of the island causing 10 deaths and considerable damage. Although the regime has not offered exact figures on the amount of the damages, a source told Martí Noticias that “it could exceed twelve billion dollars.”

Irma destroyed hundreds of houses, damaged thousands of homes and its consequences are still visible in agriculture, tourism, state enterprises, cultural facilities and private businesses. Because of the hurricane, the authorities claimed, the municipal elections for the People’s Power were delayed, contents in which about 300 dissenting candidates were considering running. Violently violating their own Constitution, State Security prevented all of these candidates from making it to the contests or being selected.

It is precisely that delay, that us the pretext offered by Raúl Castro to postpone his retirement until April 19, 2018. Meanwhile, the official propaganda works piece by piece, with homages to the deceased Fidel Castro, highlights of record figures in the production of pork and two billion of foreign investment, and pointing out that the number of tourists grew to 4.7 million. But those achievements are still not reflected on the dinner tables of ordinary Cubans.

On the contrary. Every day it is more difficult to find breakfast, lunch and dinner in Cuba. Dozens of medications are missing in pharmacies and hospitals. The quality of public health and education continue to be low. Public transport remains an unaddressed issue. And the real housing deficit exceeds one million homes. Macroeconomics is not something you can eat.

For 2018, no improvements are expected. The probable retirement of Raúl Castro does not excite people. The popular perception is that afterwards could be worse. “Cuba’s problem is systemic. One wonders if the government has a plan B to save us,” says Heriberto, a retired university professor. Will we have to wait for a miracle?

Cuba: ’The Human Rights People’ / Iván García

The independent journalist Augstín López is silenced by plainclothes policemen while shouting “Long Live Human Rights.” Taken from Martí News.

Ivan Garcia, 12 December 2017 — On 28 January 1976 in Havana, Ricardo Bofull founded the Cuban Committee For Human Rights, along with Edmigio López and Marta Frayde. Forty-one years later, the independent journalist Tania Díaz Castro, in her house in Havana’s Jaimanitas neighborhood, west of the capital, surrounded by dogs and books, recalls that era.

“I joined in 1987. Bofill said that he and his small group were founded on 28 January in homage to the birthdat of the Apostle (José Martí). The place chosen was Dr. Marta Frayde’s house, in Vedado. By ironies of fate, this unforgettable and courageous woman had been a personal friend of Fidel Castro.

A short time later, almost everyone went to jail, for long years and for different accusations — invented ones — as was and is the custom of Castroism: Marta Frayde, Adolfo Rivero Caro, Elizardo Sánchez, Edmigio López, Enrique Hernández, and of course Ricardo Bofill. Thus, Fidel responded to the request of those intellectuals to review the situation of human rights in Cuba,” says Díaz Castro and adds: continue reading

“At one point, I was a kind of secretary for Bofill. In my house in Centro Habana I received eight or ten denunciations a day from citizens where the institutions of the regime had transgressed their rights. In 1987, Samuel Lara, Adolfo, Ricardo and I went to the Comodoro Hotel to meet with a UN commission, which the dictatorship authorized to enter the country, so that we could express our complaints. Spontaneously and despite the fact that repression was fierce at the time, outside the hotel more than a thousand people came to deliver their accusations.”

The journalist adds that Ricardo Bofill and Armando Valladares “were key players so that the issue of human rights violations by the regime became known around the world. They and others, planted the seed that has then germinated in hundreds of journalists, activists and independent groups in the current civil society.”

The Castro brothers’s Cuba has not changed its absurd political system and still maintains the dysfunctional planned economy. But, little by little, Cubans have been losing their fear. In any corner of the city you can hear openly anti-government comments, anti-Castro jokes and ridicule of the leaders.

Osviel, 43, an engineer, is committed to democracy and says he would like to earn a six-figure salary in a private company.

“Like most college graduates after the Revolution, I was indoctrinated. But the repeated deficiencies of the system have opened my eyes. The first time I had doubts was when I read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I realized that this government shamelessly violates some precepts that are part of individual rights. I understood that we are far from living in a democratic society. ”

Although the Republic of Cuba was a signatory on the 10 December 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the authorities on the Island consider the brochure that expresses these rights to be subversive.

The military autocracy persists in its delirious narrative that Cuba is the most democratic nation in the world. Without blushing, in the 8 December edition, an article published in the Party newspaper Granma said that “Cuba is an international symbol in the field of human rights.”

“They don’t even believe it themselves. There is a group of precepts, especially those of a political nature, which are violated in Cuba. The government thinks that by guaranteeing universal healthcare, the right to work and education it has already done its duty. But human rights go much further,” says Odalys, a lawyer.

Raúl Castro himself, in a press conference during Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba in 2016, acknowledged that “as in any part of the world, all human rights are not fulfilled here.”

On the commemoration of the 69th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Martí Noticias asked fourteen people, seven of each sex between the ages of 18 and 74, their opinions on the respect for human rights by the authorities in Cuba.

Ten responded that, in one way or another, several precepts are violated or rights that are not crimes in other countries are considered illegal. Two said it is “a US campaign” and two claimed ignorance of the matter.

Outside the survey, a Social Sciences student comments that “the most worrisome is the deficit of political rights. Cuba is one of the few countries in the world where it is illegal to found an opposition party or movement.”

For his part, a retired former military man believes that “the issue of human rights is a manipulation by the United States to attack Cuba. That is why the government should allow other parties and not imprison those who think differently. But always he who commands sets the rules of the game.”

Rigoberto, a taxi driver, is clear that “here elementary rights are violated, not only those of a political nature. For example, people from eastern Cuba who migrate to Havana are considered illegal [residents], and according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Cuban Constitution, that regulation is illegal.”

Carlos, a sociologist, mentions specific cases. “Look at the disrespect of a broad set of human rights in Cuba: until seven years ago it was illegal to buy or sell a house or car, to be a tourist in your own country, or to be able to travel freely abroad. Now others are still not being met. Cubans can not board boats with motors, create a party or found a newspaper in a legal manner.”

René, a lawyer, states that “where rights are violated the most is in the legal field. In the absence of tripartite powers, the majority of the population is defenseless against the legal machinery. Legal irregularities are numerous and people have nowhere to go to seek justice and impartiality.”

Although in recent years, I must clarify, hundreds of citizens who consider themselves harmed by legal rulings have received advice from independent lawyers or offered their testimonies to alternative journalists.

“It’s the last shuffle of the cards. When I see that the State blocks all paths, I will see an independent journalist to tell my to story online,” confesses Senén, a bank employee.

Within the expression ‘the human rights people’, ordinary Cubans include a political activist, a dissident lawyer, and a free journalist. Increasingly they go to opposition groups. For any reason. If their house falls down, or they are subject to a criminal penalty that they consider unfair, or they want to denounce embezzlement in a state company.

And the Cuba of 2017 is not the Cuba of the 1980s. For some, the Island is making no progress. For others, they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is the theory of the glass half full or half empty. According to how you perceive it.

Christmas and New Year’s in Cuba / Iván García

Santa Claus and company distribute advertising for a private restaurant through the streets of Old Havana. (Taken from Eju!)

Ivan Garcia, 22 December 2017 — You sense it, the penetrating smell of dead pigs, opened in the middle and showing their viscera, as soon as you enter the state-owned smoked meat production center in the municipality Diez de Octubre, south of Havana.

Four people with green surgeon hats and high rubber boots sort the pigs. Some are sent to a ramshackle refrigerator full of legs, ribs and loins. Others, after being boned, are steamed, prior to the process of making sausages.

When night falls, after the bosses leave, the under the table shenanigans begin. Owners of small businesses, before acquiring several pigs, bargain the prices with the center’s workers. Residents in the area also buy pork legs or pieces of loin. “At Christmas and New Year’s we make a nice bit of cash,” says one operator. continue reading

Josuán, the father of three children from different marriages, confesses that when December comes he feels it in his wallet. “Imagine, I have to buy pork for three houses. I always come to the processing center, because the meat sold in the market costs no less than 45 pesos per pound of loin and 25 or 30 per pound of pork. Here the legs go for 16 or 17 pesos a pound. I run my risks, because if the police catch me, they confiscate the meat and fine me 1,500 CUC. But those who don’t take risks, don’t eat cheap pork,” he says, while stacking his purchases in the trunk of a Soviet-era Lada.

December is a month of taking stock and family reunions. According to Cuban tradition, on the 24th Christmas Eve is celebrated, and on the 31st or New Year’s Eve, people say goodbye to the old year and await the new.

“I would like to have roasted turkey on the 24th and pork at the end of the year. There are families that can celebrate Christmas Eve with turkey, chicken and pork. But most people eat white rice, black beans, yucca with garlic sauce and a piece of pork. Some don’t have even that,” says Josefa, a housewife.

In the Cuba of 2017, following the custom to the letter is expensive. A frozen eight-kilogram turkey costs 45 CUC, four times the monthly minimum wage or a retiree’s total monthly pension. No less than 20 CUC or the equivalent in Cuban pesos is the cost of a leg of pork. Another 20 CUC goes to buy rice, beans, cassava, tomatoes, garlic, onion and lemon.

“Every year the price of food has gone up. To celebrate a decent Christmas, a family has to pay 100 CUC or more, not including drinks,” says Romelio, a stevedore at the port.

A week ahead of time, Olga Lidia, a hotel employee, goes through the hard currency stores in Miramar, Vedado and Old Havana, in search of nougat and trinkets. “This year I saw more assortment and variety than last year, but the prices are higher. In my house, Christmas begins on December 1st, when we put the little tree together and put it in the living room. We almost always have to buy lights or some new decorations. That’s when the meter starts running: you can spend 30 CUCs on those things. Then comes the search for food and drink, where you can easily drop 200 CUC. We buy three or four nougats and chop that into small pieces, so that everyone gets some.”

Sixty years ago, before Fidel Castro took power at gunpoint in January 1959, Marta, now retired, remembers that even the poorest Cubans celebrated Christmas and waited for the New Year. “We lived in Mantilla, my family came from the working class. On Christmas Eve, in addition to white rice, black beans, yucca with mojo, a salad of lettuce, tomato and radish, we ate roast suckling pig and turkey fricassee. For dessert, buñuelos in syrup and guava or grapefruit with white cheese.

“After the dates, figs and nougat (almond, almond-and-honey, egg and marzipan) we stayed at the table, cracking nuts and hazelnuts. On the 25th we had lunch, as we called the leftovers from Christmas Eve. On that day we exchanged gifts, each one wrapped with pretty paper and a red ribbon. We gave away cards that in Spanish said Feliz Navidad y Próspero Año Nuevo or in English Merry Christmas. On December 31, Hatuey beer, Bacardí rum, El Gaitero cider and, of course, the grapes were never lacking.”

Osviel, an unemployed worker who also sells clothes imported by the ‘mules’ and is the runner for the illegal lottery known as the ‘little ball’, has not been able to buy anything.

“It should be a special day, but when you do not have money, Christmas Eve (known as ’nochebuena’ or good night) becomes a ’nightmare’ (‘nochemala’ or bad night). If the chicken arrives at the butcher’s shop, that’s what we’ll have for dinner at my house. In this country, eating a typical menu has become a luxury.”

Since the end of the 1960s, until the early 90s, given that it was a Catholic tradition, Christmas was celebrated discreetly in Cuba. We are in the 21st century and still the regime does not celebrate it publicly.

“My mother closed the windows of the house so that the blinking lights on the tree would not be seen, although the smell of roasted pork would give us away to the president of the CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution),” recalls Luis Alberto, a high school teacher.

Another Cuban custom is to wish health and that the plans are fulfilled in the new year. When the Christmas cards disappeared, it was done personally or by phone. Now, with wifi in public spaces, it is expressed through emails and text messaging.

“My wishes for 2017 were not fulfilled. I was thinking of emigrating to the United States, but Obama put a lock on that with the repeal of the wet foot/dry foot law. For 2018 I am not optimistic. Living in Cuba is very complicated, especially if you aspire to have some prosperity,” says Reinaldo, an engineer.

Alexandra, a light-skinned mixed-race woman with blue eyes, whose dream is to be an international model, at 12 midnight on December 31 will maintain the family routine.

Risueña explains that at that time “we will throw two or three buckets of water on the street, to scare away envy, bad eyes and negative vibrations. And I will once again walk around the block with a suitcase, which has to be on wheels if you want to be given a trip to a developed country. If you go with a briefcase or a normal suitcase, the trip can be to another province, to Venezuela or to a nation that is in flames.”

If something is renewed at the end of the year among ordinary Cubans, it is the hope that things in Cuba will finally begin to change. For good, because for worse, that is impossible.

In Cuba the Future is More Frightening Than the Present / Iván García

Woman in Havana. Taken from Eurweb.

Ivan Garcia, 20 December 2017 — The place where Anselmo and Yolanda prepare their food has cracked walls and soot covers the entire room. Modernity has not arrived. They cook with kerosene, wood or charcoal.

Fixed to the wall, two casserole dishes of medium proportions soaked by the excessive use of fire and blackened from the lack of detergent. Cockroaches, partying. Right now they are in the food left over from the last meal. When Anselmo, 73, sees them, he does not chase them away them with his hand.

“Do you know that cockroaches are the only living beings that would survive a nuclear war?” he says in response. And after an explanation where he mixes a fable with information read in the Granma newspaper, he grabs his gray and dirty beard, gets serious and answers my question: continue reading

“What is my future project? Gather more recycleables or that the State begins to pay a better price for scrap. Get off your cloud, pal, here things will not change. Raúl Castro and his gang have the upper hand. If nobody quits, this lasts a hundred years. Or more,” clearly shows Anselmo’s pessimism. He’s an old man who should be enjoying his retirement and who to survive walks more than seven kilometers a day, picking up empty beer and soda cans.

Anselmo and his wife Yolanda, a 70-year-old retiree, sell plastic bags outside a bakery south of Havana. They would like to have a clean kitchen and a refrigerator with beef, chicken and fish.

But the reality is quite different. They eat a hot meal once a day. And when they do not have kerosene, they cook with pieces of wood they find on the street.

The number of people living in poverty and extreme poverty in Cuba increases every year. The timid economic reforms of Raúl Castro and pharaonic economic plans projected out to 2030 do not offer solutions for Havanans like Anselmo and Yolanda.

With the arrival of a cold front, the troop of the dispossessed, who have the sky for a roof, have put on their old shirts and sweaters, one on top of the other and the luckiest wear olive green jackets, from when they were militiamen themselves or given to them by a relative who was or is one.

“When temperatures drop, we feel the hunger more,” says Germán, a guy who sells clothes collected in garbage dumps. “To deal with the cold, I drink a lot of alcohol.”

How do you see yourself in the future? Do you have a project, I ask. He shakes his head. He stares at me, as if I were a Martian or a foreigner who accidentally ended up in these parts.

“Come down to earth, man. The future is equal to or worse than the present. At least for people like us. In Cuba, the future is not to die. We poor people live adrift in Cuba,” he says.

But when you inquire of professionals, university students or private entrepreneurs, the record of opinions is also pessimistic.

Liana, a doctor, works at a clinic in the old Covadonga hospital, in El Cerro, fifteen minutes from the center of the capital. “My near future is to reach the title of specialist. Then try to get a master’s. But it is not a priority. If before I get a mission abroad, either on my own or through the State, I will look for a way not to return. In Cuba, the future is more frightening than the present.”

Even Luciano, who considers himself a bulletproof Fidelista, is not so optimistic when talking about the future. “You have to trust in the Revolution. The causes of economic stagnation or not being able to offer a good quality of life are often not the fault of the government. The Yankee blockade is not a game. Add to that that there is a caste of bureaucrats who hold back economic reforms and foreign investments. Things must change, because as Fidel said in a speech at the University of Havana, the only ones who can make the process fail are ourselves with our bad work. And the truth is that we are not doing things right.”

Discontent among Cubans, believe me, is not a minority feeling. People are tired of the triumphalist discourse. Of low wages, high food prices and living without a future project and having to turn their backs to progress.

“We live from day to day. How many people have a bank account in Cuba? How is it possible that an engineer has a salary lower than a pushcart vendor who sells fruit? There are many questions without answers. Too much official silence. I suppose that, like Newton’s Law, due to gravity, things in Cuba have to change. But at the moment, that is not a priority nor is it the government’s will,” says Lizet, an architect.

Darián, sitting in a Vedado park, considers that the worst thing is that more and more exit doors are closed. “The island has become a mousetrap. There is nowhere to go. Or you invent a legal business or one under the table. Either you steal at work or you sell the shit brought by ’mules’ from Russia. If we escape from this we are crazy.”

Joel, a historian, believes that the country, necessarily, is destined to a radical change. “The reforms will arrive by political, economic and ideological obsolescence. The theses that did not work are going to die of old age. Although if the rope keeps tightening around the neck of the people, the popular reaction could be unpredictable. Everything has a limit.”

The regime knows it. You can not govern just by selling smoke. And Cuba is that. Pure smoke.

Cuba: The Black Market Never Sleeps / Iván García

Two street vendors selling garlic and onions along a road in Pinar del Río. Taken from Martí News.

Ivan Garcia, 15 December 2017 — In the papers, it appeared that El Encanto state pizzeria, in Havana’s La Vibora neighborhood half an hour by car from downtown Havana, sold around a dozen daily products: lasagna, cannelloni, five versions of spaghetti and pizzas, beer, entrepanes (sandwiches), guava, crab and empanadas, among other offers.

But the reality was different. The dining room remained closed and there was only a kiosk in the doorway that sold cigarettes, beer and bad quality pizzas. However, the administrative reports described a varied menu and exceeded the daily sales plan set by the Diez de Octubre municipality’s food service company.

Every Friday, between 1998 and 2003, José the administrator, and Julio the warehouse manager — both  currently reside in the United States — delivered an  envelope with two thousand pesos, equivalent to 80 dollars, to the driver of Eduardo Manzano, then director of the municipal food service company. continue reading

The cheese, tomato puree, oil, flour and other supplies — intended to be used to make the items on the menu — were sold in the lucrative Havana black market. Various people bought the items “wholesale,” and then resold them at supply-and-demand prices to the population.

“The business was a hit. You reported ghost productions and sold the raw materials. In those years, state food service centers were assigned products that they called ‘of the chain’, such as gouda cheese and imported foods. On the street they sold like hot cakes and at high prices. On a bad day, I earned a thousand pesos, equivalent to 40 dollars. A normal day, 150 dollars. And on a good one I pocketed 300 fulas. Even the police worked with us: they seized or confiscated the beef that was stolen from the slaughterhouses and then did not sell it at a good price. The key to robbery (where almost everything that is offered in the underground market comes out), is to have a good pen, an accountant or an economist that can mask the theft,” Julio said before leaving.

Currently, the El Encanto continues to be a supplier to the black market in the neighborhood, like other state cafes and restaurants in the area. It has always worked like this since  the beginning of the 1960s when Fidel Castro’s revolution began to generate scarcities and shortages throughout the country.

In the more than fifty years since then, there have been stages of ups and downs, depending on the amount of domestic or imported merchandise in the stores. Or due to certain economic circumstances, such as the so-called Special Period in the early 1990s — after the collapse of the Soviet bloc and the end of its subsidies for Cuba — when the little remaining in the storehouses had to be carefully distributed. Or unforeseen situations, such as hurricanes, when the State has to draw on its central reserves and control the donations.

In Cuba there are two types of black market. The one that is supplied by state institutions and the private one, supplied by ’mules’ with articles acquired abroad.

Igor, an economist, calculates that “the state black market moves billions of pesos annually. In the future, when they do a serious study, they will know exact figures.” In his opinion, in nine out of ten manufacturing, food service or tourist businesses, among others, state resources are stolen and later sold in the underground market.

And he emphasizes something to keep in mind: “Those who favor theft on a larger scale are the bosses. The worker usually steals a little tidbit, to consume or sell it. The administrators are the ones who steal by the truckload. Any director of a food or tourism company, in one year can buy a house and a car, keep two mistresses and go on vacation three or four times a year to an all-inclusive hotel in Varadero.

“Cyclically, the government mounts a campaign to stop the corruption caused by the black market and arrests several bosses. But it cannot stop the theft because this is how thousands of managers, officials and employees  improve their quality of life. The day theft from the state, corruption and the black market disappear, the revolution falls.”

Daniel, with a degree in political science, agrees. “The phenomenon of theft, the black market and diversion of resources in societies with Marxist ideology is symptomatic. In the former USSR and other communist countries in Eastern Europe, theft was common in companies and the proceeds supported businesses that were set up using raw materials stolen from the State. In socialism, prosperity does not come as a result of your talent, training and experience, but from loyalty to political power.”

Daniel believes that calling the means of production “the property of the people,” something so ethereal, makes people lose the sense of it belonging to anyone and everyone who can holds out their hand. “The top Cuban leaders know it. That is why the campaign against the black market is more publicity than anything else. When there are raids or arrests, it’s always the small fry who get caught. If it sometimes involves heavyweights, it’s more for a political issue than for complying with the law.”

According to Roger, “after a hurricane hits the island, police operations start up and you have to keep your head down. But that does not last long. Then things relax again. In this biz you should be well connected with high officials and every time you drop them a ’little gift’, in case one day you fall into disgrace, they will feel obliged to help you.

“After Hurricane Irma, people were sensitized, thousands of families lost everything, and the authorities are hunting for those who sell mattresses, tiles or water tanks. But those who know the ropes know how and who to contact, so they do not get caught. The black market never sleeps.”

Roger, knows this better than anyone: he already has a buyer for two mattresses made in the Dominican Republic, supposedly destined for victims of the hurricane.

Carlos, a sociologist, affirms that “in nations with economic and political structures such as Cuba, where personal loyalty, friendship and connections prevails, the black market will never disappear. And the worst thing is: they form groups or gangs that end up transforming themselves into mafia cartels with huge amounts of money that can buy willingness and even lives. In a democratic future, if the island doesn’t send all that corruption to the bottom of the sea, it could be strengthened and reproduced, as happened in Russia.”

Corruption, bureaucracy and the black market have already taken root in the daily life of Cubans.

The regime controls the whole society and all the information and also aims to control the entire economy, including the private sector. Different institutional estates manipulate the retail prices of food and goods, obtaining great profits. There is no financial transparency with the hard currencies that enter the country. No official is accountable to the people. That opacity and secrecy propitiate the consolidation of criminal factions.

The culture of stealing from the State and the black market has become a kind of antibody that many citizens have in order to defend themselves against the gangster model that has been developing in the country for more than half a century.

Because in Cuba, Castro Corporation Inc. leaves very few loopholes to the rest of the population.

The Indifferent: The Great Cuban Dissidence / Iván García

Source: CNN

Ivan Garcia, 4 December 2017 — Let’s call him Ramón, 65, a city bus driver. He says that one morning he realized that he had arrived in the third age when he couldn’t tie his shoelaces sitting on the sofa in his living room.

His sedentary lifestyle and a prominent belly prevented him from doing it. “Nature is wise. The body is sending signs of aging. And you have to pay attention. Societies are the same. And for ten years I knew that the system in Cuba and its leaders, besides aging physically, were entering a stage of decomposition. No one can stop it, “says Ramón, who for most of his adult life was an unconditional supporter of Fidel Castro and his revolution. continue reading

The bus driver confesses that he was an official with the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and participated in an internationalist mission in Angola. “I was willing to give my life for the revolution. But my way of thinking changed. I no longer believe in these people (the regime). It’s getting more and more clear to me: they are only interested in power and getting rich. The problems of the people do not matter to them.”

A decade ago, for the first time he decided to leave his ballot blank in the imitation elections held on the island. In the last balloting, on November 26, he wrote on his ballot “The people want food and democracy.”

For this article he asked me to use a pseudonym. But as if it were an achievement, he tells his neighbors what he did, who, like Ramón, consider the Castro brothers’ regime outdated.

Mayra, a doctor, pasted a set of labor demands on her ballot: more economic freedom and free elections to choose the president of the country. “In a fit of bravery I decided to do it. The night before I wrote it on my computer, I printed it, and the next day I took it out of my wallet and glued it on the ballot.”

Neither Ramón nor the doctor are dissidents or political activists. They are people that we see daily in the streets, standing in line at the bakery or complaining about everyday hardships and the lack of a future.

It is a Cuban version of the “neither-nor” Venezuelans. They do not support the government, nor do they trust the illegal local opposition. Many of them, like Silvia, a clerk in a pharmacy, believe that nobody takes them into account.

“President Trump, announces measures that he believes will favor Cubans. The dissenters run their mouths when talking about the people, but very few approach the people to hear about our problems. And the government is increasingly disoriented from the true aspirations of the population,” says Silvia.

This is the perception among many ordinary citizens who consider themselves forgotten in this story. “In one way or another, everyone uses us for their interests. But nobody cares about us,” concludes Silvia, who, on the day of the insipid elections, did not go to vote and stayed at home watching the American serial Billionaires.

Any country in the world would accept 70 or 80 percent of voters as a good turnout. In the United States, little more than half of its voters go to the polls.

But in totalitarian societies, where the vote does not represent social, economic or political transformation, citizen participation is an act of loyalty to the regime. That is why in North Korea, China and Vietnam, in their electoral parodies, participation greatly exceeds 90 percent.

In Cuba it was the same until Sunday, 26 November 2017.

In the elections of December 22, 1992, the military autocracy reported the participation of 97.2% of registered citizens. On February 27, 1993, in the vote for deputies to the National Parliament, attendance was 99.62%.

On October 21, 1997, 97.59% of the registered voters showed up to vote. On February 13, 1998, 98.35% went to the vote. And in the referendum on October 27, 2012, attendance was 94.21%.

Comparative statistics from the electoral commission show that abstentionism, not voting, leaving the ballot blank or annulling it, grew between two and five percent between 1992 and 2012, if we believe the official statistics are reliable.

These statistics show that, in general, the western and central provinces have the lowest participation rates. Of these, Havana stands out, perhaps the most gusano*, with figures that hovered around 80 percent.

After Fidel Castro’s forced retirement due to health problems, abstention increased with each election. In the absence of statistics by province from the national electoral commission, it is already a fact that the last elections showed the lowest citizen participation since the regime began to distribute its drop-by-drop “democracy.”

What message does this increase in absenteeism send? I asked a university professor. “For a political system like Cuba’s, with a very strong ideological weight and one that boasts of the monolithic unity of the people with its leaders, it is worrisome. Take note. These figures are a set of many things. Of the obvious waste of power, that people are not happy with the reforms, that there is a sector that demands real democratic changes, that citizens are indifferent to the political project and of the exhaustion of the blank check that the government once enjoyed,” he answers.

And he adds, “”More than one million eight hundred thousand Cubans, in one way or another, either leaving the ballot blank, writing slogans, making demands or not going to vote, shows their dissatisfaction with the system. If we consider it as a movement, the movement of the indifferent, for example, it would be the largest party in Cuba today, because the Communist Party, the ruling party, has around 700,000 members.”

There is a third force that asks to be heard. Even supposing that the 85.94% who voted unconditionally supported the government, in Cuba a current of dissatisfied citizens is fed up with the current state of affairs.

Fidel Castro took power with a disorganized army that initially consisted of 82 men. When they came down from the Sierra Maestra and added the forces of the 26th of July Movement, the army did not exceed four thousand people.

Believe me, then, that 1,869,937 Cubans, 21.12% of the electorate, is not a small number. And it continues to grow.

*Translator’s note: Gusano, or worm, is a term applied to “counterrevolutionaries” 

Note: After this article was written, and four days after the municipal elections were held, on Sunday, November 26, something happened that had never happened in Cuba: on Thursday, November 30, the online edition of the Granma newspaper published an official note from the National Electoral Commission, where the participation figure rose from 85.94% to 89.02%.

Photo: Taken from CNN

Women in Cuba Can’t Take it Any More / Iván García

Photo: Taken from the report The inequities and female poverty in Cuba, published in IPS on December 16, 2016.

Ivan Garcia, 8 December 2017 — While the group of young people from a high school in La Víbora, south of Havana, were in a physical education class on a dirt track adjacent to the school, Andrés, 40, with a cardboard box on his legs, masturbated frantically sitting on the cement floor of the basketball court.

His relatives call him ’Andriaco the blanket’. He usually masturbates in cinemas and sports fields, using a large cardboard container that has an opening in the front to put his hand in and not attract attention. continue reading

Andrés is not demented or mentally retarded. Nor is he an exhibitionist like Manuel, a mulatto who likes to masturbate early in the morning or when night falls, in public, always showing his member. One afternoon in November, Manuel explained to Martí Noticias his way of operating.

“I have fixed places, like the medical school in El Cerro, in the back of the Covadonga, because the students don’t create problems. And some places where the chicks pass that are ’assimilators’.” In the slang of masturbators, shooters, jack-offs or jerk-offs, ’assimilators’ or ’comelonas’ are women who watch them while they masturbate and don’t shout at them or offend them.

Manuel has a wife and is the father of two children. “Every time I get an internal itch, I take out my dick and jack off in front of some girl. If they insult me, I get even more excited. There is an army of wankers throughout the island. If the police pick you up, they’ll give you a fine of 60 pesos. If you are a recidivist or you ’shoot’ in front of minors, they punish you with one year in prison on a farm. But I’ve never been imprisoned for masturbating on the street.”

Sheila, a psychologist, believes that the laws in Cuba are quite permissive with public masturbators and jamoneros or exhibitionists. “Likewise with sexual harassment and physical and verbal abuse of women. It is a tremendously macho society. Most street masturbators do not have any mental disorder. They need medical treatment, but their IQ is usually above average.”

The Havana psychologist believes that public masturbation and sexual harassment are crimes, because they invade the privacy of a woman without her consent. “And of course the abuse. In Cuba, the sanctions for physical aggressions against women are very soft. The laws condemn a government opponent or someone who kills a cow with a sentence of twenty years, however a man hits his wife or girlfriend, sometimes with injuries, and if they punish him, he serves only one year in jail. Even some policemen do not see it as a crime, but a matter between husband and wife. We Cubans should initiate a public awareness campaign to denounce sexual harassment and gender violence, among other phenomena that affect us.”

Recently, a crusade against sexual harassment began in the United States. The #MeToo Movement establishes a new threshold against the abuse of male power. More than thirty top executives and celebrities have fallen in the last two months, from artists like Kevin Spacey to the doctor for the women’s Olympic gymnastics team.

But in Cuba, masturbation on public streets, which is a form of sexual harassment, and beating wives and children is not an issue that the official media regularly address or encourage debate about among the population.

Adriana, a former basketball player, narrates personal experiences. “Already, as a young woman, it was common that the little girl that the coach had his eye on, he went to bed with her in exchange for selecting her for a provincial or national team. Touching your buttocks, breasts, undressing you with his eyes or masturbating in front of you, was so common that I came to think it was normal. In sports schools and in others with scholarship students, sexual harassment escalates to groping against your will. As far as I know, those behaviors are not reported and those affected are afraid to denounce it.”

Leyanis, 24, recently graduated in telecommunications engineering, says that “the things that women suffer in Cuba have become normal. We have to arm ourselves with a shield if we want to get ahead. We are legally forsaken. From the moment I get up I have to endure the invasion of other people,” and she details:

“At five in the morning, when I’m ironing my work uniform in my living room, a guy stands in the window and starts masturbating. Similarly, on the way to work, there’s another batch of pajusos. And at work, from your boss to your colleagues, they make rude innuendo or touch you, pretending that it was unintentional. And when you’re riding a bus, don’t even talk about it: you get hit with the whole package shamelessly. It is an intolerable, demeaning epidemic.”

Nidia, architect, believes, “that the harassment in Cuba is so normal that in a video that I saw, where several generals appear, one of them spanks a uniformed girl who passes by his side. If that is done by those who govern the country, what can be expected from the rest of the Cubans? Impunity is almost absolute.”

“If there is touching and harassment in military life, the situation is unbearable in more liberal sectors, such as the artistic, which has always had a bad reputation. Or in workplaces that have rooms and beds, such as hospitals and hotels where you work 24 hours,” says a retired food service employee who had to endure all kinds of pressure from her superiors to have sex during working hours.

Silvia, a pharmacist, thinks that “the authorities should do something, because at any moment you go out into the street and a man might club you and take you home, like in the Stone Age. When I’m on duty in the early morning at the pharmacy, they harass me on the phone, telling me all kinds of filth or they stop at the door, jacking off. I’ve called the police and they never come, they say they’re busy with more important issues.”

Although the state press has more or less addressed the issue of street masturbation and mistreatment of women, the issue of harassment remains taboo. “We have to organize and create a movement like in the United States and publicly denounce all that we are suffering,” says Adriana, the former basketball player harassed in her youth.

But it so happens that in Cuba, collective denunciations, however spontaneous and apolitical they may be, are always suspicious for a State that oversees and controls society with an iron fist. Creating a movement against sexual harassment, passing more severe laws that curb physical and psychological violence against females of any age and trying to eliminate or reduce public masturbation, is not among the priorities of the olive-green autocracy.

In a macho and predominantly masculine society, where its leaders see sexual harassment as fun, having a lover or girlfriends is a tradition, giving your partner a slap and spreading songs with vulgar and offensive texts towards women is normal, and leaves the Cuban women in a position of absolute helplessness.

As if it weren’t enough to have to endure daily rudeness, discrimination and violence, most of the women on the island come home from work to cook, clean, wash, iron and care for their children, while the husband watches television.

This is one of the ’achievements’ that the revolution has left us.

Fifteenth Birthday Parties, Also for Boys / Iván García

Photo taken from the Internet

Ivan Garcia, 13 November 2017 — In the studio there are three light reflectors that give off an unbearable heat. In the background there is a wall of mirrors and two white umbrellas hanging from the ceiling.

Joan, a professional photographer, considers himself a freelancer. He also sells audiovisual packages to foreign press agencies based in Havana, planning a photographic exhibition with artistic nudes.

“But what earns the most money are the photo sessions for fifteenth birthday parties, both for females and males. Packages of photos, montages and videos range between 120 and 850 convertible pesos (CUC), and some are even more expensive. From the professional point of view it’s a cash cow, as long as you are up to date with the latest youth trends in Cuba and have a stock of sophisticated tools and applications. It’s true that art is scarce and kitsch is abundant, but you earn more money than with graphic journalism or artistic photography,” says Joan. continue reading

The fifteenth birthday parties on the island support a fat and efficient chain of businesses that enjoy generous profits. Hairdressers, barbershops, photographers, audiovisuals, cakes, buffet tables, sale or rental of costumes, choreographers, DJs, comedians and well-known television presenters usually participate in the celebrations for turning 15.

Moraima says that “on my daughter’s fifteenth I spent about 6 thousand chavitos (CUCs). A week in a hotel in Varadero for five people cost 1,500 CUC. On clothes for the girl we spent 450 CUC, 750 CUC on photos and videos, 200 CUC on hairdressing and almost 3 thousand CUC on the birthday, between the cake, refreshments, drinks, rent of the room in a hotel, presenter for the party , choreographer, DJ and a comic. The next day I did not even have a peso for a cup of coffee.”

But now Moraima’s son has gottenit into his head to also celebrate his 15th birthday.” He says that’s fashionable. His father and I put our hands on our heads, but the truth is that the boy gets good grades at school and deserves it,” the mother confesses.

José Manuel, father of two children who, in 2017, arrived at the ages of 15 (the boy) and 16 (the girl), found a solution that allowed him to lower costs. “We had a single celebration, like greased lightening. We rented two rooms in a four-star hotel in Cancun for eight nights for four people. Expenses were exceeded more than planned, around 10 thousand chavitos, but it was worth it. ”

The fifteenth birthday parties are a long-standing tradition in Cuba and other countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. The custom does not distinguish among races or social status. All Cuban families yearn to celebrate it in the best way possible; possible according to their economic possibilities. During Soviet Cuba, when one’s salary had a real purchasing power, it was less complicated to organize them, although the wealthiest could always go overboard and break the bank.

Zoila, 50, remembers: “My parents were workers in a textile factory. In 1982, when I turned 15, each one earned a salary of 200 pesos. However, with the five boxes of beer available on the ration book for fifteenth birthday parties and weddings, plus a little money saved, four cakes were bought, abundant food and drink was served, and several couples danced a rueda de casino. All that partying did not exceed a thousand pesos. Now, with the custom designed cake and the paraphernalia that usually accompanies a quinceañera, you’re out a thousand or two thousand chavitos. On my two daughters’ fifteenths, without great luxuries, I spent 4 thousand CUC.”

In Cuba, parties were never organized for boys when they turned 15 years old. But for four or five years it has become common. Although many fathers and mothers do not look on it kindly.

“The quinceañeras are a feminine tradition. My sons say that I am a Cro-Magnon, an antiquated one. But I’m against that ‘metrosexual’ fashion, men who shave their legs, chest and eyebrows, fix their nails and wear pink clothes. With this discourse that we all have the same rights, a part of the men have gone the gay route,” says Sergio, father of five children.

In a survey of 18 adolescents, females and males between 12 and 14 years old and from different social strata, 16 of them said that if their parents could afford it, they would celebrate their 15th birthday in some way, regardless of sex.

“It’s a cool thing and it’s fashionable. In 2018 I am going to be 15 and my parents are going to celebrate. I intend to make a digital magazine dressed in football outfits and audiovisual montages as if I were playing football with Messi and Neymar,” says Reinier, a ninth-grade student who is now 14.

Quite a few of the fifteenth birthday celebrations Cuba can be financed thanks to Cubans residing in the United States. “My uncle plans to come. He sent me name brand clothes and shoes, a phone and money. He told me by text that he is going to rent a week in an all-inclusive hotel in Cayo Santamaría,” says Lisván, a highschool freshman who will turn 15 in November.

So it is that many of the traditional holidays, now for the two sexes, in many cases are planned between relatives on the Island and in Florida. And the expenses are shared on both shores. Or they are paid in full by a magnanimous relative from Miami.

Fidel Castro Everywhere / Iván García

Ivan Garcia, 27 November 2017 — In a dirty and unventilated state bar on Tenth of October Avenue, which sells for six pesos (0.35 cents), with their tankard of beer served, two speakers reproduce a recital by La Lupe.

At a table in the background, Joel, with his glassy eyes, leans his back against a wall where you can read the meaning, according to Fidel Castro, of the word revolution, engraved with a fine-tipped brush and without much art.

When you ask his impressions on the first anniversary of Fidel’s death, Joel, who drinks more for vice than pleasure, shows the typical silly smile of people one step away from drunkenness. continue reading

“You’ve got me between a rock and a hard place. I did not remember the first anniversary of the death of that face like a coconut. The television and radio are twenty-four hours with that obsession, but my job is to work hard. I don’t have time to shoot the shit. Let those who believe in him remember him. Brother, life does not stop no matter how big the person who died is,” says the man, as he empties the rest of the cheap beer that remains in his jar.

In Cuba, political advertising is everywhere. In the most unexpected places, phrases by Fidel Castro are read. It does not matter if it is an farmers market, a smelly low-key bar or on the Central Highway.

The promoters of the Castro faith work by piecework. They have filled with paintings, photos and praises to Castro every corner of the island. Not infrequently their crazy site has borders of black humor, cynicism or toxic delirium.

On one side of the old Prisión del Príncipe, where the Avenida de los Presidentes begins, in El Vedado, on murals and building facades there are Castro slogans. In the evenings, taking advantage of the lack of public lighting in that area, street exhibitionists masturbate to the step of any woman.

“It’s an epidemic. The shooters (masturbators) in Havana are making waves. Recently a guy was ’shooting’ from atop a tree, next to a sign with Fidel’s phrase ’Cubans must learn to shoot, and shoot well. What a coincidence,” says Camila, a dentist.

And it is Fidel Castro, like José Martí, that the propaganda of the communist party uses it for any facet of life. Be it a boxing match, a hurricane symposium or a poultry forum.

“The soundtrack about the man is tremendous. In between the innings of a ballgame, they slip a stretch of one of his speeches or images of him playing basketball or baseball. Advertising in the capitalist countries is abusive, but this day for the first anniversary of Fidel’s death in the media, all the time and at any time, it is simply harassing. Even those people who appreciated it come to reject it,” says Hernán, a retiree.

Carlos, a sociologist, believes that “political advertising must be handled with care, so that it does not have the opposite effect. It has happened with Martí: due to the excessive use of him, a considerable part of the new generations reject him. Fidel was a watershed, he has many local admirers, but also many detractors, although not openly expressed. They believe he is to blame for the current national disaster. With this laudatory campaign, where everything is praise and his flaws are not outlined, trying to sell his as a perfect guy, what they provoke is exhaustion.”

State media, lacking in creativity, have labeled the former commander in chief as a major athlete, rancher and farmer-in-chief and highlighted his wisdom with regards to the art of war.

If there is something overflowing in Cuban bookstores, it is texts about Fidel Castro. Nidia, an employee of a bookstore in Old Havana, says “Cubans barely buy Fidel’s books. The foreigners, a little. They don’t sell much.”

A year after the disappearance of the former top leader, people have continued on their own. The priority is the same: bring food to the table and earn enough money to repair their precarious houses.

The citizens consider that the state’s “information deployment” on the life and work of the autocrat does not bring them any benefit. “If every 25th of November they gave on the ration book a pound of beef per person or a basket of food, perhaps they would remember him more intensely. But life here stays the same. Without money, the markets are fleecing us and eating well is a luxury,” says Ángel, a worker, in line at the bakery.

The main concern of Havana residents like Joel, a practiced drinker, is that “on these days of commemoration they prohibit the sale of rum or beer. The best way to escape from problems, which in this country are a lot, is to go get drunk.”

Twelve months after the funeral of Fidel Castro, Cuba is still stuck in its stationary economic crisis and planning the future, more than boldness, it is a bad omen. Within three months, Raúl, the other Castro, has said that he is retiring from power. But apathy on the island is so profound that even this issue does not interest the population.

The goal of the ordinary Cuban is to make it to the next day. You live hour by hour. Short term. The commemorations and political campaigns are just a background music.

The Crisis in Zimbabwe is Barely Mentioned in the Cuban Media / Iván García

Fidel Castro receives Robert Mugabe in the Havana airport, June 8, 1992. Taken from CNN.

Iván García, 20 November 2017 — While Robert Gabriel Mugabe, the oldest dictator in the world at age 93, was giving a televised statement from Harare, surrounded by soldiers and elegantly-dressed officials, many miles away from Zimbabwe, Edna, a history professor at a pre-university, was washing clothes in Havana, in an anachronistic Aurika from the Soviet epoch.

When I ask Edna her opinion on the political crisis in Zimbabwe, she shakes her head and tries to find words that don’t sound trite. “If you ask my kids, I’m sure they don’t know who Robert Mugabe is and they wouldn’t be able to find Zimbabwe on the map. People here are disconnected, although I don’t include myself in this group, since I try to keep up with what’s happening in Cuba and the world,” says Edna, and she adds: continue reading

“I went on internationalist missions twice in Africa, once in Angola and another in South Africa. And I can tell you that those freedom fighters, like José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola, Teodoro Obiang in Equatorial Guinea, Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, ended up being dictators. The honorable exception was Nelson Mandela. Mugabe was in power for 37 years, olympically violating human rights and committing fraud in fake elections. Our press treats him like a king, because in addition to being an ally who always votes in favor of Cuba in international forums, our rulers are a reflection of him. Joaquín Sabina, my favorite singer, says in an interview that the Cuban revolution and the Venezuelan revolutions aren’t aging well. The same is true of the African independence movement, in which Fidel Castro played a big part; the same thing happened.”

To find someone on the streets of Havana who will seriously comment about a foreign event is hard. Most reject a question with a shake of their heads or muddle through with a mechanical response.

But an independent journalist like Juan González Febles always has a response: “It’s logical that the Regime doesn’t offer information. There’s a kind of club of dictators who indulge each other. With the Argentina dictatorship, Fidel Castro did business with the soldiers and offered them aid during the war in the Malvinas. Beginning with Honecker, passing through Ceausescu and ending with Mugabe, the Cuban Regime decorated the whole lot of them with the Order of José Martí. Right now a high-level delegation from North Korea is in Cuba. Almost no other country would permit an official from that rogue state to visit. The media silence comes from a debt of gratitude that the Cuban dictatorship has with the rest of the totalitarian governments in the world.

The State media have barely mentioned the grave political crisis in Zimbabwe that will mark the end of the Mugabe era.

In spite of the slow connection, browsing on the Internet I found that Prensa Latina published an article, reproduced Sunday, November 19 by Cubadebate, with the headline, “President Mugabe deposed as the political leader in Zimbabwe.” The same story was also released in the online editions of Bohemia and Tiempo 21 from Las Tunas. Previously, two “decaffeinated” commentaries were published: one on Thursday, November 16 in Granma (“Zimbabwe, the headline of the week”) and the other on Friday the 17th in Juventud Rebelde (“Discussion of the situation in Zimbabwe”).

However, Telesur, a channel funded with the petrodollars of Hugo Chávez, on Sunday the 19th transmitted the televised conference of Mugabe surrounded by soldiers and officials.

In Cuba, all news media, national or provincial, are directed by the ideological department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. And they are always cautious and careful about condemning or criticizing communist governments, governments with leftist tendencies or any that are economic allies.

Nothing has been published on the Island about the corruption in China of the children of high officials and their spectacular lifestyles, and the press is silent about the relatives of Xi Jinping who are implicated in the Panama Papers.

The monarchist tyranny of North Korea is treated with the utmost respect. And you’ll never see the official analysts, experts on the U.S. or the European Union political systems, write an article condemning the testing of nuclear missiles by the Hermit Kingdom Kim family.

However, there’s a surplus of space and ink for counting killings in the U.S. or pointing out statistics on capitalist poverty. But about Zimbabwe, hardly anything is known. Cubans don’t know about the terrible economic situation, with 90 percent of its citizens unemployed, or that the average life span isn’t more than 40 years.

With Africa, the information blackout is redoubled. The role of the Castro autocracy in the struggles for emancipation on that continent is known. Fidel Castro maintained a special friendship with Robert Mugabe. In August 1986, Castro was in Zimbabwe to participate in the Eighth Summit of Nonaligned Countries, which was celebrated in Harare, the capital. For his part, Robert Mugabe made several visits to Cuba, on the following dates: September 1983; 1986 when he was decorated with the Order of José Martí; June of 1992; July of 2002; September of 2003, and September of 2005, according to photos found on Google. His last trip was in November 2016, in order to attend the funeral of his “brother, Fidel.”

Hence the scarce news on what is happening in Zimbabwe with the old friend of Castro the First. Nor do the Cuban media mention the enormous fortune accumulated by Isabel dos Santos in Angola, or the scandals of Teodorín Obiang, son of the intolerable dictator of Equatorial Guinea.

As for Latin America, we’ll never see a reproach against the regimes of Nicolás Maduro, Evo Morales or an analysis of the litigation against Lenin Moreno and Rafael Correa in Ecuador. The National press never qualified the FARC of Colombia as a terrorist organization. Nor did it publish one line on the detention for narcotrafficking of the nephews of Cilia Flores, Maduro’s wife.

The media in Cuba are an arm of the Regime. It uses them for the benefit of publicity. The ideology department of the Party isn’t stupid. They’re not going to shoot themselves in the foot with the monster that they themselves created.

For Cuban readers, Zimbabwe is a socialist democracy and Robert Mugabe is a hero of African independence. And his wife, Grace, repudiated in her country for her love of luxury and her delusions of grandeur, if we give credit to the commentary published in Juventud Rebelde, is an innocent woman who was a child when the war of liberation took place.

If someone wants to be informed objectively and know other points of view, then he must pay one convertible peso, two day’s minimum salary, to navigate on the Internet for one hour. That’s the only way.

Translated by Regina Anavy

Cuba Belongs to All Cubans / Iván García

Taken from Cartas desde Cuba

Ivan Garcia, 7 November 2017 — A fat man with a tenor voice and a bag hanging across his chest, as he passes through the inner streets of the Lawton neighborhood, announcing that he buys empty perfume jars and plastic soft drink bottles.

Two santiagueros fleeing poverty and lack of opportunities in their province, announce that they repair mattresses. And a lady shouts from her balcony to a neighbor that ground meat just arrived at the butcher’s shop.

Before noon, Lawton, in the south of Havana, is a combination of soot, broken streets, people selling anything, while reggaeton blasts in the background. Small gatherings assemble on the corners or anywhere. continue reading

In the doorway of a warehouse five people talk about the performance of Yuli Gurriel and Yasiel Puig in the World Series. Then, they discuss the new travel and immigration measures announced in Washington by Cuba’s grizzly Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla that will begin to be implemented on 1 January 2018.

It is rare that in Cuba a family does not have relatives on the other side of the pond. Mildred, a mother of three children with brothers living in Miami, thinks about the new migratory reforms: “Personally, these changes do not benefit me, because my brothers were doctors and when they were on a mission in Venezuela, they abandoned their posts. They have to comply with a punishment of eight years during which they cannot enter Cuba. The government should understand that Cuba belongs to all Cubans and not only to those that suit them.”

Julio is the father of a young baseball talent who jumped the fence in pursuit of his dream of playing in the big leagues and who now earns a seven figure salary and helps his family out of perpetual poverty. Julio thinks along the same lines.

“With the players who leave the team during international events, it’s the same. They can not enter Cuba until the government pleases. Now they make concessions to counteract the harsh economic situation of the country. Trump is a half crazy guy and nothing can be expected from him. Venezuela can no longer send the same amount of oil and the state urgently needs the dollars from those it once called worms,” says Julio.

When you talk to ordinary citizens, the general opinion is that the government has to completely tear down the wall that has been dividing Cubans for so long.

“Cuba needs them more, than it does us. The current system is drifting. We must renew the public infrastructure and rebuild many things. We need capital, people prepared in the latest in science, technology, productive management, business and banking. The most talented in different spheres of knowledge, sports, art and culture flew from the green caiman. What’s left is small change, the bottom of the closet. We are an aging nation,” says Onelio, an economist.

But Castro’s autocracy continues with its Cold War command strategy and the mentality of the Cold War. It is their natural state. Selling themselves as a victim harassed by the United States government.

And contradictorily, the solution is to negotiate with the supposed enemy. The regime has been engaged in a battle, sometimes real, almost always exaggerated, with the different administrations in the White House, from 1959 to the present.

In his eagerness to make a mark for himself in the international scene, at the stroke of exporting guerrilla wars, armies of white coats and legions of soldiers to the African continent, Fidel Castro hijacked the aspirations of the Cuban people.

The diaspora and the people who survive in Cuba were, and are, hostages of typical policies of imperial nations and centers of world power, not of a small and backward country.

Twenty-six years have passed since the fall of communism in the USSR and even the Caribbean dictatorship does not decide to take the only foreseeable and reasonable step: to compromise with Cubans inside and outside the country.

It is the only way out in view of the national conflict. All that’s needed is a public apology and sitting down to negotiate. But the dialogue must be with everyone, not only with those who accept their ideology.

We must leave behind the old grudges. The future of Cuba involves engaging the entire diaspora (and not only those living in the United States) and Cubans on the island in the reconstruction of a modern, tolerant and functional society.

Of course, the regime will have to make concessions. Freedom of expression, democracy and free elections. The black list of compatriots, who by phallic or despotic decree, cannot travel to their homeland, should be annulled.

Carlos Alberto Montaner has every right in the world to present his books in Havana or to hold a conference in Guanabacoa. As long as they pay fair wages, not the poverty wages they give to Haitian sugarcane growers in La Romana, Dominican Republic, the Fanjul brothers could build sugar mills in the land where they were born.

Diario de Las Américas and El Nuevo Herald should have the option of placing correspondents in Havana: a good part of their readers are Cubans settled in Florida.

It is enough to milk the emigrants making them pay for their Cuban passports and to renew them at a golden price. No Cuban should have to ask permission to enter his home.

I did not understand the cheers and applause of a sector of exile when Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez launched the new travel and immigration proposal. The government is not doing anyone any favors. It is an internationally accepted right that citizens of a country can travel and return to the place where they were born, whenever they wish.

There is no better example of nationalism and sovereignty than to involve each and every  Cuban in the future of their country. We can still do this.

The Private Sector, the Most Powerful in Cuba / Iván García

Private snack bar. Taken from On Cuba Magazine.

Ivan Garcia, 17 November 2017 — While several business owners from the island connected to the internet in the lobby of the EB Miami hotel a stone’s throw from the international airport, and others drank beer at nine dollars at the bar, a Cuban dissident lawyer who spent more than a decade in Puerto Rico and a former political prisoner of Fidel Castro’s regime were trying to understand the new social dynamic that exists in Cuba.

The diverse group of participants in the Cuba Internet Freedom event, organized by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting (OCB) that took place over three days at the Miami Ad School in the picturesque Wynwood neighborhood, included software and app developers, independent economic analysts, owners of small food service businesses and the gay director of a digital magazine for Cuban gamers. continue reading

Of course there were also political activists such as Eliecer Ávila, Rosa Maria Payá, Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina and Ailer González, along with audiovisual producers and independent journalists who are openly anti-Castro. But it was the group of Cuban entrepreneurs, young people very well prepared, unprejudiced and with an approach focused more on economics than politics, who generated mixed feelings not only among a segment of the historical exile that suffered severe repression first hand — shootings of relatives or friends and many years in prison — but also among some of today’s opponents from the island, convinced that the formula to overthrow the regime of the Castro brothers is street marches or writing the word “Plebiscite” on the ballots for the election of delegates to the People’s Power Assemblies.

Passionate debates, sometimes risqué, or with the usual accusations of calling any person who criticizes the opposition or thinks differently an agent of State Security, rather than promoting dialogue, raised the wall of intransigence. Yaima Pardo, a talented independent documentary maker left a bad taste in the mouths of the exile sector that labeled him as ‘apolitical’ although it did not accuse him to his face of being part of the olive-green autocracy.

“The mere fact of coming and participating in forums considered counterrevolutionary by the government is an important step. We do not have to think like the dissidence. I recognize the pain of a segment of exile, but those were other times. My goal is to live in a society where freedom of expression is not a crime. We all want the same thing, a better homeland, but they are always attacking those of us with different opinions,” said the documentary maker.

Yodalys Sánchez, co-owner with her uncle of the paladar (private restaurant) Doña Carmela, next to the San Carlos fortress of La Cabaña, prefers to talk about how complex it is to succeed in business matters in Cuba.

“I have thirty workers and our sales are going very well. We have grown based on creativity despite the harassment of state institutions. In Cuba everything is difficult: from getting the food and condiments, to preparing the daily menu, to having to pay unsustainable taxes. Of course I am interested in a better future for my country, but what I do not like is that there are Cubans both from Miami and from the island, who believe that to demonstrate something, we have to make public statements against the government. That’s not my job,” Yodalys said.

Probably the frustration of the historical exile, compatriots who arrived in Miami with a suitcase and an empty wallet who thought, after having their properties or businesses confiscated, that their time in exile would be brief, find their discernment clouded. Emotion can overcome good sense. But they did not emigrate because of economic problems. They were practically ordered to leave their homeland, in many cases after having been political prisoners and having their lives in danger.

But Cuba today differs a lot from that of the first years of the Castro revolution. Yes, it is true, it is still governed by a regime that curtails the essential rights of any modern democracy. But the fall of Soviet communism, combined with international pressure from Western countries, an increase in internal dissidence and the existence of an incipient free press, has forced them to yield in the economic arena.

It is still too little. There are too many controls and restrictions on small private businesses making a lot of money, something aberrant: like asking the fourth batter to just tap the ball.

Even in the political terrain there is a retreat. They beat the Ladies in White and barricade opponents of the UNPACU in the eastern region or illegally prohibit dissidents from running as candidates for district delegates, but the firing squads have been replaced by brief arrests and ordinary people are losing their fear and, even in the open street, freely criticize the state of affairs in Cuba.

In this complex panorama, more than two hundred Cuban journalists without gags write for media and websites based in Florida, Madrid or Havana. And on the island there are so many dissident groups and independent initiatives of all kinds that no one can keep track of them all. Twenty years ago, none of that was possible without going to prison.

In a dictatorship, its weakness or retreat is measured by those small victories achieved in the midst of intense repression. And yes, today Castroism is more fragile than two decades ago. It has less social control and thanks to the internet it can no longer control information at its own whim. Everywhere, Caribbean totalitarianism is taking on water.

In my opinion, it is not the dissidence that is going to lead the regime to come to an agreement with its people and open the gates. It will be private entrepreneurs and their demands which will lead to the desired change.

It is hard to believe that within the ranks of the opposition and exile, who always brandished the weapon of private enterprise, they now judge with reservations the most thriving sector. Along with the invasive marabú weed, it is one of the few things that thrives on the Island.

Travel and Immigration Reforms Will Bring More Hard Currency to Cuba / Iván García

Photo taken from Martí Noticias

Ivan Garcia, 2 November 2017 — Twice a week, Mayté, a bank employee, usually talks with and sees her daughter through an internet app that she uses from a park in western Havana. The travel and immigration rules that the Cuba authorities will begin to apply as of 1 January 2018, still won’t allow professionals like Mayté’s daughter, who abandoned her posting in a foreign countries, to visit Cuba.

“The new measures don’t repeal the rules that prevent doctors and professionals who abandon their missions abroad to return before eight years have passed. Right now, everything is the same. They [the regime] have an urgent need to find money, so they are implementing these new travel and immigration reforms,” says Mayté, after talking with her daughter in Miami through the IMO app. continue reading

An immigration official, who requested anonymity, said that “there will be gradual changes in travel and immigration regulations, both for Cubans living in the country, and Cubans living abroad.”

Martí News wanted to know if future reforms would cancel the prohibition that prevents professionals, categorized as deserters, from traveling to Cuba before they have been away eight years, and when the extensive blacklist prohibiting opponents of the regime living abroad from visiting their homeland would be eliminated.

“The policy that after two years certain rights are lost will change in the short term,” says the official, referring to the current policy that requires Cubans who remain out of the country for more than 24 months to get special permission to return.

“Also the prohibition of professionals who defected from different missions,” he adds, “and a provision that allows doctors who once decided to leave, to return to the country is in force. But the issue of belligerent Cubans who seek to change our political system is different. That remains a matter of national security. Although for humanitarian situations they have authorized their entry into the country. The State is interested in maintaining a fluid relationship with its emigrants. And all possible openings will be made in that sense,” the official explained.

“Then in the near future will Cuban emigrants be able to hold public jobs?” I ask him.

“Right now I don’t know. But I repeat, the government wants better relations with the emigrants, especially with anyone who is non-confrontational,” he responds.

Eduardo, an economist, says that the new measures “are aimed at capturing as much fresh currency as possible. In the middle of the current economic recession, which has all the signs of becoming a deep crisis due to the 40 percent decrease in oil imports from Venezuela, and with Russia and China apparently unwilling to get involved in the unproductive local economy, as happened in past decades, there is no doubt that the government needs to open new ways to raise more dollars and euros. Family remittances, retail trade in convertible pesos and tourism for Cubans settled in other countries, is a business that moves millions. With these travel measures, and others that could come, such as facilitating the creation of small and medium businesses run by Cubans living abroad, the economic situation could take a favorable turn. As long as they do it in an impartial, independent and reliable legal framework.”

Carlos, a sociologist, doubts that these travel and immigration regulations are the first of a later set of economic reforms focused on private entrepreneurs or stimulating future business with Cuban emigrés.

“I don’t believe it. Those provisions are to improve the flow of liquidity in the state coffers. Until proven otherwise, the regime has always watched with concern the authorization of busineses by Cubans who, among other reasons, left because they disagreed with the socialist system. The current Investment Law does not prohibit Cubans living in other nations from doing business in Cuba, but in practice the state does not open the door for them. In times of uncertainty, with a worsening economic crisis and the backtracking in relations with the United States, the rapprochement with the exile would help to move the country forward. But there is a caste of conservatives within the government who do not approve of this approach. Look at the handbrake they put on people working for themselves. The objective of these travel and immigration reforms is purely financial,” the sociologist explains.

Luisa, the mother of a Havana baseball player who plays in the minor leagues in the United States, believes that “the government should repeal all the laws that prevent Cuban players, doctors and other professionals who stayed during a mission or sporting event from traveling back to Cuba. Bad, good or regular, they are Cuban and they have families here. If they could come freely, and not wait for eight years to pass, if they could open businesses and in the case of the players, compete for the national team, that would contribute to maintaining better relations with an emigration has been vilified. They have branded those who left as scum, traitors, worms.”

Yasmany, the father of two children living in Miami, says that with the recently announced measures “the government is not doing any favors to the Cuban emigrants. It is a right that is contemplated in international laws. If they approve it now, it’s simply because they need money.”

Gloria, a lawyer, states that “it is a legal aberration that Cubans have to get a special stamp on their passport in order to travel to their own country. All that is absurd. The convenient thing would be that they can come and go without legal obstacles on the part of the state. Also that they can establish businesses in their homeland, occupy political positions or live one season abroad and another on the island. In recent years, the government has made progress in the area of travel and immigration, but it is opening spaces little by little.”

Many people consulted agree that, in the same way that Havana is the capital of all Cubans, Cuba is the home of all Cubans, wherever they live and however they think. And no one should have the right to regulate their freedom to travel or to settle in their native city when they can or want to.

But the regime has another point of view. That is why it governs the island as if it were its property.

Translated by Jim

How Cubans Remember the Missile Crisis / Iván García

Headline in a newspaper of the time: End of the Crisis

Ivan Garcia, 30 October 2017 — The leaden sky presaging rain did not stop Hector, 79, from roasting chicken breasts and a snapper over charcoal. In his house in Víbora Park in the Arroyo Naranjo neighborhood in the south of Havana, the atmosphere was festive. His brother Humberto, who has lived in Canada for 20 years, was visiting Cuba with his children and grandchildren.

On the patio, the adults shared beers and nostalgia, while they listened to the Spanish group Nino Bravo on the stereo. In the living room the youngest members of the family were dancing and singing Despacito, by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee. continue reading

It was just after one o’clock on the afternoon of Sunday, October 22nd. At that hour, Humberto turned on a small battery radio and started listening to the news. The announcer recalled that 55 years ago, John F. Kennedy addressed a 17-minute televised message to the American people and publicly announced that a naval blockade would be established against Cuba.

Humberto experienced those two weeks of uncertainty on the Island. After a brief silence, he recounts his personal experience. “I was 24 years old and I had just graduated in civil engineering. Like most Cubans, I supported Fidel Castro. I enrolled voluntarily in the militias. I passed a quick course on antiaircraft artillery and they sent a group of us to an area of Pinar del Río that today belongs to the municipality of San Luis. Later I would find out that very close to our unit they had deployed Soviet nuclear missiles,” recalls Humberto and adds:

“In Cuba we did not have the slightest idea what a nuclear conflict was. We were uninformed, there were no shelters or the necessary supplies. There was no awareness of what an atomic war represented. In a night watch, on October 22, 1962, the battalion chief told us about Kennedy’s speech and Khrushchev’s decision not to stop the ships traveling to Cuba. ‘War is a matter of days away,’ the boss told us. Among the troops it was thought that it would be a kind of safari to hunt Yankees. Morale was sky high after the Bay of Pigs. Someone said: ‘Comrades, this conflict is different. There will be no winners or losers, we are all going to die.’ That was when I realized the seriousness of the situation.”

The former political prisoner and journalist Pedro Corzo, now living in Miami, in 1962 was already an opponent of Fidel Castro’s communist regime.

“I lived in San Diego del Valle, a town in the old province of Las Villas. I had not been imprisoned yet, but there is ample evidence that the dictatorship planted dynamite around the entire perimeter of the Model Prison and other prisons where the political prisoners were, and as events unfolded, they were ready to blow them up. In the village there was a strong movement of Russian troops and weapons. At that time, opponents never thought that it was nuclear missiles. When the armaments passed through San Diego del Valle, the army told us to go inside, close the windows and not look out.”

In October of 1962, Tania Quintero was about to turn 20 years old. “What I remember most about those days is that ordinary Cubans did not know what was happening and mocked the Soviets, ‘Russians’ became a disparaging term. I think that was when they started calling them ‘bolos’ — bowling pins — because they were so crude,” says the current independent journalist, who since November 2003 has lived in Switzerland as a political refugee.

According to Tania, “The feelings of the Cuban leaders were adopted by the population. The people didn’t want the Americans to get a foot in the door and wanted them to let the Soviets install the rockets on the island. You’d hear people say, ’Why did you bring [the weapons] then? They are assholes if they allow them to send them back.’ It seemed like they were talking about conventional weapons and not missiles. They called Khrushchev ‘Nikita Nipone’ (someone who neither removes the rockets or leaves them in place.) That’s how simple and superficial things were to ordinary people. The chill came later, when we knew what was at stake, in Cuba and in the world. Fidel Castro never spoke clearly to the people and told us that we were on the verge of a holocaust.

“We didn’t know and didn’t see and so we weren’t terrified, despite the huge military mobilization that was visible all over the Havana and especially along the Malecon, with the soldiers behind sandbags and the ‘four-mouths’ (anti-aircraft batteries) ready to shoot if ‘a little enemy plane’ tried to get close.”

Alberto, a retired former military officer, never thought that Cuba would be wiped off the map in the event of a nuclear conflict with the United States. “The perception that I had and that was shared by the vast majority of the population, was of the Cuban military dominance. We believed that the USSR’s armament was superior and that the Soviets would have a secret weapon that would prevent a Yankee attack. We did not know that the correlation of forces in nuclear missiles was one to eight in favor of the Americans. Neither television, radio nor the ICAIC news reported on the dangerous situation we were in. Despite the fact that only 17 years had passed since the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, with thousands of deaths and irreversible damages to the survivors. In Cuba, I believe that by Fidel’s direction, people were not told about the harmful effects of a nuclear mushroom cloud. The only thing that Fidel cared about was going down in history. We were manipulated, we were naive. In the same situation the North Koreans are in today. ”

Magdalena, a housewife, was born in December 1962 and says that her parents had told her about the October Crisis. “But I came to know that we were on the verge of a third world war, when in 2001 I saw the film Thirteen Days, starring Kevin Costner. It was hard for me to believe that what was narrated on the screen really happened and I realized that in 1962 my parents lacked information and did not know the magnitude of the situation created between Cuba, the United States and the Soviet Union. Luckily, the ‘bolos’ took their rockets out of the country. ”

After the fall of the Soviet empire, some secret archives were opened to the public, among them the letters exchanged by Fidel Castro and Nikita Khrushchev. In one of the missives the Caribbean autocrat urges the president of the Soviet Union to launch the first strike. But the official media hide and barely analyze that epistolary exchange that reveals the irresponsibility of Fidel Castro and puts into question his gift as a statesman.

Fifty-five years after the Missile Crisis, many young Cubans are unaware of the real context of the events and the reckless spirit of their rulers, who summoned the people to immolate themselves.

Dayán, a third year high school student, in a mechanical tone, explains what he knows about that stage, according to what he learned in class: “After the Bay of Pigs, there were plans by the United States and the CIA to invade Cuba. That is why the USSR decided to place nuclear weapons in our territory, as a deterrent force. The Revolutionary Government did not agree. What they wanted was a commitment from the Soviets, that in case of aggression against Cuba it would be considered an aggression against the USSR. When Khrushchev decided to withdraw the missiles, what bothered Fidel most was that the Russians did not use him to negotiate a better solution. In other words, in return, withdraw the rockets, close the Guantanamo Naval Base and confirm the commitment of the United States not to invade Cuba.”

The official story about the Missile Crisis only relates the part that reflects well on the regime. It is silent about the rest.  Or tries to forget it.

What Remains of Che in Cuba / Iván García

Che T-Shirts in Santa Clara, Cuba, among other souvenirs. Taken from the blog Flora the Explorer.

Iván García, 9 October 2017 — Inside a Miami house devoid of grand architectural pretensions is a museum devoted to Brigade 2506. It commemorates the Cuban troops who came from the United States to confront the island’s militias and armed forces at the Bay of Pigs.

On several wooden panels hung on the walls are hundreds of photos of combatants in who fell in armed confrontation against the communist system imposed by the Castro brothers in those years. continue reading

With any luck, you might run into Felix Rodriguez, a former CIA agent who on October 8, 1967 captured the Argentinian guerilla Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Quebrada del Yuro, Bolivia.

Rodríguez, an elderly man who maintains a military posture despite physical ailments, has on countless occasions recounted an episode that demystifies the image of the illustrious hero that Cuba’s dictators wants to promote.

No one, not even his adversaries, question Che’s courage. But on that cold morning Guevara was forced to surrender after being ambushed by the Bolivian army.

The man who captured him reports that at the time Che was wounded, dressed in rags and in possession of an unused firearm. He was also very disappointed to have lost contact with Havana. Rodriguez remembers that he still had bullets in his pistol and that upon surrender he told his captors, “I am worth more alive than dead.” That is what Felix Rodriguez also believed.

But orders from superior officers were to execute him and to bury his body in a section of runway at the Vallegrande airport. This fact is overlooked in official accounts by the Castro government. They prefer to emphasize his heroism and guerrilla leadership.

Che Guevara’s life has become an imprecise myth. In Cuba his death is commemorated on October 8 though he actually died in a hail of gunfire a day later. John Lee Anderson, who has researched the life of Guevara, claims that the date of birth — June 14, 1928 — is false, that he was actually born a month earlier in the Argentinian city of Rosario.

After gaining immortality by winning the last, decisive battle of the Cuban revolution in Santa Clara, Guevara’s exploits in the field of combat were reduced to a string of failures. Because conditions in the Congo and Bolivia were not conducive to guerrilla warfare, skirmishes there turned into bloodbaths.

He did not distinguish himself in the field of economics either. After Guevara was appointed head of the national bank and Minister of Industry, he tried to graft his concept of the “New Man” onto the normal commercial, wage and financial rules by which a country is governed. The results were routinely bad.

His enemies accuse him of murder. While he was the commander of La Cabaña Fortress, he signed five hundred summary death sentences  A dedicated Communist, he always came off as a sullen, inflexible guy during his time in the Sierra Maestra, though one who was highly cultured. He personally recruited a number of subversive guerrillas.

His disregard for material possessions, his austerity and his personal integrity were probably his most striking personal qualities. And above all he risked his own neck to validate his “truths.”

Along with Fidel Castro, Guevara is today one of the patron saints of the revolution, which has now evolved into the perfect dictatorship. From childhood, Cubans are inculcated in the almost religious cult of Che.

“I remember in pre-school they told us stories about Che and his friendship with Camilo [Cienfuegos] and Fidel. Then you enter primary school and every morning they make you repeat the slogan ’Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che.’ This systematic indoctrination has left a mark on many people,” recalls Octavio, a civil engineer.

Ada, an educator, argues that the way the life and work of Che Guevara has been advertised and marketed is “simply atrocious.” She adds, ” They create conditioned reflexes that end up beatifying figures of the revolution. But when you reach adulthood, you recognize them as being the ones guilty for the national disaster. The same thing happens with Che. His mistakes as [economics] minister are minimized while the government’s advertising campaign emphasizes his abilities as a leader. Among young people in the western world he is a more iconic figure than Lenin or Mao and this has made him into a political marketing tool. People with no attachments to Communist ideology, such as Madonna or Mike Tyson, get tattooed with his likeness. His face is printed on T-shirts and luxury wristwatches. Major brands have used his image in publicity campaigns.”

In a mansion in Guanabo, a town to the east of the capital famous for its beach, lives one of Cuba’s best tattoo artists. I asked if Che’s image still sold well.

“It’s one of the top sellers, not just among foreigners but among Cubans as well,” he says. “What has always struck me is how many freaks, sex fiends, liberals and lovers of capitalism pick his image for a tattoo because Che was the antithesis of all that. You don’t often see officials from the Young Communist League or the Communist Party coming here for tattoos even though they are his most loyal followers. Perhaps it’s because of the pain, or the cost. Every tattoo costs from twenty-five to fifty convertible pesos,” says the Havana tattoo artist.

If anyone has profited off Che’s visage it is his family in Cuba. Under the pretext of promoting her father’s work, Aleida Guevara has created a foundation in his name whose trademark yields good economic dividends.

Let’s call him Ruben. He is a person intimately familiar with the Che Guevara Foundation’s scams. “The fat lady (Aleida) does not miss a thing,” he says. “Two years ago a left-wing South American publisher released a book on Che’s ideas and Aleida sued them, demanding payment. Che would have been very honest but his Cuban descendants are litigious. They like money more than sweet coconut.”

Daniel, a fan of Harley Davidson motorcycles, recalls, “At a time when there were very few people in Cuba who cared about Harleys, some of us formed a club which met on weekends. After going through a lot of red tape, we organized a Harley festival in Varadero which riders from other countries would attend. But when Che’s two sons, Camilo and Ernestico, got wind of it, they took over. They partnered with Gaviota, opened a bar in Varadero which charged in hard currency, rented out brand new Harleys and charged $2,500 to $3,000 to tour the entire island. They have falsified history; the motorcycle Che used on this tour through South America was a Norton 500.

Ernesto Guevara works better as a business venture than an ideology. At the time of his detention, he told his captor, Felix Rodriguez, that he was worth more alive than dead. He was not mistaken.